We need a more considered approach to using social media for social justice, says writer and activist Ione Wells. After she was the victim of an assault in London, Wells published a letter to her attacker in a student newspaper that went viral and sparked the #NotGuilty campaign against sexual violence and victim-blaming. In this moving talk, she describes how sharing her personal story gave hope to others and delivers a powerful message against the culture of online shaming.
The state of Montana doesn’t often make the national news. But it did recently when a judge there sentenced a man to just 60 days in jail after he repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter. In the three weeks since the sentence was issued, over 80,000 people have signed an initiative seeking to have the judge impeached.
The New York Times’s Express desk caught up to the news on Friday, but it put a headline on its story that drew its own protests: “Montana Judge Criticized for 60-Day Sentence for Man Who Has Sex With His Preteen Daughter.”
In the view of many Times readers, that was a poor attempt to sum up the story. Among them was Elizabeth DeHoff, who homed in on the problem with the headline:
“Has Sex With”? We have a word for “sex with a preteen.” That word is “rape.” This man committed incest as well, but incest (while still a crime) can be consensual when both parties are adults. Children cannot consent to any kind of sex. Newspaper headlines that fail to take note of that fact contribute to rape culture — perhaps not as directly as this judge did when he essentially let the rapist off the hook, but contribute they do. (I should know, having worked as a newspaper copy editor for many years.) Perhaps if the judge himself had thought of the defendant as a rapist, he would have handed down a more appropriate sentence.
DeHoff, of Littleton, Colo., articulates well the concerns of many of the readers who emailed me on Friday. Editors were clearly struggling with the headline, changing it five times over the course of the day. About three hours after the initial headline went up, a new one was put on the story, getting a little closer to the mark, but clunky: “Montana Judge Criticized for 60-Day Sentence for Man for Incest With Daughter, 12.” Finally, after three more tries, the headline read: “Montana Judge Is Criticized for 60-Day Incest Sentence.” (Still later, the headline was changed again, to “Outrage Follows 60-Day Sentence in Incest Case Against Father of Girl, 12.”)
In Canada, sexual assault is the least likely violent crime to be reported to police, and the vast majority — 90 percent, according to Statistics Canada — are never reported.
Spotty access to rape kits is contributing to the problem: Where you live determines how easy it is to get one, how sensitively you’re treated during the process, and even whether the evidence gathered holds up in court.
Front-line workers tell VICE News that improving access to those kits — simple packages of tools used to collect evidence of sexual assault — could have a huge impact. Women, especially in British Columbia, are forced to drive hours down desolate stretches of highway to reach a hospital where the evidence can be collected.
“They turtle,” says Christine Baker, a health services manager in Squamish, BC, of women who hear they have to travel an hour down the highway in order to get a rape kit. “They crunch in and they say, ‘No, not going to do it.’”
But it’s not just the west coast. Front-line workers in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia tell VICE News that if an ambulance isn’t available, or the victim has no other way to travel, they sometimes make the journey locked in the back of a cop car.
The problem, which victims’ advocates say has a “simple fix,” often comes down to whether a community’s hospital has a freezer that locks to secure the evidence, and whether its physicians are properly trained to administer rape kits. If not, the victim has to travel to a hospital that does have these services — sometimes hours away, if a program exists in their province at all.
In North America, recent court cases have exposed how poorly the criminal justice system deals with sexual assault. This spring in Canada, protesters chanted outside the two court cases of Jian Ghomeshi, a former radio star who was charged with sexually assaulting four women. He was, in the end, acquitted on a spate of charges, while other charges were withdrawn after he issued an apology to one of his accusers.
And in the US last month, it was the judge in the Stanford rape case who drew scrutiny when he sentenced convicted rapist and swim star Brock Allen Turner to only six months in prison, though the prosecutor had asked for six years.
Better access to rape kits is one piece of the larger justice system puzzle, and front-line workers in Canada lay the blame at the feet of provincial health authorities who they say could fund better access to rape kits — but choose not to.
British Columbia is one of the worst areas for rape kit access in Canada.
JUST this past week, the nation was reminded of how serious a problem we face regarding the scourge of sexual violence here, with more than three persons appearing in court on charges of sexual misconduct. One of them, a businessman, has been convicted of raping a seven-year-old boy. And as if that were not enough, the Guyana Police Force has announced that more than 200 cases of rape have been reported so far this year.Considering that rape and other sexual offences are deeply sensitive matters, it is anyone’s guess what is the true figure for this type of crime, given that a number of women choose to deal with this issue personally, rather than reporting it to the authorities.
As at February last year, it was reported that, globally, one in every 14 women has been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner.
Overall, 7.2 per cent of women aged 15 years or older told researchers that they had been sexually attacked at least once in their lives by someone who was not their intimate partner. The highest rates were in sub-Saharan Africa — 21 per cent in the centre (Democratic Republic of Congo) and 17.4 per cent in the south (Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe). This was followed by 16.4 per cent in Australia and New Zealand. The lowest reported prevalence was in South Asia (India and Bangladesh) at 3.3 per cent, and North Africa and the Middle East at 4.5 per cent.
“We found that sexual violence is a common experience for women worldwide, and in some regions is endemic, reaching more than 15 per cent in four regions,” said lead investigator Naeemah Abrahams of the South African Medical Research Council in Cape Town.
Right here, the Ministry of Social Protection announced early last month that, from January to June 2015, there were 334 sexual abuse cases, with 256 coming from Berbice. The country can ill-afford to aggressively tackle this issue, and successfully tackling it requires the efforts of every law-abiding citizen. When, some years ago, the then Human Services Minister Priya Manickchand had launched her campaign, ‘Stamp it Out’, with accompanying legislative measures, many Guyanese had high hopes of a reversal of the trend of sexual violence. However, unfortunately, many years hence, we are still in the throes of a scourge that has blighted our society. The former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, had disclosed back in 2014 that, since 2011, no one had been convicted of a sexual offence. During that period, 22 cases were prosecuted
The survivors of rape are often blamed. Questions like: What were you wearing? Why were you there? Why were you there so late? And many are told, to remain quiet; to forget it happened and move on with their lives; if you did not like it you would have spoken about it before; what did you do to upset him like that; and it happened long ago. The burden of not being raped is substantially placed on the victims, where they are taught how to not get raped rather than teaching men to respect women, and not to rape. According to the World Health Organisation, victims of sexual assault are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 14 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.
Additionally, the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) is not fully implemented, making it even more difficult for justice to be served to survivors of rape. There needs to be ongoing specialized training for all sectors of the justice system, health and social services and law enforcement on the provisions of the SOA 2010. The lack of an integrated and comprehensive service and protocols for the treatment and care of victims of sexual violence also needs to be addressed urgently. The responsibility of the state to educate Guyanese about the SOA 2010 has failed to materialize for the past 4 years. What is equally unacceptable is that the Sexual Offences Task Force, an inter-agency body whose overall responsibility is to develop a national plan for the prevention of sexual offences and the eradication of sexual violence, is not functioning, as the subject Minister of Human Services and Social Security has failed to set up and convene meetings of this statutory body.
Guyana is party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Government of Guyana has particular obligations to all Guyanese women as a signatory to CEDAW. As such I would like to reiterate key recommendations, which the CEDAW Committee published after its review of Guyana in July, 2012: “To accord high priority to the full implementation of the Sexual Offences Act and to put in place comprehensive measures to prevent and address violence against women and girls, recognizing that such violence is a form of discrimination against women and constitutes a violation of their human rights under the Convention and a criminal offence and ensuring that women and girls who are victims of violence have access to immediate means of redress and protection and that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished.”
Jackson Katz, Phd, is an anti-sexist activist and expert on violence, media and masculinities. An author, filmmaker, educator and social theorist, Katz has worked in gender violence prevention work with diverse groups of men and boys in sports culture and the military, and has pioneered work in critical media literacy.Katz is the creator and co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, which advocates the ‘bystander approach’ to sexual and domestic violence prevention. You’ve also seen him in the award winning documentary “MissRepresentation.”