The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “rape”

I wasn’t hit

“It never occurred to me I might be a victim of domestic violence. After all, I was never hit, there were no bruises or broken bones. It was only one day when I was talking to a couple about the effect of their domestic violence on their pre-school child it occurred to me that I too was a victim.

The child’s developmental timetable was not going to wait for them to sort it out. I didn’t have children and could deal with my unhappy situation according to my own schedule, and the shocking recognition of that situation as domestic violence.

I was not hit, but I was being subjected to psychological, emotional and sexual abuse that had been progressively escalating over nearly fifteen years. But were those behaviours domestic violence? Relationships are complicated and drawing the line between normal and OK behaviours and abuse is not easy. Not everyone considers threats and threatening behaviour to be harmful or ‘violence’.”

In 2012 the UK Government published a new definition that includes non-physical behaviours as domestic violence: “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and emotional. Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”

“My experience fit that definition. My then husband punished me for not being a ‘good wife’, by his own definition which he refused to tell me, through sleeping in the spare room, and later threatening to leave. He cut me off from friends and associates by dropping out at the last minute from social engagements and events as punishment for my not getting ‘it’ right until I stopped making plans or accepting invitations, and forcing me to choose between him and friends because he believed they didn’t respect him. His mannerisms and voice were aggressive to me and others, although he insisted he was expressing frustration and not aggression. He told everyone he met I was having an affair (when I wasn’t). And he tried to surreptitiously force on me sexual practices I had explicitly refused.

My own behaviour was affected. I was ‘walking on eggshells’ and when I sensed the atmosphere change I tried to escalate things to get the next showdown started and over with. Typical behaviours of a domestic violence victim.

But he didn’t hit me: I had no reason to end the relationship, or so I thought, until the day he raped me. I found a strength and determination I didn’t know I had: miraculously I managed to get him to leave, resisted the suicide threats and became one of the rare group of women who don’t take several attempts at terminating a relationship (the average is 7). Perhaps because I had never been hit.”

Why don’t more victims leave sooner? Why do so many keep going back? Sarah Buel suggests some answers in her Fifty Obstacles to Leaving aka Why Abuse Victims Stay.

With psychological, mental and emotional abuse many may not even recognise what is happening. The destruction of self-esteem and self-confidence make facing the future alone that much harder. Family and friends often don’t understand: they can’t see the scars. And surely, if it’s all your fault, all your inadequacy, then shouldn’t you just stay where you are and try harder to get it right? The abuser is usually so reasonable, so plausible. They truly believe they are right to behave as they do.

It’s not enough to ask why victims stay. We need to ask why they leave. What is the ‘the final straw’? When all resources have been used up where does that spark to survive come from? We need better support for victims as they go through the stages to reach that final move. And we need better protection for those who are leaving or have left as this can be the most dangerous time. While professionals such as police, social and health workers have a role to play society needs to better recognise the power of domestic abuse and the difficulties victims face.

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Respect! as well as responsibility

Respect is a variable.  In some ways it is a right.  But it can be lost and it can be given.  It can be deserved and it can be earned.  It can be directed outwards towards others.  It can be directed inwards towards ourselves.  But one thing is for sure: it seems to be missing in a lot of places, including university campuses.

A new report commissioned by the NUS (National Union of Students) “That’s what she said” has come up with some alarming findings.  And it links in with the anti-blame-the-victim campaigns.  The NUS found that the extent to which “lad” cultures are prevalent in university campuses is detrimental to education and social development.  At the ‘soft’ end, if there can be a soft end, a generous interpretation might liken some of the findings to “Miss World” competitions at best – sexist and about women’s looks and bodies.  Of course, in an environment populated mainly by hormonally maturing young adults it might be reasonable to expect an undercurrent of sexual interest.  But it doesn’t stop there.  The most alarming aspect is a rise in jokes about rape, including one that points out that the under-reporting of rape makes it worth taking the risk.

They might be considered old fashioned values but it’s about time respect and responsibility started getting a better press.  If there was more respect for others as well as ourselves there might be less victims of crime (sexual or otherwise).  And there might be less need for police and social workers.

Confusion all round?

I got some stick a couple of months back around some conversations I had relating to the change.org campaign to have removed from the internet a poster from the 2007 NHS Know Your Limits campaign designed to raise awareness of the risks of alcohol.  The poster in question states that one in three reported rapes happen when the victim is drunk.  Change.org’s objection to the poster was that it perpetuated the ‘victim blaming’ culture in our society today.  I saw the poster as the NHS trying to give the message that we should take more responsibility around our actions and especially around our use of alcohol, rather than blaming the victim.  I said so in a blog (linked below) entitled Know Your Responsibilities.

But the conversations I had at the time (I was accused of trotting out all the usual excuses, that still blame the victim) led me to ask myself some questions: had I got it wrong, was I a part of perpetuating the victim blaming culture?  Since then I’ve gone out of my way to consider the issue again, I’ve followed various news reports where accusations of victim blaming have been made.

One of the most recent in the news is the case of Archie Reed (20) who went out on a drinking night out with his friend, who happened to be female.  They were both 19 at the time.  They both got very drunk, he missed the train home and she offered to let him stay at her place overnight.  Of that we can be reasonably sure.  CCTV showed them holding hands and hugging.  Other aspects of evidence can only be known to the individuals involved.  Did he offer to sleep on the floor and she insist they slept together in her single bed?  Did she rub herself provocatively against him in bed?  Did he take off her pyjama bottoms while she was asleep? It’s her word against his.  Whatever, he admitted making sexual advances towards her having ‘misread the signs’ of her kissing him and inviting him to sleep in her bed and stopped when he realised his mistake.  He had sexually assaulted her without her express permission to have sex.

The reporting of this case got messed up with the fact that he was an ex-public schoolboy and mishandling of the prosecution and presentation of evidence by the CPS, the latter causing the judge to order the jury to acquit him of rape.

In the middle of all this Drinkaware published research (by ICM) that found a third of young women had been sexually molested during a night out drinking and that a fifth had been unsurprised by it.  One in ten young men had had to deal with some kind of unwelcomed sexual attention.  Two thirds of young women said unwanted sexual attention spoils a good night out, 69% felt disgust, 56% felt anger, 39% felt fear.  That’s a lot of emotional fallout from an apparently good night out.

Two quotes worth repeating here: Retired judge Mary Jane Mowat (66) said it is not right to rape or take advantage of a drunken woman, but also anticipated criticism when she said that ‘rape conviction statistics will not improve until young women stop getting so drunk’.  Daily Mail columnist, Amanda Platell (57), stated “young women must start establishing clear boundaries – and that means realising drunkenly kissing, hugging and inviting a man into your bed might be misinterpreted as an invitation to sex”.

I can’t help thinking their views are less about victim blaming than about generational differences.  Like me, those women would have grown up in a generation when sex outside marriage was still considered risque, when a young woman inviting a young man to sleep in her bed with her really was an invitation to have sex.  Back then young people got drunk at the weekends but not to the extent of the ‘drinking culture’ today.  Back then if a young woman was found to be pregnant outside of marriage both got the blame and were expected to take responsibility for the consequences.  Which brings me back to my original blog – Know Your Responsibilities.

It’s human nature.  Young men DO want sex.  Young women WILL give out mixed signals.  Young men WILL read the signals according to their map of the world (“I want sex”).  Throw in some alcohol and the confusion escalates.  We DO live in a culture that promotes women as sexual beings, even more than ever before.  Young women WILL be traumatised by unwelcomed sexual acts that may well affect them for the rest of their lives – they were in the youth of Mary Mowat and Amanda Platell, and their mothers and grandmothers and generations of women before them.  Young men WILL be accused of making inappropriate sexual advances and their lives will be disrupted and possibly altered forever by those accusations.

We DON’T live in a fair society.  We DO live in a society that expects rights.  We DON’T live in a society that accepts responsibility.  But that’s what it needs.  Men and women are both victims of the rise in the social drinking culture that is prevalent today.  I will go one step further than Mowat and Platell: both young women and young men should take more responsibility to protect themselves from their own vulnerabilities.  And if that means saying that the culture around drinking and alcohol are to blame then that is the message that should be promoted.

And then we can get on with dealing with the problem of the objectification of women in the media and so many spheres of society.

 

The Meandering Social Worker

The old 2006 UK NHS Know Your Limits Campaign to raise awareness of the risks of drinking (alcohol) is popping up in emails and social media news-feeds again thanks to a petition started by change.org to get one particular campaign poster removed in all its formats.  The offending poster is the one that states that one in three reported rapes happen when the victim is drunk.  The objection to this poster is that it implies that rape is therefore the fault of the victim and not consistent with more recent NHS advice that “a sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator”.  Among those supporting the campaign is the NUS (National Union of Students) who state that the “only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists”.

I remember the original NHS campaign: it was designed to shock and the rape poster was just one of many shocking adverts…

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Know Your Responsibilities

The old 2006 UK NHS Know Your Limits Campaign to raise awareness of the risks of drinking (alcohol) is popping up in emails and social media news-feeds again thanks to a petition started by change.org to get one particular campaign poster removed in all its formats.  The offending poster is the one that states that one in three reported rapes happen when the victim is drunk.  The objection to this poster is that it implies that rape is therefore the fault of the victim and not consistent with more recent NHS advice that “a sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator”.  Among those supporting the campaign is the NUS (National Union of Students) who state that the “only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists”.

I remember the original NHS campaign: it was designed to shock and the rape poster was just one of many shocking adverts and images at the time.  I agree with both change.org and the NUS that a victim should not be blamed for being a victim.  But isn’t there another message in the NHS Know Your Limits campaign, which is about being aware of our individual and personal responsibility to ourselves?  If the facts are that one in three reported rapes occurred when the victim was drunk isn’t it the responsibility of the authorities to make that information available?  Don’t we then have the freedom of choice as to whether or not to take that information on board and decide whether we want to take it in to account when we make our decisions about our drinking habits?

We live in a culture that has moved from taking personal responsibility to blaming others for all our woes.  We have a government that perpetuates the message of fear on the one hand while they make it look as if they are protecting us, such as recent legislation that automatically sets up filters on home internet to protect the vulnerable from exposure to harmful websites, or allows the government to monitor all emails, texts, phone calls, to enable the authorities to prevent terrorism.  But the underlying message in the NHS Know Your Limits was to take responsibility for ensuring your own safety.

The wider campaign of which this change.org petition is a part sates that the only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists.  And that is true, but until the authorities have successfully eradicated the issues that lead to rape – power struggles, inequality, difference and more – from our society we all, individually and collectively, have a responsibility to look after ourselves.

Rape is a heinous crime, unimaginable in its violence and invasion.  Emotive in all its guises.  Which can make it difficult to consider the message objectively.  There are less emotive crimes where we take responsibility to protect ourselves from those crimes – we lock windows and doors when we go out, the car door when we park it, we conceal purses and wallets to reduce the risk of being targeted by pickpockets, or get a lift or taxi rather than walk through known dangerous areas (for protection against mugging), make sure the car we are driving has brakes that work, use the right ropes and harnesses when rock climbing or bungee jumping.  Sometimes our precautions are not enough, or we are just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we become a victim of a crime or an accident.

I often support the campaigns of change.org but not this one.  Not all my social work colleagues will agree with me.  In fact, I know many who will be supporting the campaign.  It’s because I believe the issues are way more complicated and far reaching than the change.org campaign.

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