Culture Clash: Eight Years On The Same Debate With The Same Answer – Rape Is Rape

We need to talk about consent. Most of us understand it to mean permission. Parents and guardians signing forms to allow children to participate in extracurricular activities probably comes to mind. We don’t think about consent as a way of controlling and protecting our own bodies. Instead, we view the bodies of women and girls as public property.

When we force children to show affection to family members and friends without prejudice, we teach them they do not own their bodies. When we tell teenaged girls, “Dress the way you want to be addressed”, we are telling them other people’s perceptions of them are the most important thing. We have many ways of making each other less than human, stripping away rights and dignity. We find ways to blame one another for any violation experienced, conditioned by and continuing the perpetuation of rape culture.

Rape culture is prevalent in our environment and allows people to believe there is something women and girls can do to prevent sexual assault. We can dress differently, travel in groups, ensure we are always accompanied by men, refrain from consuming alcohol, get home before dark and ignore our own sexuality. Even further, we can purchase a number of products like special underwear that only we can remove and nail polish that detects date rape drugs in our drinks. The onus is continuously put on us, women and girls to protect ourselves by being less visible and investing in products specifically designed for us. As if this is not enough to bear, our law does not recognise us as full people after we marry.

According to the Sexual Offences Act, once married, women are no longer entitled to (not) give consent to their husbands and are expected to engage in sexual activity whether we would like to or not. The Act says we cannot be raped and, by marrying us, men have unlimited rights to access our bodies.

What if this were the case for murder? If a man owns his wife’s body to the extent he can penetrate her vagina without her consent, what is to keep him from thinking he can kill her without consequence? If we stick to the “two become one” argument, we set ourselves down a slippery slope. Married women can vote, but not say “no” to sex and have the right to press charges if her husband rapes her. Married women are human beings in some ways, but property in others.

There is no reason for women to be denied the right to choose what to do with their bodies, in marriage or otherwise. The narrative of false accusations is completely baseless at best and foolish at worst. If we create legislation and policies based on potential for misuse, we would likely be forced to go without. Anarchy, anyone?

People talk about the great fear of the lying woman. Won’t married women lie on their husbands, just because?

People sometimes lie — not women; people. Cases sometimes go to court and the defendants are innocent. Sometimes it is difficult to prove the crime. We see this happen every day. This is the reason for courts, judges and juries. It is the reason evidence is required. The justice system has its issues, but so do society, the church and the institution of marriage. Are we really satisfied to doom married women to live as the property of their husbands, able to be lawfully violated? Are we happy to have even ten women suffer in silence, with no legal recourse, because one might lie on her husband? Do we really believe men are entitled to sex on demand when they marry a woman?

To be clear, rape is not sex. Sex can only occur with clear, continuous consent from all parties involved. When anyone is forced to participate in sexual activity, it is assault — a violation. If a person is underage, they are not able to give consent. If a person is intoxicated, they are not able to give consent. If a person is unconscious or asleep, they are not able to give consent. Consent must exist for a sexual act to be lawful. It must be explicit and cannot be coerced. There is no such thing as sex without consent; that is rape. It does not matter whether or not the people involved are married. Consent is not granted in perpetuity, regardless of licences and vows. We have the right to say yes or no.

In July 2009, then MP for Long Island Loretta Butler-Turner tabled the marital rape bill which would have amended the Sexual Offences Act to omit “who is not his spouse” so that marital status does not enter the definition of rape or impede access to justice. Eight years later, we are having the same conversation on the same level, seemingly with no better understanding of or appreciation for women’s rights as human rights. We listen to political and religious leaders and allow them to guide our thoughts on opinions far too often. We forget Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers work for us and should be acting in the best interest of the Bahamian people. Laws and policies should be made to protect the most vulnerable among us; not putting them at higher risk or further marginalizing them from the rest of society. Religious leaders should not be interfering in governance of the country, or imposing themselves and their views on the citizenry. They should be rebuking the consistent, dangerous misuse of biblical text to support misogyny.

Those who support men who rape their wives often use biblical text, mostly in fragments, to compel others to do the same. A favourite is Ephesians 5:22 which implores women to submit themselves to their husbands. Those quoting this scripture conveniently neglect to mention verses 23 and 28 which call on men to love their wives as Christ loved the church and “as their own bodies”. A true, practising Christian would surely look at the full scripture and, upon seeing “love,” refer to I Corinthians 13 for its definition and characteristics. According to Paul, love is patient, kind and protective and is not self-seeking. If a man loves his wife, would he not be patient, kind and protective, and willing to put his own desires aside instead of being self-seeking? If a man loves his wife as Christ loved the church — for which He gave His life — what limit would there be to what he would give up for her? Why aren’t we holding men to the same standards we demand women meet?

A married woman is still a woman, and a human being. Married women, like unmarried women, have human rights. These include being equal in dignity and rights, the right to security of person, freedom from slavery or servitude and recognition everywhere as a person before the law. In addition to being protected from sexual assault and understood to be human beings, women deserve to have access to justice. We need to look at the Sexual Offences Act and its definition of rape. We need to look at the way we view marriage and, in particular, the privileges of men within the institution. We need to understand that rape is rape, no matter who is involved. Perhaps more than that, we need to look at the positions we take and the arguments we use and ask ourselves who we are trying to protect – and why?

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on December 20, 2017

Culture Clash: Sexual Harassment Is An Act Of Violence

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on October 18, 2017

‘MeToo’ — a campaign started by Tarana Burke and promoted by actor Alyssa Milano encouraging women to let people know they have experienced sexual harassment or assault has populated social media with evidence of the pervasiveness of sexual violence.

While it is empowering for some to be able to share their stories, or even say they have experienced something without naming or describing it, it is difficult for some people to see and understand.

It has sparked necessary conversations about sexual harassment and made it clear we need to clearly define the term and consider its effects.

In a 2015 survey conducted by Hollaback! Bahamas and Cornell University, 71.9 percent of respondents said they first experienced sexual harassment before the age of 15.

Seventeen percent reported their first experience of sexual harassment occurred before the age of 10.

We often think of sexual harassment as benign comments causing minimal harm if any at all, but over 50 percent of respondents were groped or fondled in 2015, and 80 percent had been followed by a man or group of men which made them feel unsafe.

Seventy-nine percent chose not to go out at night, 85 percent changed their route home, and 72 percent decided not to interact with a person as a result of street harassment.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and includes verbal and physical acts of a sexual nature which violate dignity and/or create an intimidating and hostile environment.

It often depends on and abuses an existing power dynamic, used to coerce people in order to access or maintain employment or enrolment in educational institutions.

For example, in the workplace an owner, manager or supervisor may use their position and subsequent privileges to sexually coerce employees.

Suggestive remarks and inappropriate touching often go unreported because those experiencing sexual harassment fear being ostracized, terminated or facing discrimination at work.

Not limited to the workplace or educational institutions, sexual harassment frequently occurs in public spaces.

This is known as street harassment. From whistles and “Hey, baby” to following and groping, it is a daily experience for many. It disproportionately affects women, people of colour, differently-abled people and members of the LGBT+ community.

Generally, the more people are in a public space, the higher the frequency of street harassment, so those who walk and/or use public transportation are at a higher risk.

Why does this matter?

Sexual harassment, even when taking the form of comments and suggestions, is not harmless.

It is an act of violence. It is easy to dismiss this as an exaggeration, but it does not take long for an unwanted comment to escalate to physical aggression. Sexual violence is a spectrum, and while sexual harassment is seen as the lower end, it is not far from rape.

A sexual harasser ignores the same concepts and messages as a rapist. They impose themselves on other people.

They refuse to acknowledge or respect boundaries. They do not bother to get consent.

They are okay with making people feel uncomfortable.

They prioritize themselves.

They look for ways to exert their own power.

They do not care if the person says no or shows fear or anger.

They want to do what they want to do, no matter how it makes another person feel or impacts their life.

If a person can sexually harass someone in public, or in private where their job can be at risk, what else are they capable of?

What can they do behind closed doors, with no one to see, intervene or report?

Sexual harassment and the casual manner we respond to (or ignore) it contributes to the normalization of violence. It creates a world where people are free to do as they wish without consequence.

We assume everyone has the same experiences and interpretations of events as we do, and expect them to respond in the same ways.

We are slow to consider other points of view, and recognize the problem with predatory, violent behaviour whether or not it directly affects us.

Our failure to teach and talk about consent has manifested itself in generations and generations of people who have no spatial awareness, no understanding of boundaries and a belief they have the right to other people’s bodies.

What is the difference between a compliment and sexual harassment?

In discussions about street harassment a lot of time is always spent dissecting compliments and trying to draw a line between a compliment and harassment.

This is an exercise in futility because there is no clear, solid line.

This is obvious in the definition of sexual harassment which uses “unwanted” as a descriptor of the act. By definition, an act is deemed sexual harassment when the person on the receiving end does not want to experience it.

One person may find a comment acceptable while another does not. While one person may be flattered by a comment, another may be offended, angered, or fearful.

The difference between a compliment and sexual harassment is how the message is received.

This means we need to be mindful of other people’s feelings and pay attention to social cues.

If someone walks by quickly, avoids making eye contact, or is engaging in another conversation or activity, recognize that person as uninterested in your attempts to engage.

If you decide to offer a greeting and get no response, accept the lack of interest and move on. Resist the urge to impose yourself on another person.

If you give what you believe to be a compliment and get no response or a response you do not like, move on without taking up more time and space.

If your “compliment” has another result, something has gone wrong. Remember that compliments are about making other people feel good; not about making yourself feel good or reaping a reward.

Impact vs. intent

People often find the seemingly blurred line between a compliment and sexual harassment frustrating, especially when their focus is not on ending sexual harassment, but on their own desires.

If your “compliments” make someone cross the street, leave the office, or find other ways to put distance between themselves and you, you have had a different impact.

It is not unusual to affect people in unexpected, unintended ways. Sometimes we want to make people laugh, but offend them instead. There are times when we want to lighten the mood, but our actions only make things more uncomfortable.

At these times, our focus should not be on excusing or explaining ourselves. A message was not delivered properly, and it has affected other people.

Instead of considering our own feelings and getting lost in ideas of our rightness, this is the time to recognize the impact our actions had on the other people involved. Our impact is more important and deserving of our attention than our intent.

Bystander Intervention

Most of us have witness sexual harassment. We see people pull strangers by the arm to force conversation.

We hear whistles and kissing noises.

We see people being cornered by strangers. By not doing anything, we condone this behaviour and communicate that we don’t care what may happen next.

If we understand the importance of consent and ownership of our own bodies, it is on us to condemn acts of sexual violence.

We can do this by directly addressing the harasser, distracting them with a question (like which bus to take or directions to the nearest bank), asking others to help stop an act, and checking in with people who experience harassment in our presence.

There is always something we can do to help.

For more information on ending street harassment, visit facebook.com/hollaback242.

Video: Sexuality and Online Harassment

The Sexuality and Online Harassment panel — part of Equality Bahamas’ Women’s Wednesdays series — centered the woman’s body and explored ideas of access, presentation, expectations, and vulnerability.

Panelists:
Erin Green, LGBT+ Advocate
Jodi Minnis, Interdisciplinary Artist
Tamika Galanis, Artist-Scholar
Princess Pratt, Storyteller

For more information on the Women’s Wednesdays event series, like Equality Bahamas on Facebook.

Culture Clash: Tackling The Abuse Of Online Harassment

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on July 12, 2017

“Talkin’ to people bad” is the Bahamian way. That’s what they want us to believe. We play into the narrative that to be Bahamian is to be abrasive, rude, and condescending without second thought, apology, or recompense. We imagine that adulthood gives us the right to say and do as we wish with no consideration to the impact we have on other people. A “Christian nation,” we spin, bend, and reshape scripture until it tells us what we want to hear. We convince ourselves that it is our job to give people what they deserve. We cut their skin, we hit their car, we vote them out, we embarrass them on Facebook. In our minds, there is justification for this. There is righteousness in this. Vengeance is ours. We are doing The Lord’s work. Right?

Online harassment is seldom discussed as it is generally viewed as a minor issue, its impact ignored and trivialised by most. Taking various forms, online harassment is a growing beast, used to disempower, embarrass, and defame people. When discussed, whether it affects a celebrity or a community member, too much attention is put on the personality, politeness, and profession of the victim. Many are quick to search for reasons to justify the attack and blame the victim for the harassment they experience and its subsequent effects.

Most recently, Blac Chyna and Rob Kardashian have entered the headlines, dominating online conversations for days after Rob posted nude photos of her on Instagram. Public dialogue centred around Blac Chyna’s career as a stripper, perceptions about her reason for being in a relationship with Rob, and the amount of money Rob spent on her. It is telling that people are more interested in excusing Rob’s behaviour, using Blac Chyna’s behaviour to somehow cancel out Rob’s, or painting Blac Chyna as the villain in this situation than seeing online harassment for what it is — abuse.

As a human being, Blac Chyna — like all women and all adults — has bodily autonomy. This means she can strip. This means she can be a sex worker. This means she can take photos and videos of herself in all states of dress. This means she can share those photos and videos with people of her own choosing. These are her rights. You, too, can do all of these things. Maybe you do. You may even do one or more of these things without realising it. None of these things makes Blac Chyna (or you) deserving of online harassment.

Rob’s Instagram post was revenge porn — the nonconsensual sharing of sexually explicit images by a former sexual partner for the purpose of embarrassment. It was the distribution of images Blac Chyna did not intend for public consumption. Using her work history as justification of Rob’s actions is both ridiculous and counterintuitive. If Blac Chyna’s body and the ways she provides access to it is a means of income-generation, why are Rob’s actions not recognised as theft? Why would he not be sued for loss of potential income? This happens in cases of copyright infringement and intellectual property disputes, so why not with the body? In any case, the act is classified as revenge porn.

Revenge porn — a form of abuse — is illegal in California, and Blac Chyna has since been granted a restraining order. Instagram responded by suspending his account. These two consequences are a validation of the real impact of revenge porn and other forms of online harassment.

We need to understand online harassment as abuse, a crime, and the cause of emotional distress and, potentially, professional ruin, for those experiencing it. We have to be able to separate personality from the details of criminal acts.

When we start to respect people’s bodily autonomy, we may finally be able to talk to our children about consent. We may be able to help young people recognise early signs of abusive relationships, and create an environment where they can report incidents without fear of being blamed or ridiculed. When we are able to see sexual violence as a spectrum, from harassment to rape, we may be able to address it at multiple levels — not just enforcing punishment, but implementing effective preventative measures.

Online harassment has many faces. It is not always sexual in nature. It can seem innocuous at the start, and build to become a scary, damaging, embarrassing experience. At a time when so much of our national dialogue lives on social media, it is important that we are considerate in our communication with others, especially those we do not know personally.

Divergent points of view should not lead us to participate in hate speech, threaten, or defame others. There are ways to disagree respectfully without losing “stripes” or the argument. Even more, there is a responsibility to intervene when we witness online harassment. The intervention may not be of the Sermon on the Mount variety, but should be a visible form of support for the person being attacked, and a clear message to the attacker that their behaviour is being monitored and is condoned or welcomed in the space.

If you see someone sharing sexually explicit images or videos without consent of the people depicted, report it to the platform and to the Royal Bahamas Police Force Cyber Crime Unit. If you know the person, take the opportunity to tell them to delete the post because it is a form of abuse and a crime, and there is no excuse for it. If you see other forms of online harassment, say something to the harasser.

The experience of online harassment is compounded when people standby in silence, failing to rebuke the asinine behaviour of the harassers. There are many ways to intervene. You can be direct and speak to the harassers on the post, in their inbox, or in person. You could also ask someone with a better relationship to the harassers to address the issue. If you are not comfortable with any of these options, check in with the person experiencing harassment. Knowing someone sees it, knows it’s wrong, and supports you makes a big difference.

Culture Clash: On Cyber Crime in The Bahamas

Published in Culture Clash — a biweekly column in The Tribune — on April 19, 2017

Everyone wants to be entertained.

We pay for cable television, go to political rallies and engage in Facebook banter on hot topics for days.

Sometimes our jokes are on other people, but nothing is as disturbing as the pleasure many get from recording, watching and sharing explicit content without consent of the people involved.

Too many people prefer to make assumptions, stating them as facts, to looking critically at common behaviours and the related social ills.

There is no shortage of topics we would prefer to leave undiscussed. We are not interested in feeling uncomfortable, challenging norms or risking existing perceptions of ourselves to have necessary conversations.

No one wants to talk about sexual violence. It is not pleasant. Rape is not a safe table topic, but women are not safe from predators either. Why not? Who is to blame? How have we contributed to rape culture, ensuring that victims are blamed for violence enacted against them and made to feel shame and guilt?

Every few months, a new story makes the rounds on social media. Videos are quickly shared, exposing traumatic, humiliating moments for the entertainment of the general public. We have become voyeurs, cultivating an insatiable desire for violent content. When people are excited by images of car accidents, footage of people taking their last breaths, children being abused and women being raped, it should be an alarm. This growing obsession is a definite indicator of desensitisation to acts of violence and loss of humanity. Unfortunately, it seems this has been normalised, and few are willing to challenge it.

For the past few days, video of a rape has been circulating on social media. Not only has evidence of a crime been widely shared, but people have requested the video. They are asking contacts to share a video of a woman being raped for their entertainment and to enable them to join the troubling conversation, complete with graphic details.

Why was this video recorded? Who recorded it? Why has it been shared with anyone other than the police? Why do people want to watch it? What does it mean when people are excited by the thought of such a video?

In conversations about violence against women, the issue of relationship to the survivor is almost always raised. When men and boys fail to see the problem with various forms of sexual violence, we quickly point them in the direction of their family trees. What if this happened to your mother, sister, or daughter? What if this woman was related to you in any way? Would she be a human then? Would she deserve to be protected then? Would it still be her fault?

The same distance exists between viewers and individuals in the videos. Something keeps us from seeing people we do not know as human beings. The same deficiency renders us incapable of empathy. Entirely separate from this is the sense of moral superiority that comes with viewing such content. People like to see and position themselves as better than others. It is a pleasure to point out all the things we would have done differently to ensure a different outcome.

What did she drink? Who did she get it from? Did she ever let it out of her sight? Why did she drink it? Didn’t she notice it tasted different? Did she know these people? Couldn’t she fight back?

I wouldn’t have drunk anything. I don’t know anyone who would do that to me. I’m a better judge of character. No matter how drunk I am, I can fight back. I’m smarter. Stronger. Better.

These questions are easy to ask. These actions are easy to premeditate. Judgments are easy to make. In all of this, we centre ourselves and forget about the people who are impacted by the content shared without their consent and the unfiltered public commentary. We give no thought to the impact of our self-aggrandisement on victims of cyber crime. We rarely even think about our perception of rape.

It is easy to think of rape in narrow terms – dark alley, stranger, screams. In reality, rape is not limited to specific circumstances. It can happen day or night, inside or outside, with or without an audience. For the perpetrator, it is an exercise of power and control. When consent is not given, it is rape. Consent must be voluntary, explicit and continuous, and can only be given in sobriety and adulthood. It is never implied and is always necessary. When lack of consent or the end of consent is ignored, the act is a violation. In this most recent video, the young woman was incapable of giving consent. She was sexually violated and that has been multiplied by the cyber crime of recording and sharing the video.

Certain assumptions can be made about people who send and receive videos like the one being discussed. Sending such a video suggests the sender has reason to believe the recipient is like-minded. It implies there is nothing wrong with sharing this kind of material, and no consequences are expected. If you are in receipt of the video, it may be time to ask yourself a few questions. Who sent it to you? What is your relationship to the sender? Why would anyone feel comfortable sharing the video with you? How do you respond to people sharing this kind of content with you? Have you shared the video, or content like it? Are you a cyber criminal?

If we are not prepared to consider the impact of our actions and speech on others, to refrain from criminal activity or to correct family and friends when they commit harmful acts, are we ready for the revolution we say we want to see?

If we cannot govern ourselves or see the humanity in one another, we are not prepared for fight for democracy. Are we ready to study, debate, and decision-making on the road to May 10, 2017? Until we respect and protect the least among us, we cannot rise together for effective leadership and civic participation in our country.

We must think beyond ourselves and our personal relationships, working to understand and promote human rights for all, if we are to build a better Bahamas for Bahamians.