I’ve decided to change gears today and to write about something that is hard to write about and hard to talk about. Three things caught my attention today; two young men were found guilty for raping an unconscious girl at a party (see article), a Swiss woman was gang-raped outside a small village in India (see article), and my friend Erin shared with me the fact that rape is the first sexual experience of 20% of Ghanaian women. These things all frustrate me and I think it’s time we talked about them. I’m certainly no expert on rape, but I am tired of the way we talk about (or don’t talk about) rape in our society. I’m tired of a culture that blames the victim and doesn’t talk about sexuality and respect.
As a young female, rape has always been by biggest fear when traveling. When I went to Malawi at 20-years old, my biggest fear was that I was going to find myself in an uncomfortable situation, outside of my control, that might result in rape. When trying to meet new people in London, I was consciously aware of the guys I was meeting and the situations I would put myself in with those guys. When walking back to my flat at night, it was instinct for me to stick to busy streets and I was always intensely aware of my surroundings until I reached the safety of my house. I’m sure I’m not the only female that thinks this way.
I’ve always watched my drinks when I’m out with friends. I’ve always been careful about the company I might attract. I’ve felt a relative amount of security because I thought I never put myself in situations where there was the potential for rape. The problem is that I should never have to think like this. What a woman wears or whether or not a girl is drunk should not constitute an excuse for why she might have been raped. Instead of analyzing the actions of the victim, we need to be talking about a culture where boys don’t see anything wrong with sexually assaulting an unconscious girl; a culture where men feel entitled to sex and where women don’t feel safe walking down the street at night.
The thing that struck me about the cases in the news this week is that they both involved groups of people. The friends of the two football players that raped a girl at a party participated in that crime by not stepping up to help the young girl, by laughing at her shame, and filming as she was assaulted. On two different occasions, groups of men in India got together and thought it was acceptable to gang rape a woman on vacation with her husband and to sexually and physically assault a young student on a bus (see article). 20% on Ghanaian women should not be dealing with rape as their first sexual experience. Clearly we are living in a society that doesn’t talk about equality, respect, and sexual expression.
I know ranting about rape culture is not very effective, but if we’re ever going to change it, we need to start talking about it. Advising women on how to be safe and not get raped is not addressing the causes for why it happens. Engineers Without Borders put a lot of focus on gender representation for International Women’s Day this month and it got me thinking about the inequalities that exist within my own profession and the way that we address (and ignore) gender within our respective cultures. Our overseas partner Erin Aylward wrote a great blog on how we’re not afraid of changing culture, but of addressing the deep-rooted issues that result in that culture.
To finish, this is a completely different type of blog for me and it was difficult to write. However, I’ve always felt that my voice does have power and that it’s important to share it, even if I’m not that eloquent. While the circumstances that started the discussion are awful, I’m hopeful about the conversation that has resulted from it. I hope we can keep talking about it and I welcome your thoughts and comments.