Is Pop Culture Creating a Rape Culture Among Youth?

Usually when you think of a rapist, you tend to think of an adult man lurking on a dark street corners or in a dodgy alley. Did you ever think a rapist could in fact be an adolescent youth under the age of eighteen who sits across from you in class? Well according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics nearly 10% of American youth cause sexual violence

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

What was even more disturbing was that the thrill of getting away with it often overrode the crime being committed.

“Two out of three of our perpetrators said no one found out, so they didn’t get in trouble,” said study co-author Michele Ybarra.

Ultimately the blame for such callous behaviour has been put on the lack of sexual education at home in in schools throughout the United States. While this is true and education truly is one of the ways that we can clearly define gender roles and explain the concept of inalienable human rights regardless of sex, there are more influences over the youth of today that permit acts of sexual violence.

The lyrics in popular music for one, has instigated notions of sexual violence for as long as I can remember. To be clear, sexual violence according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is defined as “any sexual act that is perpetrated against someone’s will”. It encompasses a range of offenses, including a completed non-consensual sex act (i.e., rape), an attempted non-consensual sex act, abusive sexual contact (i.e., unwanted touching), and non-contact sexual abuse. Now back to the music.

Image Courtesy: independent.co.uk

Image Courtesy: independent.co.uk

The recent summer hit, Blurred Lines by artist Robin Thicke, has drawn harsh criticism from feminist groups and women worldwide. Sexual abuse tends to leave the victim feeling powerless. The “I know you want it” lyrics seem to perpetuate these victim-blaming reactions that leave many of us feeling powerless long after the abusive incident. To be clear, no victim be it male or female is asking to be raped. Furthermore, just because the victim was “asking for it” does not mean that sexual violence of any kind is OK. In fact, this particular song instigates that men cannot be held accountable for the ways in which women tempt them- nor should they be forced to.

To those who say that music is how your interpret it and Robin Thicke wasn’t instigating that a rape culture is permissable, I say -  true. However, he was also quoted by GQ magazine saying that it was “a pleasure to degrade a woman.”

“I’ve never gotten to degrade before. I’ve always respected women,” he said.

While this song may have be an exciting social experiment for him, to many victims of sexual abuse it was more than a slap in the face.

Melinda Hughes, wrote an article on policymic, criticizing the degradation of women as sexual objects by this very song.

“In the video, the men are given all the power and control. The models dance around with vacant expressions. The three fully-clothed men touch and gawk at them… (and) as a result, the women seem more like sex dolls for the amusement of the men than actual women,” she wrote.

When the value of women is continuously contingent on whether a woman fits the ideal of sexual beauty, we create a society in which the goal of a woman is to be sexually appealing. This notion is exactly what is diluting gender roles and creating “blurred lines” as such among our youth today. However, the reality is quite clear, sex without definitive consent can amount to rape. Recognizing the influence of pop culture is a huge step in eliminating sexual violence amongst the young. Just because something is popular does not make it right.

Having that said, I do agree that the kids these days need to have a firmer sexual education program. According to an article on healthday.com, children in the US are simply not getting the education they need at home or in school about sexual relationships.

“In this country, we aren’t talking at all about healthy sexual relationships,”  said Susan Tortolero, a professor of public health at the University of Texas.

“Most of the time, we’re just telling kids not to have sex. People don’t know how to talk about sex, so almost always people are having sex without explicit consent. If we could teach kids how to give explicit consent, then they might be more protected.”

What do you guys think? What is to blame for the scores of young children/youth committing sexual crimes?

We have a voice, lets use it.

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Downton Abbey’s Rape Scene in Bad Taste?

Image Courtesy: theguardian.com

Image Courtesy: theguardian.com

After the last episode of Downton Abbey, every one seems to be up in arms over the rape scene included in that episode. Whether it was done for the ratings or out of the need to tackle such a huge subject on national television, we will never truly know. What we do know is that people aren’t happy and I’d like to ask why?

According to an article on the Daily Mail, in the episode that aired on Sunday night, Joanna Froggatt’s character, Anna Bates, was attacked by Mr Green, played by actor Nigel Harman. It sparked more than 200 complaints from hardcore fans of the show to ITV and Ofcom with many saying it was too strong for a Sunday night.

Image Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

Image Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

The shows creator, Julian Fellowes has defended the episode by saying, “If we’d have wanted a sensational rape we could have stayed down in the kitchen with the camera during the whole thing and wrung it out.

The point of our handling is not that we’re interested in sensationalizing but we’re interested in exploring the mental damage and the emotional damage.”

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Even the actress whose character was raped in the scene has come out to publicly defend the scene, claiming that the show should be respected for their bravery exemplified by tackling such a huge global issue.

“I think he’s done a beautiful job with hitting the right note with it. We all just felt a big responsibility to get it right,” she said.

What I find puzzling is why is every one up in arms about this? Firstly, it is a TV show and if you don’t like what you see you have the option to turn off your television and not watch. Secondly, Downton Abbey is far from the only drama series that has portrayed sexual violence against women in some way shape or form. Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order (Special Vicitms Unit) and the BBC’s drama series: The Fall are just a few of the several series that portray sexual violence in some  or all of their episodes.

Furthermore, routine sexual abuse of domestic helpers during that era was commonplace, so claims that the producers and directors of the show were not being true to the era are misplaced. According to an article in The Guardian, “in terms of the way female servants were treated by those above and below stairs, it was accurate: many were raped, mistreated or subjected to abuse. This is part of our social history that cannot be ignored”.

So why the huge uproar? I think it’s largely because despite the prevalence of such violence against women all over the world, people are still largely uncomfortable with dealing with this issue when it is right in front of them.

Writing on Twitter, viewer Alexia Light also said that Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes owed viewers an apology over the “sick and sensationalist” scene.

Another viewer Caroline Farrow described the scenes of sexual violence as “very distressing”.

Sure, television probably gives us a distorted impression of what is truly happening around the world. But, shouldn’t we be acclimatised to crimes of such a nature because we all know it’s happening all around us. No – rape is still a rather hush-hush topic that people see or hear of but don’t speak about. It’s amazing to me how in the century of communication, such an important topic is seen as something we used fear and be unaware of. If we aren’t ready to deal with the harsh reality of rape and sexual violence entails, how can we ever hope for change?

This is not to say that I condone the use of rape and violence against women as a ploy to get ratings up. If this were truly the case – which we will never really know – it is undoubtedly despicable. I despise sexualized content for the sake of entertainment. However, I do believe that “Julian Fellowes has done a fine job of portraying many of the difficulties experienced by women in the early 20th century: death in childbirth, destitution due to illegitimacy, the impact wrought by the horror of war”.

It is extremely important that sexual violence is discussed openly, and if portraying it on television leads to a dialogue, then that can only be a good thing. Like the article in the The Guardian states, “we should not be analyzing the scene itself, but how it is dealt with in the coming weeks. That will reveal more about the writer’s motivations than a moment of high drama ever will”.

What are your views? Do you think the show went too far or are we still not comfortable enough to have an open dialogue about sexual violence?

We have a voice, lets use it.

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Is Social Media Ruining Teenage Girls?

Social media has become an all-consuming culture that people all over the world can’t get enough of. However, it seems to be doing much more harm than good. According to an outstanding expose by Vanity Fair entitled Friends Without Benefits, not only has social media distorted gender roles for young people but more importantly, it has given young boys “the right to expect everything from social submission to outright sex from their female peers”.

Image Courtesy: aboutourkids.org

Image Courtesy: aboutourkids.org

The twenty-first century generation of children are a generation like no other. Strapped with the latest gadgets and smartphones, majority of them hardly come up for air, let alone engagement with the world outside their social media reality. Instead of developing long-lasting friendships and relationships, kids these days are preoccupied with how many “likes” they get on Instagram and how many followers they have on Twitter.

While this may seem harmless to many people, a new generation of apps, readily available to kids as young as 13 can be threatening in more ways than one. Tinder, a mobile dating app is one of the most commonly used app for teens to “hook up”. No, not get to know each other but solely “hook up”. In fact, apps like Tinder and Grinder have been accused of being too “time-consuming”. The almost 5 minutes you take to analyse a person’s profile and decide whether he/she is good enough for you to “hook up” with is seen as a rather long time stamp when a new app called Pure, offers its subscribers sex in an instant.

If this isn’t astonishing enough for you, not to worry, it only gets worse.

Once you become a member and you decide you’d like to hook up, you submit a request. You say if you’re looking for a man or a woman, and if you can host or travel. The app then presents you with some optional matches. Your photos are only visible to your matches, and no nudity is allowed on your profile photos. If you like a match, you choose him or her. If you both choose each other, you get connected. From there, you can request more photos of your match’s face and body.  According to the application’s website, “If you want to see more pictures, just request them. No prior chat necessary”.

In fact, according to the Vanity Fair article, the reason for hooking up is less about pleasure and fun than performance and gossip—it’s being able to update (on social media) about it. “Social media is fostering a very unthinking and unfeeling culture. We’re raising our kids to be performers.”

Image Courtesy: examiner.com

Image Courtesy: examiner.com

To me, the fact that such young people willingly utilized or would be willing to utilize such apps was baffling. I simply could not wrap my head around the fact that young girls, fully aware of the dangers lurking online, would be more than happy to participate and engage in a social medium like this. Upon further reading, I started to understand that majority of the girls who actively participated in social media were looking for one main thing, approval and validation. The number of likes they got on pictures, or the number of requests they got to “hook up” in some sense not only validated their self-worth but, their social status. In fact, one of the questions posed to the girls interviewed for the article in Vanity Fair, was whether or not “they knew girls who posted provocative pictures of themselves”. They all answered yes.

“More provocative equals more likes,” said Greta.

“It attracts more guys and then it makes other girls think about doing it just for the attention. They’re attention whores,” said Padma, frowning.

“I think some girls post slutty pictures of themselves to show guys the side to them that guys want to see,” said Zoe. “It’s annoying.”

“Girls call them sluts. Boys call it hot,” said Padma.

Greta shrugged. “I call it hilarious.”

Firstly, when did  attracting men or boys become dependent on how provocatively you portrayed yourself? Secondly, if women themselves insist on perpetuating certain underhanded stereotypes of the female gender, how can we as women, expect men to not feed off this stereotype? And lastly, if these young women’s sense of their own agency is so detached, how can we expect young men to show the adequate respect that is due every woman?

Image Courtesy: self.com

Image Courtesy: self.com

This post is not to disregard the enormous good that social media has done in its attempts to discourage and eliminate sexual violence among the youth. In fact, the app Circle 6, the winner of the White House’s “Apps Against Abuse” technology challenge, allows users to reach a group of six trusted friends with clear messages for help in one to two clicks of a button. It is designed to help men and women create support networks and communities on whom they can rely for help in both immediately threatening situations and more entrenched, relationship-based ones.

However, the bigger and more important question we should ask ourselves is how effective will apps like this be in preventing sexual violence?

What do you guys think? What are the rewards for upholding our socially scripted roles, and what are the penalties and punishments doled out for those who transgress unintentionally or willingly? Can these penalties be dangerous?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

Project Unbreakable: A Must Watch

This project is truly remarkable and I would be selling myself short if I didn’t share this on my blog. For the many critics and cynics out there, I hope this shows you that the issue I am talking about is indeed serious and affects a numerous number of people, from all walks of life and both genders.

Image Courtesy: projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

Image Courtesy: projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

 What resonated with me the most was this one line in the video that exemplifies everything my blog stands for.

“I realized that I had the ability to make a huge difference in a world where sexual abuse is shamed and kept quiet.”

I hope you take the time to watch this video and share it with your friends and family. Do also visit the Project Unbreakable blog for regular updates.

We have a voice, lets use it.

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These Streets Are Made For Walking, Not Catcalling

For years and years women have had to endure endless sexual harassment, whether it be unwanted looks, inappropriate physical contact with strangers or even mere cat-calling. Street harassment in particular has become an epidemic in countries all over the world.

Image Courtesy: plus.google.com

Image Courtesy: plus.google.com

It comprises actions and comments between strangers in public that are disrespectful, threatening and unwanted. Such harassment can range from whistling and sexist or sexual comments to flashing, stalking, groping and assault. More importantly, it primarily impacts women, including more than 80% of women worldwide, and it directly limits their access to public spaces.

Studies have shown that more than 90% of women in countries like Egypt, India, Yemen, and the USA experience it. More than 80% do in Canada. A recent study in France found that 25% of women between the ages 18-29 feel scared when they walk down the streets. In London, 43% of women ages 18-34 had experienced street harassment just during the prior year.

Moreover, in a 2013 global review of available data, between 40 and 50% of women in the European Union experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. In the United States, 83% of girls aged 12 to 16 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.

As you can see, street harassment as such is extremely pervasive and the fact that it has gotten very little attention is rather puzzling. I believe that not everyone understands the severity of this issue and this is primarily why it has not received a great amount of coverage. We tend to accept things like sexual harassment, that happen every day as the norm, without questioning it.

The most common excuse given for street harassment is that “boys will be boys”. This not only dismisses the entire concept of sexual harassment but provides the attacker, perpetrator or harasser with a convenient pretext to justify his behaviour. Just because there exists a stereotype that men are predisposed to objectifying and harassing women is not reason enough to look the other way.

In fact, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, “everyone must acknowledge that street harassment is not a compliment, a minor annoyance, or a woman’s fault. It’s a bullying behaviour”. Majority of the harassment is more often than not directed at teenage girls and young women because it’s assumed that they are too young and naive to know what to do or how to respond. As such, it is important to acknowledge this deviant behaviour and condone it.

Image Courtesy: thefeministgriote.com

Image Courtesy: thefeministgriote.com

In a recent project  which was part of Project Guardian, the British Transport police, Metropolitan police, City of London police and Transport for London collaboratively came together to make public transport in London a safer place for women. This involved 120 officers in a mixture of civilian clothing and uniforms carrying out daily patrols. In the first week itself, approximately 15 arrests were made for sexual harassment. This movement is an extraordinary example proactive action taken by local police departments after acknowledging that street harassment is indeed a serious problem.

It is easy to say that countries around the world should exemplify this model put forth by the UK. However, it takes a greater understanding to see that every country is different and that it will take a diagnostic study to render a response that is truly local and that will truly match the needs of the people in that specific country. Cities that have taken steps to improving the lighting and design of streets and buildings, training and sensitizing police, and hiring more women police officers, have seen these changes make a world of difference and rightfully so. But, they all started at the same place, where they acknowledged sexual harassment as not something that occurs every day but instead, as a serious epidemic that needed a specific remedy to cure society.

To end this post, I will leave you with something that resonated with me from the same Christian Science Monitor article mentioned above,

“No country has achieved equality and no country will until women can navigate public places without experiencing or fearing street harassment.”

What do you think? Can women ever be expected to have the luxury of moving around freely in public spaces? What steps can be taken to ensure a woman’s safety on public transport or in public streets? Can a woman ever feel truly safe in public?

We have a voice, lets use it.

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Why Women May Be Perpetuating Rape Myths

As women, when issues of rape are brought to the table, we often point the finger whole-heartedly at men. However, in a recent survey, almost a third of the women surveyed claimed that there are varying degrees of rape. The same proportion also believe that if a woman does not fight back, the assault cannot amount to rape.

Image Courtesy: plus.google.com

Image Courtesy: plus.google.com

This implies that the problem could lie with women’s perception of what rape truly is, reducing the conviction rate of a crime that is evidently on the rise.

In fact, the latest figures from the UK’s Ministry of Justice, show an estimated 60,000 to 95,000 incidents of rape on average in the last three years. Only 15,670 of these were reported to police, of which 2,910 rape cases went to court. This resulted in a total of 1,070 rape prosecutions.

While the dismal conviction rate may have something to do with the UK’s judicial system, it also has something to do with the lack of knowledge among women in terms what really amounts to being raped. In the survey carried out by the Charity Rape Crisis, a quarter of the 1,000 women surveyed, incorrectly thought if someone was drunk it could not be classified as rape, while 60% thought it did not count if a woman does not say no.

What struck me the most was the fact that rape was so completely misunderstood. Rape is a subset of sexual violence, defined by the World Health Organization as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting.

It is easy to doubt a victim’s story especially if she was intoxicated when the assault had taken place. However, it should be noted that no woman who was drinking or drunk, is inviting rape. Instead, the fact that a person was too drunk or was under the influence of alcohol should imply that they were probably incapable of consenting to sex or making a sound decision in the first place.

The bottom line still remains that sex without consent is rape, and trying to justify a sexual encounter by claiming that the woman provided consent despite the fact that she was heavily intoxicated, is an extremely flawed argument.

Myths like this need to be dispelled not only so that rape can be reported accurately, but more so that the victim feels safe and secure enough in their decision to come forward with a possible rape charge.

What are your thoughts, can situations exist where rape isn’t rape? Can rape ever have varying degrees to constitute it actually happening?

We have a voice, lets use it.

For more information on rape myths, do check out the Rape Crisis website where accurate and clear information about what does and does not constitute rape is provided.

Predator Priests, A Growing Phenomenon?

Almost every day when I type ‘child abuse’ into the Google search engine, scores of stories crop up. However, it was only recently that a very familiar word started cropping up alongside ‘child abuse’. That word was ‘priest’.

Image Courtesy: theage.com.au

Image Courtesy: theage.com.au

According to an article by The Guardian, the clergy child abuse scandals in many countries have drained morale and finances from the church, driving numerous Catholics away, especially in western Europe. Some dioceses have had to close parishes and take other severe actions after paying out millions for counseling and other compensation to victims in cases settled in and out of court.

In Australia, the situation became unbearable with the suicide of 43-year-old, John Pirona last year, who was routinely sexually abused as a child by the notorious priest, John Denham. His tragic death, which was a result of severe psychological trauma after being abused for so long, was the catalyst for the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission and prompted Julia Gillard’s sanctioning of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

While steps are being taking to make the accused and guilty pay for their actions, most of the abuses date back to the 1970s. So what has the Catholic Church been doing up until now, you may ask? The answer to that question is simple – covering up.

In fact, the Royal Commission in Australia found that the Pope’s representative in Australia knew of the serious accusations  against the notorious priest Denis McAlinden from at least 1995. This is just one example of how the entire religious institution would routinely turn a blind eye as a means of avoiding scandal. This is not to say that priests condoned such sexual abuse. Instead, an argument can be made that they were afraid of the negative repercussions if such news got out. After all, what would their congregation say when the news of ‘men of god’ abusing young children for the fun of it, got out?

According to a prolific article, Catholic Priests Unmasked: ‘God Doesn’t Like Boys Who Cry’, the behaviour of the church can be understood based on two principles.

Image Courtesy: Phillip Coorey, www.smh.com.au

Image Courtesy: Phillip Coorey, http://www.smh.com.au

The first is ‘scandalizing the faithful’. Traditionally, the hierarchy believed the greatest sin was shaking the faith of Catholic congregations. Protecting them meant concealing scandal. Adopting that as your moral standpoint means anything goes. You can cover up sexual misconduct from those you demand sexual morality from. You can conceal financial corruption from those who put their pounds in the collection plate. You can silence the abused and protect the abuser. Guilt about sacrificing individuals is soothed by protecting something bigger and more significant – the institution.

The second concept is “clericalism”, a word used to describe priests’ sense of entitlement, their demand for deference and their apparent conformity to rules and regulations in public, while privately behaving in a way that suggests the rules don’t apply to them personally. The Vatican is an independent state; the Holy See a sovereign entity recognized in international law and governed by the Pope. The Nunciature operates like government embassies in different countries worldwide. It is even governed by its own rules: Canon Law. All this contributes to the notion that the church can conduct its own affairs without interference or outside scrutiny. It demands a voice in society without being fully accountable to it.

However, the fact that the church can conduct its affairs as a sovereign state, does not give it the permission to conduct its affairs however it pleases. When Syria uses chemical weapons against its own people, the international community reacts in outrage. As such, sovereignty is not reason enough for the international community to turn a blind eye.

While the church is a religious institution, it is not exempt from the law and cover ups should not be tolerated. Speaking as a Catholic, the news of such abuse horrified me. I go to church every Sunday not out of obligation but belief in it’s teachings. The church has taught me to help others and to not be silent when gross atrocities are being carried out in front of your eyes. In my opinion, they should heed their own teaching.

What do you guys think? How can we ensure justice if the institution turns a blind eye?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

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