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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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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Is the Death Penalty the Answer?

no-death-penalty-button-blog-13Image Courtesy: paxchristiusa.org

The death penalty has been raised around the world as a sufficient and much needed punishment for the crime of rape. The underlying belief is that such a tough punishment or national stance on rape will lead to diminishing incidences of rape and act as an effective deterrent.

Major human rights organizations, like Amnesty International have campaigned for years against the death penalty which violates one’s fundamental right to life. While I do agree that no court should have the capacity to take away one’s life, I believe the issue is more complex than that alone.

Let us look at China for example. According to a study conducted by US-China Today entitled: Rape in China, only 1 out of 10 cases of rape is likely to be reported. Furthermore, the study concluded that while the majority of us would like to believe that the perpetrators of such assault were strangers, the majority of these crimes were actually committed by someone the victim knew.

In fact, if the death penalty were the punishment for rape, wouldn’t it deter the victim from coming forward especially so if the perpetrator was one of their own family members. The entire system is based on the reporting of the case and who will report a case if the conviction would lead to the death of a father or brother or son?

Also, if you look at the actual laws in place in China, like India, the death penalty is actually the severest of penalties one can receive for rape. While, logically this should deter rapists, crimes against women haven’t gone down. Therefore, the correlation between invoking the death penalty and the consequent result of lower crime rate seems to be ill founded.

Tougher laws alone are not the answer. The problem in China and India is largely a cultural one. Violence against women is rooted in patriarchal gender relations where women are assigned roles based not on their capacity but norms and values that perpetuate male dominance and superiority. The gender inequality is embedded in all levels of the society such as employment, education and social status.

It is easy to look at the death penalty as a plausible solution to years of crimes against women. It seems almost justified in places India and China where rape is so rampant. However, rape has not stopped and it is almost foolish to think it will just because of the imposition of the death penalty.

Firstly, in order to be convicted, crimes of rape have to be reported. In patriarchal societies like India and China scores of rapes go unreported. In fact, the woman is often pressured by the authorities, her family or the attacker himself to recant her statement even if she does have the courage to go forward. Secondly, if no one is willing to listen, how can any rapist be convicted and sentenced to death?

The problem is not the law alone. The real problem lies in the systematic failure to recognize rape as an actual crisis or epidemic as I have put it many times before. It is not considered a serious enough issue and therefore, even asking for the death penalty seems foolish. While it may bring justice for one victim, hundreds of others are still left in the dark.

According to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, what should be focused on is whether the police are serious about such crimes, how quickly the matter is tried in a court and whether there is a system that punishment will be given to those responsible. Every case should not be treated as different but be given the due diligence that it truly deserves.

What do you guys think? Is the death penalty the answer?

We have a voice, use it.

Syria’s War Fought Unjustly

Image Courtesy: www.independent.com.mt

I recently came across an article on the Vanity Fair website: Syria’s Unspoken Crimes. It struck me particularly because of how rape was being used, as a “deliberate tactic to terrorize and subjugate combatants and civilians“. This case is particularly special because usually you hear about wars being waged by a foreign enemy. However, the war in Syria is largely a civil war and the atrocities being committed on the people are often committed by their own government. President Bashar al-Assad’s army itself has been charged with some of the most atrocious crimes against humanity, over the past year.

In university I read a book by Michael Walzer entitled “Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations”. He explained that every war is judged twice. The first kind of judgement is adjectival in character. For example, we say a particular war is just or unjust. The second judgement is adverbial, where we would ask ourselves if a war is fought justly or unjustly.

At this point in time, why the war in Syria started is irrelevant but, how it is being fought is of great concern. It should be understood that there are two types of people in a war, the combatants and the civilians and the state exists to defend the rights of these members. Whether it be by luck or sheer patriotic duty, combatants are thrust into war through possibly no choice of their own and forced to give up their basic rights to life and liberty.

Civilians on the other hand, still rely on the state to protect their fundamental rights of liberty and life. In the case of Syria and  the epidemic of rape, these rights are being grossly violated. According to Walzer, a legitimate act of war is one that does not violate the rights of the people against who it is directed and state-sponsored rape certainly cannot qualify as a legitimate act of war.

Rape is a crime in war as in peace, because it violates the rights of the woman who is attacked. Rights, especially a civilian’s rights cannot be set aside, nor can they be balanced in a utilitarian sense against this or that desirable outcome. Simply put, a soldier cannot rape an innocent woman as a means to get information of insurgent or rebel activity that she may or may not be involved with.

Rape should not be used as a means to an end. It may seem that during a war, all rules are thrown out the window and in Syria’s case this may in fact be true. However, wars are largely rule governed. Just because a country is at war does not exempt them from complying with international law, it does not excuse their immoral behavior and it certainly does not make it OK to rape innocent civilians.

What do you guys think? Is a woman’s right to life, security and liberty less important if she is in a war zone? Who should be held accountable if such violence is state-sponsored?

We have a voice, use it.