I’m not sure how coherent I’m going to be as I write this.
My heart is in a very bad state right now. This week has been stupidly hard for anyone who gives a damn about ending sexual violence.
A 19-year-old young man went to police immediately after being sexually assaulted by four women. He was widely ridiculed over Twitter, but Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno decided that wasn’t enough attention. Jokes have been made at his expense about how this is some men’s ultimate fantasy, that the description of the women involved was the reason he reported it as sexual assault and not as consensual sex (because 4 short fat women would never be part of that fantasy), that there must be something wrong with this guy to have not just shrugged off the whole thing. He’s 19, and he felt his power was taken from him. His right to choose what happens to his body was taken from him by four women who have bought into the myth that all men want indiscriminate sex all the time.
But he has, so far, survived.
The same cannot be said about two teenaged girls who committed suicide within the last week, after being sexually assaulted, photographed during the assault, and having the photos distributed either via cellular phone or social media. 17. 15. Their peers, rather than standing up to protect them, did the opposite. They attacked. They slut shamed. They took the photographic evidence of what happened to these girls and used it as justification to police their sexuality. Bad enough to do when a young woman makes choices that lead to exposure, but when the two young women were NOT consenting to the acts being forced on them, when they did NOT consent to photos being taken of them, and when they certainly did not consent to those photos being distributed as rapist badges of honour … I can’t even finish the sentence, I’m so exhausted by the emotion that went into writing it.
I learned something last night, from someone just on the outskirts of one of these events. Someone who had received a copy of a photo, and deleted it. When I first found out that someone would seemingly thoughtlessly delete the photo of a crime, I was angry. Then we talked about it a bit. This person didn’t know the act captured in the photo was sexual assault. This person couldn’t identify the girl in the photo, as her face was not in the shot. This person had no understanding of the legal implications of having a photo of 15-year-old “having sex” on their phone. Had this person known that they were in possession of child pornography, maybe they would have made different choices around deleting and reporting to police who had sent it.
Here’s the thing: if you don’t know, it makes sense there’s not a lot you can do. Is it really the act of a bystander letting things happen if they don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t?
I’m not excusing the behaviour of the students who made these girls’ lives hell. What they did was reprehensible. But as I started to talk about above, we’re socialized in a Canadian/USian context to believe there is something shameful about being a woman (young or otherwise) who has sex. Not only is it shameful, but we must actively shame those who are bold enough to transgress. “Dressing like a slut” is threatening, but I think there may also be perceived safety for many, girls and women in particular, in constructing the sexually available woman as she most likely to be raped. If I don’t flaunt my sexuality, I won’t draw attention to myself, and I won’t get raped. If I don’t make it known that I like sex at all, boys won’t get the wrong idea about me and make me have sex when I don’t want to. Having a “slut” keeps the herd safe. One sacrifice makes life easier for everyone.
But it doesn’t. Because this is the part that’s missing. If we, as a community, think it’s okay to treat one person with such disdain, such negation, such dehumanization, we think it’s okay to treat anyone that way. Slut-shaming doesn’t keep the rest of us safe from being raped, it just takes even more power away from individuals who have already been disempowered. It deludes us into thinking that it will never happen to us. It deludes us into thinking that we will never be the rapists who do this to others, with or without the designation of slut.
So how do we fix this? Can we?
I’m going to continue to try. I’ve done a lot of work to anonymize this blog as much as possible, but I think it’s time to come out again.
I’m working on a project right now to more easily incorporate a consent-based education approach into classrooms. The document I’m working on will be a k-12 resource, made for teachers. It will be tired directly to curriculum streams, with concrete lesson plans, secondary resource suggestions, and lists of possible questions that may come up with students at specific ages (with suggestions on how to respond).
More information about this project can be found at Indiegogo, where I launched a crowdfunding campaign to help me develop this text. I am thrilled to tell you that there are many amazing people who believe in my vision and who have funded me to my initial goal. There is still time left to donate, though, and while I am now funded to develop an Ontario-specific resource, I can now focus on raising funds to adapt the text to provincial and territorial curriculum requirements across Canada.Oh, and every resource I produce will be free. Forever.
I won’t pretend that what I’m doing is the answer. But it is an answer.