Monday, April 29, 2013

Can We Remove the Stigma Surrounding Rape?

When I write these musings of mine, I’m trying to sort things out in my own mind and when people share their comments with me I read them. Your comments often help me look at problems from a different angle and even if I don’t reply, I do read them.

Sometimes I try to be funny, sometimes I’m snarky, but I’m trying to think out loud… and I’m trying to get you to think as well.

I take the easy part, I ask the questions… I have lots of questions.

One of my questions is why is it when things happen “over there” in faraway places the media jumps on the story and runs with it, but when things happen in Canada they slide under the radar?

Not too long ago the media was abuzz with stories about rapes in India. Before that there was a story about a poor girl in the Maldives who was to be given 100 lashes for being the victim of rape, but when rapes occur here, we don’t seem to hear about it.

I’m thinking first about Rehtaeh Parsons. I don’t recall anything coming across my screen about the alleged rape of a 15 year old girl by four boys in 2011, but I’m in Ontario. I don’t know if this story made the regional news or even the local news in Nova Scotia. It should have.

The saddest part of Rehtaeh’s story is not that she was raped, but the victimization she faced after the rape.  The harassment and hate she had to suffer through for 17 months until she was unable to take anymore.

Rehtaeh is not alone, in the last few days a young woman in Windsor, Ontario has come forward telling her story as a rape survivor.  She was raped by her boyfriend and suffered through the same abuse that Rehtaeh suffered through.  She also tried to commit suicide to end the torment that she was living in.  She’s speaking out because she wants other victims to know that they are not alone.

The message needs to get out.

When there was a serial rapist in Toronto, a woman Tweeted a list of things to prevent being raped.  She suggested learning martial arts, carrying mace, and to stop dressing like a slut. 

This woman’s claim to fame was that her father is a politician in Toronto.

Her comments caused another woman to come out about being raped.  She was hurt and offended that people assume that only sluts or women and girls who dress like “sluts” get raped.  She said on her Facebook page that she had been raped, and that the dress she was wearing was the same one that she had worn to her Grandmother’s birthday.  Hardly “slut gear” by any means. 

The response to her coming out about being a rape victim was amazing.  She received many messages of support, but she was stunned by the number of messages of support from other rape survivors who had managed to carry on.

It really is a crime that it took the death of Rehtaeh to spur any action surrounding her case.  The initial investigation by the RCMP determined there wasn’t a good possibility of conviction so they let the matter slide.  17 months later and after Rehtaeh’s death Darrell Dexter, the Premier of Nova Scotia wants to look into the handling of the rape case by the RCMP.  Just a little late I think.

Rehtaeh’s parents and Dexter also had meetings with Stephen Harper.  They didn’t have much to say afterwards, and neither did the government, but it seems that the response will likely be more laws.

Another law is not the answer.  There were a number of laws broken here.  Rape, possession and transmission of images of the rape, the harassment, and no one was brought before the courts.  No one was found guilty of an offence, there was no justice.

When I sat down to write this I looked for the statistics on rape in Canada and there really doesn’t seem to be much to go on.  I ended up looking at Wikipedia to find there were 576 reported rapes in 2010, their most recent number.  Those 576 rapes boil down to 1.7 people per 100,000. 

But, and it is a big but, less than 10% of rape victims report the crime.

That means there are likely 2 rape victims per 10,000 people in Canada in 2010.  That means that it is entirely possible that you personally know someone who has been raped.  I also found a statistic that 25% of Canadian women have been raped at some point of their life.  That’s 1 in 4 women.

There has always been a stigma to rape.  For some perverse reason people think that women who get raped were asking for it.  We don’t think that a home owner is to blame for having their house broken into because they had nice things.  But we’ll blame the rape victim if she was wearing makeup or a dress just to look nice.

The way we have treated the women who have come forward to report rapes is horrid.  They’ve been dragged through the mud in the court system with lawyers trying to show that they were asking for it.  The community often looked down of these women as being beneath contempt because only bad girls got raped.  And then there are the idiots who seem to think that because a girl gets raped she must be some sort of easy lay and they want to get some too.

It’s no wonder they don’t report the crime.  Would you?

This isn’t something new.  It has been with us a long time.  The only difference is that today we have social media that is capable of reaching an untold number of people within seconds.  The stories might have rumours between friends back in the day or in coffee klatches, later on rumours moved down the line on the telephone, but always limited to a few at a time.  A post on Facebook can reach hundreds or thousands and a Twitter message can suddenly go to millions.

So what is the answer?  Will another law help?

It might, but we don’t seem to be able to enforce the laws we already have.  And if rape victims are too afraid to come forward will these laws help at all?

What we need to do is to understand that rape happens to nice girls.  And we need to teach our kids that bad things like rape happen to nice people and sadly we need to start teaching this to kids before they leave elementary school.

I’m not saying this is a school thing, parents teach kids too, and it should be parents teaching this to their own kids.

CBC Windsor had an interview with a 14 year old girl who was raped when she was 12.  She said that she was harassed and bullied by the others at her school when they found out.  When the interviewer asked her about it, she said that the other kids didn’t understand, they didn’t realize what they were doing was wrong.

She is very wise for 14 years old.

We need to remove the stigma from being a victim of rape.  We need to enable these girls and women so that they can be confident that they will not suffer for naming the person who committed this crime against them. 

Earlier I mentioned that less than 10% of rapes are reported in Canada… That means that 90% of the rapists are not charged, not brought to justice…

Think about it,


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