Sexual violence and harassment is something that has always been the elephant in the room. I myself have felt particularly uncomfortable and frustrated whenever the topic came up. It is a conversation that needs to be both started and joined, yet the BAME community often seem to shy away from addressing some of the core issues that our women, our sisters, and our daughters are facing. A lot of people have been broken, coming from broken homes, sexualised from an early age and have taken up the role of a silent victim. Some of us have found ourselves at university in the wrong place at the wrong time, but too embarrassed to tell anyone and worried you would have to convince others of your truth. I spent the last few days reading the stories of victims on various social media platforms and we at Several Seats wanted to speak out about whats going on.
Women, especially BAME women are at disproportionate risk of sexual violence. The first step to dismantling rape culture is naming it, let’s call it what it is. Allow me to start this conversation with key statistics about rape and sexual violence in England and Wales.
31% of young women aged 18-24 report having experienced sexual violence in childhood (NSPCC, 2011),
Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police.
Amongst the general population, students (6.4%) were more likely to have been a victim of sexual assault in the last year (2017), than adults of other occupations.
35% of Black women experienced some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime
The term “rape culture” was first coined by the New York Radical Feminists in 1974, in a publication called Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women. Rape culture is governed by the social environment that permits sexual violence and harassment to be excused, downplayed, normalised and justified. Rape culture is perpetuated by the persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality. It is rooted in long-standing patriarchal power structures that were designed by men to benefit men, however, today it affects men too. Let’s not ignore the fact that men can be victims of rape and sexual assault, and women can be perpetrators of it. Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where victim-blaming, specifically using victim’s sobriety, clothes, and sexuality, has been used as a means for justification. Nobody has the right to say somebody else’s body deserved to be violated because of their sexuality, or because of the type of clothes they wore, or because they were under the influence.
Consent is defined as permission for “something to happen or an agreement to do something”
It’s not consent if she is afraid to say no
It’s not consent if you pressure her to say yes
It’s not consent if you have to ask yourself if she consented
Black women remain vulnerable to sexual violence due to what we call intersectionality, which is the interconnected nature of social categorisations. It is the systematic oppression black women experience based upon their race and gender.
Ways to stand against rape cultures
1. Speak up and speak out - Encourage the conversation around sexual abuse in your community. This will create a safe space that will reduce the chances of people being silent victims. Start or join the conversation
2. Stop victim-blaming - rape affirming beliefs are embedded in our cultures and in our languages. Make the choice to stop promoting it
3. Have a zero-tolerance policy - Establish policies of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse in the spaces in which you live and work.
4. Educate yourself and others - Rape culture takes many forms. Take time to understand the factors that underpin rape culture and the myths that also surround it.
5. Invest in women and women lead organisations - Donate to organisations that empower women, amplify their voices and support survivors
6. Listen to survivors - it takes more than just being heard for action to be taken. You need to listen
Organisations that work with women and survivors
Articles for further reading
Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)
Support line: 0333 300 6389
The Survivors Trust
Helpline: 0808 801 0818
Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support
Women's Aid Federation
National Domestic Violence Helpline (24hrs): 0808 2000 247
Joan Idowu Founder and CEO of Several Seats