Sexual Assault And Violence Against Women

Aiia Massarwe was only 21 years old when she, like so many before her, fatally became the victim of a brutal physical and sexual assault. Her death, while tragic, once again sparked a worldwide conversation about the impact of violence against women. Yet, in the midst of this discussion, conservative commentators and men around the world continue to write a narrative about being demonised, while women just like Aiia, are being raped and killed. And even worse, instead of blaming the men who rape and murder, society turns to women to change their behaviour in order to prevent harm. No longer do women want to be cautious, nor should they feel they have to be, yet we, as a worldwide community, have created and continue to promote a culture where we blame the inactions of the victim for their assault, rather than the actions of the perpetrator.

Sexual assault and violence against women is now as prevalent as it has ever been, with one woman every week dying at the hands of a violent man. Women worldwide have used their voices to bring light to a situation that has, for so long, been left in the dark. But prior to this movement, there was a period of agonising silence. There was a time where women who were victims of these horrific crimes went unnoticed. Unrecognised. Even worse, acts of sexual violence are particularly insidious because sexual acts ordinarily and rightly are a source of pleasure. It is often unclear to a woman who has been victimized and to society as a whole whether a sexual violation was done out of desire or violent intent, because violence itself has come to be seen as sexual or erotic. The inability for society to distinguish between consensual and non consensual, to understand that no means no, has led to the promotion and endorsement of rape culture, the sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes. It has also led to an increase in victim blaming, where a victim of a crime or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them. There is never a time where it is the victim’s fault when it comes to sexual assault and violence, and the moment someone tells a victim that their situation could’ve been avoided by something they did, is the moment we have failed them.

And to make matters worse, many women are afraid of coming forward in fear of being accused of paranoia, hysteria or worse, ‘man-hating’. Toxic masculinity has plagued a woman’s fundamental right to speak out. We, as women, are frightened to discuss the reality in case it makes men feel somehow implicated. Yet, the truth is, men as a class of people who maintain rights and privilege over others have the responsibility to be active in destroying the sexist ideology. Men should be actively calling out friends, family and colleagues on destructive behaviour, misogyny, bullying. Rape and murder might be the extreme end, but the spectrum they sit on reaches back to ‘harmless’ casual sexism, rape jokes and threats. This attitude expressed by men towards women did not manifest one day out of nowhere; it is learnt and cultivated. Intervention by men is possibly the biggest step forward for the issue of violence against women. Teaching boys, old and young, to respect women is fundamental in aiding the decline in violence against women. Sexism is the foundation of gendered violence. It isn’t something that is separate and inconsequential. Aiia, and all those who came before her, have proved that.

Not only this, but it is high time society stopped telling women to take precautionary methods when completing simple tasks like walking home. I, as a woman, should NOT have to wear my hair down, as having my hair in a ponytail makes me easier to grab, and therefore an easy target. I should NOT have to take out my headphones when walking, as I must be acutely aware of my surroundings in order to not be seen as vulnerable. I should NOT feel as though it is a necessary precaution to have triple 000 on speed dial, as I should be able to feel safe at all hours of the day, anywhere I go. Yes, these precautions are sensible advice, but it is advice us women are tired of hearing. We are more than well aware of situational awareness, but we don’t want to have to be careful anymore. But what women are even more furious about, is the tiny conviction rate in rape cases, and that the assumption is that for a woman to stay safe, they must watch what they wear, say and do. As Clementine Ford so eloquently put it: ‘It is not up to a woman to modify her behaviour to prevent violence from being enacted against her. It is up to society to work together to dismantle misogyny and the particular kind of male rage that informs these acts of aggression.

Sexual assault is defined as any unwanted sexual behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable, threatened or scared, but it is far more than that. It is catcalls in the street, crude comments on appearance, the inability of so many to understand that no means no. We have the ability to make a change, it is a matter of coming together to be the voice for the voiceless, and speak out for the people who don’t have the courage to do it themselves. There are women out there, just like Eurydice Dickson, like Jill Magher, like Aiia who will become the next victim. We don’t know her name yet, but we will. 

16 August 2021
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