Condemning Sexual Violence: Whose Job Is It?

Condemning Sexual Violence: Whose Job Is It?

We really want Muslims to condemn terrorism. Really though. We unfairly expect the Muslim community to speak out against each incidence of violence these days. Google ‘Muslims condemn terrorism’ and watch the headlines pile up.

In November 2016, 19-year-old American student Heraa Hashmi went so far as to create a 712-page database of cases where Muslims have condemned wrongdoings. Her original tweet inspired her website, muslimscondemn.com.

Discriminatory and illogical though this blanket blaming is, can you imagine if we applied it to the male population with regards to sexual violence? Really though.

My girlfriends and I very often discuss consent, sexism and sexual violence, among other gender-related topics. We’re always learning; our understanding of self, identity and feminism grows. We share links and books. We nod solemnly and punch the air encouragingly where due.

But lately, we’ve noticed an absence of male counterparts in such activity.

Perhaps – and I’ll speak independently here – I’m not seeking enough male perspective on why boys and men laud dominance, act aggressively and downplay sexual consent.

Less optimistically, perhaps the average Australian male isn’t interested in educating himself about “women’s issues”. Sexual assault, coercion into sex and domestic violence are, after all, not Joe Bloggs’ problem.

Or maybe, sadly, the sexual violence dialogue features more women because men are conditioned to view sexual violence and gender-related assault as non-urgent at best, non-existent at worst.

Now, with the blame-Muslims issue in mind, can you imagine asking men to publically condemn every incidence of sexual violence as a collective?

The world’s male population dwarfs that of 1.8 billion Muslims. Sexual violence affects far more people worldwide than terrorism. That we push Muslims to condemn terrorism without demanding more male participation in the reduction of sexual violence astounds me.

In Australia, on average one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner; one in five women has experienced sexual violence; women are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence. (But here we are again, framing sexual and domestic violence as women’s issues, amirite?)

I’m certain most men are appalled by statistics like these. And yet.

The overwhelming majority of perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence are male, and the overwhelming majority of their victims are female. To elucidate: violence against women is not just a woman’s issue.

Allow me to share a recent example of male indifference that spurred this very article.

During a Sunday morning post-party squirm session, sprawled across the veranda sipping warm wine and cider, eight acquaintances – myself and Mardi the only women among them – engaged in a debrief.

Importantly, the night before, I’d taken a necessary power nap on the lounge by the dance floor, only to wake to a young man spooning me and kissing my neck. Surprised by this unsolicited intimacy, it took me some moments to register that he was a complete stranger.

After I stood up and quietly admonished his mindless entitlement, we parted and spoke no more – until the debrief, where I raised the issue before the group. Silence from all men present ensued, except for one guy’s quip: “Don’t go around passing out then.”

Clarification: I have known this guy well, at some stage intimately, for years. He respects and cares about me. I should’ve known he meant it in jest, right? No harm done. Really though.

How this victim-blaming “joke” turned to unbridled misogyny, however, still makes my left eye twitch. Comments from men present included: “That wasn’t even bad”; “Jokes like this are okay between friends”; “Bad things happen everywhere. I think we concentrate too much on rape sometimes.”

Mardi and I all but had to pick our mandibles up off the floor, such was our gaping disbelief.

The conversation’s insensitivity, however, peaked with one guy’s comment: “Look, nobody here’s been raped, so let’s calm down” – as if he knew the intimate histories of all eight people. Mardi and I then aborted the conversation.

Does it surprise you that not one man present addressed said stranger for his having spooned a sleeping woman, that not one man present spoke up against these erroneous assertions?

That said, there certainly are men feminists today writing to encourage the apathetic male to denounce violence against women, and who offer practical ways to join the fight against sexism every day.

Specifically, the writer of the hyperlinked Huffington Post article implores men to “have the courage to look inwards” and “question your own attitudes” and defensiveness. Defensiveness, indeed.

Oftentimes, when I bring up consent or sexual violence with men, they launch into knee-jerk effusions of innocence. “I never pressure for sex”; “I’ve never slept with a drunk chick”; “I’m all about making girls feel comfortable”.

And while I don’t doubt that they believe these, I’m repeatedly marvelling how quickly the discussion becomes about the man himself. Guys, are responses like “That sounds frustrating, tell me more” and “How can I help?” beyond your remit?

But alas, it’d be dishonest of me to write this without acknowledging my own slip-ups. Just moments before the veranda saga, I made a ‘joke’ about getting one of the men present drunk enough to take advantage of him.

Low blow, right? Distasteful, disrespectful and derogatory. Really though. We were all quick to identify my misstep and I apologised immediately, multiple times. It was easy to admit to it. I couldn’t defend it.

While I was willing to own up to my fault, however, the guys were not. Likely, because they don’t want to acknowledge the link between sexist jokes and sexual violence, or that most sexual violence is perpetrated by ‘normal’ guys like them, as highlighted by journalist Clementine Ford in her podcast, The Misandry Hour.

“And then there’s the reality of rape, which is that it is perpetrated by people who are mostly known by the people being targeted by it,” Ford says. “And that sits very uncomfortably with most of society’s perception (of rapists).”

No one wants to be blamed for stuff we haven’t done ourselves. But doesn’t insouciance, of which we’re all guilty at times, play a role here?

Greater male participation in reducing sexual violence will help create safer spaces for all of us. Call out sexism among your mates. Refrain from saying things like raped by mozzies and don’t be a pussy. Listen to feminist podcasts and feminism TED talks. Think about why sexual violence jokes aren’t funny.

One guy close to me once said he wished he were a girl so he could join the fight against sexism. I wish more guys like him would join the fight so we girls could be free. Really though.

Cover by Tanja Heffner 

Lizzy is a freelance writer on a year-long trip from Bali to Iran. As a graduate of journalism and Spanish, she’s interested in language and culture, and dreams of being a foreign correspondent.