Don’t walk home alone: how about we stop rape happening in the first place?
As a girl, I’ve always been told not to walk home alone at night. Which is fair enough, because that’s not a safe thing to do in the first place. However, I’m being told this with rape being the biggest concern in mind.
As a girl, I’ve always been told that if a strange man stops me and acts inappropriately then, in my mother’s words, “kick him in the crown jewels”.
As a woman, I’ve realised that this isn’t a fair attitude. I’ve realised that rape prevention has been taught to only girls and not boys. I’ve realised the focus has been on ‘how not to get raped’ or ‘what to do when you’re in a situation’ as opposed to what consent is and how not to be a rapist in the first place.
In the last issue of Sin, I wrote a news piece about the recent Garda Joint Policing Committee report about crime in Galway. When researching the story, I was disappointed to see the way in which certain news outlets reported the latest statistic that shows the number of reported rapes in Galway has doubled since last year.
One news source straight-out (and rightfully so) mentioned the number of reported cases of rapes doubled from five on last year, to 10 this year. Meanwhile another publication grouped the number of sexual assault cases with the 10 rape cases, giving a total of 30 reported sex crimes in Galway this year, and reached the conclusion that there has been a 16 percent decrease in reported ‘sexual assaults’.
First of all, rape and sexual assault aren’t necessarily interchangeable terms. Sexual assault is a broad umbrella term which, colloquially, incorporates harassment, violent and verbal assault, as well as but not exclusively rape. Rape is rape. The fact there were 20 reported cases of sexual assault offences as well as 10 rape cases is just incredibly wrong, so away with that 16 percent decrease. These crimes are still happening; therefore that 16 percent is unimportant.
I understand this is a matter of maths, but as an influential news source in Galway, this didn’t send out the right message to its readership. I don’t know about you, but after reading about such a dramatic percentage drop, I’d almost trust that sex crimes are becoming less and less frequent. But no. This is not the case. The amount of reported rape cases has doubled in less than 12 months. With 95 percent of rapes going unreported, I can’t even begin to imagine how many other cases exist out there.
What really bothers me is how the focus is still on how not to get raped instead of preventing rape happening in the first place. Here it gets a tiny bit complicated. By ‘how not to get raped’ I mean people, primarily women, are taught not to walk home alone, talk to strange men or leave their drink on the table in a bar or club. Surprisingly still, women are told to not show too much skin.
Don’t believe me? Well from personal experience, anyone who was at the Erasmus/International talk for outgoing students 2014/15 may remember being told to “dress appropriately on nights out” and avoid, to paraphrase, ‘unwanted attention’.
Despite the outrageous idea that you should ‘mind’ what you’re wearing, the rest of the advice is good advice. Although we should not have to worry about these things in this day and age, the unfortunate fact is people can spike your drink, and walking home alone does make you vulnerable. However, the idea of preventing getting raped or sexually assaulted should not just be the only thing we’re advised on. If we teach people about consent, alcohol and sex, rape and assault, then maybe we can prevent the act of rape being committed in the first place.
Thankfully, issues concerning consent have become central in sex education – among third level students at least. Campaigns such as #AskConsent and Yes = Sex have been and continue to work on raising public awareness and educating people on the issue of consent. Although sex education is making progress, it is slow.
NUI Galway’s very own Dr Charlotte McIvor has worked extensively in designing an education programme which uses drama to teach young people about consent and actually discuss the taboo of rape. Dr McIvor was kind enough to give me a copy of the script, as well as a copy of a paper she wrote and presented last June.
In 2014, Dr McIvor began teaching an elective module as a part of the third year BA Drama and BA Connect with Theatre and Performance courses. The module description reads:
“This course focuses on developing practical skills in applied theatre, theatre for social change, theatre in education, devising for theatre, practice-as-research, and feminist theatre techniques… Through a series of practical workshops, we will build towards the development of an original devised theatre piece thematised around the issue of sexual consent, assault and alcohol on college campuses working in consultation with NUI Galway Psychology’s recent report ‘Young People, Alcohol and Sex: What’s Consent Got to Do With It?’ (Pádraig Mac Neela et. al, 2014).”
The module presented a mixed group of students from the two BA Drama courses at NUI Galway. The class consisted of eight males and six females, ranging from the ages of 21 years-old to 70 years-old.
“I am not just interested in what can be represented through theatre, but the relationship between how it is represented and its potential impact in a third-level educational context,” said Dr McIvor.
“This elective module for third-year students resulted in the creation of an original theatre piece, 100 Shades of Grey, that explicitly addressed the interlocking themes of alcohol, assault and sexual consent.”
100 Shades of Grey features a segment wherein the performers stand with a placard dictating a percentage or statistic relevant to rape cases. This section of the script I’d like to share with you:
Ger: One in five women will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape.
Marie: 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the survivor.
John: 11 percent of victims report that their attacker used a weapon.
Mark: 70 percent of victims of rape and 84 percent of those accused of rape had been drinking at the time of the assault according to a 2009 Irish study.
Jim: 95 percent of attacks go unreported.
Aoife: 97 percent of rapists go free in the Irish judicial system.
Charlotte: Only one out of 100 rapists will serve jail time.
Jonathan: In 70 percent of Irish cases that went to trial, the judge was allowed to question the victim about their previous sexual history. This is known as the Section 3 application. The reason? To assess her alleged promiscuity.
Laura: Seven percent of women who were raped in Ireland in 2011 became pregnant as a result.
Shannon: A woman is at least two times as likely to conceive a child after a rape compared to one engaging in consensual sex.
Peter: 16 percent of Galway Rape Crisis clients in 2012 were males.
Richard: 26 percent of clients did not tell anybody they know that they were attending counselling after the attack.
These haunting statistics are why we need to stop pushing aside rape and sex crimes because there’s been a 16 percent decrease. These are the reasons we need to teach people of all ages about consent. These are reasons work like this must continue.
These topics have become so taboo to the point where certain organisations refused to provide a comment on this piece because talking about rape is “inappropriate”.
Rape, as a violent sex crime of power, will be difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate. However, rape and assault caused by the lack of consent can be tackled through educating the masses, and discouraging rape culture. So let’s do this.
By Jenna Hodgins