– by Tamra Carr
Well-intentioned campaigns that strive to keep women safe are fighting against the infestation of sexual violence in our society. Girls are told to avoid intoxication, going out at night alone and to always remain vigilant.
While this advice is undoubtedly helpful to some, it actually remains useless to the vast majority of women. In the interest of minimising their risk of assault too, society must move away from the idea that rape is somehow alien to our communities.
The myth of stranger rape is the belief that rape victims usually do not know the perpetrator. A lone man in a dark alley that pulls his victims off the streets is a common depiction in popular cinema and television, reinforcing these misconceptions about sexual assault.
Statistics show that 87.7% of sexual assault victims know their attacker, which renders most advice about how to behave in the presence of strangers unhelpful. It also results in a mass blanket of underreporting, deriving from people who don’t understand how someone known to them can commit such a crime.
To remove high rates of sexual violence from its seemingly inherent position in our society, it is important to accept that it’s our relatives, neighbours, friends, domestic partners, teachers, doctors and community leaders that are committing most of these crimes.
Instead of attributing sexual assault to the psychosis of random criminals, the public must explore the factors hidden in genes, upbringing and culture that produce rapists. Diagnosing the root cause is the only way to find an effective solution.
Although, rape is a multidimensional problem, it has no official cause. A recent theory implicates genes as a factor of sexual violence, with a study showing that this particular crime appears to recur in families.
Some theorists describe a narrative where many offenders themselves were sexually abused as children. Households with a strong patriarchal influence and an imbalance of power between domestic partners is generally linked to producing a rapist, as is an unsupportive family and an early introduction to intercourse.
One of the most popular ideas behind rape is the concept of a ‘rape culture’ which refers to the normalisation of sexual violence in society. Whether rape culture is pervasive in Australia is debateable, but high statistics of rape tend to follow societies with media content that regularly objectifies women.
Rape is a highly problematic crime, with a low conviction success rate and 80% of offenders receiving a custodial sentence of only 4 or 5 years, sometimes less. High profile cases such as the rape and murder of Jill Meagher by parolee Adrian Bayley, continually puncture the public with reminders of the failures of the justice system.
Arrest and conviction is not always an effective deterrent to keep people from sexually assaulting women. Rapists typically share a mixture of hostility, anger, dominance, hyper-masculinity, impulsivity and anti-social attitudes that need to be challenged early by clear and concise education on respect, gender equality and consent starting in the household.
Modern literature that explicitly defines what is acceptable and what is not needs to be drilled into the minds of the nation’s youth at school. This will help people understand good behaviour is expected of everybody and learn to recognise and rectify situations in which boundaries are being crossed.
Australia has among the highest amount of reported sexual assaults per capita on the globe. This seems to be a troubling statistic, but the rates of rape are certainly unmatched by countries which have a very strong rape culture that prevents women from feeling safe enough to report the crime.
Women coming forward and ending the silence on rape is a key component to its eradication in Australia. While the justice system struggles to keep up with demands for women’s safety against violations of their bodily autonomy, the public can take matters into its own hands. This is achieved by spreading correct information on consent, recognising the falsehoods encircling sexual assault and changing the culture around rape.
Photo Credits: Featured Image by IBNLive; Help Image by Amanda Mendoza; Sexual Assault is Everyone’s Issue Image by Elizabeth Hoyt