By now, many will have heard about the sexual assault and robbery that occurred on Wednesday (January 27th 2016). We write this with the hope of shifting some narratives around sexual assault and as a contribution to the many ways that people are already pushing back against rape culture.
Whereas much of the discourse or ways of speaking about sexual assault in mainstream media and within the judicial system tend to frame sexualized violence as something that is exceptional, we continue to attempt to disrupt and broaden our understandings and conversations on what sexualized violence is, how it is talked about, and in what ways we can address it.
Rape culture is a term that provides language for us to look at the ways that violence and sexual assault is encouraged and normalized. As people who are working to support folks affected by sexual assault, we see this recent incident as a horrible act of violence, and a symptom of on-going, systemic issues. We know that many other people were assaulted that night as well, and continue to be assaulted every day, regardless of news coverage or police involvement. We also know that resistance happened Wednesday night. We know this because where there is violence, there is always resistance.
As we all become more involved in these conversations and situations, we begin to recognize the ways that the dominant culture we live in is one that promotes entitlement to others’ bodies, glorifies violence, and upholds institutionalized oppression. As a term that helps to draw links between colonization, white supremacy, misogyny, sexualized violence, capitalism, ableism, and other interlocking forms of oppression, these conversations enable us combat the intersections of violence.
Rape culture is the knee-jerk reaction that asks why survivors made the choices they did, or demands of us what we should be doing to make sure we aren’t targets of sexual assault. It is the incarceration, deportation, and murder that targets communities of colour under the guise of safety and police responses to violence. It is criminalization and stigmatization of sex work instead of solidarity and support. It is the idea that sexual assault is an exceptional event committed by an anonymous monster, rather than something that is perpetrated by family members, friends, and others we know. It is a culture where masculinity is used as a source of power exercised through dominance and lack of accountability, rather than as a resource of support and resistance to violence.
Rape culture can cause us to wonder how rape could happen, but not to wonder why we don’t learn from an early age to practice consent and respect each others’ boundaries in our lives every day. It’s the culture that refuses to acknowledge the connections between missing and murdered Indigenous Women, residential schools, and the continuing theft and exploitation of Indigenous land.
When a reporter is gathering public information by asking women on the street if they feel safe, as opposed to asking people what we’re all doing to prevent and address sexual assault in our communities, that is rape culture. Mainstream media tends to focus discussions around what happened, who it happened to, and descriptions of the perpetrator. We would like to ground our response in the support services available and the actions that are already taking place in our community.
Resistance to rape culture lives in the survivors who fled their attackers on Wednesday night. It lives among movements and communities who are learning to articulate, respect, and defend individual and collective boundaries. It lives among communities that are inventing their own ways of responding to sexualized violence and reducing their reliance on cops and courts. It is in the ways that we unlearn how we cause harm, and support others to do the same. It’s among men who work to implicate themselves and others in this work, and in those who support them and hold them accountable. It lives in the leadership of women, genderqueer, and trans folks who are fighting anti-black racism through the Black Lives Matter movement. It lives in the annual memorial march for missing and murdered Indigenous Women. It lives in the resurgence of Indigenous peoples and their revitalization of ceremony, governance, and responsibilities. It lives in every survivor of sexualized violence, who did whatever they needed to do to survive. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Resistance to rape culture lives everywhere, sometimes as patient work, sometimes as collective revolt, sometimes as loving care, and in all kinds of ways that can’t quite be named or articulated.
In these moments of resistance, we want to pass on our care and compassion to all of the people in our community impacted by this violence. We also want to remind folks that there are resources, both on and off campus, for you to access if you have been sexually assaulted, or know someone who has been sexually assaulted. If you would like support there are resources for you. If you want to take preventative action, there are also resources on how to unlearn rape culture: take a consent workshop, engage with the Men’s Circle, the “guaranteed sexual assault prevention tips”, and explore the role of men in ending gender-based violence.
We would like to offer gratitude and humble admiration to all of you, for the ways that you show us what it means to love, resist, and survive these on-going struggles, and we look forward to doing that work with you – every day.
In care, community, and solidarity,
The AVP Team
Written by Nick Montgomery, Liza Brechbill, & meg neufeld