Reclaim The Night 2013 recap

Trigger warning as this piece references r*, sexual assault and victim blaming.

This year’s Reclaim The Night (RTN) was an inspiring night of rallying, marching and local talent. Last friday night, women-identifying people came together at Queen’s Park to hear speakers turn the tables on victim blaming with tips like “How Not To Rape – men, carry whistles to alert others you’re going to rape! And remember to stay in packs!”.

Hear Kara de Groot explain more about this year’s RTN on

Despite the police weirdly making everyone hurry up through the march (apparently they only had a half an hour window to escort the march…), and a few randoms who decided to walk through the rally, the night was full of both celebration of being women who will not stand for violence in our society and respect and remembrance of those we have lost to sexual violence. We chanted “Blame the system, not the victim”, “Not the Church, Not the State, Let Women Decide Their Fate” and “No means no, it doesn’t mean maybe, don’t touch me I’m not your baby!” down the streets of the CBD to applause from onlookers and touchingly, male allies who welcomed us back to Queen’s Park.  Speakers included those from the RTN Collective, Senator Claire Moore and the UQWC’s own Madeline Price, who shared the following evocative beat poem:

I should not fear
four little words I repeat
backed by blasting dubstep beat
that echoes from the club
that I just left

I should not fear
walking our shared streets
the police on the beat
there to protect me
from your drunken hands
and broken minds

I should not fear
our public places
our private spaces
our university campuses
our schools
our homes
and the willingness of the public
to attribute blame

I should not fear
persecution for walking at night
objectification if my skirts too tight
this slut-shaming
that I was born into

I should not fear
that I am seen as a piece of meat
rather than the person within.

A big shout out goes to the Brisbane RTN Collective, who made this year’s rally and march a smash success. The t-shirts and badges made were amazingly designed and the night was well organised.

The UQ Women’s Collective led the march – a spontaneous decision made because we had the largest banner! Below are a few of my photos of the night plus a photo of the t-shirts from the RTN Collective facebook page (please don’t use these pictures without my permission or credit – email first.

If you’d like to get involved with next year’s Brisbane Reclaim The Night, you can find out more info here.

~ Emma Di Bernardo

Thanks to Madeline Price and Kara de Groot for sharing their work for this post.

“A Dirty Game”: One Woman’s Retrospective on the UQ Elections

By Anonymous
As featured in Wom*news #11: Women In Public

Trigger warning as this piece references experiences of sexual harassment. 

I got involved in student politics because people I vaguely knew asked me to do a favour by campaigning, and because I thought it would be fun and a good way to make some new buddies. I did not expect what would happen next.

The first day I was campaigning, I was at the bus stop with two other female campaigners when a male opposition campaigner called us ugly. Straight up, to our faces. From that moment it was personal. I had heard and witnessed tales of our opposition’s awful behaviour and the first taste I received of it was enough to get me fired up and angry. I campaigned my little heart out for the next week and a half, enduring constant verbal and physical intimidation. I was called every name under the sun. I was threatened. I began to feel unsafe on campus. I tried to go to Campus Security and the police, but all I got back was victim blaming. Then the first round of elections was cancelled, and I knew I would have to go through it all again.

I didn’t want to, but there was no way I could let those scumbags win.

Round Two began and it was even worse than I could ever imagine. By the end of the two weeks I was hanging on by a thread. I was taking Valium to stave off panic attacks. At one point I spent time locked in the women’s room, scared for my physical safety. I was shoved, pushed against railings, crushed between two large male opposition campaigners and once again verbally abused.  By 4 pm Friday I was wracked with exhaustion and worry: what if it had all been for nothing, the extra-ordinary shit me and my fellow campaigners had put ourselves through? I scrutineered that night and the more votes we counted, the more I knew we were going to ruin the incumbent party.

That night as we drank from the keg of glory, we got a stern talking about our safety walking home. It was unreal. Campus politics has always been a dirty game – most people are familiar with the tales of our new PM and his antics which included punching the wall next to a woman’s head. This campaign experience has done nothing but further reinforce the notions of patriarchy and misogyny in our society.

Ladies hoping for careers in politics, in activism, in public life, we need to smash this. We need to Destroy the Joint.

~ Anonymous

Casual Sexism: Myths, Debunked

Trigger warning for misogynist, homophobic language, discussion of sexual assault.

“Grow some balls!”/”That takes balls.” 

Having balls is a compliment or an insult, depending on how it’s used, but it comes back to the idea that being courageous/brave/forward is a male thing. I’m sure no one doubts that these traits are certainly present in women as well, however the problem here is linking such traits with cis-male genitalia. There’s also a bit of an irony to this saying. Testicles seem to be the most sensitive part on a male body. And yet, ironically, they’ve come to represent toughness.

So far, there’s no problem, really. Where’s the sexism?

The problem is when it’s used to describe a woman. And there are two issues with this. First, cis-women don’t have balls. So substitute balls for ovaries? It doesn’t quite have the same ring. We don’t even have a colloquial word for ovaries in english (in common usage, anyway, Urban Dictionary informs me that the kids are calling them “Os” these days), and yet I can think of numerous slang words for testicles off the top of my head. Balls, nuts, bollocks, crown jewels.

The second problem with this saying is when someone says to a woman “grow some balls”. Meaning get some nerve/drive/courage. It’s reductive because, in light of the fact that women don’t have them, it implies that courage/nerve/the go-getting attitude is A Male Thing. This insult’s close relative, calling someone a “pussy”, perfectly compliments this idea by saying that if you don’t have these things, you are female genitalia.

Finally, this is pretty trans* phobic language. The expression totally adheres to the gender binary, and in doing so, defines internal gender characteristics by reference to physical (external) gender. In this way, gender is represented as a dichotomy rather than a spectrum, and physical and mental manifestations of gender are wrongly conflated.

“You’re such a girl!”

Being a girl in this context is synonymous with being weak, submissive, and crying easily. Of course these traits are feminine, and therefore negative (according to this insult’s logic). The female gender is reduced to an insult. Like it’s the last thing anyone would want to be.

I’ve also noticed people employing this gender essentialist language to describe themselves or others in a positive way. Well in a retro-sexist positive way. Take this for example. “I just love crocheting and baking sponge cakes, I’m such a girl” or this, “my boyfriend eats soo much, he’s such a boy”. In other words “I do [insert gender-essential trait here], therefore I’m such a [insert gender here]“.

Like the “you’re such a girl” line, these expressions reek of gender essentialism. In the world of these expressions all girls wear pink dresses with little bows and like to knit or flower-arrange in their spare time. Likewise, the “boys” don’t show any sort of complex emotion, like “big” things like cars and trucks, and of course have enormous appetites.

“Take it as a compliment!”/”Have a sense of humour”/”Don’t be so serious.”

You know that person who says you look cute when you get angry, or that person who says they’re a feminist and then proceeds to completely objectify you (by being overtly sexual, asking you for naked photos – true story!)? This is one of their favourites.

People like to pull this one out when someone makes a sexist/homophobic joke and you don’t let it slide. If only you’d just stop being such a humourless feminist and appreciate some good old humour! Go on, take those sleazy construction worker catcalls as a compliment! You should like receiving that attention; it means you’re attractive, right?

Just no.

The idea of someone who “wears the pants” in a relationship.

This saying manages to be astoundingly heteronormative, with a generous helping of tired gender roles and gender essentialism.

Re: gender essentialism, first. It’s underscored by the idea that the person who wears the pants is a man (even though women wear pants. Indeed, I’m wearing pants right now). And that this pants-wearing man is the one who wields the power and authority in a relationship. It’s premised on the idea that it’s not fathomable that two people in a relationship, irrespective of their gender, could simply be equal, and that there may actually not be either particular person calling the shots. To think that someone has to be “the one in charge” is just really…weird and paternalistic.

Moving on to the heteronormativity of this. Just…wow. If the saying is based on the idea that one person in a relationship must either be or resemble a man, then what of a relationship where there are no men, more than one party is a man, neither party is a cis-gendered man?

It also assumes that everyone is in a monogamous relationship between two people.

The thing about this saying is that it’s usually aimed at relationships that don’t, or appear not to conform to narrow conceptions of how gender roles should be. Lesbian relationships are frequently targeted by absolutely hilar observers with these sorts of sayings. But even heterosexual relationships, where the female party might be noticeably forward or self-assured, can be targeted. Observers will wryly note, “well she really wears the pants in that relationship”.

“That sucks dick”/”Go suck a dick”.

This saying seems to be underpinned by the conception that fellatio is fundamentally degrading/debasing. Like “sucking a dick” is a really crappy thing to do and should only be reserved for crappy people. Which confuses me because receiving fellatio is like proof that someone’s A Real Man, or just generally awesome. So…it’s a shit thing to do, but if you get it you’re awesome?

Raping/being raped by things.

I’m going to keep writing about this until rape stops being funny to people. But first, let’s go back to a definition of rape, shall we? So (my non-dictionary) definition of rape is non-consensual sexual activity with someone. But it’s more than that. It’s an expression of power over someone, enacted by sexual means.

Rape isn’t just having sex with someone when they weren’t really into it. It goes far deeper than that. So, again, that really difficult exam? That long day at work? That nauseating hangover? That person hacking into your facebook and changing your status? Not rape. Next time you think about using ‘rape’ to describe any of those things, (or basically anything that isn’t non-consensual sexual activity with someone) think about all those sexual assault survivors whose experiences you’re dismissing.


~ Rosie Cuppaidge

Slut: A Myth

This article will be featured in Wom*news 9: Myths

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault.

You are fifteen and dislike your crush’s girlfriend. You call her a slut. You are eighteen and about to go out clubbing for the first time. Your mother looks you up and down and says she didn’t raise a slut. You are twenty and the boy you are fucking calls you a slut the one night you refuse to have sex.

Everyone knows that the word “slut” has power, whether we agree with it or not.
It is used to shame and degrade women and, more importantly, to put them in a box with a label that says “you’re not human here” and to make sure they stay there. Whilst there are many different variables in the slut-shaming game, the objective remains the same: to ensure women’s behaviour is deemed “acceptable” by societal terms, and to make sex a source of shame and not power. In a culture that is so concerned with labels and definitions, one has to pose the question: what is a slut? After years of being called a slut, of hearing my friends being called sluts I can only assume that a slut is a woman who doesn’t adhere to every societal expectation heaped upon her. Continue reading

The Body and Sexual Abuse

By Adela Brent from Zig Zag

Trigger warning for references to effects of sexual violence

There is no doubt that our society does not allow women to feel at peace with their bodies.

A society that is constantly telling us that we are not okay unless we look like “super-models”. A culture where women’s value is based on what they look like. Beauty magazines are a reminder of what we should aim for when it comes to our bodies. Unrealistic expectations hitting us in the face every day. A capitalist society needs to make women feel bad about themselves. They have to sell us cosmetics, diets and a menu of surgical procedures we don’t really need. No wonder we are so unhappy about our bodies.

For survivors of sexual violence, the body issues can get more complicated. Sexual abuse was done to them through their bodies. Some survivors blame their bodies for responding, for being womanly, for being small, for being large, for being vulnerable. For survivors, learning to love their bodies and recognize that their bodies were not to blame for the abuse, can be a long process. The reality is that sexual abuse is not the survivor’s fault. It is always the offenders’ fault. Always. Reestablishing positive feeling of our bodies, after sexual assault, can be a difficult process but not impossible.

During the process of reclaiming your body after sexual abuse, these are some activities that have been helpful to other women. Remember, if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable about them, don’t do it. It is fine to respect your needs.

1. Healing Drawing Exercise: Many women who were abused still carry associations of the abuse in specific parts of the body. There may be physical scars or negative associations to touching areas that were involved in the trauma. Draw a simple outline of your body with one line. Mark with one color all the places in your body where you feel okay or good. Mark with another color any places where you feel you are carrying pain. Then draw the outline of your body on another piece of paper and pick out a color that you associate with healing. Then draw little hearts of healing into all the areas of pain identified in the first drawing.

2. Dialogue with individual body parts: Imagine that each body part has a voice of its own. Imagine what story the body part has to tell you about the gifts the body part has to offer you.

3. Massage: If this is not threatening for you, you can have a massage done by a qualified practitioner.

4. Dance and Exercise as a way of reconnecting with the body: Exercise is a way to
establish a positive sense of body awareness. Movement oxygenates your body and
improves your circulation. Dance provides a vehicle for self-expression. Remember to not to overdo.

5. Self-Massage: massaging your hands and feet is a way of reconnecting with your body.

Remember that your body is you. It is the place in which you live and are alive. You connect and are in relationship with others from your body. You act in the world from your body. Your body is where the healing happens. Your body is sacred and did not deserve any kind of abuse.

If you need to talk to a counselor, do so.

May you body have peace
May your body have happiness
May your body be respected
May your body be healed

~ Adela Brent

The Problem with Victim-Blaming

by Caitlin Gordon-King

This piece is featured in Wom*news #7: Bodies, out tomorrow!

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence and victim blaming; an example of victim blaming is also quoted within this paper. 

In the following paper I ask the question: ‘Is blaming the victim of sexual assault ever valid and/or justified?’. I conclude that it is neither. Although I in no way intend on awarding credibility to arguments which imply otherwise, it is important to engage with them in order to illuminate their flaws and curtail their popularity. Such engagement could distress or otherwise trigger some readers. I therefore ask you to please read the following with discretion. Given I am writing for a women’s magazine, I will be specifically speaking on female identifying victims.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine posted a link to a news article on his facebook page. The article described a court case in the US, during which a judge told a victim of sexual assault that she should avoid going to dangerous bars in the future. By doing so, the judge insinuated that the woman’s failure to accurately evaluate the consequences of going to a male dominated, ‘dangerous’ bar was partly to blame for her attack. If the judge’s remarks didn’t concern me enough, then people’s defence of them when commenting on the article certainly did the job. These comments demonstrated something which has become increasingly clear to me over recent months; as much as we wish it weren’t true, victim blaming is not restricted to old, uneducated, misogynists living in Texas, but is disturbingly common amongst people we all know.

The apportioning of blame for a woman’s sexual assault onto the woman herself is a trend which permeates the mindsets of both men and women, from a variety of social classes, political inclinations and educational backgrounds.  It is alluded to by politicians, experienced in our judicial system, disclosed in drunken conversations and often contemplated by victims themselves. The problem is so pervasive that often we don’t realise when we are encouraging it ourselves. I’ve had moments when I’ve thought to myself of a friend – ‘What did she think was going to happen?’

Thinking thusly comes naturally, and it is not difficult to see why. The rates of sexual assault seem so overwhelming, and its trauma so great, that it is almost too much to bear to consider that its victims are entirely innocent. For a perpetrator especially, it is easier to imagine that the victim could have avoided the situation had they really wanted; that subsequent psychological distress is not solely one’s own fault. I also attribute the popularity of this mode of thought to the seeming common sense underlying it. Every person who commented on my friend’s post did so intellectually, and more troubling still, posed seemingly plausible arguments as to why victims are partly responsible for their sexual assault if they fail to identify and avoid risky situations or actions.

Such an argument was aptly summarised by Kody:

‘…But I’m also sick of hearing people taking their ‘rights’ to some idealistic fantasy land e.g. ‘I should be able to wear a KKK outfit in a black neighbourhood in the US’. Of course you should… But you have a HUGE chance of being beaten up. What about: ‘I should be able to walk where I want, when I want, dressed how I want’. I totally agree, you SHOULD. However, there is some level of common sense that says if you choose to exercise that right in a fucked up neighbourhood… you are likely to have something bad happen to you… (to play devil’s advocate) perhaps the judge had more info to go on? Perhaps: ‘I just happened to be in a rough bar in the worst part of town, and got assaulted’. That might warrant the judge giving some advice… It seems to me that there is definitely a point (of risk) where a victim starts taking part in the consequences.’

For the remainder of this paper, I will specifically address Kody’s comments, because I feel that they epitomise arguments which attempt to justify victim blaming. Alluring as they might be, these arguments are not logically sound. Further, the consequence of their implementation in real life is, and would be, socially and psychologically damaging.

Firstly, Kody’s argument is invalid because it over-estimates the ability of individuals to avoid particularly ‘risky’ situations. Intuitively, we apportion less blame to a person who suffers the negative consequences of taking a risk the more difficult it was for them to avoid that risk. By claiming that the woman in question was partly responsible, Kody’s comment insinuates that it would have been an easy task for her to avoid the bar. However, saying so ignores the social context in which women make the decision to ‘risk it’. Women are constantly bombarded with the messages:

‘You will have fun if you go out. If you don’t go out and experience the night scene, you are a prig and missing out on lyf.

When you go out, you have to dress provocatively – otherwise you are a prude. You’re worth nothing if you do not look sexually attractive. The way to look sexually attractive is to dress in provocative clothing.

You will only be happy if you find a man. Any man will do. 

You will only get a man if he is sexually attracted to you. And you can find a man when you go out at night.’

Women who dress provocatively to garner sexual attention, and go out to bars full of the kinds of men who will make them feel sexually attractive, aren’t too dumb to evaluate the consequences – they’re products of society. When a girl abides by that society’s rules and does the things she’s been told to do – it tells her that it’s her fault when she is abused.

In the long run, it would be immensely difficult for any woman to avoid ‘risky’ situations, not only because they’re reared to enter them, but also simply because ‘risky’ situations are everywhere and impossible to always avoid. Given the number of dangers faced by women on an everyday basis, they cannot be expected to let such dangers dictate their lives, as doing so would greatly diminish their opportunities and inhibit their happiness. Women cannot and should not be expected to always stay inside and only wear clothing which men deem ‘acceptable’, because fulfilling such expectations would be severely limiting. If I were to always choose the safest option in what is a pretty constantly dangerous environment, I would be choosing to deny myself other desires. The negative consequences of denying myself these desires would accumulate over time. Therefore, ultimately, risking some danger will procure more happiness in the long term than avoiding that danger entirely. Hence, it is not unreasonable for me to go to a bar if I so desire. Having evaluated the consequences, going out and having fun is most likely to make me happy in the long term. It is not my fault if that probability is not realised, because at the time that I made the decision it seemed the best option.

Further still, Kody’s argument splits women into two groups – smart and dumb, suggesting that dumb women get raped. This is clearly an over-simplified, damaging and obviously false suggestion. Individuals who choose to take risks aren’t necessarily flippant or stupid, but do so for a reason. They are dressed a certain way for a reason they deem valid, and are in a certain place for a reason they deem valid. Not only that, but they are simply making choices that most of us would. When faced with the decision as to whether to go out and have fun, or to stay inside to absolutely ensure safety, the average person will choose to go out. We might all acknowledge that this is a more dangerous decision, but given it seems almost impossible to fight the temptation, and the majority of us would succumb to it, is it really anybody’s place to blame a person when they do?

Even if it were a valid point that the risk undertaken by victims somehow makes them responsible for the actions of another, victim blaming is still an unjustifiable and destructive way of thinking.

The moment we lay any blame on the victim of sexual assault is the moment that this blame is detracted from that laid on the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter whether or not the woman is actually, abstractly, in any way responsible; when someone says ‘Well, YOU should have stayed home’, it decreases the guilt felt by men for their actions. Not only will men feel less responsible for crimes committed in the past, but less responsible for their actions in the future. And that will directly affect how they act towards women in the future.

Not only does justification of victim blaming encourage individual crimes, but it solidifies the power structure which greatly limits 51% of the population. Kody’s comments, and any arguments which justify victim blaming, clearly send the message that women should accept that men hold the power in society. If all women take Kody’s advice, not only will they always fear men and stay inside knitting on Friday nights instead of having fun, but society will continue to believe that male aggression is inevitable. Some men will continue to think that it’s their right to sexually harass women because their bodies demand it of them (and that it’s the woman’s fault for provoking their ‘natural’ bodily urges), and others will continue to view women as feeble and in need of their protection.

Failing to challenge, and even endorsing, the status quo = continuation of the status quo. It is akin to racial segregation in the US. I doubt Kody would look back on that period of history and say – ‘If Rosa Parks got beaten up after sitting at the front of the bus, that would partly have been her fault. Therefore, Rosa Parks should have sat at the back of the bus. Rosa, make sure you sit at the back next time.’ Women need to keep going out, to keep entering male dominated spaces and to keep dressing however they please because they must continue to remind men that it is their right to be able to do those things without being harmed.

It is important to spell out plainly and simply what arguments like Kody’s are really saying. What they are saying is that there are public places which women should not enter, times that they should not go out and clothes they should not wear, and that they will be punished by men if they do any of the aforementioned. If the woman is irrational enough to risk this punishment, then she is partly responsible for it – meaning, she deserves what she gets.

To Summarise: Segregation should be continued, for the protection of the oppressed.

Because this is its crux: victim blaming not only has a destructive psychological impact on victims themselves, but on women and society in general. It should therefore never be encouraged or practiced.

If a man attacks a woman, that is the man’s fault. Not hers. Any amendment made to that basic idea – like ‘in some circumstances it’s partly the woman’s fault’ – erodes it. I should feel free to go out at night. Sure, TECHNICALLY I am free to go out by myself. But in reality I’m not. My actions are severely limited because I live in a patriarchal society which says shit like ‘If you go to that place, or if you go out at that time, or if you go out by yourself, it’s your own fault if you get raped.’ For a liberal society, that’s not good enough. It is the basic premise of liberalism that every person is free to act as they best see fit, so long as that action does not harm others. The onus is therefore solely, and should always remain on the perpetrator of sexual assault, not the victim.

 ~ Caitlin Gordon-King

Sexual Abuse, Myths and Identity

Sexual Abuse, Myths and Identity
by Adela Brent
of Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre

Trigger warning for references to sexual abuse and negative social myths surrounding it.

Sexual abuse can affect women’s identity. Beliefs about who they are can be shaped by experiences of violence in their life. There are many misconceptions about women and sexual violence in the community. Unfortunately, many people believe them, including women who have been sexually abused. They can spend years of their life believing they are bad, not okay and “damaged goods” (as some women told me) because they believe some of these myths that are usually reinforced by society as a whole.

  1. Sexual abuse is an unusual occurrence. Some women might think that they are the only ones who have been violated and see themselves as “different”. The reality is that sexual abuse happens to many women and children. Taking into account that offensive staring and leering, unwanted touching and sexual harassment are also sexual abuse.
  2.  Women lie about rape. Many women have been called “liars”, but the reality is that victims of sexual assault are more likely to remain silent about the assault than to report it. It has been my experience that women don’t lie about sexual abuse.
  3.  Women enjoy being raped. No one enjoys sexual violation. The function of this myth is to reduce rape to an experience that is trivial and inconsequential and it also reduces women to objects.
  4. Women who are sexually abused because they dress or behave provocatively. This myth states that women who dress certain way are “not good” and deserve to be raped. Friendly behavior, drinking alcohol and accepting car rides, are interpreted as “signs of consent” and they are not. It does not matter what women are wearing, it is not an invitation to rape. Full stop.
  5.  Most women are raped by strangers. Although many women are raped by strangers, many women are raped and sexually abused by people they know including fathers; step-fathers; uncles; brothers; cousins; boyfriends; husbands; friends; dates; friends of the family; neighbors; etc. Many experiences of sexual abuse occur in the home.
  6. Men “can’t help themselves”. They rape because they cannot control their sexual urges. This is just an excuse. Sexual abuse is not an impulsive sexual act. It is an act of aggression and power.
  7. Men who rape or sexually abuse women and children are “sick”. Most sex offenders are ordinary men from all classes, professions, ages, nationalities, religious beliefs and backgrounds. They are not necessarily psychopaths or mentally ill. Sex offenders are usually men who are expressing a commonly accepted male behavior in sexist societies which reflect a very low regard for women.
  8. It is up to women to avoid being raped. In reality, it is up to sex offenders to stop abusing and take responsibility for sexual violence.
  9. Women never rape. About 1% of sex offenders are women. Women can also incorporate patriarchal values.
  10. Women cry rape when it suits them. Women are usually too ashamed to tell anyone that they suffered an experience of sexual violence. They know the legal system does not deliver meaningful justice to women and children. Most cases of sexual violence are never reported to the police. Many rape survivors do not tell anyone.
  11. If women don’t struggle or scream, it cannot be rape. When we are scared, we tend to freeze. Women do not struggle to avoid further violence. They know they could be killed if they resist.
  12.  Children are sexually provocative. Children do not give permission to be exploited and abused. The myth of the “seductive child” is often used as a defence by the offender. There is an enormous difference in the power and authority of an adult compared to a child.

Unfortunately, these myths are very much alive in the community. They do not help survivors of sexual violence. They protect perpetrators. What can we do to challenge these myths? As individuals? As a community? How can we contribute to eliminating them so they will be a thing of the past? These are very important questions to answer if we want to build a better world for women and children where sexual violence is no more….

~ Adela Brent
Sexual Assault Counsellor
Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource

The IWD Seminar and Why It Was Awful

By Anonymous.

A Women’s Collective member’s reaction to a triggering self defence seminar held on IWD on campus. Trigger Warning for references to sexual abuse, assault and victim blaming.

I am not a woman. I am also not a man and as a non-binary gendered person, I went to the self defence course, held at the University of Queensland for International Women’s Day 2012, prepared that they would not necessarily be dealing with my gender in a respectful manner. I was okay with that. However, I still expected to find a safer space based on respect for women and women’s experiences, especially because self defence can be a triggering issue. As a person who’s done seven years of martial arts training, including a year and a half of instruction, I was curious to see how an expert would structure a course as compared to how I might choose to.

There were small numbers of people there and the tutor was aggressive from the start. She informed us exactly how she felt about the people who had not turned up. The woman who said she would have to leave early received a very dirty look. The tutor introduced herself, her organisation (Suzanne Daley’s Violence Minimization Alliance Incorporated, or SDVMA) and her apparent involvement with some free self defence courses run by the Brisbane City Council. The first red flag came when she announced that she was not going to be ‘politically correct’ and that for our purposes ‘women’ were the good guys and ‘men’ were the rapists.

That is not how our world works. People can violate your consent regardless of their gender or yours. I’ve been sexually abused by a woman and raped by a man. And I can tell you, I don’t give a flying fuck about their gender. Choosing to represent sexual assault in this manner is to silence the experiences of people like myself. It makes our already difficult task of moving on, even more difficult by adding these stigmas.

Her structure for a self defence course involved no physical self defence tactics, instead it was structured around ‘proactive’ and ‘reactive’ safety, with a section on fear as caused by the media and social conditioning. It was at this point she began to toss around the word ‘rape’ as if no one in the room could have possibly been affected by it. I was upset and I wanted to leave, but didn’t feel like I could without being called out on it by this aggressive woman.

She talked a lot about how women are socially conditioned to be afraid of sexual assault. In one example she outlined how a newspaper might read ‘Woman Sexually Assaulted on St Lucia Campus’ and that we would assume someone was raped when it might have been a range of activities that constitute sexual assault. Here she went into graphic detail that caused me to flash back to some of the worst experiences of my life. At this point I was no longer capable of eye contact and was starting to hyperventilate.

She then talked about how your perception of danger could be reinforced by multiple mentions of one incident. Please let me make clear RIGHT NOW that language choices like ’200 times the rape’ and even ’400 times the rape’ are never acceptable. Ever. In any circumstance.

One of her many disrespectful comments was to tell us that we had to be aware of the possibility of assault, because we weren’t twelve years old anymore. Well, not everyone was privileged to have a safe childhood. As a twelve-year-old kid I was going through emotional, physical and sexual abuse from the people in my life. I was neither safe nor was I capable of understanding what was happening to me.

And you know what? It is NOT okay for an ‘expert’ to be making these kinds of statements. Saying this kind of thing is harmful to people like myself and to ANYONE whose life doesn’t fit into this woman’s narrowed minded view of women’s experiences. By this stage of the course, I was staring at a wall and waiting for the break so I could leave without making a fuss. Apparently unaware of my distress, the tutor pointed to me and demanded that I respond to something she was saying. I could only manage a nod.

And then she insinuated that the majority of women are responsible for their own sexual assaults.

While talking about women’s fear surrounding ‘rape’ she said that women shouldn’t be so afraid because statistically 80% of sexual assaults on women are committed by someone she knows. Therefore, since there’s no way you’d have someone in your life who was capable of sexual assault, you should be 80% less afraid.

Way to put all the responsibility on the victim. Sometimes there’s people in your life that you’re not capable of removing for one reason or another. As a kid I didn’t understand that what was happening to me wasn’t normal, and any adult I tried to talk to about it dismissed me offhand. Besides, rapists don’t go around with flashing signs that say ‘rapist.’ They can be your parents, lovers, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, best friends and partners and it can be very difficult to know in advance.

That was the last straw for me. I stood up. Apologised. And left. And that was how I ended up crying and hyperventilating in the women’s bathroom. I only lasted thirty minutes into the 2 1/2 hour course.

~ Anonymous

If you need to talk to someone without judgement and with understanding, you can contact Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre’s experienced counsellors on (07) 3843 1823 and at Zig Zag is located at 575 Old Cleveland Rd, Camp Hill.