subscribe: Posts | Comments

Normalising crimes against women


The normalisation of crimes against womenWe are a long way off from living in a society where women feel safe and are treated with respect.

The effects of harassment, sexual assault and violence against women and girls not being taken seriously enough, and consistently being trivialised and normalised, are devastating, and sometimes fatal.

The Sun newspaper recently sparked outrage by referring to what appears to have been an attempted sexual assault as a ‘romp’.

The headline itself was distasteful and disrespectful to put it mildly: ‘‘Suicide’ Army girl locked in for romp’.

According to the article, soldier Cheryl James was locked in a room by a sergeant who then chased her around the confined space, presumably trying to sexually assault and perhaps even rape her.

It isn’t clear exactly what happened, but the 18 year-old soldier died shortly afterwards, and an inquest is endeavouring to find out how and why.

The Sun’s article not only highlighted severe concerns with regard to the way in which female soldiers are viewed and treated in the army, but also served as an example of the problematic way in which harassment, sexual assault and violence against women are portrayed and considered.

The language used when discussing these crimes and their victims is key to how they are perceived.

There’s the word ‘domestic’ for example. Its official definition is ‘relating to the running of a home or to family relations’ – but it has for years been used to refer to an argument of some sort between a couple.

Although its use does appear to be decreasing slightly nowadays, it is not uncommon for someone to say that a couple ‘had a domestic’, if there has been a row, often suggesting that the conflict wasn’t a big deal and in some cases that it is a regular occurrence.

The use of the word ‘domestic’ in this context is perhaps why domestic violence has not been taken seriously enough for so long.

While ‘a domestic’ can simply refer to a falling out, it is also a dangerously casual way of referring to the physical and emotional abuse of women by their male partners and as a result has contributed to its normalisation.

The effects of this can also be seen in the way in which perpetrators of domestic abuse are treated.

BBC Two’s recent deeply moving documentary ‘Love You to Death’ highlighted how frequently women are being murdered by their ex-partners after they had left them.

The deaths often follow years of physical and emotional abuse; domestic violence has more repeat victims than any other crime.

Despite this, there appears to be a disturbing level of acceptance and even understanding of the perpetrator’s actions if a partner has ended the relationship, particularly if they have children together.

The media’s coverage of these crimes and the way in which people talk about them exposes the attitude that the perpetrator was justified in his behaviour because their partner had left them and taken their children too, and incredulously an element of sympathy can also sometimes be detected.

And all too often, men are not seen as responsible for these offences and the blame falls on the victims.

The harassment and sexual assault of women is treated with even less gravity than violence. The frequency with which they occur has, like domestic abuse, normalised them, and as a result they are underreported.

Sadly, even when a woman does report it, the chances of proper justice being served are slim; conviction rates for rape in the UK are among the lowest in Europe and far lower than other crimes.

Another large contributing factor to the trivialisation of harassment and assault is sexist and misogynistic ‘jokes’. On a daily basis women have to put up with inappropriate behaviour and comments from men who use ‘humour’ and ‘banter’ as a justification for it.

When we don’t smile or laugh, because it’s not in any way funny and actually makes us feel rather uncomfortable, we are told that we are over-reacting and often attributed a number of unpleasant qualities and names – ‘stuck up’, for example.

From childhood, girls are taught a number of false and damaging things about these behaviours: it is normal and something that we just have to put up with, most of the time it occurs because we have provoked it in some way, and it is not a crime nor worth reporting to anyone.

Fortunately, some progress is being made.

Last year, Transport for London launched a campaign against sexual harassment on public transport called ‘Report it to stop it’, in a bid to clamp down on the unwanted sexual advances that women are frequently  subjected to when travelling.

Recorded cases of domestic abuse rose by 31 per cent between 2013 and 2015, in part as a result of more women coming forward to report crimes, and some women have said that they feel they are being taken more seriously when reporting sexual harassment or assault, often much to their surprise.

However, these are only baby steps.

We are a long way off from living in a society where women feel safe and are treated with respect and trust instead of constantly being mocked and undermined.

More measures need to be put in place to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place, instead of it often being a case of too little, too late.

All cases should be treated with the same level of severity; women must be encouraged to report every single instance of inappropriate and criminal behaviour, and conviction rates should be close to 100 per cent.

There also needs to be a complete overhaul of the way we present and understand these offences, so that men, and women, can be in no doubt that harassing, assaulting and harming women is never acceptable under any circumstances and will not be tolerated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *