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To Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Attorney General Australia

Posted on June 11, 2013 at 7:50 AM Comments comments (12)

***UPDATE - Sarah has made her letter into a petition to sign and share! You can co-sign Sarah's letter by clicking here***


Below is a very moving letter written by Sarah Langston in light of the recent information released around the murder and rape of Jill Meagher. Sarah provides us with the voice of just one of the many women struggling to come to terms with this horrific crime. Please leave a message in the comments if you would like to show your support.


***TRIGGER WARNING - CONTAINS POTENTIAL TRIGGERS FOR VICTIMS OF VIOLENT CRIME/RAPE***


To Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Attorney General Australia 

I write to you in response to the appalling information released today regarding Adrian Bayley's prior offences before he raped and killed Jill Meagher last year.

 

 

According to information detailed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation today, Bayley's criminal history consisted of a lifetime of atrocities against women beginning from the age of 19, with a horrifying slew of sex-crimes marking his life to date.

 

 

Previous to Jill Meagher, these include sex crimes such as the rape of a teenage backpacker and the imprisonment of women in his car while he repeatedly raped them. These, I wager, are just the crimes we know about since rape is under-reported. According to the Crime Victimisation Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2009-2010, only 36.6% of most recent incidents of sexual assault were reported to police. And given Bayley's egregious propensity to rape women, I would not be surprised if he has created victims below the radar.

 

 

And how has the judicial system responded to his repeated violations of women in the Australian community? With great leniency.

 

 

Given that rape is a horrendous act that erodes the very sense of safety, dignity, selfhood and freedom that we all need to operate as whole human beings, you would think our judicial system would come out swinging. You would think that it would recognise the deep loss, the scars and the ghosts that haunt survivors of rape. You would think it would see the lifetime of damage, the screaming nightmares, the injuries to intimacy and self esteem and work and family.

 

 

You would think it would know better than to believe that men like Adrian Bayley can be rehabilitated. Described as clever, manipulative and able to fake his way through a sex offenders program, Bayley is evidence that rapists cannot be rehabilitated.

 

 

You would think. Instead, Adrian Bayley served only eight years for the repeated rapes of women in our community and was out on parole when he raped and murdered the clever, beautiful, loved Jill Meagher in an alleyway. Because he was on parole, because the judicial system believed he had a right to freedom, Jill Meagher lost her right to breathe. And now, her family have lost a daughter and a wife and a sister.

 

 

As a teacher and as a woman who wishes to have children, I demand a future with stronger sentencing for rape. The girls in my care deserve a society that is safer for them. But first, I demand a society from you and the judicial system that is safer for me.

 

 

Last year while walking in the early evening, I was violently assaulted by an unknown man on Sydney's streets. Though I now live to write this to you, it may not have ended that way. As I read the details of Jill Meagher's case I am beset by a deep despair that burrows in and doesn't go away. I am sure countless other women who have been assaulted, raped, or violently attacked by men feel the same prickling on the back of their neck.

 

 

There are too many of us. We have a right to safety and it is your responsibility to engineer sentencing that reflects that right. When we have sentencing that allows a man like Bayley to walk free, we have sentencing that is broken.

 

 

I require you to fix what is broken – for myself, and the girls I teach every day.

 

 

Sarah Langston.

 

Co-signed by Jo MacDonald, Imanadari Counselling.

Why it's not as simple as just saying no

Posted on May 28, 2013 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)

 

A teenage girl and boy are sexting on their phones. Eventually, they decide to meet up then head back to his place. They go to his room and things start to get heated. When he pulls out a condom, she doesn’t say no, although she does go a quiet and still. She isn’t sure if she’s ready, but she’s also curious about sex and worried about him thinking she is a tease. She ends up having sex with him and, although it's slightly painful, it's not as bad as she imagined. She even feels relieved.

 

Afterwards, she is talking to her girlfriends and says “I don’t know, I mean it was ok. I wasn’t really in the mood, but the poor thing was all hot and bothered! You know how boys are. I guess it wasn’t too bad, but I probably wouldn’t do it again.”

 

Ask the average woman if this girl has been raped, and their answer will most likely be no. Sure, she may have had a regrettable experience, but if she didn’t want to have sex, she could have said no, right?

 

Not according to Melissa Burkett and Karine Hamliton. They have published a new study that shows that even forty years after the sexual revolution, women are still often coerced into having sex that they do not want. And a lot of it has to do with our culture.

 

Right now, we live in a “coercion culture”. A “coercion culture” is a culture normalises coercive behaviour. In our current “coercion culture” preventing rape is considered to be entirely the responsibility of women. This kind of culture makes several (unspoken) assumptions about consent that make it difficult for even the most assertive person to “just say no”.

 

Consent is assumed

 

“Coercion culture” assumes that from the moment that a man and a woman begin to interact sexually, the woman is consenting to other kinds of sexual activity as well, including penetrative and oral sex.

 

Sometimes, the assumed consent begins before anything physical even occurs. Various women who were interviewed in Burkett and Hamilton’s study believed that just going to a man’s house, texting them with sexually explicit messages or flirting with them implied consent to sexual activity.

 

Consent is only about words

 

“Coercion culture” teaches women that the only way they can withdraw this assumed consent is by saying the word “no”. Unless the word “no” has been spoken, and spoken in an assertive, forceful tone, consent is still assumed.

 

This assumption is completely removed from the way that individuals actually negotiate during sex. When people were asked about how they convey consent in sexual situations, most people mentioned using body language to provide unspoken messages to their partner. Many people are negotiating consent without talking to each other at all.

 

Physical coercion is the only form of coercion

 

“Coercion culture” portrays rape as a man physically forcing a woman to have sex with him. Outside of this, it assumes women are making their sexual decisions free from coercion.

 

However, many women reported that if they did not engage in regular sex with their partner, they experienced –

 

Verbal pressure

Increased arguments

Loss of intimacy within their relationship

Fears that they would lose support from their partner

Fears that they would lose their relationship with their partner

 

It wasn’t rape – I just didn’t want it

 

“Coercion culture” ignores the fact that sex can be coercive, even when women don’t experience a sexual activity as rape. Women often cite a variety of complex reasons (such as wanting to please their partner or feelings of guilt about changing their mind) as reasons for having sex that they did not want. However, this sex was viewed by them as consensual because it did not fit the standard societal definition of rape.

 

Empowered women don’t get coerced

 

What makes it harder to expose all of these ideas is the assumption that because women can vote (for primarily male candidates) and work (for less pay than their male counterparts) they are now “empowered”. Women are free agents, making unhindered decisions about their lives and our sexualities. Empowered women, so the thinking goes, are on an equal footing with men. So there is no reason to worry about this coercion business - because it’s not happening.

 

This is perhaps the most dangerous assumption of all.

 

Consent culture

 

Let’s talk about a different kind of culture for a moment. Imagine a culture where anything other than an active and enthusiastic yes was taken as a lack of consent. That is a “consent culture”.

 

Imagine a culture where, when two people are having sex, it is considered normal to check in verbally several times with your partner to see if what you are doing is ok. That is a “consent culture”.

 

Imagine a culture where whenever you had sex you negotiated explicitly about what was and wasn’t ok, and assumed that you were consenting only to activities that you had already spoken about. This is “consent culture”.

 

Have another look at the example at the beginning of the article. Was what happened between that girl and her partner rape? Coercion culture says no. But was what happened between them entirely consensual? Absolutely not.


How would the above scenario have played out in a consent culture?


For starters, the entire context of would be changed. Both people in this scenario would have grown up in a culture that encouraged openness, exploration, and education around sex and consent. 

Texting back and forth wouldn't have any connotations of consent to anything else. Each person would have check in several times before making the decision to come over, by verbally asking things like "is this still ok?" and "are you still comfortable with this?".

Sex hopefully wouldn't have been initiated by just producing a condom. But if it was, the boy would have immediately stopped and checked in with the girl the minute her body language changed. 

They would have negotiated about different activities they could do together, or the girl could simply inform the boy that she has changed her mind. There would be no negative consequences, no pressure, no attempts to change her mind and no worries about her reputation. 

And if they did check in, talk, negotiate and decided together that they both still want to have sex, it would be in  way that was fun, pleasurable and consensual for both of them. 


Want more information on consent?


Try the Yes Means Yes Blog or  the Red/Yellow Card Project

 

A small step towards gender neutrality

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 1:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Sweden has taken a step towards gender neutrality with the introduction of their gender neutral pronoun "hen".

The English equivalents, that are as yet not formally recognised, are ze and zir (as opposed to he/she and  him/her). Other options for english speakers include referring to individuals with the non gendered "them"and "they", or simply using an individual's (gender neutral) name.

Good on you Sweden :)