Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from globetrotting feminists Elin and Hennie Weiss. Elin has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland. Hennie is currently finished up her Master’s Degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. They are both very interested in women’s studies, feminism and the study of men and masculinities, especially so gender role expectations and the representation of women and men in media.
*Trigger warning: the content of this piece discusses rape and sexual assault, and may be disturbing to some readers.
A nineteen-year-old Swedish woman was raped during a soccer match in the Swedish capital of Stockholm last week. An unknown male attacked the woman in the bathroom stalls at the arena while 11,959 fans occupied the bleachers and surrounding areas. Present were also police and security guards, around 200 of them. The man was able to rape the woman and keep her in the bathroom until she managed to call for help. The man left, pushing the woman to the ground in which she suffered bruises and injury to her face.
This rape is one of the most public ones we have ever heard of and it is a horrible example of how women can be under constant threat, even in the most public of places. Sadly, there are plenty of examples of other very public sexual assaults. Most of us remember the brutal beating and sexual assault of American CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan in Egypt last year. Logan was in a large crowd at Tahrir Square when a mob of around 200 people was formed and Logan became separated from her group. She was beaten and sexually assaulted by multiple men until she was saved by a group of Egyptian women and soldiers. In 2009 a young girl from Richmond, California was robbed, beaten and gang raped by a group of boys and men after she attended her Homecoming Dance. There were approximately 20 bystanders watching as the girl was brutally assaulted and raped. No one came to her aid, called the police, or tried to help the young girl.
No wonder many women are in fear, even as they are visiting public spaces. “Tips” are often given to women on how to stay safe or protect themselves from potential perpetrators. Common advice includes not walking home alone at night, not to take a taxi home alone, or not to accept drinks from strangers. This advice suggests that women are most at risk when they are alone or in an isolated area, such as when walking through a park on their way home. Not only does the advice on how to minimize the risk of rape do little to actually prevent rape, but they also inadvertently blame women who somehow “failed” to protect themselves.
But what about these public places? How are women supposed to “protect” themselves when the threat of rape and sexual assault can be everywhere? Where can a woman ever feel safe, and most importantly, where can a woman ever be safe?
The police have not yet arrested anyone for the rape in Stockholm and it appears unlikely that they will. The fact that there were so many people attending the soccer match makes it even more difficult as police stated that it was impossible to keep all visitors when the match ended. Instead, the soccer clubs security advisors helped the police by filming and photographing the audience as they were leaving. Is it ironic (in absence of a better word) that the fact that this was such a public place makes it even more difficult for the police to catch the man responsible for the rape.
Rape and sexual assault is extremely common and we feel confident to state that probably most women have faced uncomfortable or scary situations, some of these resulting in harassment, sexual assault and rape. The horrible facts about rapists are that they can be strangers, acquaintances, relatives, family members, lovers or friends. There is no space or no place in which you appear to be completely safe. Rape can occur in one’s home, in public among people, or when a woman is on her own, no matter how careful she is. Younger women are overrepresented as victims of rape but rape and sexual assault also affects children, middle-aged women and senior citizens. Rape also affects women all over the world, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or social class.
The old and tired tips and advice given to women are just not working. It does not matter if you drink alcohol or not, how you dress, if you are with friends or on your own. If a woman can be raped in a public bathroom, with her friend waiting outside, surrounded by 11,959 people and 200 police officers and security guards, the advice women have been given is proving useless.
So how can we prevent rape? By targeting the men who rape. Raising awareness that targeting women is pointless; it is men who must change. Rape is about power, dominance and hatred against women and there is little that women can actually do about it. There is, however, plenty that men can do. There are groups of men who definitely support women, such as Men for Women’s Choices. But, where is the public outcry? Where are the protesters and demonstrators? Men should be more concerned and enraged when it comes to rape. The women who are raped are not statistics or simply numbers; they are someone’s sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend, aunt, friend or lover.