FACTS ON RAPE
What is rape?
Rape is any form of unwanted sexual behaviour that is imposed on someone.
Our definition of rape is broader than most conventional or legal definitions. We place rape within a continuum of sexual violence that can take many different forms, including sexual harassment, verbal abuse, leering, threats, exposure, being forced to watch pornography, unwanted touching, incest, penetration, mutilation, and ritual abuse.
Rape is more about the abuse of power than about sexual attraction or the desire for sexual gratification.
Rape is when someone uses their power, manipulation or force to intimidate, humiliate, exploit, degrade or control another. Rape has been used as a weapon in war, in racial violence and in everyday life. Rape diminishes a person's dignity and their human rights to safety, choice and consent.
Rape is a crime.
Our definition takes into account that a person may feel as if they have been raped in circumstances that are not legally defined as constituting rape. Rape may not involve actual physical injury. It is an act that may be experienced as a violation of the physical body, and/or on emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels.
Rape may also be defined as a process by which people feel that they do not have the right to say no and have their rights respected.
Some examples of rape include:
Rape is a crime and always the responsibility of those who commit it.
Sexual violence and rape will be used interchangeably throughout this booklet. A legal definition of rape can be found in the legal section of this booklet.
Myths and Realities
Many people in our society hold false ideas and attitudes about rape and rape survivors.
These myths are widespread and serve to legitimise rape. Too often the blame for rape is shifted from the rapist to the women and children who have been raped.
Most rapists have always lied about rape. Their lies are deliberate and work to perpetuate the myths that allow rape to continue.
The effects of these myths are that women are silenced. If they tell anyone, including the police, they may be accused of asking for it or lying.
The reality of women and children's trauma is minimised and denied as these myths draw the responsibility of rae away from the rapist and their decision to violate.
These myths confound the reactions of family and friends and often affects their ability to support someone who has been raped, which increases isolation and possible avenues for support. Women and children become more isolated, even from other women.
They also suggest that a woman has not really been raped if her rape experience does not fit the legal definitions of rape or if she doesn't fit the criteria for a "rape victim". Women who do not cry or women who are angry for instance, may not be believed or seen to need support as they do not fit the stereotype of being a victim.
Defining our own feelings
Women may have a range of different feelings and reactions following a rape.
There are no right or wrong ways to feel.
These are some of the common feelings that women have experienced and talked aboutIfeel free to add your own feelings and thoughts.
"Did this really happen to me?"
Ashamed. Frightened. Numb. Shocked. Disbelief. Betrayed.
"I could have been killed"
Stunned. Confused. Sickened. Hurt. Sore.
Powerless. Mad. Out of control. Crying buckets. Distrust.
" I couldn't stop it happening to me and now everyone is running around organising things for me and I don't have any say in what is happening."
Rage. Anger. Want to scream. Hatred. Disgust.
Sometimes there is also a feeling of relief that you survived the ordeal.
Depression. Anxiety. Panicky. Physically ill. Run down.
Some women find that sleeping is all they want to do and retreat to bed for a while. Others can't sleep or have broken sleep from nightmares, flashbacks or panic attacks.
Frozen. Overwhelmed. Fearful. Unsafe. Feeling crazy.
Sometimes rape survivors experience fear that the rapist will return or when they see someone who looks like the rapist.
Grief. Hating yourself. Guilty. Dirty. Suicidal.
Self-questioning of everything you did from the way you dressed to why you decided to go home that particular way.
You might feel you are somehow to blame:
"I should not have got drunk."
"I should have known my husband was a rapist."
"I shouldn't have worn that dress."
" I shouldn't have invited him home for a coffee."
This self-blame may effect the choices you make now. It is important to keep reminding yourself that no one asks to be raped.
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
Rape usually affects the way we feel about our bodies.
It is common for women to feel dirty or 'unclean' after being raped. You might find yourself spending a lot of time in the bath or shower, trying to scrub away this feeling.
"Can people tell?"
You may feel a sense of isolation, of feeling different somehow from other people.
You might feel a lot of anger and rage at having to go through any of this.
Doing every day things may be very difficult, especially looking after others.
These are only some of the feelings you might experience. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Everyone is different.
It is important to allow yourself the time you need to process the rape, at the pace you decide and with the kind of support that feels right for you.
Will I ever feel "normal" again?
Remember the feelings you are experiencing now are a normal reaction to a traumatic event.
All women are different: the paths you take will be your own.
Some things will work for you and some things will not. You might want to talk with someone you trust or a support worker about your feelings and ways to feel stronger, safer and 'normal' again.
Here are some suggestions:
At some point you may feel like doing something practical.
Taking self-defence classes can be very helpful. Self-defence is more than learning how to defend yourself physically. As women, our conditioning teaches us to be unassertive and physically weak, rather than confident and strong.
Learning physical skills can make a difference in the way you feel. It can give you a sense of greater control over your body and your environment.
You might want to learn some meditation, yoga or relaxation techniques. On the other hand you may want to learn a martial art, throw yourself into heavy gardening, do sport, take an art class or any other activity.
Talking to someone you trust can be useful. Joining a support group for women who have experienced rape may also be of great benefit. You deserve to be listened to and supported.
Talking with supportive people may help you to make sense of what has happened to you. This understanding may in turn help to alleviate feelings of self-blame, alienation and fear. Only you know how you feel, but many women have had similar experiences.
By sharing our stories and listening to others, we can support each other to feel stronger and safer.
You may like to try writing a list of things when you are feeling bad, fearful or despairing. Your list might look something like this:
2 Acknowledge what I am feeling now.
3 Remind myself that these feelings will pass
4 Go to my safe place.
5 Remind myself it's not my fault.
5 Hug a pillow.
7 Ring someone I trust (write the phone number on the list).
8 Have a hot bath.
What you can do if you are raped
You have the right to deal with your own life, in your own way, at your own pace. There is no "right way" to deal with rape and incest. If you are raped, you have the right to be supported
You may have someone close to you who can provide you with support or you may feel that you would like additional support. In any case, it is certainly a good thing to have all the information and support you need, in order to decide for yourself what you will do now.
Immediately after a rape you will be faced with decisions like who to tell, how to cope, how to feel safe, whether to get medical attention, whether to tell police.
In making your decisions you might want to consider your rights:
Some women abuse drugs and alcohol, develop eating issues and/or use other forms of self harm to cope with their experiences. It is important to find support people who do not judge you for the ways you cope or have coped in the past.
You have a right to expect support that is free from discrimination.
How will my friends and family react?
The people you tell about your rape experience might have different reactions to your disclosure. For example, shock, fear, hurt or anger that you have suffered this abuse. They might also, however, be confused about how to deal with their own feelings. They might react in ways you did not expect, ways that cause you further pain.
Those close to you might become over-protective in an attempt to deal with their own sense of helplessness or guilt.
Family and friends might ask you questions about the rape which may seem as if they don't understand what it was like for you. It may appear that they are suggesting that you are somehow to blame for what happened. It is important that you remember you are not at fault.
No one asks to be raped.
Given that rape is such a misunderstood form of violence, people might respond to you in ways that reinforce common myths about rape as this is the only information they have.
While it might help to understand the feelings of the people close to you, this does not mean you should take responsibility for helping them to cope. Your family and friends can get support from one another or talk with an 'outside' person about their own feelings and needs. You have the right to put your own needs first.
You are entitled to support and to make your own decisions. It may help to have a network of people you trust to turn to. Family and friends can often fulfil this need. You might feel that you can trust some of your friends and family to respond in a more sensitive way than others.
It is up to you to choose whom you tell and what you tell them.
If you want or need additional support, you can contact a sexual assault support service and talk to a support worker.
How to support a rape survivor
If a woman chooses to tell you that she has been raped, then she is investing a lot of trust in you. Your responses are important.
The attitudes and responses of the people closest to a woman who has been raped have the potential either to extend the crisis or to help her deal with it. Above all, a woman who has been raped needs to be believed, listened to, and allowed the time and space to make her own decisions about what to do.
It is normal for you to be upset, angry or confused. You might feel a strong urge to 'do something' or you might try to convince the woman to 'do something'. You might wonder whether she could have done something to prevent the rape. You might feel responsible for what has happened. You might want to confront the rapist and punish him yourself. The desire for revenge is a common reaction for many supporters. You may have a strong urge to "take charge" in order to protect her.
It is important for you to allow a rape survivor to make her own decisions and to support those decisions.
In some cases she may want direction or advice and it is important that you do not feel like you have to have all the answers.
You might feel helpless and frustrated. These feelings are valid and common. You may wish to seek support from family, friends and cousellors. It is not appropriate for you to expect or demand support from the rape survivor.
Support you can offer:
Rape and the Law
Rape and sexual assault are crimes and women have the right to pursue justice through the legal system. Women who have experienced such crimes also have the right to what protection the law can offer and to seek compensation for the harm they have suffered as a result of the crime.
Rape and sexual assault are two of the most underreported crimes in Australia. The ABS Victims of Crime Survey 1996 indicates that only 25% of sexual assaults are reported to police. Other researchers have estimated that as few as 10% of rapes are reported to the police (F.B.I). Only a small proportion of the offences reported to the police are prosecuted in court and less than half of these will result in a conviction.
While there are various reasons why women do not access the criminal justice system, the difficulty of the legal process and the low conviction rate are among the many reasons women give as to why they are reluctant to report rape to the police. (Report of the Taskforce on Women and the Criminal Code, Qld, 2000)
Understanding your legal position and your rights during the legal process can help you decide whether or not to report and can help prepare you for the experience, if you do decide to report.
Under the law, rape and other forms of sexual assault are seen as "criminal acts".
In court the Government prosecutes the "accused" rapist and the rape survivor is the chief witness for the prosecution.
Laws relating to sexual offences differ from state to state. In reporting sexual offences, the laws that apply are from the state in which the offence occurred.
In Queensland, rape and indecent assault are dealt with under sections 349 and 350 of the Queensland Criminal Code 2000 (QCC). The Criminal Code defines rape as:
Consent is not considered real consent if it is obtained by force, intimidation or by deception. Women often choose not to resist a rape in order to survive. This does not mean however that she consented to what happened.
Consent is also negated if it is obtained by deception. For example, a doctor pretends that it is necessary to insert an instrument into a woman's vagina when in reality it's for his sexual gratification. Women can also be coerced by the exercise of authority, for example an employer who requires an employee to have sex in order for her to keep her job.
The term "cognitive capacity" recognises that a person must have the ability to understand the nature and effect of giving consent. In July 1989 rape within marriage was made illegal in Queensland. A woman has the right to charge her husband or de facto spouse with rape or sexual assault.
Under the Criminal Code sexual assault refers to a broad range of unwanted sexual behaviours such as touching a woman's breasts.
Historically, the notion of rape as a "crime" originated as a means to protect men's "property" (meaning: "their wives and daughters") from damage, not out of a sense of moral outrage at the violation of women's bodies. Hard fought for legal reforms have worked to make the legal system more responsive to the needs and rights of women, however for most women the experience of reporting to police and going to court is still pretty difficult.
Women often describe the experience of going to court as one of feeling that they themselves were put on trial. In court, it is likely that the defence lawyer (the lawyer representing the accused) will attempt to discredit a rape survivor's story and denigrate her character. She may even be left feeling somehow to blame for what happened.
While recent law reforms have helped protect the rights of rape and sexual assault survivors in court, community prejudices or myths about rape still flow into the workings of the legal system. Jurors, judges and other criminal justice personnel are all members of the community and may internalise society's myths and prejudices. These internalised beliefs about women and rape are possibly the most powerful obstacle to successful prosecution.
The law that is in force in Australia has been built up over many years by judges - all male until recently - and by legislators - predominantly male... thus it is clear that a law designed by males will not necessarily be suited to the needs of females.S S. Mukherjee and J. Scutt, Women and Crime (1981).
The Issue of Consent
The central issue in most rape cases is that of consent, or the accused's argument that the woman gave her consent.
The prosecution must prove the charge of rape by establishing that there was absence of consent beyond reasonable doubt. In order to establish this, the rape survivor's actions and words at the time may be brought up in court and their meaning questioned.
It is not uncommon for defence lawyers (those defending the accused) to insinuate that a woman led the rapist to believe she consented. For example, they might exploit myths like;
Consider some of the principles that underpin the criminal justice system and the consequences for rape victims/survivors:
A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty
The accused person (the defendant) is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has the right to remain silent, which means it is the victim/survivor (the complainant) who is questioned and cross-examined.
The jury determines whether the prosecution has proved that the accused rapist is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This means, that it is not enough for a jury to believe that it was more likely than not that he did it: they are instructed to be certain.
If a jury has reasonable doubt about whether a rape occurred, they cannot convict the defendant.
The verdict of the jury must be unanimous (all agreed) If a jury cannot reach agreement (a hung jury), a court may or may not order a retrial.
The convicted have the right of appeal
Anyone convicted of a crime, that is, found guilty by a jury has the right to appeal their conviction and their sentence. Once the accused has been acquitted - that is found 'not guilty', the case is at an end and the decision cannot be changed even if more evidence is found later. A person cannot be put on trial more than once for the same crime.
If we imagine a person who has been robbed undergoing the sort of cross-examination that a rape survivor does, we may better understand why most rape survivors choose not to press charges.
Police and the Courts
Deciding to report
Understanding your rights and the legal process of reporting a rape can help you decide whether or not to report. When deciding whether or not to report is right for you, it is useful to be aware that:
Women's experiences of reporting to the police and going to court differ. If the rapist pleads guilty, the experience may be relatively easy. However, most women find the process emotionally difficult. If you do decide to report it is a good idea to be mentally prepared for the experience and it may be a good idea to have someone you trust, a friend, sympathetic relative or a support worker accompany you through the reporting and subsequent court proceedings.
If you want to have someone in the courtroom for support, the prosecutor will need to ask permission from the judge or magistrate for them to be allowed into the courtroom. Usually your support person sits at the back of the court where you can see her or him. Your support person in court will not be able to give evidence as a witness.
Workers from the Brisbane Rape and Incest Survivors Support Service and other sexual assault services can explain what happens in court and how you might be affected and give you a chance to talk through everything, although they may not be able to attend court with you.
Court support is offered by:
Office of the Director of Public Prosecution
Victim Support Service
3239 6476 or 1800 673 428
Victims of Crime 1300 733 777
Reporting to the Police
Brisbane has a specialised police unit called the Sexual Crimes Investigation Unit that investigates charges of rape and sexual assault, or you can contact your local police station. If you report a rape in Brisbane, the police will take you to the Sexual Assault Service at the Royal Women's Hospital, where you will be able to talk to a sexual assault worker about the reporting process and decide if reporting is right for you.
Making a Statement
It is necessary for you to provide a detailed statement to the police. A statement is a typed and signed record that outlines the details of the events leading up to, during, and after the rape. The police ask you to describe exactly what happened in your own words and ask you questions, so that no details are left out. The information in this statement is used by the police to investigate your allegations and, if someone is arrested, to take the case to court.
Making a statement can be distressing as you are asked to recall the rape in great detail. Details that may seem irrelevant - such as the weather - might prove to be useful to the police investigation and provide evidence to corroborate your allegations. The police say they attempt to ensure that the officer, who takes your statement is an officer of the gender you are most comfortable with.
You also have the right to have someone with you, or phone someone for support while you make your statement. You can leave the police station at any time.
The statement is typed and given to you to read, correct if necessary and sign. Never sign a statement without reading it first. If you do not understand something, ask that it be explained. If you do not agree with something in the statement, ask that it be changed. It is possible for your statement to be audio taped in special circumstances.(eg for women with a visual or intellectual/learning disability).
It is a good idea to get a copy of your statement, as you will be asked questions about it later on in Court.
If you are afraid for your safety, particularly if threats have been made against you, you should tell the police so they can take this into account when deciding whether to object to bail or when applying for bail conditions to be set.
The Forensic Examination
If you choose to report a recent rape or sexual assault, you may be asked to undergo a physical examination performed by a doctor who is trained to gather forensic evidence and to give evidence in courts. Forensic evidence, such as the presence of semen or blood, is important. Although, by itself, it does not prove rape, it does corroborate your allegations.
Forensic evidence is best collected as soon as possible after the rape however evidence may still be collected several days afterwards. If you are thinking of reporting to the police they advise you not to change your clothes, shower, or eat or drink anything, as this could interfere with important forensic evidence. If you feel too uncomfortable in the same clothes put each item separately into paper bags and keep them so that they may be examined if necessary.
In Brisbane this examination is done by a female doctor at the Sexual Assault Service at the Royal Women's Hospital. In other areas of the state, you may be taken to a sexual assault service attached to a hospital, (if one exists in your area) or else a Government Medical Officer will perform the examination. You have the right to request that the doctor be female (although the request may not be met if no female doctors are available) and that a friend or a support worker be present.
The examination usually takes about an hour and will probably include the following:
Samples of your blood are taken for possible DNA testing and to test for sexually transmitted diseases. Scrapings from under your fingernails may also be taken in cases where there may be traces of the rapist's skin or hair. If you are sore anywhere you should tell the doctor to ensure that this is noted. For example, the rapist might have grabbed your arms tightly and bruises or swelling might only just be beginning to appear.
The forensic examination is to gain evidence to be used in court. It is not performed to attend to your physical and mental health. It is a good idea to see a doctor of your choice as soon as possible to attend to your well being and health issues including:
-The prevention of pregnancy.
-The prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
-The care of generalised body trauma.
If you have reported at a hospital, your physical health can be attended to there. Alternatively sexual assault support workers can refer you to a sympathetic doctor.
If you are not sure whether you want to follow through with the reporting process it is possible for the forensic evidence to be stored for up to three months so that it can be used as evidence if you decide you want to go ahead with proceedings at a later date.
The Police Investigation
After you have made a statement, the police begin their investigation to gather evidence to support your complaint. They might ask you to accompany them to the place where you were raped so that they can be sure of the circumstances and gather further evidence that might be there.
They will try to find witnesses to the rape or interview anyone with whom you were in contact soon after the rape.
If you don't know who the rapist was you may have to identify him from photos or a physical line-up. If the police believe they have sufficient evidence to support your statement, and they have identified and found the man accused of the rape, the detectives charge him and he makes his first court appearance (you don't need to attend court at this time). A date will be set at this time for a Committal Hearing, usually about a month later, or perhaps a mention (a short court appearance).
Usually the suspect will be granted bail because the law assumes a person is innocent until proven guilty. However, after the suspect has been charged, you may speak to the police or prosecutor about bail conditions that take your safety into account. For example bail conditions might specify that the accused may not come to your workplace or within 100 metres of your home. If the accused is granted bail, the police should inform you of the bail conditions.
The Committal Hearing
Before a case goes to the Supreme or District Court there is a hearing in a Magistrates Court to determine whether there is enough evidence to send the defendant (the accused) to trial before a judge and jury.
At the committal hearing, your case will be presented by a police prosecutor or a prosecutor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Before the committal you will be interviewed by the prosecutor or by a clerk called a Victim Liaison Officer (VLO) in order to prepare for the hearing.
If the defendant pleads not guilty you will become the main witness for the prosecution (referred to as 'the complainant' in court) and you will have to give evidence in court. In most sexual offence cases the court is closed to the public, including the media, while you give evidence.
You will be asked to wait outside the courtroom until it is your turn to give evidence. When your name is called the bailiff will guide you to the witness box, where you must swear to give truthful evidence. You are expected to give a detailed account of the events leading up to, during, and after the rape. This account is supported by the statement you made when you first reported your rape to the police and by other evidence gathered by the police. The defendant is represented in court by a defence lawyer who will cross-examine you about the rape and about your character. Your account of what happened will be challenged and it may be suggested that you have not remembered things clearly, that you are confused, unreliable, or simply lying.
The defence lawyer is not generally allowed to question you about any previous sexual experience you have had with anyone, including the accused.
However, in special circumstances, particularly if you've had a previous relationship with the accused, the magistrate can allow such questions if the court accepts that it necessary for the defence case. Evidence relating to your previous sexual experience may also come up in the evidence of other witnesses such as a doctor or counsellor.
Rape survivors often find the committal hearing to be more traumatic than the actual trial.
It is more common in committal hearings for defence lawyers to be more aggressive in their cross-examination of rape survivors because there is no jury for them to get off side by "going too far".
It is also more common for them to overstep the laws relating to inadmissible evidence, such as making references to a woman's sexual history and reputation. Recent law reforms, however, have given the judge or magistrate the power to disallow unnecessarily intimidating, confusing or repetitive language.
Special Witness Provisions
The court has the power to declare some people who have to give evidence as a 'special witness'. For example, women who may be likely, in the courts opinion, to be disadvantaged as a witness, or would be likely to suffer severe emotional trauma. When this happens, processes are adopted to ease the pressure of giving evidence. For example, you can request that a screen, be placed between you and the attacker, you can give evidence through a video link-up, or exclude persons from the courtroom.
How Shall I Handle Cross-Examination?
Rape survivors usually find cross-examination difficult. Here are some useful points to remember which may help you get through:
The trial is held in the District Court before a judge (addressed as 'Your Honour') and jury of 12 people. The case against the accused is presented to the court by the Crown prosecutor P a barrister working for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Most trials last from two to five days, and a few take much longer. As the rape survivor and main witness for the prosecution during this trial you must go over the details of your rape again, led (in questioning) by the prosecutor. The previous sexual history and convictions of the defendant are not admissible evidence.
There are two types of corroborative (supporting) evidence: forensic evidence and other witnesses. Forensic evidence is physical evidence obtained by police either from the scene of the rape or on your person (obtained during the course of the medical examination you had when you first reported the rape). Other witnesses are people who may have seen or heard the actual rape or people who saw you before or after the rape.
Until recently, it has been a legal requirement that judges warn the jury that it is dangerous to convict on the uncorroborated evidence of the complainant. While this is no longer a requirement under the law, some judges still maintain this practice and certainly corroborating evidence is still very important in gaining a conviction.
Another form of supporting evidence in sexual offence cases is that of 'fresh complaint'. This is the evidence provided by someone who was first told about the rape by the complainant after the event occurred. This evidence is used to demonstrate consistency in the complainant's statement. Defence lawyers may use a lack of fresh complaint to discredit a woman's story, however, many judges accept that women may not tell anyone about the rape for a long time.
Victim Impact Statement
If the defendant is convicted, you have the right to tell the court how the crime has affected you by writing a victim impact statement, which explains the harm you have suffered as a result of the rape and/or sexual assault. Usually the prosecutor gives this statement to the judge when the offender is being sentenced. The victim impact statement may also provide useful support for any criminal compensation claims you might make after the trial.
Even if you have reported your rape to the police and an investigation has begun, you can notify the police if you change your mind and wish to withdraw. It is advisable to do this at the earliest opportunity, but you should not hesitate to do this at any time.
In this situation, police guidelines state that they should take a statement from you withdrawing the complaint and stating that you do not wish to proceed with further police action.
After the committal hearing, the DPP has the final decision about whether or not to proceed with the case. If you feel you are being forced to participate in legal proceedings when you wish to withdraw your complaint, contact a sexual assault support service or a Women's Legal Service.
Criminal Injuries Compensation is a way for victims to receive financial compensation for injuries received during, or as a result of, violence committed directly against them.
The Criminal Offence Victims Act (Qld) (COVA) was introduced in 1995 to provide compensation for victims of crime. Under this legislation, you may claim for compensation if you have suffered a physical injury or nervous shock caused by the rape/sexual assault. COVA says that you must apply within three years after the offenderUs trial/sentence. Applications involve making further statements and legal processes.
If the offence occurred before 18th December 1995, your compensation claim will come under the Queensland Criminal Code rather than the COVA.
For more information about applying for compensation you should seek legal advice or contact staff at the DPP, the Criminal Injuries Compensation section of the Department of Justice and/or the Victims of Crime Compensation Unit at Queensland Legal Aid.
If you do not want to make an official complaint you can still provide information to the police that may help them investigate other rapes.
The Sexual Crimes Investigation Unit have informed us that in this situation the police will ask you to make a statement as if you are reporting and then they will allow you to withdraw the complaint.
Making a Complaint about the Judicial Process
Write a letter to:
Department of Justice and Attorney General
G.P.O. Box 149
Brisbane Q 4001
The Criminal Justice Commission processes complaints relating to dissatisfaction with a police investigation or when a crime has been committed by a member of the police force. You can call the Crime and Misconduct Commission on (07) 3360 6060.
For legal advice you can can contact Women's Legal Service or other community legal centres.
As mentioned earlier, whether you decide to report your rape to the police or not, there are lots of good reasons for you to see a doctor.
Here are some things you may wish to consider:
Sexual assault support workers or Women's Health Queensland Wide can refer you to a doctor if you do not already have one with whom you would feel comfortable. These workers can also refer you to other agencies, such as sexual health clinics and services providing counselling and support regarding pregnancy options. Women's Health Queensland Wide provide information and referral only and are not a counselling service.
Women's Health Queensland Wide:
Outside Brisbane Metro Area Freecall: 1800 017 676
Health Information Line: (07) 3839 9988
TTY: (07) 3831 5508
Women's truths and institutional truths
It is very common for rapists to claim that their victims are lying. This is one of the ways their criminal behaviour continues to be hidden. The institutions of the law, medicine, church and the media hold a great deal of power to determine what is "truth" and what is "real". Beliefs that women Rmake up storiesS about rape support a culture that denies women's experiences of sexual violence and the prevalence of rape within our society. Often women's experiences, stories and truths do not match up with these institutional truths. This is often what feminists mean when they talk about structural violence.
Structural or institutional violence, upholds or reinforces the violence of an individual abuser. The violence of a particular medical "truth" may add to and reinforce the violence of the actual abuse. For example women may believe or be told that it is their own "paranoia" that is to blame for the constantly recurring fears of sexual and physical abuse: that there is something wrong with them if this fear surfaces again years after the abuse has ceased. Women may even be told that their fear is based on fantasy, rather than on reality. Because paranoia and fantasy discount the truth or reality of women's fears, these medical "truths"are experienced as violations in themselves. It is very unlikely that paranoia, or fantasy, are to blame for recurring fears of sexual violence. Fear related to being raped often does not simply go away. These fears are real and based on having experienced sexual abuse and can work to maintain women's silence. The health system should adopt a holistic model which includes social factors that effect women's lives.
There are many difficulties associated with recounting stories of sexual violence. For example, recalling details of time and sequence of events. Yet these difficulties are often misunderstood, or taken as evidence of lying. When recounting rape experiences in law courts, where "facts" must be recited in a rational, linear or logical fashion, women's truths are terribly disadvantaged. This is another example where institutional violence upholds and reinforces the violence of the abuser.
Almost all institutions are organised in a hierarchical (boss/worker) structure including business, government, religion, medicine, law, education, the media, the family and so on. Hierarchies can be argued to be oppressive structures since they rely on the structurally legitimated power of a few over others. This power has the potential to be exercised in exploitative and tyrannical ways over those with less legitimised power. Feminists refer to hierarchies where men have more access to power than women as a social organisation called "patriarchy". Historically, in most Western cultures, those who have access to power in almost all spheres of society are white, privileged men. It is important when looking at power and who has it, to take into consideration class, race, gender, ability and sexuality.
Organising in ways that are based on collectivity, consensus and reciprocity rather than on hierarchies of oppression and subordination, contributes to stopping structural violence. Organisations which adopt a flatter, less hierarchial structure are beginning to see the benefit of valuing worker input into decision making.
A woman's sexuality or sexual practice is a personal choice. Some examples of sexual practices which might be labelled as "problems" by professionals (doctors, psychiatrists or social workers) include choosing to have a series of sexual partners, no partner or a same sex partner. When women are survivors of rape, "experts" often say that these sexual practices are "problems" which are directly related to the abuse. This may or may not be true. Sexual practices may be survival strategies, life choices or simply a natural expression of who they are.
Deciding when and with whom you have sex and how far you go is the basic right of every woman. When that right is denied, the power to decide is diminished, or a woman is coerced, she may act out sexually as a way to reclaim her sexual power. Pathologizing sexual behaviour as the "problem" minimises the real problem, which is the abuse of power.
Women may or may not experience their sexual practices as problems. However, women's sexual practices are often seen as deviant for patriarchal systems which define what sexuality is "correct" and "healthy" for women.
Promiscuity refers to the practice of having sex with a series of partners. When a woman chooses many sexual partners, she is often denigrated by being labelled a "slut" or "nymphomaniac". Men are seldom, if ever, referred to as promiscuous. They are more likely to be rewarded for sexual conquests, made heroes and called "studs" or "real" men. This form of sexual practice can be understood as a way of life informed by a decision not to form intense or long term sexual relationships.
This decision is not necessarily consciously "thought through", and may or may not have positive consequences - as is the case with any sexual choice.
It may be that in some cases promiscuity may relate to a lack of trust, that is, a fear of being sexually and emotionally vulnerable to others. This is sometimes the case when trust has been violated, for instance, when women have experienced incest/rape as children. If trust is the issue then promiscuity seems one among many rational responses to childhood experiences of incest: a useful survival strategy. However, the sexual choice to be promiscuous may have nothing to do with past abuse, or survival strategies. Some women, who have not had rape experiences choose to have a series of sexual partners. Whether related to abuse or not, the practice of having several sexual partners is a valid life choice for any woman.
Celibacy is the deliberate choice to not have sexual relations with others, not merely the time without sexual relations. This term is also often used to denigrate women. Often women who choose celibacy are referred to by some men as "frigid". This is probably because it is difficult for many men to comprehend that a woman may choose to refuse their sexual advances, let alone the sexual advances of any man. "Experts" often see women's refusal to be involved in a sexual relationship as a problem stemming from a rape experience. They may suggest that celibate women secretly hate men, or secretly are afraid of men. This may or may not be true. Again, celibacy may or may not be a strategic response to a rape experience.
Whatever the reason for celibacy, the decision not to have sex with others is a legitimate sexual choice. There are many reasons why women might choose to be celibate at various times in their life. Celibacy has many positive aspects for women. For instance, it can create a space for women to develop and value non-sexual friendships.
Lesbianism is sexual relations between women. This too is a term often used to denigrate women. Women who are referred to as lesbian or "dyke" may or may not be lesbians. When used as a derogatory term, "lesbian" often refers to women who:
While men's violence may be a rational reason for women to choose women rather than men as their sexual partners, this is only one of many reasons why women might choose lesbianism. Importantly, lesbianism is usually about the love of women, rather than a hatred or fear of men. It too is a legitimate sexual choice which may or may not be related to sexual abuse. Lesbianism is a refusal of sexual "norms". Whether or not individual lesbians deliberately refuse these norms, lesbianism challenges the "normality" of heterosexual relations and the patriarchal family.
Because so many women have been abused it is easy to make the mistake of linking sexual practices with abuse. This linkage often occurs in "therapy", where notions of what is deviant or sick depend upon the norms of hetero patriarchy.
When finding a support person, it often a good idea to look around and ask them questions to see if they are likely to be helpful to you.
Rape is a gendered crime
Sexual violence is a very common crime in our communities.
In most cases it is women and children who experience sexual violence and men who perpetrate it.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 99% of sexual offences are committed by men, and 79% of adults who are subjected to sexual violence are women.
One in three women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The incidence of sexual violence against women with disabilities is at least 4 to 10 times higher than that occuring within the nondisabled population.
Since perpetrators of sexual violence are overwhelmingly men and victims are mainly women, questions can be raised about gender:
Rapists are usually someone that the survivor knows - ordinary "well adjusted" members of society - fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers, carers, lawyers, business men, teachers, musicians, public servants, labourers, politicians, church members, et cetera.
Rape can be better explained when the individual act is placed in a broader social and political context which allows us to explain why sexual violence is overwhelmingly a gendered crime.
The politics of rape
Rape is one violent form of oppression and is a mechanism by which individuals or groups gain, express and maintain their dominance and power over others. This is evident when rape is used as a tool of war, when men are raped in jail, or when rape occurs on the basis of someone's race, age, ability or sexuality. Rape is about the use and abuse of power to intimidate, degrade or control others with less status. The fact that women and children are raped more often than men is a manifestation of lesser power and inferior status in society.
Structural and institutional powers and societal beliefs maintain a culture where women have less power and status. Power imbalance or discrimination is also practised on the grounds of race, class, sexuality, age and ability. Sexual violence for women then, is not only an extension of sexism, but often exists in conjunction with these other forms of oppression.
As feminists, we do not believe that rape is inevitable, but rather that rape and other forms of men's violence are a result of learned attitudes and behaviours which are reinforced by a society that often defines manhood or masculinity through domination. Too many men make choices to exert power and control over others by using sexual violence. Men who rape CHOOSE to rape and must always be held accountable for their actions. Other men can and do choose non-violence.
Men who rape are behaving according to a belief system which says they have the right to own, dominate and punish women and to use rape to control women. But where would such a belief system come from? How does it show itself in everyday life?
Recent research shows that approximately one third of young men believe it is OK to force a young woman to have sex if she has "led him on". In other words they believe they have the right to use violence to make a girl do what they want, regardless of that girl's wishes, rights or needs.
When so many boys and men believe that it is OK to use a little force to have sex and when so many believe that when women say "no" they really mean "yes" or that somehow women enjoy being raped, rape becomes an extension of normally accepted male behaviour.
The belief in their right to rape and dominate as boys or men will continue to occur unless we challenge and change the "rape culture" that sustains it. Despite some changes last century, when we look at who has power in society and who makes the major decisions, we see that men still dominate our institutions - government, banks, business, medical, legal, media, religious, educational and the family. This male power is connected to historical, religious and cultural beliefs that it is acceptable for men to dominate and control women and children: men are the heads of the household; a man's word is law; men lead in dancing; women take male family names when they marry; etc.
We've all heard a sexist joke. We've all seen women objectified on TV. We have all seen situations in which men are the boss. We read about rape every day in the newspapers.
The ever-present threat of rape can act to control women's behaviour. It can limit how she dresses, when and where she goes, how she behaves, etc.
The legal system is so difficult for the victim/survivor that only 10% of women report the crime and only 5-10 % of those cases receive convictions. Why are the sentences so minimal?
Why do so many people refuse to believe the woman or children who say it has happened to them?
Why do so many fail to offer support and try to get the survivors to sweep it under the carpet and forget it?
We believe that the reasons are intrinsically linked with the social and political context in this country, which constantly reinforces the message that it is natural and normal for men to dominate and control women and children, even violently if they choose. Thus rape can be said to not only reflect but reinforce gender inequality.
Gender is a term used to describe the the set of behaviours attached to being male or female. It is obvious in our culture that boys and girls are brought up differently. Our culture teaches us or constructs what it is to be "feminine" or "masculine". These sex roles or gender identities are in opposition to one another and have negative effects for both girls and boys.
One need only look at a toy catalogue to see how girls and boys are taught to be. Toys targeted at girls consist of dolls, tea sets and items related to beauty while toys targeted at boys are full of action men, competitive and aggressive video games and things that make boys active. Teenage girl magazines are full of tips for girls about how to get and keep a boyfriend and how to look beautiful. Popular boys magazines are full of the latest video games, with no mention of girls or how to look. Toys, magazines and television, like many other parts of our culture, overwhelmingly teach girls to be passive, submissive, caring, nurturing and that our worth lies in our beauty for our relationships with boys/men. Boys are taught to be the opposite to girls. Being aggressive, competitive, dominant and to show no emotion are masculine traits.
It is seen as "natural" and "ideal" for men to be in control and for women to like this behaviour, to be submissive and to fulfil men's needs, even to the extent of liking aggressive sexual behaviour and wanting to be dominated by a powerful man. Women and men internalize these imposed stereotypes of male domination and female submission/objectification.
The female image continues to be used to sell products. Like the commodity for sale, the female body is commercially exploited as a sexual commodity . Stereotyped images of women - which fulfil male sexual fanatsies, objectify women and promote a passive, glamorous, sexually available female - reinforce the myths about rape and the idea of women as sex objects.
Pornography is an extreme form of female objectification. It says nothing about a women's sexuality, but says a lot about how society wants men and women to behave.
Gender conditioning creates a power imbalance between men and women. Differences between the sexes however, need not be hierarchial or oppressive. Similarly differences in culture, sexuality or ability need not be oppressive.
Thankfully, feminists have made significant changes to the lives of women. It is almost inconceivable for some women in Western cultures to imagine a life where they were not allowed to vote, work, obtain child care or receive an education. The movement towards women getting equal rights and the "girl power" notion embraced by many young women who believe they can do anything, often obscures the fact that women continue to be terribly discriminated against.
Generally, women still have lower incomes, lower representation in major decision-making bodies, do the majority of unpaid work and child care, especially at home, continue to be treated as sex objects by the media and face discrimination in a host of other economic, political, educational, social and moral arenas which are really too broad to be covered by this booklet.
The new Western superwoman ideal, who is expected to have it all and do it all, is only possible for a privileged few and she will burn out if expectations around feminity and masculinity do not change. Families of the future need to be based on shared responsibility for housework, child care, earning a living and the like, and these roles should not be gender defined.
What can I do?
Most people tend to avoid thinking about the reality of violence against women and children. It is easier and more comforting to pretend it does not happen rather than to acknowledge the brutal facts.
When we are forced or choose to acknowledge the reality of sexual violence, we are often overwhelmed by our rage, incomprehension or sense of helplessness.
If we think of rape as being part of a continuum that ranges from obscene comments, groping and harassment to violent assault, then all of us, as women, have experienced the violence of "rape culture".
For those of us who are survivors of sexual violence it is important to remain focused on our own needs.
There may be a point in our lives when we will choose to transform our strength and anger into positive action. Men have a vested interest in maintaining the power imbalance. Generally speaking, we can not rely on men to act with any real intention of ending sexual violence against women and children.
If we are to become free, it is up to us!
The rage, incomprehension and sense of helplessness that many of us experience arise from our recognition of all that is against us.
We are not alone, however. Women all over the world have been and continue to be engaged in this struggle. The worst that can happen is that our struggle is forced "underground".
If you want to "do something" but feel confused about where to start or how to overcome a sense of powerlessness, then here are a few suggestions.
Many women find that organising their thoughts can make them feel much stronger. You might know what you think is wrong in the world but have trouble expressing this clearly. You could start by writing down your experiences and feelings or by talking about them with other women. It might help to connect your own experiences with other women's experiences and with political ideas.
Reading can be an effective way of connecting your experiences to a framework of political ideas and theories. Spending time gathering information can be a valuable way of developing a stronger personal awareness as it makes reference to a broader set of contexts.
A woman who is developing a politicised consciousness is vulnerable to attack as many people will not want to know about or listen to what she is saying. You might find yourself bearing the brunt of fierce antagonism when you express your ideas.
It is often more empowering to discuss your thoughts and feelings in a safe and supportive environment. You could contact other women's groups, such as discussion or support groups at a rape crisis centre, or you might take some classes in self-defence or self-esteem and assertiveness development.
A lot of strength can be gained by believing in yourself and other women.
There are many ways in which women who are well-resourced can be effective in challenging ideas, practices, and structures in the community.
Here are just a few possibilities:
These are some of the books on rape which can be borrowed from the library at the Brisbane Rape and Incest Survivors Support Centre.
If your local library does not have the books you want, ask a librarian to order them in. Women's bookstores stock a large range of books on rape, surviving and healing from sexual violence, and feminism.
Having access to books which help us to understand and heal from our experiences of sexual violence is an important means of breaking our isolation from each other and breaking the silence about rape.
ADAMS, Caren & Jennifer FAY. Nobody Told Me It Was Rape. Santa Cruz: Network Publications, 1984.
BART, Pauline & Patricia O'BRIEN. Stopping Rape: Successful Survival Strategies. Toronto: Pergamon Press, 1985.
BROWNMILLER, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. New York: Penguin, 1976.
CAIGNON, Denise & Gail GROVES, eds. Her Wits about Her: Self Defence Success Stories by Women. London: Women's Press, 1987.
CASA HOUSE. Breaking the Silence: A Guide to Supporting Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault. Melbourne: Wescott & Slater, 1990.
CASA HOUSE. To Report or Not to Report: A Study of Victim/Survivors of Sexual Assault and their Experience of Making an Initial Report to the Police. Melbourne: CASA House, 1993.
EASTEAL, Patricia. Voices of the Survivors. Melbourne: Spinifex, 1994.
KOSS, Mary & Mary HARVEY. The Rape Victim: Clinical and Community Interventions. London: Sage Publications, 1991.
McEVOY, Alan & Jeff BROOKINGS. If She Is Raped: A Guidebook for Husbands, Fathers and Male Friends. Florida: Learning Publications, 1991.
McSHANE, Claudette. Warning! Dating May Be Hazardous for Your Health. Wisconsin: Mother Courage Press, 1988.
MADIGAN, Lee & Nancy GAMBLE. The Second Rape: Society's Continued Betrayal of the Victim. New York: Lexington Books, 1991.
RHODES, Dusty & Sandra Mc NEILL, eds. Women Against Violence Against Women. London: Only women Press, 1985.
SYDNEY RAPE CRISIS CENTRE. Surviving Rape: A Handbook to Help Women Become Aware of the Reality of Rape. Sydney: Collins, 1984.
THROUGH BLACK EYES - A Handbook of Family Violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. Available through ATSI or Health Agencies.
Or contact us.
We can arrange an interpreter.