Victim. Survivor. Accuser. Think about the words used to talk about those who experience sexual assault. Think about the news reporter who stands outside the hospital, telling the audience that “The victim is ok.” Think about which cases even make it to the 7 o’clock news report.
On Jan. 27, 2012, I was invited to live tweet a conversation taking place on the 27th floor of City Hall, in the Tom Bradley Tower. Entitled “Storying Violence: A Cross-Disciplinary Conversation at the Top of City Hall,” it was a part of LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions)’s “Three Weeks in January: End Rape in Los Angeles” – a public art performance by artist Suzanne Lacy.
The conversation, meant to focus on the narratives of rape and the ways in which they are shaped by society, included civic and cultural leaders from Los Angeles: Gail Abarbanel from the Rape Treatment Center, Deputy Mayor Aileen Adams, Chief Charles Beck from the Los Angeles Police Department, Jodie Evans of Code Pink, writer and director Julie Hebert, Dr. Jackson Katz, Professor Rose Monteiro and Dr. Francesca Polletta. The discussion was moderated by veteran journalist Ana Garcia, an investigative reporter for NBC4 Los Angeles.
Lacy opened the event by talking about the importance of social media in today’s society and the way it is transforming how information is transmitted from one generation to the next. We bloggers and tweeters were invited to the event because our coverage would show how information could be relayed in different ways. And we were asked to end our tweets with #RapeEndsHere in order to both help the outside world follow our conversation and raise awareness about the campaign.
Lacy then introduced the main themes of the conversation. “What’s wrong with the stories told of rape?” she asked. “How do we change those stories in order to change consciousness?”
The panelists began by emphasizing the need to look at sexual assault as a societal issue. It is not just about the people who commit these crimes but the ways in which society creates a space in which rape can occur.
Garcia responded by mentioning that television journalism rarely covers rape unless it can sensationalized. “What’s the twist? What’s interesting about it?” These are the questions she said reporters ask themselves as they approach a story about sexual assault. She also admitted that even though she was a huge part of this event, she still could not get NBC to cover the panel in their nightly news report.
Many of the other panelists focused on the ways in which rape is portrayed in pop culture and asked how Hollywood can ensure that the story is not only told from a male point of view when the majority of those controlling television and film are men. Only seven percent of directors in Hollywood are women, and the number has not improved much over the years, regardless of Kathryn Bigelow’s historic Academy Award win in 2010.
As the conversation continued, Katz brought up the fact that there are male victims of rape and they are not discussed nearly as much as female victims. He argued that it was problematic that there were only two men at a panel about the narratives of sexual assault. And the other panelists agreed that in order for there to be progress, men need to be just as much a part of the conversation as women.
Monteiro brought attention to the fact that just because a victim does not look like she has been harmed does not mean that she has not been and stated that there needs to be a serious conversation about the long-term effects of rape. “This trauma is life long and affects every aspect of the survivor’s life,” added Monteiro.
Ultimately, the panelists agreed that the answer lies in prevention and changing the discussion to make sure that the victim is never implied to be at fault. “We have to focus more on prevention. There are too few voices,” commented Adams. And the panelists argued that everyone needs to be held accountable to make sure that these necessary changes actually occur. This involves speaking up when someone makes a comment that normalizes sexual assault, such as when one jokes about rape.
The consensus in the room was that the vast majority of people know that rape is wrong, but they feel like it is acceptable when they hear others talk about it as though it is no big deal. Garcia, for her part, promised to never again claim that the victim is “ok.”
This article originally ran in the Winter 2012 issue of Fem.
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