Skepticism

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I’m afraid that isn’t an April Fool’s joke. And how sad is it that we need a whole month to try to bring more interest to this problem?

This is especially relevant to me this year, as I watch what’s playing out for a prominent woman in technology, Kathy Sierra. Robert Scoble, another A-list tech blogger, has stopped blogging for one week as a protest (and his wife was also a recipient of threats.)

Clearly, the anonymity of the web allows people to do and say snarky, cruel, and hateful things. But as a woman online, it seems like we get the worst of it–and it always seems to focus around our sexuality, and what will be done to us. The emphasis is on our passivity, since being online and vocal is usually what the @sshats object to.

Today on April Fool’s day, don’t let anyone get away with the “just kidding!” excuse if they do something rude and hateful. Threats of violence aren’t funny.*

*Ok, unless they involve marshmallow peeps…

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18 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this. I've decided to feature this topic on my Knitting for Change blog this month. I even know a knitting book author who got lewd comments about her book on Amazon. We have to make this type of behavior unacceptable.

    Here are a few stats I found:

    The United States has the highest rape rate among countries which report such statistics. It is 4 times higher than that of Germany, 13 times higher than that of England and 20 times higher than that of Japan.

    1 in 3 sexual assault victims are under the age of 12.

    6 out of 10 sexual assaults occur in the home of the victim or the home of a friend, neighbor or relative.

    Women are 10 times more likely than men to be victims of sexual assault.

    22% of all women say that they have been forced to do sexual things against their will, where only 3% of men admit to ever forcing themselves on a woman.

    Only 16% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police.

    Less than half of those arrested for rape are convicted, 54% of all rape prosecutions end in either dismissal or acquittal.

    Taken from: http://sa.rochester.edu/masa/stats.php

  2. I'm not surprised… and that scares me.

    I'm not prominent anywhere, and this makes me rather happy that I'm not. I can handle off-color comments that attack the way I think and my opinions on things, but to go completely off-topic and threaten somebody sexually and/or physically because you don't like either their opinions or the fact that they are sharing them… I don't know that I could handle that.

    In a country where we are so afraid to be open about sex and sex education, people are not afraid to say and do things like this to women. The correlation seems obvious.

  3. The United States has the highest rape rate among countries which report such statistics. It is 4 times higher than that of Germany, 13 times higher than that of England and 20 times higher than that of Japan.

    I have to ask, though, could this just be because sexual assault is much more widely reported in the US than in other countries? I don't have any statistics that might support that, and I'd like to see what the actual numbers are.

    Now, if we accept that it is true, one explanation that comes to mind is all the sexual repression that takes place in the US, caused by our puritanical heritage and the influence of the religious right. When people get repressed, tension builds up, and they release it in horrible manners.

  4. Isn't it funny that while Kathy Sierra and the Dixie Chicks are receiving death threats, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing hate-mongers aren't? It almost makes you wonder if we might not be somewhat justified in thinking that we're really better people than they are.

  5. "I have to ask, though, could this just be because sexual assault is much more widely reported in the US than in other countries?"

    I don't know but the same question did cross my mind. Is there any way to find out something about what's NOT reported?

  6. Salon has a very nice article I missed when I wrote this:

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/03/31/s
    Men who hate women Online

    It's a little long, so here's the punchline:

    <div style="float: right; height: 0pt"><!– –></div>

    <div id="x10" class="ad_content"><script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript1.1"> <!– OAS_AD('x10'); //–> </script> <noscript><a xhref="http://judo.salon.com/RealMedia/ads/click_nx.cgi/www.salonmagazine.com/opinion/content/[email protected]&quot; mce_href="http://judo.salon.com/RealMedia/ads/click_nx.cgi/www.salonmagazine.com/opinion/content/[email protected]&quot; rel="nofollow" rel="nofollow"><img xsrc="http://judo.salon.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_nx.cgi/www.salonmagazine.com/opinion/content/[email protected]&quot; mce_src="http://judo.salon.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_nx.cgi/www.salonmagazine.com/opinion/content/[email protected]&quot; width="300" height="250" border="0" alt="" /></noscript></div>

    "Attitudes toward women have improved dramatically just in my lifetime, but still the world has too many misogynists, and the Web has given them a microphone that lets them turn up the volume on their quavering selves, their self-righteous fury, their self-loathing expressed as hatred of women….It's like seeing everything awful you've ever thought or feared about yourself — but said out loud by someone else, for thousands of people to hear. It lives in your head longer than it should, and then you beat yourself up for giving it space, for not being tougher….If you show it bothers you, you've given them pleasure. Life is too short to think about Broadsheet trolls.

    But it coarsens you to look away, and to tell others to do the same. I've grown a thicker skin. I didn't want skin this thick."

  7. I remember someone talking about something a while back they called the "3-sigma effect." This was back in the younger days of the internet, when there were only a few thousand people using it. The "effect" was that when you were exposed to this number of people, some of them are going to be around 3 standard deviations away from normal (with a thousand people, chances are at least one will deviate this much), and you're going to be exposed to them. Nowadays, with millions of people on the internet, you're going to be exposed to people 4 or 5 standard deviations from normal.

    But in this case, we needn't go that far. Vicious mysoginists are all too common (a few whole percentage points, at the least), so there are going to be many thousands of them on the internet, and people are going to get exposed to them. Unfortunately, knowing these numbers doesn't do much to help those who are being targeted by them; it still seems very personal.

  8. I have nothing new to say, but I share the outrage. I agree that the objectification of, and violence toward, women is largely due to America's sexual repression. It is much more the fault of the horrible sub-human scum bags who perpetrate these evils, though! On one hand, I'm glad I'm male because I'll (most probably) never be a victim of sexual assault. On the other, I don't want to have anything in common with rapists and predators.

    Most experts agree that rape is less about sex and more about power and violence. Yet the FCC continues to be ridiculously over-zealous about censoring anything vaguely sexual, while ignoring all the violence in the media. The capacity for human ignorance never ceases to astound me.

  9. this is not anything to do with actual sexual assault, more the online stuff. I do tend to find that even when knocking the mysoginistic, people still talk about the women involved like she's a willowy little things fainting because a gent looked at her ankle. This sort of abuse needs to be stopped, but I think some of the action should be letting the women know that they can stop it. I grew up with many strong women (i'm a guy by the way) so I think that may have coloured my opinions somewhat, but I do sometimes get annoyed with very weak women. I did army cadets as a teenager and the girls there were just as good as the guys. It just took a while to make them realise that they were. Essentially my point is that I think a big part of preventing women being victimised is helping the women realise that they can do something about it (ranging from police action to a swift kick in the happy sacks which I wince at even suggesting) and making sure that men know it too.

  10. I have to admit that I am always surprised to hear about this mistreatment of women online. I guess I only frequent places that are progressive in this field.

    Where is this happening? MyStupidSpace? Botophucket?

  11. Neverclear5,

    I agree with you partially. There are some women who allow themselves to be enablers to abuse. "He's really nice when he's sober." This is probably due to how they were raised in this society, and that also needs to change. But the vast majority of abuse and assault victims (the reported ones, anyway) are relatively strong – or at least not particularly weak – women. Victims don't always get the chance to kick their attacker in the "happy sack." They're simply overpowered.

    This blog was "only" about written abuse and death threats, though. I don't know Kathy Sierra at all, but I'd wager she's not a weak woman, prone to fainting from the vapors. I myself am a good sized male. I am fit and strong. But if I started getting the threats that Kathy is getting, I'd be pretty scared, too.

  12. DirtyDanSin said,

    I have to admit that I am always surprised to hear about this mistreatment of women online. I guess I only frequent places that are progressive in this field.

    Where is this happening? MyStupidSpace? Botophucket?

    I think it happens pretty much anywhere where men interact with women. Our dear Rebecca was threatened with ass rape, as I recall, when she did her blasphemy challenge video.

  13. I think it happens pretty much anywhere where men interact with women. Our dear Rebecca was threatened with ass rape, as I recall, when she did her blasphemy challenge video.

    That was on YouTube, though (well, I believe the guy e-mailed her about that). Fortunately, almost everyone you see around this blog and the forums is decent. I guess, given the nature of this blog, it kind of comes with the territory.

    Most experts agree that rape is less about sex and more about power and violence. Yet the FCC continues to be ridiculously over-zealous about censoring anything vaguely sexual, while ignoring all the violence in the media. The capacity for human ignorance never ceases to astound me.

    Sexual repression may not be all that's causing the violence towards women, but it's probably what's coloring it in this sexual manner. And once it's colored this way, it's easy to see why angry men will focus on women more.

    As for the violence part, I agree with you. In fact, the policy needs a swift reversal in my opinion. I couldn't care less if sex was all over TV (it's done nothing to hurt countries where that's the case), but too much violence could really warp the minds of younger kids. But anyways, I don't think the government should be the one doing all this censorship. We have the technology for parents to easily do it themselves, and they should be doing so.

  14. As for the violence part, I agree with you. In fact, the policy needs a swift reversal in my opinion. I couldn’t care less if sex was all over TV (it’s done nothing to hurt countries where that’s the case), but too much violence could really warp the minds of younger kids. But anyways, I don’t think the government should be the one doing all this censorship. We have the technology for parents to easily do it themselves, and they should be doing so.

    It's not just the government that allows violence but censors sex. The film rating board is notorious for it. In the movie This Film is Not Yet Rated Kevin Smith remarks on the overuse of violence against women in movies, and another filmmaker remarks that the ratings board is hard on showing sexual pleasure. As an example, the maker of American Psycho said that the board didn't say anything about the violence, but wanted a three-way scene removed to get an "R" rating.

  15. I have to ask, though, could this just be because sexual assault is much more widely reported in the US than in other countries?

    It's important to note that for the most part, these stats aren't based on sexual assaults that are reported to the police (there's a statistic included in that list that mentions that, in fact, only 16% are). Generally, statistics like these come from some kind of "crime survey" poll sampling, and include questions about the nature of the assault (at what age it occurred, the relationship of the assailant to the victim, etc) and ask the individual polled (anonymously) whether her or she spoke to the police. I'm not sure if this is pretty much what you were getting at with the words "more widely reported", but if you mean "brought to the attention of the police", it's irrelevant to the numbers.

    What's interesting about some of the survey-based studies I've read is that they will often ask first some variation on "Have you ever been the victim of a sexual assault?" and then proceed to ask whether various specific events, which are legally within the definition of sexual assault, have occurred to the respondent. The answers are not always the same, because people haven't necessarily been educated on what exactly constitutes sexual assault, and there is a huge tendency to minimize experiences that don't fit the "stereotypical" stranger-rape scenario. That fact may have something to do with the disparity in numbers between the US and other countries' statistics, because it's possible that a) Americans are being trained to better identify sexual assault or b) the stats being used in the American numbers count people who answered "yes" to one of the scenarios, but "no" to "Have you ever been assaulted?", while other surveys either didn't use those strategies or lumped those cases into the "no" camp.

    And that's why Sexual Assault Awareness Month makes a difference–identifying what sexual assault is helps to properly talk about how common it is, and to deal with its impact on people's lives.

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