Rape, society and leadership

by Carol A Adams

The day after Trump, a man with multiple allegations of sexual assault against him, was sworn in as President of a democratic nation, a report in the Times included anonymous quotes portraying a shocking picture of society and culture.  Young women thinking so little of themselves they would say to a friend who’s been raped ‘You can’t report it, it will ruin his life’ or ‘It’s just a boy being a boy’.

Rape is something entirely different to consensual sex.  It is a statement of power by the perpetrator which takes control away from the victim.  It leaves victims feeling dirty, distraught, worthless and invisible.

Imagine then how a victim must feel when s/he tells a friend s/he trusts she was raped only to be told not to report it, it doesn’t count, just move on?  Responses to disclosure of rape can have a longer lasting impact than the rape itself.

Every time women’s rights over their bodies or their worth is questioned whether by rape, assault, groping, a lurid remark or a throwaway comment, a culture which supports rape is fed.  And the pain of its victims is renewed or intensified.

In their eagerness to show they are doing something about it organisations must beware a ‘greenwash’ style discourse.  Their words need to speak to the victims in ways that will give them strength and hope and acknowledge they have been wronged.

If women don’t feel able to report these crimes and tell their stories, the long-term effects on them will be much worse.  And the perpetrators will be free to reoffend.  Victims suffer depression, suicidal thoughts and sometimes years later PTSD.

From lack of diversity in boardrooms and the C-suite to unequal pay and sexist dress codes (widely reported by the media this week requiring women to wear high heels or revealing clothes) women are continually reminded they are worth less because of their gender.

There is of course a connection here to young women’s views of themselves.

The first female prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, instead of being held up as an example of what women can achieve, was subjected to regular sexist comments.  (Her powerful reaction here).

It was heartening to see the massive woman’s protest against the inauguration of a President who considers women worth less.  It was a moment where women and men around the world acknowledged women’s value and showed our strength.

National governments have signed up to 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  Goal 5 commits them to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.  To achieve it will they will need to address all these things.  Businesses, universities and other institutions will be called on to do their bit. Achieving goal 5 is going to require a concerted effort by all section of society.

‘The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls… They should disregard anyone who demeans or devalues them.” Michelle Obama

Main photo by  oneinchpunch Shutterstock

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