No means no

No means no

Sunday, 24 November 2013

"Zero Harm" and Rape Culture

I’m going to write a codicil for this blog post before I even start, because I know it is going to be a very unpopular topic.  Rape is never, has never been, and will never be “okay”.  That’s what is says on my website ( and that’s what I truly believe.  You may disagree with what I am about to say, but don’t, DON’T, DO NOT make the mistake of thinking I condone rape or rape culture; nor am I victim blaming in any way, shape, form or format. This is a personal comment from a torn soul who believes we are letting our women and girls down in a very particular way.

Years ago, when I chose workplace health and safety as my career path, I did so in part because of my history.  Since I had never had justice after I was raped and assaulted, and never had someone speak up for me, I wanted to be that person in the workplace – someone who would push the employee’s barrow with management and ensure that workers went home uninjured at the end of each day.  I saw it as a parallel to safety from sexual violence, one that I could be and was passionate about.

Over the years I have witnessed bad attitudes from both sides.  Employers who will always blame the employee when an unsafe action is noted, and employees who say the employer never does enough and always places profit first.  There are rights and wrongs with both arguments, and again I see parallels with safety from sexual violence.

So much of the media attention now is on “rape culture”.  It exists.  There is no argument.  There will always be instances where a situation was entirely unavoidable by the woman and she suffered the consequences, perhaps lifelong. There is no argument that rape is a weapon of war. There is no argument that “gang” culture is pervasive amongst our teens and youth. There is no argument that domestic violence, sexual violence in the name of religion and sex trafficking are totally unacceptable. There is no argument that no-one has the right to touch your body without your express permission. 

Yet the general message we are giving our women and girls is “do what you like, wear what you like, act however you want, it’s your body.”  This is where I completely disagree. I believe that, by giving women and girls that message, we are failing them in a huge way by not equipping them with the ability to assess and manage risk.  

In a workplace, hazards are mitigated by an employer and an employee has a legal responsibility to act in a safe manner and follow workplace procedures such as safety boots, hard hats, safe work procedures, inductions, correct licences etc.  No-one would think twice about castigating someone for working on a high rise construction site in thongs and shorts without a harness.  That’s just dumb, right?

So why do we insist that women and girls should have an unfettered freedom to do whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want? We can’t blame the patriarchy every time violence happens.  We sometimes have to accept some responsibility for our own actions.  Including the fact that many women and girls want their freedom but don’t want the responsibility of educating themselves or their peers about what is and isn’t acceptable.

If we truly want to get rid of rape culture it is our responsibility – every single one of us, male and female – to call it out when we see it or hear it, to stomp on it, to work to change it.  And to accept responsibility that our own actions may, just may, put us in a hazardous situation when there is no “employer” to make it safe for us.  

I left workplace health and safety because I was totally dismayed at the pervading culture of “Zero Harm” which is predicated on the belief that a workplace can be made completely safe – this is a fallacy, there is no such thing in a world populated by humans.  Likewise, there is no such thing as “freedom” in a world populated by humans, and once again I see parallels between the “safety culture” and “rape culture”. Zero Harm advocates look at the world through rose coloured glasses, and so too do those who say rape culture can and should be easily dismantled. There is never a simple solution, but in both instances the discourse has to change before the results will change.

Why are we failing our women and girls by not equipping them with the life skills to make rational decisions about irrational risk situations? Rape is never, has never been, and will never be “okay”, but the simple fact is we live in an imperfect world.  You don’t tempt fate on a worksite, and you educate yourself about risk.  Why don’t you do the same when you step outside your employer’s gates and ensure our girls and young women are educated in risk awareness

Knowledge is power.

1 comment:

Jacklyn Louise Miller said...

This needed to be said. Thank you El! We can't keep our young women safe just by attacking the rape culture. A multi-faceted approach is needed. Common sense, mindfulness of personal safety, community responsibility and duty of care have to go hand-in-hand with a huge social mind shift to make a difference, but even so, this will always be a less-than-perfect world, and there will always be predators. This blog addresses that fact.