Give Me My Lips Back


#redmylips  was a global social media campaign raising the awareness of sexual violence, Kayla Dickeson explores the confronting statistics  here in Australia

All throughout the month of April, I participated in the #RedMyLips2015 campaign to raise awareness about the global problem of sexual violence. It was, and continues to be, about challenging a structural and cultural violence that is of international permeation. Which, at the very root, starts with changing attitudes about sexual violence.

Regardless of gender, orientation, ethnicity, religious belief, economic status or current country of residence, sexual (and physical) violence has often become an accepted social norm from which everyone is supposed to safeguard themselves. Rather than putting the onus on the perpetrator, society has sought to teach us that we need to be “careful”, “cautious” and “alert”.

Yes, basic human survival dictates that we need to take responsibility for our own actions, of course. Yet, sexual violence is a global epidemic – even if it may seem obvious that we need to teach people not to sexually intimidate, harass or even rape. So, we must keep talking about it, challenging rhetoric, societal norms, structural society and institutions – only then can we see real change.

On a personal level, in April alone, I was chased around in clubs by guys asking for sex, or asking me to “rub” their junk, cornered by two guys trying to pressure me into a threesome, yelled at by a group of men in a taxi asking me to get in “for some fun”; all the while telling people “no”, I’m in a loving, healthy relationship. I shouldn’t have to have an excuse to not want to do something, anyway.

This has to stop. I just want to have fun with my friends without the fear of being sexually harassed. I want my male friends to stop worrying about me when I’m walking to my car at night. Indeed, what I have experienced is minimal compared to others – but it is one part of an accepted social norm that is widespread in our society.

According to UN statistics, 35% of women globally have experienced some form of sexual violence. On average, 30% of sexual violence was committed by a partner. As many as 38% of murders are committed by an intimate partner. In some countries, it has been reported that 70% of women have experienced sexual violence on a national level. Oftentimes sexual violence goes unreported.

Global statistics for violence against men are difficult to find – with some countries providing no data at all. But it is important to remember that violence against men does happen. Men who experience violence live in a world of rampant under-reporting, due to the social stigma of being seen as effeminate or weak. Oftentimes, this is coupled with society’s denial that it is an existing problem at all.

According to the UN Human Rights Council’s 2011 report on physical and sexual violence against the LGBTIQ community, homophobic and transphobic violence is widespread across all regions – including physical, psychological and sexual. It is driven by a desire to punish those seen as defying gender norms.

Yes, in Australia sexual violence may be illegal, but while we have significant (but not yet perfect) protections in the law, we do not yet have safety in the streets, or in the home. According to the latest statistics:

  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually abused before the age of 16.
  • From the ages 15-18, 17% of women were sexually assaulted; 4% of men were sexually assaulted.
  • 93% of offenders against women are reported to be male.
  • 7% of violence against men is reported to be male-against-male violence.
  • 1 in 6 reports rape to police and less than 1 in 7 reports incest or sexual penetration of a child result in prosecution.
  • Family Violence costs Australia about $8 billion per year, a substantial proportion of which is borne by the victims themselves.
  • Information about violence against the LGBTIQ community Australia is limited and complicated due to a number of factors. A report has been published about the issue in 2012 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

In April, thousands of people around the world “red their lips” to raise awareness about these statistics and give a real voice and true stories of experience to these issues – it was viewed internationally, mostly across social media with through the #RedMyLips hastag. Sexual violence is a global problem and it will not get better until society accepts the gravity of the issue, challenges social norms, ideas and attitudes and works to build real change. I don’t want women and girls to feel like victims as they walk down the street. I don’t want men and boys to feel a constant sense of demonization and hostility. I don’t want LGBTIQ youth to feel like it’s not okay to be who they are. This only leads to detachment, disassociation, anger and blame. Everyone should feel empowered, included, ready to work together on the big issues of our time – it is then, and only then, that we can all start to move forward.

Words by Kayla Dickeson

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