Why I Can’t Be Silent About #CorneredInOttawa

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When I heard about Luke Howard harassing and secretly video taping women in Ottawa, and the Twitter response on #CorneredInOttawa, I had to jump in.

“Pickup artist” videos are all over YouTube and easy to find. Most are sad attempts by men to out-peacock each other and dominate as many female victims as possible to prove how much of a “player” they are. Like Luke Howard, they often use the excuse that it’s to help teach guys how to get over social anxiety. They secretly film women, try to get their phone numbers, and try to “score” as much physical contact as they can by whatever means necessary including coercion and harassment. They call it things like “Day Game” and brag about doing these things “in broad daylight.”

I was never approached by Luke Howard, but I can relate to what being harassed and intimidated feels like. And I know how important it is to hear, validate, and support the women who he’s preyed upon.

This goes beyond one creepy guy in one city.

“Pickup artist” type harassment is just one example of what many women deal with throughout their lives whether it’s recorded on video or not.

It’s a difficult thing to explain. So, to illustrate, here are a few examples of things I’ve personally experienced throughout my pretty average life.

When I was a little kid, someone standing behind me touched and stroked my head and body in a crowded room during a public meeting. I was too afraid to turn around to find out who was touching me.

When I was in elementary school, an older boy I didn’t recognize stalked me on his bike as I walked home from school one day. He kept riding around the block to pass me again and again, glaring at me. As I finally approached my street (1 km away from my school), I could see through a patch in the trees that he was sitting on his bike waiting. As I got closer he spotted me and rode past me one last time, muttering something at me. I couldn’t make out what he said, but I could tell it wasn’t friendly.

When I was a university student, a drunk guy I didn’t know put his arms around me as I was trying to let myself into my apartment building. His friend pulled him back and apologized for his behaviour, even as the guy continued to try to reach out and grab me. Both guys came into the building with me and as they got in the elevator the drunk guy tried to convince me to come over for drinks. I declined and took the stairs so they wouldn’t find out what floor I lived on.

When I was in my 20’s, a man I worked for sexually harassed me. He found excuses for us to be alone in the office together so he could say and do things he wouldn’t have, had there been others to witness it. At the same job, another male coworker asked me in front of other staff if I would clean his house for him. He was serious, and offered to pay me.

When I was in my 20’s, a man I was sitting across from on a crowded commuter train touched his toe against mine. I pulled my foot back. He touched my foot again with his. I moved my feet as far away as I could, but he would move his foot closer to keep touching my foot. I sat there, uncomfortable, questioning whether it was really on purpose, or if I should say something. And then it went from a touch to a stroke. He was stroking my toe with his shoe. I was horrified, but paralyzed. I didn’t want to cause a scene because – by all outside appearances – he had simply touched my foot on a crowded train. I wanted to scream and punch him in the face, but I just stared out the window. By then we were almost at my stop. I got up to leave and said “excuse me” – he let me pass and I said “thank you” to him. I felt angry at myself that I had not only failed to confront him, but that I had actually thanked him.

When I was in my 20’s, I left a friend’s house late at night to walk home. The clocks had just changed, so instead of leaving her house at at 2:00am, it was now 3:00am. I felt a bit nervous, but it was a safe neighborhood and I didn’t have too far to go. About 1/4 of the way home a cab slowly crawled up to me on a quiet side street. The window came down and the driver asked if I wanted a ride. I said no thanks, I’m fine. He insisted, and eventually offered to give me a ride free of charge because he said he was worried about me walking alone at night. I thanked him and got in. After I told him where I was going, he hit the lock door button and I heard all four of the door locks click closed at once. I suddenly felt uneasy. He drove very slowly, and started asking me personal questions. He asked me if I was single. He asked me if I liked to party. He asked me if I wanted to “party” with him. I wondered if I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life. I told him to stop the cab and let me out. He did.

When I was in my 20’s, a drunk man got on the bus and stood next to my seat even though the bus was mostly empty. He reeked of alcohol. He rubbed his fat belly against my shoulder, pretending that it was the movement of the bus that was pushing him into me. I told him to stop touching me and he moved away.

When I was in my 20’s, a construction worker hollered down at me from the side of a building he was working on. He called me baby and made kissy noises at me while his friends laughed. I gave him the finger and told him to fuck off. Later that evening I was walking back and I saw the same worker coming towards me on the sidewalk. I confronted him. Once he realized I was angry and disgusted, and not trying to get his number, he became embarrassed and quickly crossed the street to get away from me.

When I was in my 20’s, I passed a dirt construction area surrounded by sidewalk. Two giant dumptrucks were parked next to each other and the guys inside were chatting. When they saw me passing by one driver honked the horn and it startled me. They saw me react. Then both trucks laid on the horn full blast for about 20-30 seconds as I walked past them. The noise was deafening but I did my best to ignore them. When they finally stopped I heard them laughing and hollering at me.

When I was in my 20’s, I walked through a short alleyway me and my coworkers often used as a shortcut. I’d walked through 100s of times on my way to work. It was bright and sunny and about 8:45am. As usual, just to be extra careful, I looked ahead to make sure the path was clear and it was. Not even halfway through, a man with some kind of accent (I couldn’t place it) caught up with me from behind and said “Hi” and started a conversation with something like “How are you?” I replied that I was fine, kind of wary but trying to be polite. I can’t remember what else he said but he kept chatting and asking me questions. As we reached the end of the alleyway, I turned the corner to walk up to the front door of my office’s building. There were a few people around the doorway and I met the eyes of a coworker. We exchanged hellos, and in that moment when I was distracted the creepy guy grabbed me around my ribcage for a moment before running away at top speed. It happened so fast I barely had time to process what had happened, and it didn’t fully sink in until later in the day that I was really upset by it. I downplayed the incident, and didn’t report it, and then wrestled with guilt later when I realized that he was likely practicing. It’s probable that this guy escalated to a full sexual assault with someone else.

 

This isn’t an exhaustive record of all of the harassment I’ve experienced throughout my life, just a few of the more memorable moments.

It doesn’t matter whether all of these violations were legal or illegal. It matters that the guys involved felt comfortable, even justified, in their actions. And that my experiences are not extraordinary – they are to be expected.

I hope this helps to shed some light on why street harassment and “pickup artist” intimidation tactics are so harmful. They represent a small piece of a much larger issue.

Guys. Listen. Being shy can be terrible, yes, but fearing for your personal safety because of your lived experiences as a woman is something else entirely.

Harassing, intimidating, or forcing yourself into a woman’s personal space is never your right. If you’ve been led you to believe that you’re entitled to dominate conversations, physical spaces, or women’s bodies because you are a guy, it’s time to question that assumption. If anything, bullying women just proves you’re desperate.

If you’ve been harassed and want to share your story, check out Hollaback. This organization is working in 92 cities around the world, including Ottawa, to end street harassment. Look up your city and share your story – it might help someone in your neighborhood.

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Rachel Dolezal vs. Caitlyn Jenner – Messing Up Our Ideas About The True Self

TrueSelfFalseSelf-ByPatriciaJanuszkiewiczTrue Self . False Self by Patricia Januszkiewicz (Credit)

This is where things get really complex.

I was super pumped when Caitlyn Jenner came out. It meant a lot for such a famous person to identify themselves as trans, and to me it was an encouraging sign of the times when one of the biggest reactions on Twitter the day she appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair was “why did she spell her name with a C and not a K?” That was just wonderful and priceless and inspiring.

caitlyn-jenner

The positive feedback and support she received was reassuring. I had really resented the way Diane Sawyer questioned Bruce before the big reveal, overtly contrasting his former athletic prowess with his new found femininity. She even threw in the phrase “raw masculine power” to describe the Olympic decathlon. As if being a star athlete and being a woman were opposites. Really??


At 3:04 watch Diane Sawyer almost give herself an aneurysm trying to comprehend that an American athletic hero could possibly also be a woman.

So just when we thought most of society had started to get really cool and comfortable with complex ideas about identity, the Rachel Dolezal scandal comes along.

DolezalCaucasianI admit I’ve found this whole fiasco fascinating but also very confusing. Like a lot of people, I’m scratching my head and kind of don’t know what to think. How did this even happen?

I completely understand why a white woman pretending to be black is wrong. I get that a white person appropriating a culture that they don’t belong to is very problematic, and that using this identity to leverage positions of power and authority, denying access to ACTUAL women of colour, is so SO wrong. Dolezal’s sense of entitlement is colossal.  She has a lot to answer for.

On the other hand, on a gut level I feel a bit disappointed. We were making such good progress on getting around rigid ideas about gender. Why can’t we also start questioning rigid constraints around the idea of race, which is itself another social construct used to put people in boxes?

The reality is, we’re not there yet. And even if we were, Dolezal wouldn’t exactly be celebrated as a pioneer in this area.

Kat Blaque’s video below is great and discusses all the reasons why it’s not right to dismiss Dolezal as “transracial” and compare changing your racial identity to changing your gender identity.

I respect her viewpoint as a black trans woman speaking from experience, and I acknowledge that her words should carry a lot more weight than my cis-white ones on this topic.

Having said that, I can’t let go of this strong hunch that we are on the verge of a dramatic shift in the way we form and express identity. I’ve written about the fluidity of identity before, and I still think that thanks to online communications and the advent of social media, this kind of identity-morphing is only going to become more common.

Whether it’s politically comfortable or not, Dolezal did something we all do now – she edited her identity to better reflect her opinion about herself. She just took it to its extreme and manipulated it to her advantage. When it comes down to it, who you are in the in the internet age is up to you – identity is mostly a matter of opinion.

Kat argues in her video that an African American can’t change her race the way Dolezal did, but it’s no secret that some Indian women are bleaching their skin and some Asian women are having surgery on their eyelids to appear more caucasian. Anyone can purchase colour contact lenses that hide your real eye colour.

Let me be really clear – I’m not trying to equate a person who gets plastic surgery to look more white because they’ve been shamed into hating their features due to racist, manufactured ideas about beauty, with a person who undergoes sex reassignment because they feel that they are innately a different gender. I agree with Kat that this is not an accurate comparison. But both situations rely on the same basic principle that people have the choice to change their bodies to suit their own ideas about their identity, rather than relying on genetics to dictate it.

As multi-ethnic, blended and non-traditional family models become more prevalent, I predict that people are going to get less and less hung up on what race your parents happen to be.

Did your parents adopt you from another country? Did they go to the sperm bank? Did they get a friend to surrogate? Is your race totally ambiguous? That’s nice. Why did they decide to spell your name with a C instead of a K?

Maybe that would be a nicer question to ask than constantly demanding, “Where are you really from?

So you see I can’t be totally 100% mad at Rachel Dolezal, because despite the fact that her choices were in extremely bad taste and judgement, harmful, deceitful and self-serving, and I don’t condone her behaviour, she also just successfully demonstrated the extreme plasticity of identity. For ten years.

In a weird way, it’s kind of exciting to think that these race boxes we’re stuffed in maybe aren’t as sturdy as we think. Our identities, like our physical selves, are becoming more changeable – for better or for worse.

metamorphosis_detail_by_optiknervemetamorphosis 002DETAIL by optiknerve-gr on deviantart

Spring is “In The Air” – Let’s Throw Knives!

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Clint offering me some advice at my first knife throwing meetup. (Source: Bruce Deachman / Ottawa Citizen)

A while ago, Clint (my partner in life and crime) and I decided it would be fun to take up knife throwing. We got ourselves some sweet Gil Hibben throwing knives from a local shop that specializes in that kind of thing and looked for opportunities to try out our new hobby.

Unfortunately, our 1-bedroom highrise apartment wasn’t a great place to practice. Despite our best efforts to muffle the noise of clanging knives hitting the floor, we didn’t feel right disturbing the neighbors, and we certainly didn’t want to accidentally cause damage.

We soon realized that there wasn’t much opportunity to throw in Ottawa, and no available spaces where we could (legally) get in some practice. Clint had created a gorgeous home-made end grain wood target and we had nowhere to set it up but our bedroom. We decided throwing knives a couple feet away from my wedding dress was an especially bad idea.

Here are the Gil Hibben knives we both bought. (Source)

Here are the Gil Hibben knives we both bought. (Source)

Clint decided to start a new group on Meetup.com and find out if there were any other people in town interested in knife throwing. We figured we couldn’t be the only ones. It turns out there are LOTS of knife throwers around, and a lot of people curious to try it.

Within four months of starting In The Air on Meetup.com, the group had about 80 members. A core group of regulars offered outdoor space for practices, brought their own targets and collections of knives, and those with more experience offered tips, tricks and advice.

Then the Ottawa Citizen got in touch to do a news story about the group. Who knew there would be so much interest in a random wacky idea we had?

Ottawa Citizen reporter Bruce Deachman braved freezing rain on an icy cold day to document an In The Air knife throw. Click here to watch the video.

The Ottawa Citizen’s Bruce Deachman braved freezing rain and icy cold to document our knife throw. Click here to watch the video.

The group is now up to almost 100 members. We’ve heard from a few people that they already throw knives at home, but they really enjoy meeting other people and practicing their hobby in a social atmosphere.

I’ve only made it out to a couple of throws so far, but have already learned a lot. We’ve met some great people from all walks of life. Everyone is very supportive and welcoming regardless of your experience or skill level. We’ve also been pleased to note that the group members are roughly 50% female, 50% male.

Here’s a video from yesterday’s throw. Not my best performance of the day but not bad!


Later in the day I improved my technique a bit by adding in a step forward as I threw, and I started to land 3 in a row more often. I’ll try to get that on video next time.

I’m super proud of Clint for all the work he’s put into the group. He’s put so much passion into it, and I think it shows with all of the interest the group has received.

If you’re in the Ottawa area and want to check out the group, join In the Air on Meetup.com and maybe we’ll see you at the next event.

Ban the Niqab, But Don’t Stop There

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Photo Credit: JP Moczulski / National Post

Here in Canada there has been much debate about whether women who wear traditional head coverings like the niqab should be forced to uncover their faces in situations like court appearances and citizenship ceremonies.

Zunera Ishaq made news recently by refusing to remove her niqab for her citizenship ceremony and caused all kinds of uproar. There has been much public debate, some of it rather offensive. Prime Minister Stephen Harper even made a statement about how oppressed Ishaq must be to cover her face.

I have just one question.

Why are BEARDS not considered to be face coverings?

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Dude, what are you trying to hide?

Is a guy with a beard likely to run into issues with the courts or authorities because his face is obscured by facial hair?

I highly doubt it.

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How do I know you are who you say you are? And what’s with the weird sweater?
OMG that’s not a sweater!?

The problem is, women are constantly judged by their choices whether they choose to show their skin or cover themselves up.

Zunera Ishaq has spoken out and explained why wearing a niqab is important to her. It’s unfortunate that her opinion has not been considered important in the ongoing public debates about what was, and is, her personal choice.


Personally, I think a lot of things women wear should be banned, and good riddance.

High Heel Shoes

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High heels are not only bad for your balance, they’re bad for your back. As in, they cause your body physical harm when you wear them.

They’re also, when you think about it, extremely dangerous to women’s safety.

They tend to make a lot of noise when you walk, and make it extremely difficult to run. This makes women in heels pretty vulnerable to potential attackers. Considering that 683,000 adult American women are forcibly raped each year, you’d think this would cause some concern.

You’d think someone might even suggest a ban on high heeled shoes in the best interest of women everywhere.

Nope? Okay then, moving on…

Handbags and Clutch Purses

Kate-Middleton-Clutch-Purse

The reason clutch hand bags are considered chic and sexy is because, like high heels, they make women vulnerable.  Unlike more practical purses with straps that can be worn hands-free, little teeny hand-held purses really limit your actions.

You have one less hand to open a door for yourself, carry items or drinks, or grab your keys, or do anything really practical with your handbag hand. This is why they’re considered sexy, and it’s by design.

It’s the same reason mermaid dresses are so glam. They are so restrictive it’s very difficult to even walk normally while wearing one.

Ooh…that’s pretty oppressive. We should ban mermaid dresses for sure.

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I mean what if, for some foolish reason, women decided to wear mermaid dresses AND high heel shoes at the same time? The financial costs to our health care system would be enormous!  BAN THAT SH!T.

Cosmetics

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Don’t even get me started on why piling tons of makeup on your face is not only a waste of time and money (money that could be better spent on tuition, travel, RRSP savings, or pretty much ANYTHING ELSE), it’s a great way to load your skin with all kinds of toxic garbage.

Besides, using makeup can dramatically alter your facial features and therefore misrepresent what you look like.

If only because it can obscure your true identity, we should ban women from wearing makeup at their citizenship ceremonies and when testifying in court.

Pantyhose

I can’t not include this one.

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Who invented these ridiculous, torturous leg-encasers? Great, my legs look some weird shade of tan and unnaturally shiny, and the rest of me is still pastel ghost white.

Also, I generally expect an article of clothing I spend money on to last more than 1 or 2 wears before the slightest contact with anything sort of pointy causes it to INSTANTLY SHRED TO TATTERS.

Why? So I can look “respectable” in a business environment when I’m rocking my best pencil skirt?


So getting back to my point… Before we as Canadians judge women like Zunera Ishaq for their choices, let’s:

a) hold everyone to the same standard and demand that we all show our true, unmasked faces – no beards, no makeup,

and

b) be really honest with ourselves about what kind of “oppressive” choices we feel comfortable making before judging other people’s choices.

Yes, there are women who are forced to wear the niqab against their will. There are women here in Canada forced to wear high heels against their will. Neither is okay.

If we aren’t prepared to ban beards, makeup, or high heel shoes, then what right do we have banning the niqab?

Why Target Missed the Mark in Canada

Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Today Target announced that it will close all 133 of its Canadian locations just two years after its rapid expansion into the market.

I live really close to a Target store, and saw for myself how disappointing their performance was. Sadly, we kind of saw this coming. The business experts all have their own analyses but here’s what I saw, plain and simple.

Too Much, Too Fast

Target entered the Canadian market by buying up most of the remaining Zellers locations from the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), who had bought up the struggling discount chain years earlier. This apparently worked for Walmart when it first sprang into Canada in 1994, so I suppose this seemed like a great strategy on paper.

But to take on Walmart and compete for the hard-earned loonies and toonies of Canadians in such a rapid and enormous expansion, Target would have to bring its A game to the fight. As everyone is well aware, Walmart is a force to contend with.

Unfortunately, the follow through just wasn’t there.

Lack of Selection, Lack of Stock

I don’t relish shopping at Walmart. I know their labour practices are appalling and tend to feel guilty even walking in. I much prefer to support local businesses, small shops, and I took the Handmade Pledge dammit (that used to be a thing).

But to their credit, of all the random things I’ve ever decided to buy, my chances of finding those items at Walmart have been pretty good. It’s a great place to find those things you don’t know you’ll need until you need them.

It’s still kind of amazing to me that you can walk into one store and come out with a meat thermometer, a selection of craft supplies, a set of power tools, a couch slipcover, a grooming brush for your favourite furry animal, and a week’s worth of groceries. You will probably even find a wide selection of brands for each item you buy.

Target disappointed already-loyal Walmart shoppers in Canada because they didn’t manage to match Walmart’s enormous selection of stuff. Even if you were really lucky and they had the kind of item you wanted, the selection was pretty dismal.

And the only thing worse than not finding what you were looking for is finding that the item you want is out of stock. Every single time.

Photo credit: Belus Capital via Huffington Post

Photo credit: Belus Capital via Huffington Post

The sunglasses display at my local Target has had the same three lonely pairs of shades on an otherwise empty set of display stands for several months. You almost want to buy up the last few pairs out of pity for the little guys.

Overpricing

My first and only Target experience in the US was a cross-border shopping trip where I bought an armload of cheapo skirts and tops for $4 each. I was pretty thrilled. I still have one of the skirts actually, surprisingly it’s lasted me for many years.

So I was pretty surprised when the prices at Target in Canada were nowhere near as affordable as they were in the US. They were also well above Walmart’s prices, and I think that’s what was really disappointing to Canadians.

This past summer I went into Target to look for a swimsuit and, out of a handful of styles that I’d consider wearing, I found a two-piece set I wanted to try on. Then I noticed that the $30 price tag was for the top part only, and the bottoms had to be bought separately. “Where am I, The Bay?” I thought to myself and put it back on the rack.

It’s Not all Bad

To be fair though, Target did have some nice things going for it.

The store environment is, in my opinion, much more pleasant than any Walmart. It’s bright and clean, feels less like a danky warehouse, and hey, there are even free cart wipes for all the budget-conscious germaphobes out there.

Rather than an in-store McDonalds they offer a mini Starbucks. I know Starbucks is another source of pure evil, but it’s also a good source of the sugar-loaded high-calorie caffeinated beverages that I need to drink because they’re so freakin’ tasty.

And although it’s a sad sign of the company’s flop, I really enjoy that unlike the Walmart and Costco madhouses, Target remains quiet and uncrowded. Like, just a few days before Christmas it got “busy,” and they had to open maybe three whole checkouts instead of the usual one. The insanity.

I do feel very sad for the thousands of workers who will lose their jobs because of the company’s mismanagement of the expansion. Hopefully they’ll all get first dibs on the liquidated merchandise.

I’m willing to admit I’m looking forward to the sell-out deals. Maybe I’ll finally find some more $4 skirts like I was hoping to all along.

Edit: Target is now being criticized that former CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s severance was more than the entire budget for the 17,600 staff who lost their jobs because of mistakes made on Steinhafel’s watch.

This is a great reminder about why big box stores aren’t helping the growing wage gap. In fact, when it comes to paying CEOs massively disproportional salaries compared to their front line workers, big box stores like Target and Walmart are the biggest culprits.

The money you save on those super cheap items is really coming out of the salary of low-wage workers in your community.

Sigh. Maybe I don’t need another armload of cheap skirts after all.

“I Told You So”: Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Violence

Photo Credit: AP/Todd Williamson/Evan Vucc via Salon.com

Photo Credit: AP/Todd Williamson/Evan Vucc via Salon.com

With the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby scandals there has been a lot of talk about sexual violence, why we tend to turn a blind eye when a celebrity behaves badly, and why women don’t report these crimes.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think the last question is one of the most pressing and puzzling, and one that I can shine some light on.

Looking at the statistics, we know that one out of every six women (in the US) is raped or faces attempted rape. So why aren’t thousands of women swarming police stations demanding justice? Why do we refuse to talk about it, share it, out our attackers from the hilltops or march in the streets?

Some do, and as we’ve seen in the news recently, they face seething backlash, accusations that they are lying, additional trauma while navigating the justice system, and the ever-present insinuation that they have done something wrong.

That’s all been discussed and debated. What I find the most shocking and disturbing is the big “I Told You So” that is set in motion from an early age.

Setting Victims Up for Failure

From the time we are old enough to understand, girls are told that if we are not careful we will be raped. We will be hurt. We will be taken advantage of, humiliated, used and abused by men if we are not careful.

We need our daddies and brothers to watch out for us.
We need to suck it up and accept that “boys will be boys.”
We need to watch our back when we go out at night.
We need to watch our drinks and each other when we are out with our friends.
We need to always, always be alert and aware to danger because if we do not, and we are not careful, we will get raped.

This sets us up for inevitable failure.

Be Careful. Avoid the Unavoidable.

Every day we are reminded that violence, and violence against women in particular, is normal and ubiquitous. That it is completely unavoidable.

Every day a new victim turns up. Women are routinely abused, brutalized and murdered as a regular part of our daily lives through the news, on CSI, in movies and games, jokes, advertisements and frat boy chants.

I once turned on TVO (which is a bit like the Ontario version of PBS) and within two minutes witnessed a woman violently beaten by her husband in an otherwise tame period piece. The frequency in which this kind of scenario is thrown into our consciousness is absolutely shocking.

And so, the violence isn’t shocking anymore. This unfortunately creates a sense that there is no escape from violence, real or imaginary.

Redirecting Blame

Despite this persistent perception that women are constantly at risk of being victimized, and not likely to escape it, we still put the burden of responsibility on women to “be careful,” and to keep themselves out of danger.

With sexual assault, unlike with other crimes, we tend to question the victim before the attacker. For example, if someone is mugged, even if it’s in a high-crime area, people generally don’t ask questions like:

“Why were you out alone so late?”
“Why didn’t you protect yourself better?”
“Why didn’t you fight them off?”
“Why were you in that neighborhood anyway?”
“Were you out drinking?”

This is the problem. This is the “I Told You So.”

When we believe that violence against women is inevitable, and women choose to live our lives anyway, the implication is that we accept the risk. That we know what to expect, and should therefore not be surprised when bad things happen.

In other words, constant warnings that the world is a dangerous place effectively place the blame on victims for daring to exist in the world.

What Has to Change

Regardless of the precautions we take, one in six of us will still be victimized. And likely by someone we know. Because rape is something we are taught we must avoid at every turn, and is our responsibility to avoid, when it happens we are made to feel that we just weren’t careful enough.

We weren’t diligent enough. We failed to keep ourselves safe. We should have known better. We shouldn’t have let it happen.

Until it’s seen as something out of the ordinary, something outrageous and unthinkable, many women will not report rape.

Until we stop telling our daughters to watch out, and start telling our sons to watch themselves, many women will not report rape.

Until we recognize that most assaults are not perpetuated by ‘stranger danger,’ but most often by people that we know, trust, admire, and even love, many women will not report rape.

Until we remove the sense of sole responsibility, failure and shame from victims, many women will not report rape.

For now, I’m encouraged that there is some good news. Public opinion has turned a corner, and silence is making way for discussion.

What If Steubenville Had Been a Murder Trial?

How often do you read a news story about a crime that’s told from the criminal’s perspective?

Have you ever heard a report of a robbery, mugging, or murder that started with  an account of how the suspect, rather than the victim, found themselves in that situation?

No, that would be silly.

Except when we talk about rape. Reporters, even the ones who clearly condemn the crime, tend to tell the story from the perspective of the accused.

Is it simply lack of information about the victim? Or are we just more comfortable siding with the accused than with the victim?

When the crime is rape, the word “accused” is thrown around more often than usual. We don’t call accused rapists “suspects.”

As if we don’t suspect they did anything wrong at all. As if we suspect the victim’s accusations more than we suspect the accused.

CNN’s shocking coverage of the Steubenville rape trial has come under a lot of well-publicized scrutiny. I’ve written about this kind of coverage before, and I think it’s pretty clear why it’s unacceptable.

But, just for kicks, let’s do an experiment.

Let’s pretend that CNN was covering a similarly serious crime: murder.

I’ve altered the transcript from CNN’s controversial broadcast, replacing any mention of “rape” or sexual assault to “murder.”

I’ve cut short sections that allude to the victim still being alive, only where necessary to convey that these boys killed her instead of raped her.

My edits are in bold. You can watch the broadcast in the video above, or read the original transcript here.

I encourage you to try this substitution game on any media coverage about rape that you come across. I’m afraid you’ll find the results usually sound just as ridiculous as this:

Photo via The Guardian

Photo via The Guardian

Two star football players in Steubenville, Ohio, have been found guilty of murdering a West Virginia teenager. The story has attracted national attention. The judge just ruled a few minutes ago. Listen in.

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JUDGE THOMAS LIPPS, HAMILTON COUNTY FAMILY COURT: In this case, you know, regarding the charges of murder, both defendants Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays are committed to the Department of Youth Services for a minimum of one year and a maximum period until you’re 21.

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CROWLEY: Again, this case was played out in juvenile court, that is why there was a judge, no jury. He decided on the verdict, as well as, you heard there, talking about the sentence.

We want to go now to CNN’s Poppy Harlow. She is in Steubenville, and has been covering this trial.

I cannot imagine having just watched this on the feed coming in. How emotional that must have been sitting in the courtroom.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional — incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.

One of — one of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, when that sentence came down, he collapsed. He collapsed in the arms of his attorney, Walter Madison. He said to me, “My life is over. No one is going to want me now.”

Very serious crime here. Both found guilty of murdering this 16- year-old girl at a party back in August, an alcohol-fueled party. Alcohol is a huge part in this.

But Trent Mays was also found guilty on a second count and that is of felony illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material because he took a photograph of the victim laying dead on the floor that night. Trent Mays will serve two years in a juvenile detention facility. Ma’lik Richmond will serve one year on that one count that he was found guilty for.

I want to let our viewers listen because for the first time in this entire trial we have now heard from the two young men. Trent Mays stood up, apologizing to the victim’s family in court. After him, Ma’lik Richmond.

Listen.

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TRENT MAYS, FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER IN JUVENILE COURT: I would really like to apologize to (INAUDIBLE), her family, my family and community. No pictures should have been sent out or should be taken. That’s all. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything you’d like to say, Ma’lik?

MA’LIK RICHMOND, FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER IN JUVENILE COURT: I would like to apologize. I had no intention to do anything like that and I’m sorry to put you guys through this. (INAUDIBLE) I’m sorry.

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HARLOW: I was sitting about three feet from Ma’lik when he gave that statement. It was very difficult to watch.

You know, something that came up throughout this sentencing. Ma’lik’s father had gotten up and spoke. Ma’lik has been living with guardians. His father, a former alcoholic, gotten to a lot of trouble with the law, been in prison before.

And his father stood up and he told the court, “I feel responsible for this. I feel like I wasn’t there for my son.” And before that, he came over to the bench where his son was sitting. He approached him, he hugged him and whispered in his ear.

And Ma’lik’s attorney said to us in a courtroom, I have never heard Ma’lik’s father before say, I love you. He’s never told his son that. But he just did today.

This was an incredibly emotional day. These two juveniles being carried out and they will be committed today, Candy.

CROWLEY: Poppy Harlow in Steubenville, Ohio, for us.

I want to bring in Paul Callan, our CNN legal contributor.

You know, Paul, a 16-year-old now just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, still sound like 16 year olds. The other one, 17. A 16-year-old victim.

The thing is, when you listen to it and you realize that they could stay until they’re 21, they are going to get credit for time served. What’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of murder , essentially?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Candy, we’ve seen here a courtroom drenched in tears and tragedy and, you know, Poppy’s description, I think, you know, sums it all up. But across America scenes like this happen all the time.

Photo via CBS

Photo via CBS

I know as a prosecutor and defense attorney, when that verdict is handed down, usually it’s just the family and families of the defendants and the victims, there’s always that moment of just lives are destroyed. And lives have already been destroyed by the crime. And we got a chance to see that.

But in terms of what happens now, yes, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as murderers.

[…]

That will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Employers, when looking up their background, will see they’re murderers. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet where these things are posted. Neighbors will know they’re a murderer.

It’s really something that will have a lasting impact. Much more of a lasting impact than going to a juvenile facility for one or two years.

CROWLEY: Paul, thanks. I want to bring Poppy back in — because, Poppy, there’s — you know, the 16-year-old victim, her life, never the same, again. And I understand you have been talking to some of the families involved.

HARLOW: Her life is over. Absolutely, Candy.

[…]

But I want to tell our viewers about a statement that her mother just made, just made in the court after the sentencing. Her mother just said that she has pity on the two young boys that did this. She said human compassion is not taught by teachers or coaches. It’s a God-given gift, saying that you displayed a lack of compassion, a lack of moral code, saying that you were your own accuser throughout this for posting about this all over social media. And she said she takes pity on them.

As far as her daughter, she said she will persevere, she will get through this. But the words of an angry mother who now has a sentence, that I believe she would consider or a verdict, just — Candy.

CROWLEY: CNN’s Poppy Harlow, thank you. Also to our legal contributor Paul Callan.