Despite the gains from the recent Me Too and Times Up movements, society still has a long way to go eliminate a pervasive "rape culture" that can lead to suicide by victims.
Lauren Power told those attending this week's 26th annual Suicide Awareness Conference Simcoe Muskoka that a range of reasons from sexually charged chants at university orientation weeks to readily available pornography have only allowed society’s objectification of women to continue unabated.
“It’s very painful when we begin to look at it because it’s so big,” said Power, who serves as executive director of Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services and is also on the executive of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around.”
During her workshop entitled Understanding Rape Culture: Disconnection, Disbelief and Dysregulation, Power said society continues to tolerate sexual violence and exploitation.
And while social media has helped spread campaigns like Me Too, it has also played a damaging role in shaming women.
As an example, she cited the gang-rape of an incapacitated, high school student in 2012 by several members of a Steubenville, Ohio football team.
“She was filmed and they put that up on social media,” said Power, who noted many of those commenting on social media blamed the victim. “One person wrote, ‘I feel sorry for the boys in that Steubenville trial.That whore was asking for it.’”
And via the Me Too movement, she said five million people posted on social media that they had been the victim of sexual assault and/or harassment and brought down Hollywood heavyweights like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein; others caught up in the movement like Louis C.K. are now mounting comebacks.
From there, Power posted a number of photographs featuring a who’s who of men behaving badly, including Brock Turner. The Stanford University student received what many considered a lenient, six-month sentence after being convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in 2016 and whose father infamously stated that his son paid a heavy price for "20 minutes of action".
“Every time I do this, I have to put new guys on the wall,” she said, noting the photo array even features two judges, including Robin Camp who told a rape victim she should just have kept her legs together.
“The response is often ‘the guy made one mistake. Why does his career have to end'?’”
Power said rape culture traces its roots back to a patriarchal society that has existed for centuries.
“Familial sex abuse was private and not to be spoken about,” she said, noting women normally faced scorn if they claimed to have been abused.
“You’re either a slut or you’re a nut if you bring forward sexual assault allegations. If we remove people’s humanity, it makes it easier to treat them badly.”
She said there’s even a website called The Headless Women of Hollywood that calls out movie posters where a woman’s body parts are accentuated solely for the titillation of male moviegoers.
“Once you notice this, it’s impossible to unsee it,” she said, noting today’s readily available online pornography regularly degrades women, while creating a billion-dollar industry that makes more money than even Google or Apple.
“It’s very accessible and available. Fifty years ago, pornography was not widely available because there wasn’t the internet. Thirty years ago, you could go to a store and rent adult films. It wasn’t available 24/7.”
As well, she said life-like sex dolls are taking society down another dark road since the dolls appear to replicate younger girls and women, which leads to further degradation.
“We know with offenders, it begins with fantasies and acting out and then abuse. The dolls might help perpetrators escalate.”
Power also cautioned parents to listen to their children when they’re not interested in affection from an uncle or other family member.
“When we force hugging and kissing on kids, the message is that you don’t own your own body,” she said. “That’s rape culture.”
She said sexual assault creates traumatic reactions in an individual and that trauma is the main underlying factor in addictions and some mental illnesses and “often leads to ‘suicidality.’”
She encouraged those working in the social services field to ask the person they’re treating “have you ever experienced a sexual situation that you didn’t want?, rather than asking have you ever been sexually assaulted?”