Is there anything more disheartening than hearing about women who aren’t on their own side? You know the ones I mean. They post pictures on tumblr holding placards explaining why they apparently do not need feminism, like this one:
It’s hard to read accounts of women against feminism- many of whom don’t seem to know what feminism means or how they stand to benefit from it. Some absolutely agree with the meaning of feminism but have a negative association to the word. I think that’s a shame but I think that on some level, we are still on the same side. We want women to be equal to men in society; we want safety, respect, dignity and opportunity for all women.
It is harder still to read about women being violently attacked. It scares me; both as a woman and a mother. And it infuriates me because, like anyone, I hate to feel powerless. In Australia, we have already lost 31 women to violence this year alone. Of those 31 women, 20 were killed by members of their own families. Others were attacked by strangers and in some of the cases charges are yet to be laid.
It’s hard to swallow our PM and Minister for Women saying it is an urgent matter, then doing nothing about the closures of services to women in domestic violence situations. Violence against women seems to be a buzz word to this government- something they will discuss and make noise about- but are slow to act on.
What is also hard to swallow is the actions and words of women who seem oblivious to this problem.
In particular, I’m talking about a Mayor in an affluent area in Sydney.
— Sally Betts (@WaverleyMayor) December 11, 2014
Mayor Sally Betts of Waverley came under heavy and well deserved criticism for writing a character reference for a young man going to court on criminal charges. She praised his good, kind nature and urged the judge to consider a non-custodial sentence and suggested he instead work off his debt to society in an education program, facing the public.
The young man she was talking about has been sentenced to 5 years in prison and here is why.
He met an 18 year old woman in a night club owned by his father, invited her to a VIP area and instead took her to an alley behind the club where he sexually assaulted her.
He added her name to a list on conquests. He text messaged a friend about how he “took a chick’s virginity”. He has robbed this young woman of her trust in others; her sense of self.
And the Mayor wanted him, as a convicted sex offender, to escape imprisonment and instead work with the public? In an education program? What would he teach them? That being a young male from an extremely privileged background meant you could commit rape and avoid gaol? He acknowledged his own inflated sense of power and entitlement at court- I don’t see how letting him escape a custodial sentence would do anything except maintain that. I’ve since learned that she intends to have him speak to other young men about how raping someone ruined his life and impacted his family. As Nina Funnell points out here, Mayor Betts wants to use this convicted rapist to teach others about “how rape affects men”.
She was not the only person to write him a character reference, but justice should not be served on a who-you-know basis anyway and I’m still so appalled that anyone, let alone a female in an authoritative position, defended this man and is so unapologetic about it.
It gets somewhat worse when you read about her next project. She has told her local paper that she intends to work with the Waverley Action for Youth Services on “a new risky behaviour education program to try and help young women understand and better deal with being in vulnerable situations.”
On the very surface, I can see how someone might say “Hey, what’s wrong with teaching women how to be safe?” and the answer to that is nothing at all. The problem lies in the fact that we want to teach young women to be safe from men that might attack them but we don’t seem to want to do anything to prevent these men from being predators in the first place. Where is their education program? Or are men incapable of controlling themselves and discerning a yes from a no?
In court, I read that Lazarus defended himself by saying that his victim did not scream, physically resist or say no. Here’s a starting point for an education program: It involves actually saying YES. Saying yes without coercion, without fear, without intimidation and without threats. “Yes” is not our default setting in anything, ever. Would you give someone a tattoo without their explicit consent? Would you pull out their tooth out without a definitive ‘yes’? Would you so much as style someone’s hair without being sure that they wanted you to? Sex is no different and this young man has gone to prison seemingly without understanding that.
As many have pointed out, Betts’ proposed program reeks of victim blaming and thankfully, WAYS have distanced themselves from the idea, saying they do not endorse victim blaming and it is not a way in which they would try to help young people.
Cr Betts advocated for a sexual offender to avoid prison and work in the community and now wants to educate young women on avoiding these same men. I think the logical inconsistency there is pretty clear. Destroy the Joint have put out a call to action, asking people to email Cr Betts and other council members about this issue. Hopefully if enough people do, she will really think about her views and consider, perhaps, being on her own side.
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