Thursday, 5 June 2014

Students respond to sexual violence

*Potential trigger warning* - discussion of sexual violence.

Just over a month ago, two female Victoria University students were sexually attacked on the 'City to Sea' pathway connecting the Boyd Wilson Field to the Terrace in Wellington. The pathway is a common route for students at our university as it is near university accommodation and a popular route home for students who live in the area. 

As a response to the attacks, the media chose to comment on the fact that the path is "not a safe area" with statements from Police advising young women and students not to walk home through the area, and instead suggesting they travel home from the city in a taxi or walk in groups. The attacks resulted in increased calls for improved lighting, extra foot patrols and CCTV footage on the pathway. 

Yup, totally - we need better lighting in that area, we need CCTV footage and we need extra security. But you know what we also need? We need rape to stop. While the media decided to focus attention on the fact that it is our responsibility as women to take a taxi home, or to walk a longer route in order to avoid being attacked, Youth for UN Women (a fabulous group the anthsisters are part of), VUWSA (the Vic student association) and VUWSA's Women's Group decided we needed to put our focus and attention on the bigger issue at hand - rape culture.

Rape culture is an environment in which sexual violence towards women is normalized and excused in the media an popular culture. In our society, we are surrounded with images, language, laws, objectification of bodies and glamorization of sexual violence - all in which disregard the rights and safety of a woman's body. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, words and imagery that make violence towards women seem so normal that we are made to think the persistence of rape as "just the way things are" (

Most women and girls live in fear of rape, and it is this cycle of fear that is the legacy of rape culture.

The focus on avoiding the area where the attacks occurred and the suggestion of taking a taxi home instead of walking is just another continuation of rape culture - instead of teaching people not to rape, we are taught ways to avoid rape. 

As a response to the attacks, a march down the path was organised by the three groups to show that we are a community that does not accept sexual assault as a given, and that we will foster a community that rejects rape culture. Around 300 people attended the march on the 20th of May in which we walked down the path with signs and posters in hand, chanting against rape culture. We then met at the Aro Valley Community Centre and held a forum. This gave everyone involved a chance to identify areas around Wellington that are in need for infrastructural improvement, as well as promoting discussions about how we can change the rape culture we live in.

Speakers at the forum spoke about gender, sexuality, and sexual violence, highlighting the importance of understanding the specific forms of rape culture that impact the LGBTQ community. However, discussions around the intersection of race/ethnicity and sexual violence/rape culture were unfortunately absent.  Hearing from Te Whare Rokiroki-Māori Womens Refuge or Shakti Wellington who provide "culturally competent support services for women, children and families of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin" would have been a valuable way to prioritize understanding the experiences of all women, and provoke a more robust discussion of the way in which rape culture functions in our city. 

In the two days leading up to the march, we held a craft session (idea put forward by the amazing Hollie) where everyone was invited to come along and let their creative spirits run wild. We provided crafts and a safe space where people came along and made posters, placards and signs which promoted discussion about empowerment and awareness of rape culture. The anthsisters were so happy with the turn out and the amazing creations people made. 

Thank you to everyone who came and supported us! We were so proud of all the wonderful posters and signs that were produced and the march looked incredibly powerful with all these amazing signs! Check them down below.

xoxo, Anthsisters,




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