Events reviewed:

Rape and the Law

Crash and Burn

 

Supported by Bloomberg and hosted at The Southbank Centre, Women of the world Festival (W.o.W) celebrates the successes of women and also discusses some of the most pressing topics regarding women today, including female genital mutilation, sexuality, sexual violence and modern feminism. W.o.W festival features talks by some of the worlds most prominent figures, such as fashion designer and business woman Vivienne Westwood, education activist Malala Yousafzai, and Ronnie Spector, of the 60s super girl- group The Ronettes.

Founder and director of the festival Jude Kelly says: ‘The idea of a woman being the leader is still, I think, something people have to double-check. There’s always that “Can she do it?” As soon as you ask the question, the possibility is that the answer can be “no”. The fact that you ask the question simply because she is a woman is one of the problems. I don’t feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder,I’ve had a fantastic career, but I felt that because I’m in a senior position it’s important not to be on the fence. I like being able to make younger women feel they’ve got an ally – women should support other women.’

Rape and the Law:

Chaired by Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman, panelists Dru Sharpling CBEJason Ashwood and Professor Joanna Bourke, author of Rape: A History From 1860 To The Present, discuss rape and the law.

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Cathy Newman opens with shocking statistics surrounding rape and conviction, for example the detection rates, which is the proportion of reported rapes that are solved, are only 18% in London, and less than 10% in the rest of the UK. Newman then rounds these statistics off with a quote by Betsy Stanko, who said: ‘It is as though rape has been decriminalised.’ This invites serious discussion about how rape victims are treated within British society.

Jason Ashwood, from Sexual Offenses, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command in the Met Police, stated that sexual assaults are the most challenging area of policing as it is hard to provide the right support to victims, to collect the evidence needed in order to support the case, and it is also difficult to escape the social stigma, for which Ashwood argues: ‘public scrutiny is insatiable.’

Mr Ashwood also stated the top 3 key reasons why rape victims do not come forward, which are that they are embarrassed, they question whether they are to blame, and thirdly, that they fear they will not be believed. He then adds that, last on the list of reasons for why women do not come forward, is that they did not want to go to court, alongside fear of the police. I felt that Mr Ashwood appeared to use these facts in order to paint the justice system in a more positive light, for which he was later criticised by another audience member for being ‘dismissive’ of the fact that so many rape victims do not manage to get justice.

Professor Joanna Bourke spoke about how so many rape victims do not manage to get justice; she recalled how, in the 1970s, there was a 1 in 3 conviction rate in relation to rape allegations, in the 80s this fell to 1 in 4, in the 90s just 1 in 10, and more recently it fell even further to a harrowing 1 in 20. Professor Bourke also drew attention to the gender double-standard for rape, where drunk men are seen as less responsible for their behaviour, yet women are more. She also noted that in this great hall, there were only 3 male audience members. I agree that rape needs to also become a greater issue for men; very few men are actively involved in rape campaigns, despite the fact that men can also be raped.

Highlights:

  • It is as though rape has been decriminalised
  •  A culture of disbelief within some police forces
  • 1 in 8 Hollywood movies contain scenes of rape
  • In the U.K, an average of 2 women a week are killed by their husband or partner
  • Rape needs to become an issue for men

Best Quote: ‘You have to be incredibly unlucky, to be convicted of rape in this country.’ – Professor Joanna Bourke. 

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Crash and Burn:

Margaret Aberdeen founder an organisation that supports victims of domestic violence, Zoe Webber founder of Full Petal Jacket, Jessica Jones author of The Elegant Art of Falling Apart and journalist Tanya Gold open up about depression, addiction and coming back from the brink. 

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Despite what the event title might suggest, Crash and Burn was both extremely funny and heart warming. All the panelists shared their personal struggles with the audience, and how they were able to overcome them.

How addiction is viewed in society was discussed and debated, regarding whether it should be considered as a mental illness. Tanya Gold believes that an individual is born with addictive qualities, and full blown addiction can be brought on through traumatic experiences. Zoe Webber also stated that once you become vulnerable, it is very difficult to ‘claw’ your way back, due to the stigma attached to both mental illness and addiction.

I also agree that addiction should be treated more sympathetically within society, as there still lingers the idea of choice in relation to addiction, Tanya Gold says: ‘I could not stop. I could not stop; though I was taught to say I would not stop.’ The panel was a host of colouful life experiences, to say the very least, but one thing they all shared was that they were all recovering.

The panel shared their triumphs and relapses, and gave suggestions of how others, who may also relate to their personal stories, can also improve their lives. Margaret Aberdeen spoke about thinking positively and choosing to be happy.  I have, personally, always found this approach to mood disorders too simplistic and quite patronising. Although I agree that there are certain activities people can do to brighten their mood, similar to addiction, I believe this idea of control feeds the mental health taboo and stigmatises sufferers.

Jessica Jones argued that positive thinking is often used as ‘a stick to beat people with’, and offered her advice for recovery; she uses the metaphor of viewing your life as if it were a mountain, made up of millions of experiences. At first, the mountain can appear quite daunting, but Jones finds that, just by living in the moment and being the best possible person she can right now, this breaks a mountain down to a grain of dust.

Highlights:

  • Is addiction a mental illness?
  • Happiness is a choice
  • Shared experiences aid others
  • Friendship and support
  • Living in the moment

Best Quote:  ‘I keep hoping that next year I’m going to be here speaking on a panel called “I fell in love, won the lottery and lived happily ever after.'” – Jessica Jones. 

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