One in two British women admit they have been physically or sexually assaulted, according to horrifying new figures released by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. So potentially that’s half the women in your family, half of your female friends and half the women you work with. If that makes you feel sick, worried and angry – good. It should.
These are just the statistics for the women who admit that they’ve been attacked. Many more women are too scared and ashamed to state that they have suffered from violence. Your daughter, your partner, your friend or your boss could have been attacked last week and you might never know. That’s a result of our whole approach to violence against women, which places the burden on the victims rather than the attackers.
Women who speak out about their ordeals, like Lydia Huhne or Daisy Coleman, get criticised for provoking their attackers by being out late, being out alone, wearing a miniskirt and generally daring to be out in public instead of staying in all the time with the curtains closed. Appallingly, some women who speak out get bullied by both men and women as a result – this has happened a lot in the US in the recent spate of high school sexual assaults. These women need to be praised for their bravery; instead, their vilification prolongs and intensifies the horror of their original trauma.
Those who are too scared to report their attack feel that way precisely because of the way that victims are treated. We need more support for these women to encourage them to come forward so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.
Let’s shift the impetus squarely back on to the attacker. It’s all very well warning women not to get into unlicensed minicabs, but where are the posters telling these men not to rape? High school girls are warned not to drink at parties, but why aren’t the boys taught to look after their drunk friends instead of raping them and filming the evidence on their phones?
We need to educate men from a young age to respect women as equals and to eschew all forms of violence. More than that we need to educate men to respect themselves and their emotions, because when people are secure in themselves, they generally don’t need to attack other people.