Listen to the Round Table discussion above or download the sound file.

Following a recent high profile case of sexual abuse of girls by men in Bristol, we decided to ask five women what they thought about sexual violence towards women in the city. What follows is a small selection from the audio discussion.

The discussion was facilitated by Yaz Brien who has a background supporting women fleeing domestic violence, plays an active part in Bristol Queercaf and helped to organise the Anti-Racist and Proud bloc at Bristol Pride in 2013. Folami Prehaye set up the Victims of Internet Crime (VOIC) website after being the victim of revenge porn, see her companion article. Lea Viljoen works with Hollaback! Bristol who are tackling street harassment. Emma works at The Bridge Sexual Assault Referral Centre and Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS). She also created Small Acts of Rebellion theatre company whose play ‘Fair Game’ works with young people to discuss sexual consent, they have also created the website pause play stop on sexual consent. Cheryl Morgan is a trans activist and Ujima Radio presenter.

On the 7th November 2014, over 500 people took part in the Reclaim the Night march through Bristol to protest against sexual harassment and violence against women. This event has a long history, why do you think it is still necessary in Bristol?

Cheryl: “these marches are very obviously necessary because women are still being targeted on the streets and not just in the night but in broad daylight.”

Emma: “sexual violence and street harassment is a real problem because Avon & Somerset Police estimate that 3,894 women and girls were a victim of rape and sexual assault in Bristol in 2013, but only 834 of these incidents were reported to the Police.”

Folami: “I think it is the whole way women are portrayed in the media […] I think it is about how we are looked upon and how we are seen. It is things like that need to change.”

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What do you see as some of the root causes of sexual violence against women?

Cheryl: “I think the root cause of all violence against women is pretty much the same and that is that we have this idea in society that men are more valuable than women. That men have a right to control women and have a right to access to women. Also the idea that men are above women leads to the idea that women should aspire to be more like men, but men should not aspire to be more like women. This is particularly where the violence against trans women comes from; in that they are seen to be transgressing this idea by moving down the social scale.”

Emma: “What sexual violence is about is power and control. If you live in a society where women’s voices aren’t heard as much as men’s voices then that power dynamic will impact really significantly on women. In terms of the way that we listen to women, the way we support women and the way we believe women we’ve got a long way to go in terms of stopping sexual violence. In the media there is so much attention on alleged false allegations of rape. Yet there isn’t anywhere near the same coverage of the 85,000 rapes or 400,000 sexual assaults that happen against women every year in England and Wales.”

“Sexual violence has got absolutely nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with the perpetrator wanting to dominate, violate and humiliate. People think that sexual violence is something that happens late at night in bars and on the street but actually it also happens at home. I love the work that Reclaim the Night does but I often think that we need to reclaim the home.”

Lea: “With young people I think part of it is we teach them what we feel comfortable teaching them. ‘Stranger danger’ is much easier to teach than all the sexual violence and harassment that can happen to anyone.”

Cheryl: “Sexual violence is in fact not always to do with sex because if you look at what happens online when a man wants to discipline a women for the horrendous crime of having a opinion what he will do is threaten to rape her. It is the standard method that men use to bully women.”

Folami: “I think this a way of keeping us down. It is the only thing they can do to us, either rape us or abuse us, it is the only mechanism they have in place to control us. Because otherwise if we all came together and decided you know we’re not having none of it, we just going to stand up and fight back, I just think we need to take that control back.”

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What needs to be done, and by whom, to stop this abuse?

Folami: “We need to stand up for ourselves and take control of our destinies. That is what I have been teaching other women to do. Maybe women generally are fearful of the consequences that come from standing up, with good reason. I`ve taken backlash and looked at what people say about me and sometimes I’ve not come out of my house for three or four days, but then you get over that.”

Lea: “Hollaback focusses on helping people share their story and building a community where other readers can support you. The website also shows what you can do as a bystander like pretending to know you, because often you feel very isolated when you are being street harassed.”

Emma: “Small campaigns have also become huge due to the internet’s ability to connect people such as the Everyday Sexism Project. That really snowballed, people realised they weren’t alone and that kind of solidarity is really meaningful.”

Yaz: “There is a lot to be said for the ongoing work of making visible and speaking out against all forms of sexual violence against women. We all have a part to play in keeping ourselves and each other safe as an act of solidarity and protection.”

Emma: “Young people are desperate to talk about consent and sexual violence. They are concerned that no one really listens to them. 45% of girls and 36% of boys said it was really difficult to say no when they have been pressured into sex.

My theatre company, Small Acts of Rebellion, wants to talk to young people about consent. What does the capacity to consent mean? How do you know what you like or don’t like when you haven’t done it yet? How do you negotiate that pathway?”

Yaz: “Sexual liberation means that there is more sex around but it is very commodified. So clearly young people, and adults, still don’t have a language for sex and consent.”

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What is you reaction to a far-right group announcing that they plan to march in Bristol over the sexual abuse case involving several young British-Somali men?

Folami: “It’s not about what religion, culture or race you are, it is about the act, it is the fact that men are thinking they can go around sexualise women and children in the way they do and get away with it. The media are inciting racism in the way they reported this.”

Cheryl: “The first thing I thought of when I heard they were marching again was that they have clearly forgotten what happened last time, because we sent them packing in no uncertain terms and it will happen again.”

Emma: “If they really wanted to show their support for the victims of sexual violence maybe they could donate some money to domestic violence shelters. This march is just jumping on the bandwagon to drum-up more hatred and division in our society.”

Yaz: “So it is a distraction, by this group and the media, from the very issues that we do need to be talking about which is how those young women should have been protected.”

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  • Paul Turner says:

    I read the article in the newspaper first, then downloaded and listened to the recording. I found the discussion very interesting and a number of very valid points were raised. However, I would have liked two or three men to have been involved as well. This is a very, very serious issue and I can’t help but think that some male involvement, condemning the abuse and violence, would have added weight to the discussion.

    • Drew Rose says:

      Hi Paul, I agree and disagree 🙂
      As Owen Jones’ recent article highlights (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/24/men-women-masculinity-feminism) men need to practise feminism without using it to further bolster their power. I agree that male violence against women is a very serious issue – I don’t see the need for male voices to add ‘more weight’ to this discussion. Is the weight of these women’s arguments and experiences not sufficient? Would they have had the same conversation with men, even feminist men, participating? Men definitely need to speak out more against sexual harassment and violence towards women but we need to do it with each other, after having listened and learnt from women’s experiences.
      I am part of a group called Bristol Men Against Patriarchy (https://www.facebook.com/menagainstpatriarchy.bristoluk) which is a men only group that meets to understand and challenge the role patriarchy plays in our lives – both its effect on us as men and on the women around us. We are always open to new men wanting to discuss these issues in a friendly environment.
      Many thanks for engaging in this discussion. All the best, Drew.