Definitions

Why Salvage?

The name Salvage originally came from an editorial in the feminist art blog No More Pot Lucks. Here Salvage is explained as:

  • The act of saving
  • Something extracted from rubbish and made valuable
  • To remove from harms way

In this sense salvage is about seizing the power to take collective action to confront and remove violence from our lives and communities and in the process make ourselves and our communities more valuable. That is to hold space for and transform ourselves and each other into more compassionate, caring, accountable and safer communities where violence is unthinkable.

Victim or Survivor?

It is up to the person who has experienced violence to decide which term feels right for them and how to best describe what has happened, or is happening, to them.

A victim or survivor is anyone who has experienced, or is living with, violence and abuse. There has been a lot of debate and discussion about the term victim and its associations with passivity, vulnerability, being damaged and needing the (paternal) protection of state powers. That is why some people prefer to see themselves as survivors to emphasise possibilities of healing, speaking out and moving on. However for some the term survivor fails to fully acknowledge the power of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that has long-lasting and ongoing harmful impacts on lives. This has led some activists, like Rahila Gupta, to argue for a reclamation of the term victim to emphasise the role of structural oppression. For instance, poor women, (cis, trans and intersex), queer, transgender, intersex, non-binary people of colour are more likely to experience violence and abuse and have fewer resources to escape or ‘recover’ from it. Some people prefer the more optimistic possibility of being a thriver. This recognises how some people who have experienced violence feel that they have moved on, made meaning from what happened and grown in new ways.

What counts as sexual violence?

It can be difficult for people who have experience violence to name sexual violence. The legal and government definitions of sexual assault and rape may not fit lived experiences. Much of what is experienced as harmful cannot be reduced to an incident or crime but is experienced cumulatively. Violence and abuse can become normalised and routine in everyday life. This means that the process of naming sexual violence may take some time and people who have experienced violence often feel responsible for causing or deserving it. Feminist research in sexual violence has long recognised the diverse forms that sexual violence can take.

‘Any physical, visual, verbal or sexual act that is experienced by the [individual] at the time or later as a threat, invasion or assault that has the effect of hurting [them] or degrading [them] and/or takes away [their] ability to control intimate contact’
(Kelly 1988, p. 41 – non-binary gender pronouns in brackets)

This means that sexual violence can be thought of as a continuum that encompasses a range of harms experienced in everyday life. This ‘continuum of sexual violence’ (Kelly 1988) can include: threats of violence, sexual harassment, unwanted touching, everyday intrusions of personal space, pressure to have sex, use of communication technologies to harass and denigrate (e.g. text/picture messages, phone calls, e-mails, social media, photos and films), coercive sex, flashing, domestic violence, rape and incest. In short, sexual violence is an experience imposed on you that results in a harmful and degrading loss of sexual autonomy.

What is the deal with consent?

Consent is a term that feminists have fought for in struggles to recognise rape as a global human rights issue and criminal offence. It refers to a person having the basic right to choose whether or not to have sex. The statutory definition of consent refers to whether there is a ‘reasonable belief’ that consent has been granted. The reasonable-ness of this belief can be undermined by anything that indicates a lack in capacity (e.g. age, ability and understanding) and freedom (e.g. alcohol, drugs or coercion) during the encounter.

Outside of the legal definition, in activist circles, consent is understood as a voluntary, enthusiastic, active, mutual, informed and honest agreement. It is a process – so just because someone has agreed to one sexual activity this does not mean that they have agreed to all sexual activities. Consent is not coerced – an inability to say no is not a yes. Put simply if you are pressurising someone into having sex with you who doesn’t want to have sex with you – you are denying this person their sexual autonomy. This is non-consensual sexual contact and your behaviour towards that person falls on the continuum of sexual violence.

What is rape culture?

These are the many myths that circulate in society and culture that make it difficult to make sense of what is happening/has happened as sexual violence. Common rape myths are recognised as a major problem in the courtroom leading to low conviction rates. As mentioned above people who have experienced violence can feel they are to blame and can take on responsibility for the sexual violence they have experienced. Social and cultural beliefs in natural sexual aggression/entitlements (e.g. cisgender men and masculinity) and hypersexualisation of particular social groups (e.g. women of colour, working class, sex workers, women) means that many people who experience violence are encouraged to locate responsibility in their own actions and self-presentation rather than the person who caused harm.

Things that make people who experience violence feel responsible can include: not having any visible injuries to demonstrate physical resistance, if it happened at home, being drunk or using drugs, not having a clear memory of what happened, not reporting it straight away, being a sex worker, being dressed sexy, flirting or perceived as ‘asking for it’, being in a relationship with the person who caused harm and feeling obliged to perform a sexual act or being too afraid to say no.

There is also a myth that women make a high number of false allegations of rape against male partners as a way of seeking revenge. This adds to a culture of suspicion and outrage around those who come forward and speak out about sexual violence despite the number of false allegations being very low (McMillan 2010). Rape apologism is an umbrella term for a range of arguments that suggest sexual violence is rare, over-reported, not a big deal or even excusable. A rape culture that does not challenge rape myths, supports and encourages people to cause harm with impunity whilst silencing and further harming people who have experienced violence.

This page is a work in progress. Feel free to leave a comment or tell us what other terms would you like us to define.

 

 

 

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