And Yet: Fighting Sexual Violence and Rape Culture with Conventional and Social Media

In 2016, during the presidential election, author Kelly Oxford launched #NotOkay in response to Donald Trump’s being caught on a hot mic saying, among other things, “When you’re a star you can do anything.  Grab them by the pussy.  You can do anything.”


Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first:  Old man on city bus grabs my “pussy” and smiles at me, I’m 12.

Millions of women tweeted their responses to Oxford’s call to draw attention to the pervasiveness of rape culture and to drive home the message that it’s not okay to speak about or treat women this way.

In her review of Oxford’s latest book, Monica Heisey describes the enormous response to #NotOkay, but notes ruefully, “(And yet.)”

The parenthetical phrase has been haunting me all day.  And yet.

And yet, the man still got elected.  What do you do with that “and yet”?

Tell more stories, make more art, call out more offenses.  In essays, videos, books, art installations, podcasts, television documentaries and tweets of 140 characters, tell more stories, make more art, call out more offenses.

Back in 2013, “A Needed Response” was the first viral video ever to receive a Peabody Award for broadcast journalism.  The 26-second you-tube video made by students Samantha Stendal and Aaron Blanton was a statement against rape culture born our of their frustration with the Steubenville rape case.  It’s had nearly 10 million hits and helped to spark conversations and education around alcohol and consent.

And yet, in 2016, Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner served only three months of a six-month sentence for rape, a crime his father called “20 minutes of action” in his letter appealing to the judge for leniency.

Tell more stories, make more art, call out more offenses.

In 2014, #YesAllWomen began to trend after Elliot Rodger, a twenty-two-year-old man, went on a shooting spree near the University of California Santa Barbara, killing six people before committing suicide. His misogyny was extreme and the man was mentally ill, prompting some Twitter users to claim that #NotAllMen are criminally sexist.  The response was to demonstrate that #YesAllWomen have to put up with sexism on a daily basis, and the hashtag was used to illustrate the pervasiveness of the full spectrum of misogyny that culminates in criminal misogyny. Rebecca Solnit said that as the tweets began to pile up, “you could see change happen.”

And yet, in the same year, Canadian judge Robin Camp, asked a complainant in a rape trial why she didn’t just keep her knees together.   He resigned in 2017, after it took a disciplinary committee fifteen months to arrive at their recommendation that he be removed from the bench.

Tell more stories, make more art, call out more offenses.

The Globe and Mail published a series of articles by Robyn Doolittle, Unfounded, that calls Canadian police departments to task for dismissing 1out of 5 sexual assault claims as unfounded.  Since the articles began to appear, the Globe reports, “more than 50 police forces have announced investigations into sexual-assault cases that were deemed ‘unfounded.’”

And yet, so many claims, especially those made by aboriginal women, are not investigated.

Tell more stories, make more art, call out more offenses.

Jaime Black’s REDress Project is a public art installation that hangs red dresses in public spaces to draw awareness to the more than 1000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.  It makes missing and murdered Aboriginal women a presence in our cities and landscapes.

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And yet, so many of the crimes are still unsolved.

Tell more stories, make more art, call out more offenses.

Connie Walker and Marnie Luke created a podcast about Alberta Williams, one of the many missing and murdered women.  It has led to many more tips coming into police, who describe the case as “very active.”

Lisa Meeches created a television series for The Aboriginal Peoples Network, Taken, that seeks to humanize the victims and encourage viewers to call tips into the RCMP to help bring closure to their families.  She hopes that in addition to telling the stories of these women’s lives, it will help bring their killers to justice.  The series will be coming to the CBC this summer.

What can we do to offset the weight of “and yet”?

Keep telling stories.

The women who shared their stories in #NotOkay and #YesAllWomen tweets found community and a voice to end the normalization of rape culture.  Red dresses have made missing and murdered aboriginal women a presence.  The podcast, television series and newspaper articles about violence against women call police departments to account.

Keep telling stories.

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