Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sexual assault is not about the loss of virginity

This is a sad story.

A few weeks ago, a female student was sexually assaulted when she was working late at night in a lab at Carleton University. Her assailant also severely beat her up, leaving her injured and unconscious, and fled with some of her clothes.

The saddest part of the story is that the victim of this heinous assault has contacted the media in order to "set the record straight" on the fact that she was "not raped". As a matter of fact, the young woman, who is Muslim, wants to make clear that her sexual assault did not involve penetration and that she is still a virgin.

"As part of her culture, being a virgin is very important, and, if, all of a sudden, everybody looks at her and says she's not a virgin, she's a lot less desirable as a wife," said Christine Baker, a sexual-assault examiner at the Ottawa Hospital who has been keeping in touch with the victim.

I find it hard to believe that in Canada, women are still feeling that ultimate value as human being depends on their being a virgin until marriage, and on their "marriagebility". I am also deeply troubled by the fact that this woman's declaration suggests that she should have to bear any guilt or uncarable shame because she was sexually "accessed" by a man without her consent.

In addition, her concerns for her reputation as a virgin sadly highlight that no matter how heinous and twisted this crime was, and despite the fact that is no question whatsoever as to her complete and obvious lack of consent (having been beaten to the point of unconsciousness before being assaulted), there are people out there who somehow feel that she should feel responsible for her own "depreciation".

The mere fact that this is happening in Canada, in 2007, shows us that we still have a very long way to go in terms of changing people's attitude towards sexual violence and its female victims. I can't believe that we still seem to be grappling with the concept that women are not chattels, to be sold, exchanged or taken.


On another note, it should be noted that the young woman in this case is dead right about one thing: just because a penis did not enter your vagina when you were attacked doesn't mean you have not been sexually assaulted, nor does it make things any "better" for you.

Many people - including, I am sad to say, far too many judges who hear sexual assault cases - are still under the impression that "sexual assault" is a lesser, non-penetrative form of rape, and therefore, a lighter criminal offence. It is not.

Sexual assault consists of any type of sexual touching conducted without the person's consent, when the assailant is aware of the other person's lack of consent. Period. One's bodily integrity is not, in the eyes of the law, ultimately linked to one's virginity.


However, a distinction between sexual assault and the abrogated offence of rape has to be drawn. While sexual assault simpliciter is punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment (if prosecuted by way of indictment) or by a maximum of 18 months' imprisonment (if prosecuted by way of summary conviction), the old offence of rape carried a maximum punishment of life's imprisonment (along, in the good old days, with 50 lashes).

When I hear about extremely violent and wanton sexual attacks such as this one, I'm tempted to say: bring back the lash...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

20th Anniversary of "R. v. Morgentaler (1988)"

January 28th, 2008, will mark the 20th anniversary of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Morgentaler, [1988] 1 S.C.R. 30, which decriminalized abortion in Canada.

Since then, Canadian women have lived in a legal vacuum with respect to abortion (i.e. there are no laws whatsoever that currently restrict the legality or timing of abortive procedures). So far, the staus quo seems to be working for us.

However, the reproductive rights of Canadian women now face increasingly alarming threats - particularly since the Conservatives came to power - and having to do, namely, with access to abortion.

Therefore, I think it is of vital importance that women's organizations and feminist groups or individuals unite and show, on January 28th, that we are not willing to go back 20 years when it comes to our rights to reproductive freedom and bodily integrity.

Show us the money!

A recent study sponsored by TD shows that wage equality for Canadian women is just around the corner, that is, in 30 years or so.

The study hails education as the “great equalizer” and stresses that if women these days are getting better and longer education than their predecessors, it’s partly because they either choose to postpone pregnancy, child-birth and child-rearing, or choose to have fewer children (or none at all).

This study also highlights that women in the workforce still tend to stick to traditionally “female” fields, such as education and services, and that women still shy away from traditionally “male” fields such as mathematics or science. The authors (thankfully) point out that these differences are attributable to cultural and environmental factors, a situation which, they claim, can and should be fixed.

Finally, the TD study shows that a major factor in the gender wage gap is due to the fact that women generally work fewer hours in order to perform the necessary housework and child-rearing tasks. Interestingly, the authors note that “when wives have an income of $100,000 or more, the division of paid labour and housework between partners [is] more likely to be split equally.”

Too bad men aren’t just interested in those powerful, emasculating, high-income women

Québec urges millions of previously chaste underaged girls to engage in wanton acts of wild, extra-marital sex

Or so some fundamentalist wackos out there seem to think...

The good news is that the government of Québec has decided to offer the HPV vaccine Gardasil to girls from Grade 4 and up, as part of an initiative to fight cancer. The immunization campaign is schedule to start next September.

This is great because the fact that it is will be covered by public health care will encourage more girls and women to be vaccinated early enough for the product to be fully effective, as many women hesitated because of the high cost of the vaccine.


Hopefully, there hasn't been much debate in Québec (or in the ROC, for that matter) concerning the so-called "moral aspects" of HPV vaccination of young girls.

Of course, there has been some distasteful articles published in various newspapers (namely, a piece from the Globe and Mail in which the author ponders whether parents should get their daughters vaccinated, given that they might thereby be encouraged to have sex).

Overall though, there has not been the same type of excessive, alarmist reaction than in the US, probably on account of the fact that religious groups have not as much invaded the political and public sphere at large.

However, some religious groups have publicly opposed the decision of provincial governments to offer the vaccine to young girls and women. A telling example occurred in Newfoundland, where the Right to Life Association of Newfoundland protested that HPV vaccination was a mistake carrying public health and morals consequences, as it would - du-uh! - give teenages girls the "green light" to become "promiscuous".

Unimportant though as it seems, this example is extremely interesting, from a feminist point of view, in that it reveals the true colours of so-called "pro-lifers".

Breaking news, folks : Just in cases you didn't know, pro-lifers are idiotic, retrograde bigots.

'Cause we all know that a human being’s right to life does not extend to (real, actual, living) women. Those folks would rather like women to forgo a life-saving technology (you know, “life-saving”, as in, you’d think “pro-life”) rather than remotely seem to acknowledge a state of affairs in which female sexuality – gasp! – exists outside the patriarchical, male-oriented institution of marriage.

Those people interchangeably use the word “promiscuity” for sex of the extra-marital kind, thereby implying that unmarried sex is sinful, wrong or socially unacceptable. Seriously, what kind of people would say or even imply such things?

The kind of people who are not even remotely interested in saving women’s lives, and improving our health conditions. Let's not be blind about it. The efforts of such people are really about controlling women’s sexuality, and maintaining men’s patriarchical authority over them. They simply want to make sure that a woman’s sexual desire, sexual organs and reproductive capacity remain the property of a single, identifiable male, as measurable and marketable assets.

British Government to Require Experts to Testify to Dispel "Rape Myths" in Sexual Assault Trials

Well, that surely is good news. After all, Claire L’Heureux-Dubé can’t always be there to kick misogynistic asses in the courtroom.