Whether it be something as seemingly benign as cat-calling or as extreme as a rapist receiving a lenient jail sentence because their accuser was intoxicated or the rapists’ privilege, rape culture is a persistent and serious problem in today’s society. On the front lines of the battle to expose and eliminate rape culture is Christie Eastburn, organizer of Philadelphia’s annual March To End Rape Culture.
C.J. Asher – Christie, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. First, tell me a little about yourself.
Christie Eastburn – Hi C.J., thanks again for taking interest in our event and reaching out to us. I am the lead organizer for the March to End Rape Culture and I work with an organizing committee of about twenty people to plan the event. This is my third year organizing. So, I’m thirty-five years old and I’m a social worker from Delaware. I’ve lived in Philly for ten years. I’m passionate about social justice and feminism, but particularly around issues of sexual violence.
C.J. Asher – Tell me a bit about the March To End Rape Culture; it’s history and what attendees can expect from the march.
Christie Eastburn –
MTERC was previously called the SlutWalk, which started in 2011. The SlutWalk movement started when a police officer in Toronto told a group of college students that to avoid rape, they should stop dressing like “sluts.” They started the event to proclaim that the way they dress does not give anyone the right to violate or blame people. SlutWalk became a space to support survivors and to speak out against a society that blames victims for what happened to them. We changed the name of the event a few years ago to broaden the focus of the event and to be inclusive. Not everyone that is affected by rape culture identifies with the word ‘slut’ or has it used against them. People of color had spoken out about the name and the need to change it to be more inclusive. We agree that movements need to adapt and evolve over time and so we responded to that call for change within the movement. Since the name change, we have gotten a lot of feedback that everyone feels more welcomed and included in our mission. If you come to the march this year, you should meet up with us first at Thomas Paine Plaza, where we start the festivities. We march with 500 to 1,000 people through Center City Philadelphia, then re-convene in the plaza for more speakers, performances, etc. Survivors and allies come together in solidarity, but also to learn about the problem of rape culture. People bring signs and banners to march with and it’s a really powerful and empowering experience. We have therapists on hand all day that participants can talk to for support or just to get a referral. We also have lots of groups there that offer support to survivors and do other anti-oppression work. We have about ten speakers that talk about different aspects of rape culture that people should know about. We also have poets and musicians. Although the topic is very serious, there is a really positive vibe and people have a lot of fun too. It goes from about 11:00am to 4:00pm.
C.J. Asher – Who are some of this year’s speakers?
Christie Eastburn – This year’s speaker line-up is still being confirmed. I can tell you about some of the topics we plan to have speakers cover like military sexual trauma and how rape culture affects men, youth, disabled people, sex workers and Native Americans.
C.J. Asher – Besides the March To End Rape Culture, what other groups and organizations do you belong to and support?
Christie Eastburn – Many of our organizers work closely with other groups with overlapping goals like SAFE, SWOP, Pussy Division, Girls Rock Philly, Permanent Wave Philly, Women in Transition, WOAR, V.O.I.C.E., Girl Army and others. A lot of those overlap with our community partners. You can find a list of them on our website. We really value our partners and think they do a lot of important anti-oppression work in Philadelphia. Our sister event is called Take Back the Night Philly and that event is also really amazing and supporting of survivors. It happens every April and involves a march, a street action and a private portion where people can give their personal testimony.
C.J. Asher – How is “rape culture” defined?
Christie Eastburn – I took a long time developing this definition and hope that it’s helpful to people. The way that rape culture works is pretty deep and complex. As a society, we all start learning different aspects about rape culture as children and it’s something that becomes deeply ingrained in how we think, believe and behave. Rape culture is made up of the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that we collectively hold as a society that influence how we think about and respond to rape. These beliefs and behaviors result in ignoring, trivializing, normalizing and even eroticizing sexual violence to the point that we excuse and tolerate rape. We end up accepting it as something that is an unavoidable part of life. Rape happens more frequently in a culture that has these (deleted text) qualities while survivors get less support and less justice.
C.J. Asher – Can you tell us some of the statistics regarding sexual assault in this country today?
Christie Eastburn – You can find some statistics at https://www.rainn.org/statistics. People that work with sexual violence generally regard statistics to be conservative and actually higher than people think.
C.J. Asher – Why is it that over 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail?
Christie Eastburn – Well, there are lots of reasons for this. One is that rape culture creates an environment where survivors feel shame in what happened. So,right off the bat, people are discouraged to come forward. When people do come forward what happens? The police don’t take them seriously. If the survivor is a person of color or trans or any other identity that might be oppressed by the police, they are even less likely to seek justice through a system that systematically marginalizes them. The police regularly fail to properly handle these cases across the country and prosecutors often won’t take the cases. Then when a case does go to trial and you even have evidence and eyewitnesses… well – you saw what happened with Brock Turner. This is the norm, not the exception. That’s why there’s no justice.
C.J. Asher – What are your thoughts and feelings about the six-month prison sentence handed down to Brock Turner?
Christie Eastburn – It’s ridiculous but sadly, it’s not surprising. When a convicted rapist gets a slap on the wrist, it’s a slap in the face for survivors across the country and a reminder that the justice system doesn’t care about them. I think it’s been really tough for a lot of people. In this case we’ve even seen the judge make reference to giving a light sentence due to concern about Brock Turner’s future – pointing out explicitly how the perpetrator’s privilege played into it. While black and brown people are getting ridiculously heavy sentences for minor crimes, we see judges worrying about THIS guy’s future. It’s frustrating and sad.
C.J. Asher – What types of individuals are at greatest risk for sexual assault?
Christie Eastburn – Anyone who already experiences another form of marginalization such as trans & LGB people, disabled people, people of color, immigrants, etc. Also, anyone who is in an institution that withholds justice from them, such as college students and the military. People whose identities cover more than one of these areas are even more at risk. For example, a trans woman of color who is a sex worker is at extremely high risk for sexual assault.
C.J. Asher – What can be done to stop the pervasive problem of rape culture, not only within the City of Philadelphia but throughout our greater society?
Christie Eastburn – Sometimes rape culture just seems so big and intimidating that it seems like there’s nothing people can do – but there is! Lots of things actually. Learn about bystander intervention and practice it. Call out your friends, family and co-workers who make rape culture enforcing comments or jokes. Learn about rape culture and toxic masculinity – and then reflect on the things you believe or say that might be a result of those things. Assess and make adjustments in how you think and speak. Do you call people sluts or hoes for wearing short shorts? Reconsider what you’ve been taught and find a new way. Learn about consent culture and teach it to kids and teens – and even adults! Become media literate and talk back to companies that participate in rape culture. Does an add sexualize violence? Send emails, tweets, etc. and let your voice be heard. As a consumer, you have a voice and also the power to boycott companies that are harmful. Get creative. Volunteer your time with groups and organizations that support survivors. You could even start something in your community or online! Finally, I think that attending events like March to End Rape Culture and Take Back the Night Philly also make a difference. Every time you take a step to support a survivor, you are changing our culture that teaches us to withhold that support.
C.J. Asher – Why are victims of sexual assault often hesitant to come forward?
Christie Eastburn – A good way to understand this is to look at people’s reactions to survivors that come forward in the media like with the Bill Cosby or Kobe Bryant situation. The survivor is surrounded by doubt and accusations that they are trying to gain something by coming forward. This is partially perpetuated by the myth that there is a high rate of false rape accusations. A very common first reaction is to ask questions that throw the responsibility of what happened back on the survivor. We call this “Victim Blaming.” ‘Well, what were they doing? Why were they there? How were they dressed? Were they drinking? Were they out late? Why are they coming forward – what’s their motive?’ We are so used to this way of thinking that survivors believe that it’s their fault before anyone directly tells them that. In a rape culture, this lesson has already been taught even before the assault happens in order to silence the victim. Sadly, it often works. Also, what ‘coming forward’ may mean for one person may be different for another person. Coming forward to the police? I already kind of got into the justice system aspect. I mean, there are lots of good reasons people don’t go to the police. It may also just not be what that person wants to do even if they could expect justice. But just coming forward to the ones you love to get support can also bring shame and blame into play. Sharing that you were sexually assaulted is taboo – most people don’t speak about it. (sentence deleted) Someone might tell a loved one and then that person starts with the blaming questions. That really hurts and can certainly discourage people from sharing this and seeking support.
C.J. Asher – How are colleges and universities working to prevent and reduce sexual violence on campuses across the country?
Christie Eastburn – Colleges and universities have not been leaders in this problem. They are just now starting to address this (word deleted), but it’s really only because survivors pushed the issue to the federal level. Colleges have been sweeping sexual assaults on campus under the rug – silencing survivors in the process at almost every university across the country. Now that college students have brought federal cases against their colleges using Title IX, colleges are doing workshops, media campaigns, film screenings and the like to respond to these issues.
C.J. Asher – How can, and should, friends and family help those who have been the victims of sexual assault?
Christie Eastburn – Above all else, believe them. They have every reason to hide this away based on how we deal with sexual assault in our society. If they are coming to you, this is a very important moment. Don’t judge or ask questions that imply that their decisions could have affected the outcome of the assault. When someone is assaulted, the messages they need is that they are cared for, supported and that it was not their fault. No matter what, they always have the right to consent. As their support person, you will not be able to solve this problem. Hold back on giving advice on what they should do. Listen first and then help them learn about their options. Take their lead on what they want to do. They may want to seek counseling or they may wish to report the crime. Offer to go with them. Healing from sexual assault may take a long time. For others, it’s not so long. There may be ups and downs. Check in with the person even after time has passed and support the path they choose to heal. For more info on what resources are available to survivors in the Philadelphia area, go to: http://www.marchtoendrapeculture.com/resources/
C.J. Asher – Can you tell me any particular stories of your work with survivors of sexual assault that have most impacted you personally?
Christie Eastburn – What really impacts me is when I see the relief that people have at finding a community of people that support them, especially in a time of emotional need. It can be a very emotional experience to find that after being blamed, shamed and silenced. I’m so grateful to be able to be a part of that.
C.J. Asher – What can individuals and organizations do to help support this year’s March To End Rape Culture?
Christie Eastburn – More than anything, we would love for people to come out and march with us. It’s also a great help when people help to spread the word about the event. If people would like to help promote for the event in their community, online or at their school, they should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also email us to join our email list for updates. If anyone would like to donate or just learn more, they can go to our website: http://www.marchtoendrapeculture.com.