Men Have to Take Responsibility

An interview with Gísli Hrafn of the Feminist Association of Iceland
28.7.2006
Words by Steinunn Jakobsdóttir
By emphasising the role men play in rape crimes in society, the NEI campaign points its finger at men as assailants. Now, for the third year in a row, the campaign is kicking off before the Verslunarmannahelgin weekend, the busiest travel weekend of the year, when thousands of locals get together to party at various locations across the country. The Grapevine talked to Gísli Hrafn, a member of the Feminist Association of Iceland and one of the organisers of the NEI campaign. Gísli and fellow associates, who all work pro bono, will not be partying this weekend but instead travelling to the Westman Islands to discuss rape, hand out badges and Frisbees with the slogan “Men Say No to Rape” and try to do all they can to prevent a weekend, which is supposed to be fun and entertaining for all festival-goers, from devastating the nation’s youths.
/// Usually the female has been the centre of rape discussions, but in your NEI campaign you only focus on men.
– Yes, above all we try to reach men because in almost all cases, men are the rapists. Rapes have for far too long been labelled as a woman’s problem but our stand on the issue is that if it is a gender problem, then it is above all a man’s concern, because they are the assailants. By putting the focus on men we are trying to make them feel responsible and getting them to work together to decrease these sex crimes. By pointing out that even though they are not necessarily the rapists themselves, if they witness a friend assaulting a woman and just sit by and watch instead of preventing it from happening, as has been the case more than once, they are just as guilty.
/// When did you start fighting this issue?
– Our first campaign was during Verslunarmannahelgin in the year 2003. Then we emphasised the fact that rapists are usually someone the victim knows, a friend or an acquaintance. The stereotypical picture people have had of rape is that the assault happens when someone attacks a random victim out on the street, with a knife even. The fact is though that in most cases the attacker knows the victim.
An even more stereotypical idea the public has had in our society is that in many cases the victim is somehow to blame for the assault. We have heard claims like: “She was too drunk,” “she dressed provocatively” or “hey, she was kissing him earlier the evening,” as though that should be an excuse for rape. Those issues don’t have anything to do with it and can’t be used to defend the crime. When talking about any other offences, like say if your car gets stolen, people don’t ask how you were dressed, what you were doing yesterday or if you are a bad driver, because that has nothing to do with the crime committed. By placing emphasis on how ridiculous it is to justify rape by blaming the victim we wanted to bring the reality out to the public and try to change the view.
/// How exactly do you do that?
– We have handed out badges and Frisbees and sold t-shirts with our logo on them in front of liquor stores and the public transportation stops like BSÍ and Reykjavík Airport. In the meantime we use the opportunity to talk to the men we meet and discuss these matters, which we find is the most important part. If we can get men of all ages to talk together and try to delete these stereotyped ideas from the public awareness we hope people realise how wrong these claims are.
/// This year you will not only be based in the city, but also go to Þjóðhátíð in the Westman Islands.
– Yes, we will go to the Westman Islands, hand out badges and make conversation like before. We chose to go during Verslunarmannahelgin because at that time, a lot of people come together for the outdoor festivals held all around the country and it is a sad fact that many assaults happen at that time. It will be my first time in the Westman Islands during the festival, but I remember when I lived in Denmark I went to the Roskilde festival a couple of times where 100,000 people were camping together to enjoy the outdoor concerts. One time, there was a reported rape and the Danish society went crazy. In the media there were even talks about cancelling the festival the year after.
The attitude in Iceland is totally different. The same summer I went to Iceland and after Verslunarmannahelgin the discussion in the media was that unusually few rapes had occurred, as only two or three were reported after the weekend. That is so typical of how the society accepts this issue. This we want to change. Unfortunately, we can’t visit all the festivals this time, but by going to the Westman Islands, which is the biggest outdoor festival of them all, we will try to make the men attending the festival aware of the issue.
/// How effective do you think campaigns like these are in reality?
– Well, we don’t think we can stop rapes from happening altogether, but we know these campaigns have been quite successful in changing the attitude towards the victim. Publicity campaigns like ours have to be done over and over again though because studies have shown they only work for a short period of time. The public has to be reminded on a regular basis, and we will try to do our best in doing so in the future.
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