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Queer Women Creating Consent Culture

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The rate of violent victimization is 2.5 times higher for Canadians who identify as gay or lesbian, as opposed to those who identify as straight. For those who identify as bisexual, it's four times higher, according to Statistics Canada.

While there's been increased media attention to stories of sexual violence recently, queer women's stories are often left out of the picture.

We spoke with Kim Katrin Milan to learn more about media coverage of sexual violence against queer women and creating consent culture.

A daughter of the diaspora, Afro Caribbean, Venezuelan Arawak, Indian and Scottish, hailing from Trinidad and living between Toronto & New York. Kim Katrin Milan is an award-winning internationally acclaimed educator, writer & artist.

Interviewer: What conversations have you heard in your community about media reporting on sexual assault and rape?

Kim:"Corporate media versus social media have very different stakeholders and goals in terms of the kind of reporting that they're doing... I think it's something like 97 per cent of corporate media is controlled by white men. So that really means that is who is controlling the images and representations and the political conversation about women and about sexual violence. There is definitely a lot of victim blaming that comes out of those spaces. But out of social media, the people who I follow are actually incredible supportive."

"I have seen a lot of amazing initiatives and... solid tools and resources being developed for survivors of sexual assault. I, myself, co-admin a blog for women of colour survivors of sexual violence. That really brings together thousands and thousands of women to receive different resources and to get a lot of support in an environment that's not triggering. So I think it really depends on where you look."

"As a woman of colour... I'm told that I'm supposed to say 'yes' all the time. When a man approaches me, even when I don't want to speak to him, I'm supposed to be nice to him. When a stranger comes up to me on the plane and tells I should smile more, I'm supposed to smile... Recognize that our culture predisposes women to having to say 'yes' and to having to give our 'yeses' even when we don't want to. It's really important that we make this space for people to say 'no.'"

Interviewer: What are the challenges you have seen in mainstream media reporting on sexual violence and rape enacted against queer women?

Kim: "A couple of years ago they started reporting on 'corrective rapes' happening in South Africa where queer and lesbian women were being targeted by mobs who wanted to, through this violent act, somehow 'make everyone straight.' I know personally, two queer women in my life who were violently raped for that exact reason: specifically to punish them for their queerness and to somehow bring them to the 'other side.' And I've never seen any corporate media report on that kind of violence with the sensitivity and the respect that it deserves."

"When someone is using 'corrective rape' as a rape, when someone is yelling out things like 'dyke' and 'faggot,' that makes this a hate crime and... [yet] we see corporate media's reticence to actually name those things as they are."

Interviewer: Often survivors are portrayed as white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied women. How can the media avoid minimizing stories about sexual violence against queer women?

Kim: "The primary way would be actually to have queer women working in newsrooms... One of the most important ways to transform this is by hiring media directors and news directors that are black and of colour and are Native and are queer and are trans. If we don't see a difference in the people who are producing the media then we are not going to see a difference in the quality of that media and the bias. Everybody is subjective."

"Queer women have to be actively involved in producing their own media. That... is why I look towards social media. And I'm not actually looking towards corporate media to better reflect my stories."

Interviewer: Statistics show most survivors don't report. Why is it important to have diverse representations of survivorship in media reporting?

Kim: "In the experiences of sexual violence that I've had, when I reported on them, they were not dealt with in ways that held anybody accountable... The process of telling and disclosing does not often lead to anything meaningful or supportive for the survivor. I give any individual much respect and support in whatever way they decide... to heal. Some people really want to take a lot of time and go to therapy. And some people really need the support of their friends and family. And some people find those resources through helplines. But I have never found meaningful support offered through victim services, the police system, or the justice system. I think that the reason why people are choosing not to report is because the system is failing patently in many different ways."

Interviewer: There has been a swell in media coverage of rape culture in recent months. What conversations are you glad to see happening, and what do we still need to address?

Kim: "I'm glad to see the beginning of some discourses that say, as opposed to, 'don't get raped' - 'don't rape'... Really pushing that discourse further and making sure we recognize that, if men are getting raped, and women are getting raped, and children are getting raped, then we have to stop this idea of saying it has anything to do with what people were wearing or what they were doing or what they were drinking."

"But again, we're not actually getting to hear the stories of women... [or] nuanced stories and experiences. We're barely getting to hear women speak on corporate media in meaningful ways about anything. So I think that there's still so much that needs to go."

This blog is part of a series of interviews femifesto is publishing on media reporting and sexual violence in diverse communities across Canada.

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