Interview with FORCE after their Action to Upset Rape Culture

Interview with FORCE after their Action to Upset Rape Culture

Photo at FORCE's and Luminous Intervention's Action to Upset Rape Culture on 10/21/2012. Photo By: Casey Lynn
Photo at FORCE's and Luminous Intervention's Action to Upset Rape Culture on 10/21/2012. Photo By: Casey Lynn

Last Sunday, October 21st, 2012, a group of activists comprised of the team FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture and the activist collective Luminous Intervention gathered at Capitol Hill for an action to both engage in the national discourse on rape and to  upset rape culture. This is an exclusive Indyreader  interview with Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle of FORCE. We'll let them describe the action and its purpose in their own words. To see our initial coverage of this action, please visit our article:Rape is Rape: An Action to Upset Rape Culture

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Indyreader (IR): So could you introduce yourselves and explain what happened tonight?

Hannah (H): I'm Hannah Brancato.

Rebecca (R): And I'm Rebecca Nagle.

H: And we're FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture. We're a duo of artists and activists that are doing a series of actions that call attention to the culture of rape. Tonight we were...

R: ...Projecting “RAPE IS RAPE” onto the Capitol building along with stories of survivors who've experienced sexual violence that falls outside of the narrow category of forcible rape, because we feel like in the national conversation about forcible rape and legitimate rape and all of the political debate that is going on in the election year, that the stories of survivors have been left out and are a necessary part of that conversation.

IR: What do you hope will change by projecting survivor stories?

H: Well we think that it's good that we are having a national conversation about rape, but that unfortunately survivors have continued to be silenced in that conversation. So we're hoping that more people feel confident and comfortable to come forward. And we're also hoping to use the momentum that already happened from that fact that people started to feel comfortable to speak up and say, “ya know, this isn't right, this doesn't parallel with my experience.” [We want to] use that momentum to get people actually talking about the specific situations. So we're talking about date rape, we're talking about marital rape, we're talking about incest, we're talking about men getting raped as well as women getting raped. It's a complicated conversation and the line is blurry, and we want to make sure that people are addressing that.

R: It goes deeper than election year politics. It's not just Republicans versus Democrats, and a couple politically incorrect statements that some of our politicians made. Those statements come from deep origins of what we think rape is in this country. And even though people recognize the legitimacy of things like date rape, forcible rape is the only public image, the only story that we're told of what rape is or what rape looks like. But it actually only accounts for 14% of rape, and so the other 86% of rape survivors, their stories are never told and are never heard.

H: And then of course we're using media and art to address this because we think that there's a lot of media imagery that perpetuates the things that Rebecca was just talking about. So the more media that's out there that's telling a different story, the better.

IR: Do you want to describe a little bit about the different mediums you use, both the projection and the other forms you utilize?

H: Sure. The first project that we did was an art show that was called FORCE: On the Culture of Rape. It was a collection of video works, mostly media by a variety of artists that addressed different parts of rape culture. One piece was about consent, another piece was about the way transgender people are represented in the media and the kind of violence that goes along with that. That art show was a way for us to have a dialogue with the art community in Baltimore about rape culture. Then more recently...

R: I dunno, maybe we shouldn't talk about that.

H: Yeah, we have something else coming up that's a little under cover.

R: It's a secret! [laughing]

H: We'll talk to you again about it after it happens...But it has to do with a corporation that we think perpetuates rape [culture] with their products.

IR: Why did you choose this particular location for the projection?

R: Well, the people who—we can count them. First there was 'forcible rape' that came from the “no taxpayers' money for abortion”—and that was Ryan and Akin's support of the bill. And then there was Akin's public statement about 'legitimate rape' and how in legitimate rape women don't get pregnant. And then most recently there was a Wisconsin Republican that said that some girls rape easy...And so all of these people who are making decisions about our laws, about our penal codes, about our laws around women's reproductive rights, are all working in this building and have views that we think need to be challenged. So we felt like it was a perfect backdrop, a perfect space for that conversation.

H: And we should also say, we're not just trying to point out the culture of rape, we're also pointing out that there has to be an alternative culture of consent thats being promoted. To be fair, there was a new definition of rape that was approved by the FBI this year, that focuses on consent and that includes men. Prior to that, the national definition of rape excluded men. That's really significant, but it's still up to states and individual law makers to uphold that and honor that.

R: The new definition came out of the Penn State case. When the FBI started to investigate the sex abuse case at Penn State, their definition of rape didn't cover those survivors because their definition of rape was only for women, and it was “the forcible carnal knowledge of a woman's body”. So they changed their definition of rape, which actually doesn't really change the way rapes get prosecuted. It just changes how the FBI reports rape. So it's actually up to individual states to change their laws. We think that the FBI's change in the definition of rape is a really good model that other lawmakers should follow.

IR: Do you know how Maryland prosecutes rapists?

H: I don't know a lot about that.

R: I don't know specifically about the penal code in Maryland.

H: That's a good question. [1]

R: Yeah, I was looking into it to try and see how—'cause basically the FBI's definition is awesome because it says without consent—that's how they define rape, is that without the person's consent. And I was trying to see how many states do that. And it's really hard to find that information actually; it's not out there, which is interesting.

H: Baltimore had a scandal in which rapes were being underreported because police officers were filing rapes as unfounded as a way to get rape statistics down, and there was an article in the Sun about that two years ago when we had the show FORCE: On the Culture of Rape. So there's the law, and there's these definitions, and there's how things are prosecuted. And then there's how things are actually happening and how the media's covering it and the way that the conversation is happening. So there's the lived experiences and then there's rape culture, and we're trying to tackle both. And we're not lawmakers, we're not policy makers. We're using the tools that we have as artists and activists and citizens to do what we can.

IR: Do you have any suggestions for other people on how to get involved in both fighting rape culture and promoting a culture of consent?

R: Practice consent. [laughing] I mean, it's a personal experience. If you're not familiar with what consent is, Google it, there's some awesome resources out there: consentissexy.org is one of them. And so just practice consent in all sexual interactions. And then I think as a culture we need a conversation. Rape is one of those things where it's a very silenced topic, and it's a very uncomfortable topic. So to support survivors and to change our culture, we need to just start having conversations about it...and having these conversations that make us uncomfortable.

H: Instead of asking, “was it clearly forcible,” asking, “was it consensual?” And again, that's where that definition is important, but in my opinion, it's equally as important because it affects the lived experiences of survivors how we're talking about it in the media. Instead of saying, “well she must have been asking for it,” because she was wearing that or because she was out at that hour, because she was drunk, or whatever the justification is...

R: A lot in our culture needs to change. When it comes to sexual violence in this very crazy way, like no other crime, the burden is put on the victim of a crime. So like, if my car gets robbed, it's not my fault that my car got robbed. But if I get sexually assaulted, well maybe-kind-of it's my fault and maybe I didn't really get sexually assaulted, maybe I was just accusing them. All of these things are put onto rape that are unfair. And so I think that the reason that consent is so important is because it takes all that burden of proof, and that burden of speculation, off of the survivor of rape and puts it onto the perpetrator. And it also takes the responsibility off. So as women it's not our job to not walk alone at night or carry a rape pistol, but its actually all people's jobs to practice consent, and to make sure that when they're interacting with someone sexually, that that person feels safe and feels comfortable with what's happening. And if you haven't checked in about that, then you need to.

IR: How do you feel about this action? How do you think it went?

H: It was a lot smoother than we thought it would be. We thought that we would get shut down more immediately. It was nice that we had a second to put all of the stories up and honor each one and get nice images of them so that we could share those with other people. I felt pretty good about it.

R: I think we were very nervous about the police.

H: And just being in a city that's not ours. Because I'm a part of Luminous Intervention and I'm a part of FORCE, and Luminous Intervention has done a lot of projections in Baltimore, but it's totally different in Baltimore. Although actually from what we experienced tonight, it's not that different.

R: Yeah, the police were very generous and very understanding, so we appreciate that they let us project for a while longer than what we thought we'd be able to, which is great, that we were able to get all of the stories up.

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1 State Rape Statutes ; Descriptions of MD Rape Statutes -- Summary: 1st Degree Rape defined as as forcible vaginal rape. 2nd Degree Rape: Forcible and/or without consent of an individual in vaginal intercourse.

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Interview and Audio by: Corey Reidy

Transcription by: Dan Staples