Love is a beautiful thing. We all know this. Love can give us strength, confidence, happiness. For many people, being in a relationship with the person they love is one of the best things in their lives.
But sadly, relationships are also often places where power struggles occur. The person that is trusted most turns into something that mainly signifies pain. A relationship may start very happily, without anyone ever thinking that anything like this could happen to them. But it does. The process which takes place where a relationship goes from one point to the other may take a long time. Children might have been born. Jobs changed. Dependencies developed.
Violence in a relationship tends to develop slowly. It’s a testing of boundaries. Little by little these boundaries are pushed into a direction that makes the victim more and more uncomfortable. And it makes it increasingly difficult to speak up. By overstepping just a little bit every time it is hard to recognize at what point it is enough. Especially when it comes to sexual violence. When domestic violence manifests itself as physical violence, threats might be the gray area. But I guess everyone agrees that the boundaries have been crossed as soon as these threats turn into beatings.
It is more difficult with sexual violence. Sex is usually a part of a relationship. It is a very beautiful thing if it is consensual. But the way our society is built, a lot of women* still don’t feel they have a right to their own bodies. Rape within marriage has only been a crime in Switzerland since 1992 and only since 2004 it will be prosecuted without the victim having to file charges. So until the year I was born, there was a right to sex within a marriage. There was a right to the other person’s body. There was a right to a wife’s body.
I guess we all know that a lot of sex happens without explicit consent. We just basically assume that the other person wants this, too. And if you’re used to sleeping with someone, you might not speak up if you actually don’t want to in that moment. Maybe you don’t want to offend the other person. Or you’re scared of the consequences.
According to a recent study conducted by gfs.bern on behalf of Amnesty International only 7% of women who have experienced sexual intercourse without their consent were offended by a stranger. How many of these offences happened within relationships is not reported in this study, however a study by Maternité Triemli (first link) from 2004 says that 12,9% of women have experienced sexual violence from their partner or ex-partner in their lifetime. There is still this image of the evil rapist that sits behind a bush and waits for a random victim to pass who he then drags into the thicket to commit his offence there. But this is definitely not the way women* in Switzerland typically become victims of rape. It usually is their friend, an acquaintance or their partner.
A study [...] says that 12,9% of women have experienced sexual violence from their partner or ex-partner in their lifetime.
According to the Amnesty International study 12% of women in Switzerland have experienced sexual intercourse without their consent. 8% have said yes to sex because they were scared of the consequences, 7% have been forced to sexual intercourse through violence.
There exists no study for sexual violence against trans women and non-binary people in Switzerland. However a comparable study from the U.S. shows that 47% of trans women and non binary people have been sexually assaulted at some point in their life and 54% experienced some form of intimate partner violence.
It is also a question of who speaks up against offenders. According to the study conducted by gfs.bern, only every second woman talks about the rape with their friends or family. Only 11% of women who have been affected by sexual violence have reported the incident outside of their trusted circle of friends and family. Only 10% have reported the incident to the police and only 8% have filed criminal charges.
And even if women* speak up, the prosecution is often difficult, the police may not have sufficient knowledge of how to question victims or the victims may not be taken seriously. In 2016, 544 people have been accused of sexual assault, but only 177 have been sentenced. When it comes to rape, 495 have been accused and only 97 sentenced (In this case, it may be that the year of the complaint and the conviction do not coincide.) . One of the main reasons often cited for this is that only the victim and the offender know what really happened. Without witnesses, it is difficult to determine what really happened.
It is often difficult to speak up - I guess more so if you know the person. The victims might fear social stigmatisation or that no one believes them. I guess most women* have that male* friend where everyone accepts that he just touches his female* friends in ways they often don’t like it. I do have that friend. But the female* friends often don’t speak up. I did speak up once and this friend of mine became furious. It was very uncomfortable. When it comes to my experience with how men* deal with their male* friends behaving like that, I have experienced that they either don’t see it or don’t want to deal with it. And often, if you’re a female* friend of these guys, you’re expected to know how to deal with these situations. Because you know the guy, you know how he is. So what are you expected to do in this situation? Hit him? I guess most women* would rather these situations would not happen in the first place so they didn’t have to fight back. And even if they’re friends, there is still an offender and a victim in this situation.
What these situations have in common is that trust is exploited. Especially in relationships it is difficult for women* to get away from an abusive situation. If you became a couple at a very early age, your most important social contacts outside of your family might only be friends you have in common. So who do you speak to? Do you really want the people who are also friends with your partner to know how he treats you? It might be possible that stigmatisation becomes a problem or everyone thinks “I know that guy, he’s not capable of such things”. It also happens in a lot of relationships that the woman* is integrated in the man*’s circle of friends and not vice versa. He might feel uncomfortable around her friends, but it might not be the other way around. So she leaves her social environment that makes her feel secure. In case she wants to leave him, it happens in a lot of cases that women* fear being rejected by their old friends who they left for their partner’s.
What these situations have in common is that trust is exploited. Especially in relationships it is difficult for women* to get away from an abusive situation.
Motherhood also plays into this storyline. A recent report showed that in Switzerland, every 7th woman* loses her job after becoming a mother. This increases financial dependency, which makes women* more vulnerable. It is hard for them to leave if they are not able to support themselves financially. And also in Switzerland, every second woman* has been turned away from women*’s shelters in recent years because they’re full. One reason that keeps them full is that women* who have left their partners have difficulties finding places to live as single mothers.
Most women* probably think that violence within a relationship would not happen to them - they’re careful when it comes to the choice of their partner and they are probably part of a social group where it does not happen often. It is often presumed to only happen elsewhere. But since there is no limit to income or education when it comes to violence in intimate partner relationships, every woman* might fall victim of this. In Switzerland, according to the study by Maternité Triemli, only every fifth woman* has never been a victim of violence from a close person during her lifetime.
Most women* probably think that violence within a relationship would not happen to them - they’re careful when it comes to the choice of their partner and they are probably part of a social group where it does not happen often.
All these facts and stories I’ve just written about have preoccupied me deeply. The film #Female Pleasure by Barbara Miller has had quite an impact on me. I went to see the film twice in rather large groups, because it was amazing how it sparked discussions. In this film the activist Leyla Hussein once says “The amount of women* who fake their orgasm, oh my god, oh my, it’s like a choir around the world, like women* just „oh, oh, oh“, just like screaming, shouting, pretending they came, they can do it, but no, nothing happens“
This sentence really stuck with me. The idea of having a choir of women* faking their orgasm appealed to me. So I started working on a project which is a choir performance that is built around the idea of that sentence. A choir consisting of people who identify as women* that are/have been in heterosexual relationships which will be conducted by a man. This because a man* can hurt many women* without being prosecuted. He might be left by his current partner who does not file charges because of fear of stigmatisation and just go on to his next partner who he’ll treat the same.
I started researching the questions of fake orgasms and thought a lot about if they are a means of protection for women*, as not to hurt their partner’s feelings. With that thought I ended up doing a lot of research on the topic of sexual violence against women* in intimate partner relationships. Right now, it’s not clear anymore whether the choir will culminate in fake orgasms, but the idea of women* moaning remains.
The choir will not only be conducted by a man, but the music will also be written by a man. This is connected to the idea that our society teaches a lot of men* to believe that they know better what women* want than women* themselves. In this project, men were deliberately placed in the positions of power (the choir master and composer position) to reflect on the structures of society that we currently have present.
The women* in the choir should be of all ages and all backgrounds to reflect the fact that intimate partner violence happens everywhere. For me it is crucial to work closely with these women* to reflect the project with them.
If you are interested in becoming part of the choir or have feedback, please contact me: email@example.com
The rehearsals will take place in Zurich, the performances should be taking place all over Switzerland.