[I have been struggling with this post for the better part of two weeks now. Boyfriend Observer has been suggesting I do an outline, but the problem with this particular topic is that I have so many things to say that I do not really know what the overall point is that I want to make other than “things are screwed up bad.” There will be more posts on this topic, likely with a good amount of time between for me to recover from reading statistics and feeling angry and depressed with the world, my culture, and the politics surrounding things as basic as definitions.]
I want to reach through the internet – through the entire world – and grab every man and woman who asks, “ok, but is it really rape if…” by the shoulders and scream, “YES IT IS RAPE!” It’s sort of like racism in that, if you have to ask, the answer will be yes.
First, I think we have to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions, so let’s start with those.
A) How many of your female friends have been raped or sexually assaulted?
If the answer is none, then your friends are better at hiding emotional (and possibly physical) scars than you think. Statistically speaking, 1 in 5 or 6 (~17-20%) (US) women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes, likely before reaching the age of 30. Almost half before they are even considered a legal adult.(* †)(Sources will be listed at the end)
B) How many of your male friends have been raped or sexually assaulted?
RAINN estimates that approximately 1 in 33 (US) men are raped in their lifetimes, with a third of those before the age of legal adulthood.(†) (Though it is possible these numbers could be much higher and more similar to those of women due to the all-too-common misconception that if the victim doesn’t have a vagina, he can’t be raped)
Imagine this. For a woman, rape is such a common fear that it is no longer a question of “If I get raped…” rather than a question of when.
When I get raped…
…will I be able to fight back?
…will I think clearly enough to scratch my attacker to get DNA evidence?
…if I can’t fight, will I be able to scream?
…if I scream, will anyone be near enough and willing to help me?
…will I walk away from it with my sanity?
…will I walk away from it with my life?
…will the police believe me?
Ever Mainard has a brilliant bit in which she shows that when (some) women feel they are in a potentially harmful situation that may lead to her rape, the response is one of depressed resignation rather than pure anger or simple fear.(§) Near-petrification sets in because what’s the point of any other response? It was bound to happen sooner or later, right?
Second, we have to ask ourselves some more uncomfortable questions.
A) Have we met our friends’ rapists?
Truth is, “Stranger Danger” is more myth than not. A person is far likelier to be sexually violated by someone she knows than by a stranger. Nearly 3/4ths of sexual assaults were committed by someone known to the victim.† On top of this, the case is far too common that the victim cannot get away from the attacker. Because it’s the father and no one believed her. Because it’s the minister and no one believed him. Because it’s dad’s friend, and he said that if she told, her family would be murdered. Because it’s the aunt and “that was so long ago, can’t he just let the past stay in the past?” Because that’s her ex-boyfriend, she must be making it up because she’s just bitter.
B) Do we ourselves know what constitutes rape?
We all know rape is bad, mmk? But what makes a rape a rape? Is any one rape more legitimate than another? According to the FBI, rape is “[Oral/vaginal/or anal] penetration…without consent of the victim.” (‡) The broader definition, however, (which takes out a good chunk of the implied sexism) will be used here, which is “ANY act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.” (ø)
Ok, good, you know the definition of rape. But what about that word ‘consent’? This seems to be where a LOT of people get tripped up. You know that a child cannot legally give consent. Good on you. Perhaps you also know that someone with the mental capacity of a child also cannot give consent. Bravo. On consent, wikipedia says this: “Impairments to reasoning and judgment…include such factors as…intoxication.” (±) This means that when a person is intoxicated, they cannot give consent. So when a guy says, “Dude, she was so drunk, she was up for anything…” or a girl says, “He wasn’t really interested, so I got him another drink and took him to bed…” THAT. IS. RAPE.
“But of course that’s rape,” you say. Who wouldn’t know that, right?
Except that 1 in 12 college men in a survey “admitted to committing acts that met the legal definition of rape, and 84% of [those] did not label it as rape.” (δ) Eighty. Four. Percent. Eighty-four percent of the men who admitted to having raped a girl did not realize that what they had done constituted rape.
Here’s another staggering statistic:
43% of college-aged men admitted to using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman’s protest, using physical aggression, and forcing intercourse. (δ)
Almost HALF of these young men (note it is NOT 43% of the 1 in 12, but of the whole) admitted that they used some form of coercion – up to and including physical aggression and outright ignoring pleas of “no”.
The problem is not a simple matter of the victim not saying no, or not saying it clearly/loudly/forcefully/persuasively enough.
Nor is the problem so simply resolved by saying, “Instead of telling women ‘Don’t get raped,’ tell men ‘Don’t rape.'” (Especially since men aren’t the only perpetrators of sexual crimes.)
While telling youth “Don’t Rape, Period” is a start, we also need to make sure they even know what rape IS. And that it can happen to anyone regardless of attire (she wasn’t asking for it, no matter what you think of her outfit), class (rich people are not immune to violent assaults on their bodies), race (rape is about power and dominating the victim), sex (men can be raped), or orientation (fact: some people in the lgbt community have been told by their attackers that they will “fuck them straight”). And it can be committed by anyone. Women and men alike can be rapists.
We need to teach our kids that coercion of any sort is unacceptable. That “you’re my boyfriend, you have to” is rape. That “I spent all this money on you, you owe me” is rape. That “but you said yes earlier” IS RAPE.
Telling our children to accept nothing less than enthusiastic consent is a start. We also need to teach them how to look out for warning signs disguised as jokes that a new acquaintance or old friend may be a predator. And we absolutely need to teach them not to dismiss cries of rape because “I know that person, and he wouldn’t do that” because the truth of it is – you never do know until it’s too late.
The good news is there are survivors, and many are using their voices to let others know that they are not alone. That it is not their fault.
Project Unbreakable has made great strides in giving voices to both men and women all around the world to proudly proclaim that they are survivors. These survivors write out things told to them during their attack. And they showcase how endemic rape culture is because not all of the quotes on the site are from attackers. Some are from the victims’ own families, telling the victim outright that they are lying, that it didn’t really happen. Some are from (ex)lovers who belittle them by saying maybe they deserved it. At first glance, the material is depressing, but these are voices of real people that have overcome innumerable demons reaching out to help others. To shed light on the kind of of psychological damage that not only the attacker(s) inflict on their target but that society inflicts upon the innocent person in an awful situation.
It is truly a wonderful project that can be found here: http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/
* 50 Actual Facts About Rape: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/50-facts-rape_b_2019338.html
† RAINN statistics (includes helplines): http://www.rainn.org/statistics
§ Ever Mainard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29ArdxWYBGQ
‡ FBI definition of rape: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/cjis-link/march-2012/ucr-program-changes-definition-of-rape
ø Rape definition: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rape?s=t
± Definition of Informed Consent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informed_consent
δ Societal Attitudes Supporting Rape: http://www.uic.edu/depts/owa/sa_rape_support.html