Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Define. Understand. Acknowledge. Act.

I warned you. This first post of a serious nature is a difficult one. You can't get much more serious than the subject of rape. It's not easy to talk about, but I feel strongly impressed to shed some light on the subject. This also serves as a trigger warning, should anyone tragically be a victim of rape or sexual assault. Read on at your own discretion.

I have read about, heard about, and been a part of many discussions involving rape culture in the past few months and with each instance, I learn so much more. Things that I never thought about or had occurred to me. So I thought, maybe I'm not alone. Maybe if I share what I've learned, others could be informed and we could start to make a difference. Maybe we could put a stop to rape culture. So, here are some terms and definitions as *I* understand them. Here we go. 

Rape Culture:

Rape culture creates an environment where it's okay to rape. I know what you're thinking! "I would NEVER be a part of that!" And maybe you're right. I hope so. But in too many cases, people do so without even realizing it. Here is an excellent blog post on the subject of rape culture from one of my favorite authors, Shannon Hale. Definitely worth a read. The next few terms will break it down a little more. Hopefully make it more clear how rape culture even occurs. 

Victim Blaming/Shaming:

If you heard about a girl in the news who was raped or sexually assaulted, what would be your first thoughts? Were they "Was she drinking?" or "What was she wearing?" or how about "Did she fight back?" ? If so, then you are contributing to rape culture. Any time when the victim is blamed because she wore a short skirt or had a little too much to drink, it becomes just a little bit easier for the rapist to get away with it. The more a girl is told that it was "her fault", the less likely it is that she will report it. And the person actually to blame gets off scott-free. And free to do it again. 

A lot of the information I gathered about rape culture, I have learned from the Steubenville, Ohio case that came to light last year. I'll be honest, I didn't know too much about the horrific ordeal that occurred last summer until the verdict came through in March. If you are not well aware, at an end-of-year high school party in June 2012, a young girl was raped and assaulted repeatedly at multiple parties by 2 high school football players after she passed out from drinking too much. And if that wasn't bad enough, the boys and other party goers took pictures and videos of the attacks and posted them on social media sites. The victim, still known as "Jane Doe", didn't even remember what had happened to her until she saw the videos and pictures. Her parents got involved and then the police were made aware. And you know what? The rapists didn't even think it was a problem until they found out their football coach wasn't going to be able to "sweep it under the rug". The whole town was under the influence of what I would call The Glorification of High School Athletes. It's a tight-knit, small town community that had a tendency to look the other way when it came to parties and underage drinking because of their "talent" at football. Reportedly, there were multiple parties that the victim was dragged to, literally, as seen in pictures, and we are supposed to believe that NONE of the parents or neighbors or police officers knew anything about these parties? Exactly. And even after the fact, the authorities had to bring in outside officials so there would be a fair trial. No one in that town wanted to send those two boys to prison for rape, despite the irrefutable evidence even supplied by THEMSELVES and their friends on social media websites. Also, texts from the boys to the victim asking her not to come forward and blaming her for their getting kicked off the football team. It's all just completely disgusting. 

But in the midst of all this, you know what happened? The victim was called a slut and a whore, she received horrible messages from people who actually knew who she was, even death threats. Does that seem fair to you? And she's not alone. There was a girl in Nova Scotia, Canada, who was threatened and taunted by her attackers and classmates after a photo of her rape was sent around the web. She was pushed so far, that she finally committed suicide. And guess what: her attackers have not been prosecuted. This is the kind of stuff that gives clear evidence that evil is real and present in this world. It all makes me physically sick. 

Let me state this once again: the more rape victim is blamed, the less likely she is to report it and get the help she needs. Put the blame where it belongs: on the rapist. 


"No means no." We've all heard that phrase. It's still true. If a girl says no, that should be the end of it. But apparently, that's not enough anymore. So, let's be more specific: "No means no. Also, the inability to say no because a person is unconscious or too inebriated DOES NOT MEAN YES." I truly wish that didn't need to be pointed out, but clearly, it does. Another  blog post from Shannon Hale on the subject of consent really hit the nail on the head. The best way to know for sure if the person you are hoping to be intimate with is to get an ENTHUSIASTIC YES. I like that. I mean, would you really want to have the most physical connection with someone who didn't even want to be with you? I personally wouldn't think so. And this quote from Shannon's blog said it best:

What are we worried about here? Yes is such a wonderful word! Don’t we want to hear that from our partner? Yes! Yes please. Don’t we want to be sure that our partner is as excited and willing as we are? Don’t we want there to be no doubt? Just imagine a world where all those entitled high school football players had parents who taught them "Consent is an enthusiastic, unequivocal yes." Imagine those frat boys one commentor mentioned, sitting on their porch chanting about raping women--if they instead had been repeatedly and lovingly taught that "Consent is an enthusiastic, unequivocal yes." Wouldn't everyone be better off embracing this ideal? Why fight this brilliant idea when there are so many more important things to fight? Like, say, rape?

john doe asks, “What if the two parties disagree on what it was?...do you need to get consent in writing now?”
Yes, do that. If you have to ask, then yes, yes, yes. Sounds like you’re walking a line, and one that can be horrifically devastatingly life changing and even life ending for many a victim. If you’re not sure if she’s consenting, then ask her to sign a consent form, a napkin, your belly--whatever. And then her consent (or non-consent) will be perfectly clear. You’ll protect yourself as well as your partner. Do that. Please.


YES. GET IT IN WRITING. Make it clear. No doubts. Err on the side of caution. Those who say that Jane Doe wasn't raped because she couldn't say no? You will one day have to explain yourself. And it won't be pretty. 

Lack of Education:

I grew up in a conservative, religious household. I was taught to respect my body and that no one had the right to touch me without my say-so. We even had the sing-along tapes called "The Safety Kids". I remember the lyrics to one in particular that I remember: "Stay outside of my line or I'll tell on you. There are some things that are mine alone." That's all I can remember right now, but it stuck with me. And there was, of course, the rather awkward Maturation Program in 5th grade which, honestly, I don't remember a whole lot about. I took health class in junior high, I think, and then again in high school. I remember learning the physical anatomy and protection. STDs. Probably something along the lines of "No means no." but barely more. Along with other stuff, like nutrition and exercise. 

The subject of sex was only a week or two long in the semester, I think. I live in a conservative state where basically, abstinence is taught. Period. So, we pretty much learned about our bodies, that we need to be careful, use protection, and wait for marriage. I'm not disputing that. I grew up that way and made it a decision of my own somewhere along the way, but not everyone had my upbringing. Not everyone is going to wait until they are emotionally prepared for sex and mature enough to handle the consequences. So what about them? They just forge ahead uneducated and hope for the best? What if it's forced upon you? What then? All you've been taught is that you shouldn't until you're married. Does that mean you've done something wrong? That you are now "damaged goods"? NO. You are not. 

Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted from her home at the age of 14 and sexually abuse for months on end, spoke of this subject not long ago. During a speech at Johns Hopkins, she explained why she didn't run away when so many thought she could have: she felt worthless and unwanted. Growing up in a home much like mine, she thought maybe her family wouldn't love her the same or want her back after what she had been through. One of her teachers even made the comparison that after sex you are a "piece of gum already chewed...who's going to want you after that?" She felt like she had no worth. Horrible. 

In light of that, I believe there needs to be a change. If not possible in school, then in our own homes. Lets talk about consent, and NOT JUST FOR THE GIRLS. The boys need to hear ALL of the information as well. Consent. Respect. The emotions involved. Consequences. Open dialogue. Sex can't just be this embarrassing, unspoken thing. It needs to be a conversation. Be open to questions.  

I asked my mom if I ever got "the talk" when I was younger, because I honestly didn't remember. She says I did at around 11 and was sad I didn't recall. I was probably embarrassed and cut the conversation early. I wish I would have been more willing to listen, because I know a lot of what I have learned about sex was NOT from my parents. More like tv, movies, books, overheard conversation at school, and the like. Not the best way to learn. Let's make sure the correct information is out there. 

Those teenagers in Steubenville who claim they didn't know what they witnessed that Summer night was wrong were CLEARLY not getting the right information. Or they were too afraid to say anything negative about or to these supposed football stars. As terrible as the situation is, I hope it opens the eyes and ears of those who haven't been informed. If they witness the violation of ANYONE, no matter what they've heard about him or her, what they had to drink, or anything, it's time to SPEAK UP. Speak for the victim, if they can't. If it doesn't look right or feel right, it probably is NOT right. Err on the side of caution. Speak up. 

What it means for men:

If we *were* to believe that women who have indeed been drinking, wear short skirts or low-cut tops, or have even been walking down a dark alley; all of these things that as women we are taught that we should "avoid" to not become a victim....what does that say about the men? If we are in one or even all of the situations listed above, then we're "asking for it" and any male person within the vicinity has no choice but to take advantage? Do men have no self control or respect toward women that if we are in a certain state, they have no choice? It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? I know PLENTY of good, decent, respectful men who would stand up for woman in need of help and do the right thing. So why are women continually told to cover up, don't drink too much, take self-defense classes and be aware of our surroundings? Are the men told to respect women, be a gentleman, and, I don't know, NOT RAPE??!? Seriously. If the blame is on the woman, the man is....blameless? She put herself in that situation so, really, there's nothing he could do BUT attack her. Disgusting.

Let's educate the boys. Drill it into their heads that girls are equals to be respected and protected, if need be. There are plenty of men who stand on our side and were taught right. Let's add more to that, shall we?

Some Good Progress:

There have been good advancements in getting to word out. In this article from Vancouver, they talk about a series of ads regarding sexual assault, encouraging men "Don't be that guy." The marketing tool has lowered sexual assaults by 10 percent. Can we get some of this in the United States? 

Get Help

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of rape, sexual assault, or harassment of any kind, go to http://www.rainn.org or call 1-800-656-HOPE. Call 24/7, completely confidential. Talk to someone. Get help. Start the healing. 

Well, this post has taken forever to right and I'm emotionally exhausted. If you have read all of this and stuck with me, thank you so much. I know it's not easy to read, and definitely wasn't easy to write. But no more silence. It's time to shine a light into the darkness. Knowledge is power. There's more to be added, I'm sure, and I may add to it in the future, but I hope this cleared things up to those confused and gave you something to think about. I hope you'll share and talk about this. Chances are, you know someone who has been affected by rape or sexual assault. Even if you don't know it. Add your voice. You never know who could be listening and needs so badly to hear it. 

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