Working as a Rape Crisis Advocate can be frustrating at times. It’s hard to listen to so many heart wrenching stories, before jumping right back into my daily life, pretending like nothing is wrong because confidentiality regulations and basic respect for the people I speak with ensure that I cannot discuss the nature of my calls with anyone. It’s so hard to sit here, day after day, wanting so badly to tell people what I know so that they can be educated about what rape really does to people. Still, I do it, because in this situation my silence is important.
Sometimes I wish there was a way to get rapists, rape apologists, those who make rape jokes… everyone, really, to listen to the stories of survivors so that they could see just how much damage rape can do. If people knew how sexual assault really feels, how it often robs people of their power, makes them feel like strangers to their own bodies, causes nightmares and flashbacks, leaves the survivor feeling alone and powerless, even guilty… if they knew all of that how could they still rape? How could they still make jokes about rape?
I will never share someone else’s story, but what I can do is break my own silence.
I’m a survivor of sexual assault. What happened to me was no where near as traumatizing as what many people go through, but still, it hurt. It took me over a year to stop blaming myself for what happened, and even longer than that before I started to feel safe again. To this day I still get anxious when I am alone with people I don’t know too well, especially men, but I survived. I will never be quite the same person as I was before my assault, but I survived.
I survived and it hasn’t been all bad, because from my own pain I have gained knowledge. I have gone from being ignorant to the struggle faced by survivors of rape, to being an advocate who makes a difference in other people’s lives. Now, every time I hear someone make a joke about sexual assault; every time someone tries to tell me a survivor ‘deserved it’ or somehow brought it upon themselves… it draws the memories of that pain back up, it hurts me all over again. All too often I hold my hurt and anger back, and let it out later in the safety of my supportive friends, because I know if I speak up I’ll most likely be met with something like, “Lighten up, it was just a joke. I would NEVER actually hurt someone.”
They never seem to realize that they did hurt someone, that their words are powerful enough to bring me to my knees… and at the same time, those very same words can embolden a possible rapist. I mean, think about it: if you hear enough jokes about rape, enough victim-blaming comments, you’re bound to start thinking of rape as something that’s not so bad, something that a woman can ‘deserve’, if not an outright punchline.
Worse than the openly disrespectful jokes and comments, are the seemingly benign societal norms that tell us men are programmed to always want sex, while women are supposed to be coy and say no (but usually they mean yes) because women don’t really like sex all that much, they just have it to please men. These two socially constructed myths encourage rape by leading men to feel entitled to sex, and leading society to shrug rapes off as just ‘boys being boys’ while simultaneously assuming that the victim secretly ‘wanted it’ because if she didn’t she would have ‘said no louder.’ Sure, we tend to be more sympathetic to the people who are attacked by strangers, but far more rapes occur between acquaintances. In fact about 73% of rape victims know their rapists; be it a close friend, or someone they met just a few minutes ago.
These people are often accused of asking for it or ‘leading their attacker on.’ Its worse than that though because, often even those survivors who are attacked at random by total strangers are made to feel complicit in their own assaults with comments like “the survivor was wearing the wrong thing” or “shouldn’t have been out at that time of night/in that area.” This is screwed up and it needs to stop. It stands to reason that if we fight these stereotypes, we can change the way people view sex and consent and, thus, make a step towards eradicating rape.
These norms also cause us to take rape that occurs between same-sex people, or rape that is perpetrated on men, less seriously (if we even acknowledge it at all) because of the assumption that men can’t be raped (because they always want sex, of course) and that women could never be rapists (because women don’t really like sex, remember?)
What life would be like if women lived in a way that “keeps them safe” from being raped.
Again, I say, no more.
Even worse, we live in a society that encourages men to ‘pick up’ women and ‘convince’ them to have sex by making false promises, guilt tripping, or using alcohol as a means of ‘loosening them up.’ This leads to more and more women being assaulted, and then told that they somehow deserved their assault because they consented. Even though the legal definition of consent makes it clear that a person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot consent. Surely there are situations where both parties are drunk and neither party is trying to manipulate the other. However, its impossible to tell those situations apart from the ones where a rapist purposefully and strategically uses alcohol (or something stronger) to impair another person’s judgment and rape them. Most of the times those people, like almost all rapists, go free.
Let me make this very clear: what I wear is not consent for you to have sex with me, just like what I drink is not consent, where I am is not consent, the time of night is not consent, how I smile is not consent, the way I move my hips is not consent. Making out is not consent to go any further, neither is anything else… even if we are having sex I reserve the right to stop at any moment for any reason because it is my body you are messing with here. There is no compromise here, this is how things are and as long as people respect these rules there will be no rape because at the end of the day nothing causes rape (nothing a survivor does, says, wears, etc.) except for the presence of a rapist.
When we talk about rape prevention we should not be teaching strategies for women to avoid these deceptions and then men who utilize them; what we really need to do is talk about preventing rapists from raping, rather than preventing women from being ‘vulnerable.’ By educating people on consent, and what constitutes rape and by strongly discouraging the use of alcohol, dishonesty, and manipulation to “pick up” women we will be moving towards a society that judges the rapist, not the survivor. Thus is the only real way of cutting down on the number of rapes that occur, while also ensuring that more rapes will be reported and convicted. Its time to start calling rapists, rather than their victims, out because that’s how we’re going to really end rape. [Here’s a REAL rape prevention guide.]
Once more, I say no more.
No more staying silent when someone empowers rapists, and disempowers survivors, by making a rape joke.
No more holding my tongue when people engage in victim blaming.
No more passively allowing the myths that our society promotes about sexuality and consent to continue.
I will speak up.
I will tell my story.
I will explain how the jokes that people casually make contribute to a society where countless people are attacked, without consequence, each and every day.
I will own my sexuality, own my body, and make sure that the people I interact with know how consent works and know how important it is.
I may never be the same person I was before my assault, but I can accept that and use it as motivation to ensure that fewer people have their power, their sense of self, stolen from them.
Here are some stories from rape and sexual assault survivors. The websites below are part of what inspires me to speak out agains sexual assault:
ETA: I don’t have the stomach to write a post around this news story but I wanted to include it here because I feel it fits, and it characterizes the callousness that we, as a society, have developed regarding sexual assault. This blog post also fits in. Its HORRIFYING how callous our news organizations and even police forces can be regarding rape, and I’m convinced that it’s all tangled up in from the way we joke about rape and belittle it in everyday conversation. [Major trigger warning on those two links]