Enough is Enough.

Enough is enough. It is time we ended rape culture, once and for all. Rape cultures demonstrates the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes male sexual violence. It is frequently preached about via social media and when a case like this one comes to light, the amount of support from strangers is astonishing- yet we are still teaching our children not to be raped, instead of teaching them not to rape. Brock Turner’s father claims his son’s life is going to be ruined over “20 minutes of action”. This is not a typo. This is a direct quote.

–from the Huffington Post:  “Brock Turner is Reinforcing Rape Culture.”

This column by Jennifer G. Bird says everything I want to say. Enough already.

 

Rape Culture in YA Literature

Steady yourselves, I’m going to recommend an article in Glamour magazine.

But first I want to talk about Veronica Mars. You remember Veronica Mars right? A TV show a few years back, it featured Kristen Bell as a high school girl who helped solve cases that came in to her Dad’s detective agency. But what sucked me in right away was her backstory.

Veronica Mars was a popular girl who went to a party and was drugged & raped … and didn’t know by whom. When she went to  law enforcement she was ridiculed by the sheriff (“Why don’t you go see the Wizard. Ask for a little backbone.”) Her boyfriend broke up with her. She lost her “friends” overnight. I found that to be … well, realistic.

When the show opens, it is a year after that event. She has become a wise-cracking tough girl with no friends. A girl with PTSD who nevertheless handles her aftermath with grace and a taser.

Though that may not ring quite as true with many of us survivors, it is my fantasy of how I handled things 30 years ago. This was back in 1984. There was no background or training about rape other than from the plots of 1970’s cop shows. Opening: woman walks through dark parking lot. Footsteps. She looks back and quickens her steps.  The following steps quicken.  She fumbles for her keys and runs for her car door.  A man in a mask puts a gloved hand around her mouth.  Cut to commercial.   That was rape.

But someone forcing sex on you in his apartment?  That was just a thing that happened. Unless you were a pristine virgin attacked by an absolute stranger in front of witnesses, you didn’t go to the police. You put up with it. You didn’t question it. There was no talk about consent culture or rape culture. No one recognized acquaintance rape as “real rape” back then.

I talked to my roommate, who told me the same thing had happened to her and shrugged. I talked to my parents, who sympathized and urged me to stay in school. I talked to someone in the counseling office who talked about rites of passage and growing up. And I talked to a friend who said “Everyone’s first time sucks.” I don’t resent any of those people. We just didn’t know. It did not occur to anyone that this was rape, least of all me. (Also, tasers weren’t commercially available until after 1994, but I digress.)

If the books mentioned in the Glamour article below had been around, maybe one person would have believed me. If I had read these books, I’d have had the tools to acknowledge what had happened. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but I do wish I’d known enough to prosecute this guy.  I’m sure I’m not alone in that regret. Still today, 68% of rapes are not reported, and 98% of rapists won’t spend a single night in jail.

Over three decades we’ve changed a lot, and that’s worth celebrating.  A young* person raped in someone else’s apartment today may still be slut-shamed or told that they’re making too big a deal out of it, but there are advocates all over the internet.  Like RAINN.org, where a survivor can start getting the support and information they need.  Or No More.org, which gives friends and family members the strategies to be supportive. Or 1in6, specifically created for the estimated 17% of sexual assault victims who are men.  As the conversations about date rape and rape culture come up, and consent culture gains advocates, sexual assaults have gone down about 49% since 1993.

And here’s a great thing:  today’s young adults are getting more of an education about what rape culture is, through media. Glamour’s article on YA Literature makes that clear. And it is here:

http://www.glamour.com/story/ya-lits-hot-new-trend-fighting-rape-culture

It’s my hope that today’s young adults will recognize rape as rape when it happens to them or their friends. Certainly counselors and administrators and law enforcement have more information about it. But we still have a long way to go. Even as you read this some shell-shocked teenager is being questioned by someone they trust who will fail them by asking what they were wearing, if they were drinking and if they really thought it was rape. “It can’t be real rape — you’re a boy,” they will be told. Or, “you went to his apartment willingly.”

 Call to action: promote consent culture by having conversations with the young people in your lives…and buy someone a book that will help them recognize rape when it happens to someone around them.

Rabbit Hole: Rape Culture – Teens

From  Bustle’s “5 Prom Traditions That Perpetuate Rape Culture“:

Bustle’s article looks primarily at prom traditions supporting the idea that young women are targets for young teenage men (who are painted as sexual predators).  Problematic are traditions like insisting that young woman dress conservatively at prom (because they are objects and therefore responsible for inviting rape if they dress provocatively); and the traditional Dad-threatening-prom-date trope that makes only males responsible for the sexual safety of teenage young women.

askingforit
Cover of “Asking For It” by Louise O’Neill. Cover design by Kate Gaughran

According to one Kaiser Family Foundation study, one-third of boys and 23 percent of girls ages 15-17 feel pressure to have sex, and prom can exacerbate this. After-prom parties are often considered an opportunity for high schoolers to reach sexual milestones. This can lead students both to feel internal pressure and to put pressure on one another.

From  Psychology Today’s “Peer Pressure and Teen Sex“:

One in three boys ages 15-17 say they feel pressure to have sex,
often from male friends. Teen girls feel less pressure–only 23 percent
said they felt such coercion. Researchers questioned 1,854 subjects
between the ages of 13 and 24 in a national survey.

The study, released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, also found
that teens feel strong pressure to drink and try drugs. The study
findings show a need for sex education at a young age, say the study
authors.

From the SEICUS Fact Sheet in support of the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act:

The availability and quality of sexual health information and sexuality education varies drastically across the country. Less than half of all high schools and only 20% of middle schools in the U.S. provide all 16 of the CDC-identified topics critical to ensuring sexual health. (CDC) In addition, many young people face systemic barriers to accessing health information and services, resulting in persistent inequity and disparities. (CDC)

The data on disparities and disproportionate burden on young people continue to highlight the need for additional resources to serve young people most in need of sexual health education.

  • HIV infection rates are increasing among young people, particularly among young men who have sex with men (CDC) – young people under the age of 25 account for 1 in 5 new HIV infections. (CDC)
  • Half of the nearly 20 million estimated new STIs each year in the U.S. occur among people ages 15–24. (CDC)
  • Despite historically low unintended teen pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S., the country continues to have the highest rate of teen births among comparable countries. (UNICEF)
  • A devastating 10% of high school students report experiencing partner violence and/or sexual violence. (CDC)

Note: the CDC figure looks only at partner violence and sexual violence.  In terms of sexual assault of teens in general, the American Psychological Association reported in 2014 that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls report having been sexually assaulted by age 18. (1)

  1. “Child Sexual Abuse: What Parents Should Know,” American Psychological Association. (http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx) (February 19, 2014)

 

 

 

 

Tea & Consent

I ran into this video awhile ago and it’s stuck in my mind. It’s the perfect video for explaining consent to someone who just. doesn’t. get it.  If that sounds like someone you know, see if you can share this video with them, and then find out what they think. It could be a life-changing conversation.

Rape Culture Watch: No Need for Most Rape Kits

Sheriff Craig Rowland of the Bingham County Sheriff’s Department in Idaho is in hot water this week after stating in a local press interview that there is no need for a state-mandated schedule of rape kit testing.  His reason? “Most of our rapes that are called in are actually consensual sex.”

Rowland cited the example of a hypothetical 17-year-old who lied to her parents and told them she’d been raped to avoid getting into trouble for having sex, an example so common among the Blame-the-Victim crowd it is almost cliche.

Rowland’s statement (which he later apologized for on Facebook) was in response to a bill introduced by Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D) that mandates the testing of all rape kits collected, requires that the rape kits be tested in a timely manner, and sets up notification of rape survivors about where their kit is in the process.

In 2015, consortium of journalists from 75 news outlets conducted a thorough inventory of untested rape kits in the nation. They found the numbers of kits that had not been sent on for testing topped 70,000 from the first 1,000 of more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country.

According to End the Backlog, a website dedicated to moving these tests along and advocating for rape survivors, many states are now moving to enact legislation that requires testing of these kits. If the Idaho governor signs the legislature-approved bill into law, Idaho will join Colorado, Illinois, Ohio and Texas in having policies to address the backlog of rape kits, an effort Sheriff Rowland indicated would get in the way of law enforcement doing their jobs.

As for Sheriff Rowland’s hypothetical example? The Centers for Disease Control report that 10.5% of girls and 4.2% of boys report having forced sexual intercourse (aka rape) in high school. Maybe not so hypothetical after all.

For more information on ending the backlog, see http://endthebacklog.org/

 

References:
http://theslot.jezebel.com/idaho-sheriff-no-need-for-rape-kits-since-most-rape-a-1765213100
http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/03/rape_kit_system_unnecessary_si.html
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/idaho-sheriff-rape-victims-lie-assaults-article-1.2566191a
http://endthebacklog.org/ending-backlog-government-responses/state-responses
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/high-schools-sexual-assault-investigations_us_56e05a06e4b065e2e3d45f6f

Don’t Say Maybe When You Mean NO

Forever 21 pulled this t-shirt from their shelves this week after criticism on social media that the message supports rape culture:

forever21

Called “jaw-droppingly repulsive” by twitter user @Steph Dale and “very rapey” by Cosmopolitan, the shirt stirred up instant controversy.  Forever 21 responded by pulling the shirt and deleting it from their website, apologizing to “anyone who was offended by the product”.

I read it differently.  In many cultures, women and men are both socialized to say “maybe” or “later” when we mean “no”.  Nice people don’t say no.  Nice people let other people down easy, or do whatever they have to do to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, at least directly.

Yes, people engaging in sex absolutely have the responsibility to gain the consent of the other person/people involved.  Yes, consent should be wholehearted and enthusiastic. Whether you’re asking someone if you can give them a hug or spank them while they’re wearing a duck suit, anything less than an enthusiastic “yes!” should not only give you pause, but should be a warning sign that maybe you don’t want to engage in behavior with this particular individual, because they are not clear on what they want or don’t want.

But as a sexually active individual, it is my responsibility to develop and make clear my boundaries.  “Maybe” doesn’t cut it, unless I follow up with a list of conditions that would make it a yes.  “Later?” isn’t enough of an answer.  “I don’t know” isn’t clear enough.

“No.” “No thank you.” “I like you, but no.” “No, but you might approach so & so (who happens to love being spanked while wearing a duck suit)”.  These should be the phrases and sentences we train ourselves to say.  As a sexually active being, even as a submissive, even as a masochist, I don’t ever get the option of abdicating responsibility for my own safety AND enjoyment.

Frankly, I’d wear this t-shirt and welcome the dialogue that I might encounter.

Upshot: don’t ever take a maybe for a yes.  And don’t say maybe when you mean no. And for all of us, let’s build a culture in which consent is clear and “no” is a socially acceptable and common answer.

 

Sources:

Today: Forever 21 apologizes for ‘don’t say maybe’ t-shirt after social media backlash

Huffington Post: Forever 21 Removes Creepy Graphic Tee From Its Website