WARNING: This post may contain triggers related to sexual assault and rape.
Note: For the purposes of this post, I’m using “rape” as an umbrella term to cover all things sexual assault. I’m also focusing particularly on heterosexual sexual assault (say that three times fast). These are an attempt to generalize my discussion of rape/sexual assault and to hopefully make it so that I don’t have to qualify every statement I make.
Part of eliminating our oppressive rape culture is attempting to take back the power that comes out of experiences of sexual assault. We’ve seen it with the “Slutwalks,” where women dress in provocative clothing and assert that the way that they are dressed is not an invitation for rape. We see it in the social media postings of rape victims who refuse to stay silent about their experiences.
However, we see the rape culture pushing back. We see women being expelled from colleges because they took action against a rapist (and by “action,” I mean “reporting the rape to the proper authorities through the proper channels”). We see families in other countries cloaked in shame, ostracized from their own communities because a female family member was raped. Was raped. Passive. Rapists rape a woman and then her family is left out in the cold? How fucked up is that?
We see women afraid to take action after a sexual assault for fear of being labeled as a liar or a slut. We see women’s sexual pasts dragged up to the forefront of discussions. We see their behavior critiqued, every action dissected for proof that the woman is really a wanton whore who begged for sex and then regretted it later.
That’s bullshit. Yes, again, there are women who do “cry rape” (much like crying wolf). Yes, those women give all women a bad name and undermine progress because it’s come to the point now that every rape victim is arguably essentially guilty of crying rape until proven raped. That is the single most damaging thing, because rape is already one of the most under-reported crimes.
I read this post from the Ms. magazine blog last night. It’s about whether or not you should out your rapist – that is, speak publicly about them and release their name.
After I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about Todd Aikin’s “legitimate rape” comments that set our feminist hearts ablaze late last year. And you know what? They finally make sense. (Actually, what he said will never make sense or be in any way correct.) But “legitimate rape” is really hard to define, and to someone who’s never had to go through any experience that falls on the rape spectrum, the gray areas of rape may seem a little silly.
The gray areas of rape are the areas where “legitimate rape” can’t be defined. One man’s idea of “just some fun” may be the beginning of a woman’s trip to the brink of hell, a trip into the darkest places of human consciousness, where there is nothing left but pain and hopelessness. Todd Aikin, I’m using you as my example because your words are haunting me, but have you ever walked to edge of hell and been swallowed by it? If not, then you are hardly qualified to tell me or any others that the gray areas of rape don’t exist.
Outing your rapist isn’t always possible, particularly when it falls into the deepest of the gray areas, a place consumed by shadows of doubt. Sometimes, your rapist may be an acquaintance. Sometimes, the risks of speaking out outweigh the pain of staying silent.
Reading Professor Steve Landsburg’s post about being sexually assaulted while unconscious sickened me. Granted, it was ultimately a question of behavior and morality, but I’m still appalled at that lack of respect for a victim’s experiences, memory of it or no. Sure, no harm, no foul, Steve. Sexual assault upon a victim who won’t know about it is a win-win for all. (Not.) Fuck you.
The worst part is not knowing. The worst part is that some victims of sexual assault will never know what happened. You’re telling me that waking up naked with eleven hours of your memory wiped clean from your mind is a no harm, no foul situation? Fuck you. The consequences of “some fun” aren’t the same for you – and yes, perhaps you are spared the searing memories of violence and forcible penetration – but the shame and fear and lingering doubts are in no way less traumatic.
Did sex ever happen? The victim doesn’t know. Was I drugged? The victim doesn’t know. Am I okay? No. Will I ever be okay? The victim doesn’t know. What happened? “We just had some fun,” he says. The victim doesn’t know what that means, may not be able to find the words to ask. May not want to ask.
Victims of sexual assault are cloaked in shame; their experiences are automatically invalidated by claims of “she was asking for it” and “she did this to herself” and “she’s not a paragon of virtue” and so on.
I was reading a facebook post by a man who claimed that “Men don’t stop rape by not raping,” but I beg to differ. That’s the most simple step. That’s the first step. Men can help stop rape by not raping. They can help stop rape by ensuring that they’ve received appropriate consent. They can help stop the cycle of rape culture by accepting their own end of responsibility for their actions. All too often, it is the women who are left to suffer the psychological and physical damages of sexual assault and the men who walk away unscathed, free from consequences.
When the victim is sliding a blade across her thigh because she doesn’t have any tears left and she’s desperate to make the pain stop, is she in any way better off than someone who’s been “legitimately raped”? No.
“Legitimate rape” may be the easiest rape to see and define and fight against, but the gray areas of rape are very real. They don’t exist solely in the ivory theories of academia. They are the secrets that people carry closest to their hearts. They are the painful experiences that shape people, that kill the safest parts of their souls.
You can’t out a rapist when there’s no proof of rape. You can’t do anything. It’s the ultimate in powerlessness. It’s clever (on the part of the rapist) and it’s horrible. You don’t know if anyone will believe you. You don’t want people to think less of you. So you stay silent. But you are not alone. You’re not alone at all. Hopefully that notion will save the women who are being swallowed up by the darkest circles of hell, who can’t see anything bright ahead of them, who wonder if the pain and shame and questions will ever stop.
We’ve spent far too long pushing these issues under the rug. We’ve spent far too long assuming that the justice system will take care of the problem, that we are not culpable or complicit in our perpetuation of rape culture.
It needs to end. I don’t know where I stand on the ethics of publicly naming your rapist, but I do know that we need to stop shushing our victims. Where is the support? Where is the outrage? Where are the people who feel that respect and responsibility are attainable and within reach?
Oh yeah, they’re stuck in the gray areas. They’re stuck in the places where the light of social justice doesn’t quite reach. They’re marginalized, quieted, ignored. It’s time to stop victim blaming, shut shaming, and virtue preaching (I’m looking at you Foster Friess, you Bayer aspirin asshole), and time to start supporting, educating, and validating each and every one of these experiences. That is how we move forward.