Thank you so much for your comments on the last post about rape culture. I appreciate the bravery and insight, and was grateful for all the comments, maybe especially those I didn’t agree with. Because it made me think, and leads me to dig a little further into this topic.
Again, if you are under 14, please don’t read this post unless you have permission from your parent/guardian. And if this topic troubles you, I hope you can find someone mature and responsible in your life to talk to. If needed, you can find a local US crisis center phone number through RAINN.
I was recently reading a news report about a rape of a teenage girl. In an interview, a police officer reported what happened. He said that the girl had passed out. He said, when she came to "the defendant was having sex with her." I read those words and got sick. Here's a police officer, someone who should be familiar with the law and with crimes, and yet when referring to a man penetrating an unconscious girl he used the word "sex."
I am beginning to believe that the foremost contributor to rape culture is a wide spread ignorance about what sex is. We cannot understand what rape is and work to stop it without first understanding what sex is.
Sex is a completely consensual, intimate, physical conversation. Rape is not sex. Rape is not the same experience as sex to the victim, and, this is very important: it’s NOT the same experience as sex to the rapist. They are entirely different things.
Commentor Mary Lou posted a link to this great article by a high school teacher. This point bears repeating over and over again: Consent isn’t the absence of a “no;” consent is an unequivocal and enthusiastic YES.
Let’s look at the Steubenville case, one I find interesting (horrifying) because SO MANY PEOPLE weren’t sure if what happened was actually rape, even when it was so devastatingly clearly rape. In the scenario, two or more cute, popular high school football players rape an unconscious girl at a party. There were witnesses to digital rape, and there was evidence of further sexual abuses. To a girl entirely unconscious. From the aftermath, we see how well liked these guys were, and how many of their fellow students couldn’t believe it was “rape” because any girl should be willing to have sex with them. Given that, most likely there were other conscious girls at that party who would have been willing to have consensual sex with those boys. If that’s all the boys wanted, they could have gotten it. But they wanted something different. They chose not to have sex. They chose to rape.
Rape is not simply acting upon sexual urges. Rape is about dominance and power and violence and control. The intent of sex is mutual pleasure, and that's never the intent of rape. Let’s be totally clear. Those young men chose, instead of having sex with a willing girl, to rape an unconscious girl. Who could not participate, could not experience pleasure, could not say yes or admire them or share an intimate moment. Those boys didn’t choose sex. They chose rape. And the experience of rape, for both the girl and the boy, is entirely different than the experience of sex. THEY ARE NOTHING ALIKE. RAPE AND SEX ARE NOT RELATED.
How can there be so much confusion about two entirely different things? Perhaps because they are both physical acts that involve the same body parts. Though that doesn’t explain it entirely.
For instance, hands and torsos are involved in both hugs and gut punches, but we know they’re not the same.
Heads are used both for kisses that cause blushes as well as for head butts that cause broken noses, yet we know that they’re not the same thing.
Spoken words involve the mouth, tongue, and larynx, yet we know the difference between friendly conversation and a tirade of insults.
Even if they involve the same body parts, how can there be any confusion between rape and sex?
Maybe because we’re not honest and clear enough about what sex is. I believe in treating sex with reverence and respect, but that shouldn’t include ignorance and confusion. Sex is not just this body part + that body part. It is, again, an intimate, consensual, physical conversation.
I assert that both a person who rapes and a person who is being raped knows that what is happening is most definitely NOT an intimate, consensual, physical conversation. But does a bystander? If a third party (who witnesses or hears about something later) isn’t experiencing either the welcome pleasure or the horrific invasion, they may not be able to tell the difference, unless they’re educated in what sex is and what rape is. Many are not educated in that. And so rape culture grows. Ignorance allowing people to ignore, to walk away, to not report, to blame the victim, to not convict the obvious rapist, to create an environment conducive to even more rape.
If someone rapes and honestly believes that it was consensual sex, then there’s something clearly, devastatingly wrong with them. Sex is an extremely intimate act. How could a person be so intimate with another and yet be completely unaware that the touch is unwelcome? If they are truly unaware, then they are dangerous and need therapy and to be locked away from other people. But I don’t believe that most perpetrators of rape are genuinely unaware. They don’t care. Their intent is not mutual pleasure.
I know people who have been raped who weren’t sure for some time if it was rape or not. It’s so traumatic, confusion is common for the victim. And the best way to protect people against that confusion is to arm them with information. Educate, so if something happens, they know what it was and can get help fast.
When we don’t have conversations with kids about sex, we’re telling kids that it’s too bad, dirty, and wrong to even talk about. And when someone is raped, they feel bad, dirty, and wrong, and they think, yeah, that’s what I expected sex to be. And so sometimes, horrifyingly, they conclude that rape and sex must be the same thing.
When we don’t have conversations with kids about sex, we allow TV shows to do it for us. And locker talk. And twitter. We give up the power of our voice. They learn from those who don’t love and care about them like we do.
When we oppose conversations about sex in school, all those kids with parents who aren’t around, who don’t think they need to educate their kids, or who don’t know how or can’t find the words--those kids have a huge hole in their knowledge. Those kids don’t understand the big picture of sex. And rape. And consent. And those kids go to school with our kids. And to parties with our kids. And if someone is raped, the under educated are the kids who are likely calling a rape survivor "slut" and "whore" because they don't get it. And we’re partly to blame for their ignorance because we didn’t allow those conversations to happen.
We need to have talks with our kids. And we need to allow education to happen carefully and respectfully in schools to make sure knowledge is widespread. And that education should include the basics of just what sex should be, what consent means, and what to do if you see or hear about something that you believe is wrong.
I believe we can greatly lessen the rape culture in this country. Just look at the difference 50 years made in a lynching culture. Change is possible. Education. Kindness. Awareness. I have hope.
I want to hear your thoughts, no matter if you agree or disagree. But please be respectful of others. I need this to be a safe place where people can share thoughts and experiences.