Lately (this month in particular), I've been tweeting a ton of links with the tag #rapeculture
. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one is that it's Sexual Assault Awareness Month here in the US.
Everyone everywhere is to some degree affected by rape, whether you know it or not. If you're a woman in the US statistics show there's a one in six chance that you have been or will be raped in your lifetime; usually by someone you know as at least a passing acquaintance. If you're not part of that one in six, you may be a male or trans or intersex survivor. And even if you've never been sexually assaulted you know someone who's been raped or committed rape whether or not you are aware of that fact. I want you to take a minute to think about that, to think about every person in your life and to consider what impact that has on their actions, their behaviors, their emotional state in day-to-day life. As a survivor, I can personally tell you it changed me in ways both large and small.
* I am always more aware of the people around me, especially men, and their behavior/body language.
* I am slower to trust than I would be otherwise, because that seemingly nice guy who just offered to buy me a drink or tried to talk to me may be a rapist.
* I have vivid nightmares that take me back to that scene, and (go figure) those are more frequent when I'm stressed or threatened.
* There are situations I avoid like the plague, especially if I'm alone ("mundane" bars/clubs; athletic fields; big parties not thrown by me/my close "freak" friends).
* No dating outside of my circle of extended friends. No dating in general for long periods of time.
* I'm intermittently uninterested in sex or more sexual depending on how I feel emotionally.
* My canes are titanium (good weapons), and I don't hesitate to throw elbows or put spiked heels in insteps if someone crowds me too much. I often carry and know how to use a knife at close quarters.I want to share this paragraph from a blog I read regularly
. In trying to survive, get your life back on track, and go on living, you have probably had to learn a lot of new lessons and skills. Those lessons and skills may have perhaps become invaluable. You may have found that your trauma has brought you to places you otherwise would not have gone, and you’ve found priceless moments, feelings, or people there. The good I have now does not justify the things that were done to me. Nor is it appropriate to ask the flip side, if I would give up the good I have now if I could have not been abused. The two do not weigh each other out, and never will. They are connected only insofar as one is cause and the other is effect; justifications, balance, or “worth it” doesn’t come into it at all. They simply are. I have lost what should have been, and I will never stop grieving that, even as I celebrate what is.
But you're thinking what does this have to do with me? I haven't raped anyone and I never will, nor do I know any survivors (chances are good you're wrong about survivors, they just don't talk about it to you). There's nothing I can do is there?
Well, lets start with something easy. Stop letting your friends, your coworkers, your acquaintances, and family get away with sexist, misogynistic speech. Every time you let that shit slide the unknown rapist in the group gets a subtle indicator that what he/she is going to do or has done is an acceptable act in our culture.
Don't be a rape apologist. No-one, anywhere, ever, deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted. Not the drunk girl in the trashy outfit and high heels, not the guy in prison for murder, not the sex worker outside the club, not the transsexual who works at the makeup counter in the mall. Not the woman who stays with her abusive husband because she and the kids have no-where to go, not the old lady who lives alone, not the college student walking across campus alone at 3am. Not the groupie who drinks with the sports star or the musician at the after party, not the underage boy who acts "ghey" at school, not the lesbian or asexual who just "needs a good fuck".
Tell the people you know that the standard for consent is Yes Means Yes (as opposed to well they didn't say no or fight or scream or...). And someone who's drunk, who's not yet 18, who has a mental disability that's not being treated, who's wasted on drugs cannot legally consent. That just because making out was okay does not mean sex is a given. That non-consensual groping, touching, grabbing, etc is wrong. Make it clear that anyone who breaks those rules is not welcome in your life and probably deserves to be prosecuted.
Lastly, work to create safe spaces. Call out street harassers for their threatening (and trust me, it is threatening to a woman walking alone) behavior. Tell the pushy person at the bar to stop bothering people, and if s/he doesn't call security. Speak up about how wrong it is when someone makes a rape joke or inappropriate comment or grabs someone they don't know. Show your friends in words and actions how they should act.
And creating a safe space means if someone does trust you enough to open up about a rape or assault that happened to them, shut up and listen. This is not the time to say "well I've been hurt too", that "my rape was worse than yours", "what were you wearing/doing/drinking" etc. This is when your friend needs you to be there, to empathize, to help them understand that whatever happened it is not their fault and they did not deserve it. Take them to the hospital if they want to go (encourage them, but don't be too pushy - a lot of people are afraid of more trauma) or to the doctor or pharmacy or...; wait with them for the police, the rape kit; make sure they get home safely and are not a danger to themselves. If the rape/abuse/assault was some time ago, then reinforce that they did not deserve it - period. Most importantly, do not let this revelation be a bad experience for them, do not make them regret their decision to open up, do not violate their trust.
I know there's a lot of things to think about here; I'd love your feedback, your thoughts on ways people can help. However, rape apology, comments about false rape accusations (yes, they happen but they're incredibly rare and irrelevant to this discussion), and other such nonsense will not be tolerated in this thread.
And I'll end with a suggestion that if you're giving money to a charity this year, think about donating to your local Rape Crisis Center or RAINN. Or go attend a class, sign up for a walk-a-thon, volunteer. These groups help thousands of survivors get through horrible situations, they work with police and hospitals to make sure rape kits are handled properly, they provide support for partners and family members, they do outreach in the community and schools; and in this ongoing budget crisis they often have to do so with less money and higher numbers of people who need assistance.