Friday, March 22, 2013

Musing on Rape Culture

It should go without saying, but this post is full of triggers for sexual assault survivors.

I guess it's my turn to get on this subject since this seems to be the week to talk about it. Sexual assault. Rape. What is the first thing that comes to mind? A woman in a dark, isolated area? A contaminated cup at a party? Something totally different?

This is what got us all talking. Of course, this awesome lady was already out there:

Does it all seem like too much? What about when you read this?

United States rape statistics. Those numbers should horrify every decent human being. Image courtesy RAINN.

Those numbers should all be 0. There is never a time when it is okay to hold someone down and force them to have sex.

That's right, I used gender neutral pronouns because men are raped, too. 11% of sexual assault victims are male. The average time between the crime and seeking help for men is over 16 years.

I probably don't even have to explain why, do I? How many of you immediately dismissed it as a prison phenomenon? From there, you can morally separate it from "real" rape because everyone in prison is definitely a criminal, right?

I hope you could read the sarcasm there. No, criminals do not "deserve" to be raped. Perpetuating a cycle of violence does nothing to end it. It doesn't teach them "what it's like." Instead, it's more likely to exacerbate the issues that caused him to rape in the first place. More, men being raped is not a joke.

What is the awareness everyone is trying to raise right now? Stop blaming the victim, first of all. This is such a problem that psychology texts include sections that talk about how support persons often make everything worse by inadvertently blaming the victim in an attempt to rationalize an irrational act.

What is self blame? Why would a victim think that it's his/her fault? It's not just thinking "I shouldn't have worn that dress" or "I shouldn't have been drinking" or other obvious, common thoughts (Quick note to victims: it wasn't your fault! You should have the right to dress comfortably, safely enjoy a party and trust your friends and family! It was not your fault.) It also includes thoughts like, "Well, if I'd done this differently, maybe I could have stopped him/her" or trying to rationalize why it happened.

Why do people (including the victim) blame the victim?

Control. Rape is proof that we do not have control over every aspect of our lives, so trying to rationalize it (dress, sobriety, flirting), we are trying to take back control of the situation to prevent it from happening to us.

That doesn't work.

You can't prevent all sexual assaults. People who are trained in self-defense are still assaulted. People who are armed are still assaulted. People in groups of friends/family are still assaulted.

I've been assaulted. I had an ex try to force me to give him oral sex while putting his hands under my clothes--while his friend sat next to us and did nothing but tell him to stop. He was stoned at the time and not really aware of what he was doing (his friend was probably in a likewise state). That doesn't make it okay at all and it certainly didn't hurt me less.

Do I blame myself?

I should have hurt him to make him stop. I should have screamed at him. I should have made him stop instead of ineffectually struggling quietly, embarrassed that it was even happening. I should have stopped the movie and made it more clear that I meant "no."

Likely, you're nodding and agreeing that I should have done all of those things (assuming that you have no clue about the psychology regarding sexual assault). That's rape culture, in your brain, victimizing you and re-victimizing every assault survivor.

I was also sexually assaulted during a medical procedure. I felt like something was wrong and I repeatedly tried to stop him from touching me inappropriately, but he told me that I was interfering with the test and said other things that were the equivalent to: "You are making this worse on yourself. It's your fault that this is continuing."

I now know how that procedure should be performed, and I know that what he did was grossly inappropriate. But this was a case of not knowing how he was supposed to touch me for that procedure, so I was unable to defend myself. It was assault, and I have never had a follow up because I cannot emotionally handle the thought of possibly subjecting myself to that again.

I want to delete the last several paragraphs. I want to delete those memories. I want them to have never happened. I want to have known that I could say no to that medical tech. I want to have known not to let my ex into my house when he was stoned that day. I want to not have these embarrassing humiliating events in my past.

See all of that? I want to have stopped it. Me. The victim. That's rape culture. I know that that thinking is self-defeating, but I still do it. Many of you reading this agree with it. It's wrong.

So what should we be thinking?

My ex should not have believed it was okay to assault me because we'd had a sexual relationship in the past. He never should have considered continuing from the moment I asked him to stop. That med tech should be fired. He should not feel that he can use his position to assault women (I'm assuming that he's heterosexual, but who even knows).

I want We need men and women to understand that "no" means "stop." It's not just some slogan. I want We need people to stop blaming the victim. Stop looking at rape as something that shouldn't destroy the lives of the rapist by branding them--because the victim's life is destroyed. Someone isn't less of a criminal just because they have a successful job or light skin or a "promising future."

Also, it is never ever okay to have sex with someone who is unconscious. If they are drunk or drugged it is not okay, either, because they cannot give consent. If you have sexual contact with someone who is incapable of consent, that is sexual assault.

There are people who are saying that it's insulting to say "Teach boys/men not to rape." They then go on to say that it implies that all men/boys are natural born rapists. This is bullshit. We teach our children not to hit, not to masturbate in public, not to take things that don't belong to them, not to touch each other inappropriately, and that goes on to teaching them not to rape.

Just putting the message "Don't be that guy" out there in Edmonton, Canada dropped the sexual assault rate by ten percent in only one campaign. One.

Most assailants are not psychopaths, sociopaths or narcissists. Most victims are not 'teases.' Most sexual assault isn't rape by definition, but that does not make it less damaging.

I will add that girls need to be taught the same. If someone says no, you stop. Yes, women are statistically less likely to rape. But what do statistics mean when most men don't report their rapes and those that do wait a decade or two to do it? What do they mean when men believe that they are supposed to like any (heterosexual) sex that they are offered just because they are male?

Do you believe in any of the myths of rape culture? If so, I strongly encourage you to change your thinking. Stop believing the lies. Accept that it was not the victim's fault, it's not your fault (unless you've sexually assaulted someone), and there is no reason to try to rationalize why it happened. Instead, focus on your empathy and compassion. The victim is in pain. It hurts to talk about what happened (even if they use the coping mechanism of 'dramatization' where they must repeatedly talk about it--it gives them back some control over what happened, don't take that away from them).

Be the change.

If you are a First Responder, EMS, police (sex crimes division particularly), nurse or doctor, please read and/or listen to this slide show on the Neurobiology of Sexual Assault. The information is essential for anyone dealing with sexual assault victims. Please share this information.