Rape has been at the forefront of the news in the last few days. From CeeLo Green's disturbing tweets, to a new Title IX investigation into the accusations against Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston reported Thursday night, September 5, 2014, by New York Times, rape is once again being debated. There is so much being said about rape, yet so little being done to change the alarming rate at which it occurs and goes unspoken.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, a news story about a woman lying about rape and going unpunished because police do not want to discourage legitimate victims, contrasts the story of a young Columbia University student-artist, who carries the mattress she was raped on as a visual protest to her university refusing to punish her alleged rapist. This is the glaring conflict about rape that is argued in closed circles, but hardly ever finds space in a joint public discussion. Society has found a way to drive victims into the shadows and perpetrators into hallowed halls. The ugly truth is...victims are not only the accusers, but also the accused. Perpetrators are not only the accused, but the accusers.
For many years experts have told us that rape is about "power" and only "power". That is a lie. Rape is about more than power. To give people the connotation of rape being about power has led many to believe that unless someone is physically forced, they cannot legitimately claim being raped. This explains the asinine tweets from CeeLo Green where he seemingly intimated that an unconscious woman could not be "raped" because consciously she was not experiencing what happened to her. Green has since apologized for his tweets.
Rape is about many things including: control and loss of it, fear, mixed messages, guilt, anger, shame, confusion, coercion, violence, trickery, environment, mindsets, perception, emotions, etc. All of this makes rape one of the most difficult crimes to punish. There can be a case where a person legitimately feels he/she did nothing wrong, where the other legitimately feels she/he has been wronged. Unfortunately, collegiate environments tend to breed this confusion.
On many college campuses during orientation, young women are warned of the statistics surrounding college coeds and sexual assaults. The warning rarely comes with instructions on how it actually occurs. There is rarely a dialogue where students are instructed on what "rape" means versus what they may believe it means. Potential perpetrators and potential victims sit in the same auditorium, hearing the same lecture, but receiving vastly different messages.
Everyone knows that "no means no", but what if "no" is never stated? What if fear causes silence versus verbal articulation of non-consent? What if a "yes" turns into a "no"? Does inviting someone into your room at certain hours of the day or night imply consent? Can consent even be implied? Is it a situation where one person is just trying to convince the other, and confuses compliance under duress with compliance because of convincing? Most people do not know the answers to these questions other than speaking theoretically. Real world scenarios often contrast what one holds to be true intellectually. So often theory and reality are at odds.
Rapists are not just the creepy people who lurk in dark alleyways. They are not the unattractive loners who cannot get any action. Rapists can be attractive, popular, charismatic, wealthy, studious, friendly, loving, supportive and the type of people everyone would like to be around. Rapist and perpetrators of sexual assault can also be female, and victims can be male. A rapist's defects are not often readily apparent. A rapist often may not view rape in the same way that others do.
Society has no singular collective view of what rape is which causes many victims to go silent and many perpetrators to go unpunished. This lack of a collective view causes many to be at odds. Then add into the mix, the false allegations that create a firestorm of disbelief. Rape is one of the only crimes where the purported victim is treated as someone who is guilty until proven innocent. Rape victims are treated like outcasts, while perpetrators are given the benefit of the doubt. Society tends to make rape victims feel shamed and as though they are defective. Why is that? No other victim of a crime tends to get forced into silence and shame. Do you make a robbery victim hide or feel guilty for being robbed?
Rape is also a crime where, due to sensitivities, people tend to balk at any notion of a potential victim taking responsibility to protect him or herself. There was a recent article published claiming that a nail polish created to help detect date rape drugs was somehow fostering a rape culture, as opposed to giving potential victims a safeguard against being drugged. From ThinkProgress.org:
“One of the ways that rape is used as a tool to control people is by limiting their behavior,” Rebecca Nagle, one of the co-directors of an activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture that challenges the societal norms around sexual assault, explained. “As a woman, I’m told not to go out alone at night, to watch my drink, to do all of these things. That way, rape isn’t just controlling me while I’m actually being assaulted — it controls me 24/7 because it limits my behavior. Solutions like these actually just recreate that. I don’t want to fucking test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in.”
The unfortunate reality is...this is the world we live in. So doors are locked, people go out in groups, people prey on others, people change their minds, people rape, people get raped, people accuse, and people are falsely accused. The biggest lies about rape are that it only affects one person, only happens to certain groups of people, is only perpetrated by a certain group of people, it only happens when society wants to believe it, it happens to everyone who says it happened, and that it is shameful to become a victim.
Now the big question: What do we do to change this?