This Moment is About the Victims | From the Mailbag

Someone asked me the following question, and I wanted to share it and the response I gave. I think it’s relevant to this moment in history.

“What’s your opinion on distinguishing between sexual assault and sexual harassment? Do you think there is such a distinction, and that there should be different penalties for these potentially two different things? Or do you think think it’s all rape, and should be treated the same each time? Thanks in advance for any insights.”

My response:

I’m not sure that really is up to opinion. They are in fact different things. Sexual harassment isn’t necessarily sexual assault, and sexual assault isn’t necessarily rape. In order to have a functioning justice system we necessarily assign different penalties to each. The thing that makes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape different than most other crimes is the fact that our society doesn’t really consider them to be as unjustifiable as they do other crimes, which is odd considering that as far as crime goes these three are in fact among the most unjustifiable.

For example, murder is most harshly treated by our justice system, however there are all sorts of justifiable reasons for murder. It’s perfectly justifiable, if perhaps not legal, to murder someone who’s trying to hurt you or someone else, if murder seems like the only way to prevent harm. If someone walks in on someone being raped, murder, if not legal, could be justifiable.

Theft can be justifiable, if not legal. If someone is poor and faced with a choice between starvation and theft, theft, if not legal, can be justifiable.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, however, have no inherently justifiable circumstances. There’s never an instance in which one must sexually harass, sexually assault, or rape in self defense, to stave off starvation, or to make a living. And yet, it’s a the one category of crime that mostly goes unreported by its victims, and tends not to be taken seriously by our society.

It also happens to be one of the most traumatic categories of crime for its victims, particularly because it is completely unjustifiable and therefore particularly violative. The only reason anyone ever sexually harasses, sexually assaults, or rapes, is precisely because they feel that they have an entitlement to violate another person’s boundaries, body, and soul, and treat them as if they were a thing, rather than a human being.

So yes, we necessarily assign different weight to each crime in this category, and we subdivide based on the precise violations committed in each case, but that’s really beside the point in this national discussion we’re having. This country fundamentally doesn’t care about the victims of this category of crime. It doesn’t care about its prevalence or the effects on its victims, and it really doesn’t care to do anything about it.

To listen to victims of this category of crime is to hear the same story over and over again. “I didn’t speak up because I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” punctuated by responses of “I did speak up (to my boss, my family, to HR, to clergy, to community leaders, or law enforcement) and no one believed me. They blamed me. Asked me what I did to deserve it. Asked what, if anything, I had done to prevent it, as if such a thing were possible.” These experience exist by the million, and for some reason nobody seems to particularly care, despite the fact that the prevalence of this category of crime is of epidemic proportion, and its effects on its victims are often devastating.

So yes, as I said now three times, there necessarily has to be a difference in the way we treat the crimes in this category, but then there’s how we as a society, outside of the legal system, have to reckon with it, because our attitudes toward sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape determine how they will be treated by our justice system. Our police, prosecutors, lawyers, and juries don’t exist in a vacuum. They are all products of our society and our societal attitudes toward this category of crime. If people fundamentally believe that sexual harassment is the fault of the victim, that sexual assault can be “asked for” by the way a victim dresses, that rape can be “asked for” by what the victim drank, then it in fact is impossible for a victim to get justice.

This is what this country is reckoning with in this moment. Whether we will start taking sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape seriously, whether we will choose to believe that it happens, that it’s serious, that it’s devastating and prevalent, or whether we’ll continue to justify the inherently unjustifiable.

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A Survivor Shares Her Experience of Being Raped as a Modern Orthodox Teen | #WhyIDidntReport

Author’s note: Aside from the first 4 introductory paragraphs preceding the survivor’s account, no changes have been made to the original account. 

Last week, in response to Trump’s ignorant assertion that in order for a sexual assault claim to be true it must have been reported immediately to law enforcement, we saw an outpouring of stories from survivors about #WhyIDidntReport. I shared my own detailing how I was silenced within the Charedi community.

Yesterday, I was contacted by a frum survivor on the Modern Orthodox community who wanted to share her story, but is still, years after the abuse happened, afraid of the backlash. She asked me to share her story anonymously on my Facebook wall, and I’m going to copy it below.

Before I do, a little framing for this post. Before any of you ask “well, what about negiah, what about yichud?” save yourself the typing. The fact is that regardless of whatever stated values a community claims to believe in, there’s always, in every community, every society, and every value system, a difference between the communal ideal and communal practice. This is a reality that doesn’t go away just because we claim that it clashes with our stated values.

Premarital sex happens plenty in the Orthodox community, in all Orthodox communities, and while our value system may compel us to wish that it didn’t, the fact is that it does. Our stated values don’t absolve us of our responsibility to therefore ensure that when it happens it’s consensual, and when sexual assault happens the perpetrators are held responsible. We don’t get to use our stated values to sweep sexual assault under the rug, or blame the victims. So I don’t want to hear about yichud and negiah. That’s not at all relevant to this survivor’s experience. What’s relevant is the realities of our community, and the realities of her experience.

With that in mind, here’s the survivor’s story:

“I grew up in a somewhat liberal Modern Orthodox community and attended co-ed schools and camps. Although the rabbis talked about tznius and being shomer negia, the community at large didn’t really emphasize those things so much. There was still an expectation of no premarital sex, but it was not uncommon for high schoolers to have boyfriends/girlfriends.

I had a boyfriend in 10th grade, he went to a different school but we knew each other from camp and NCSY. As per the context described above, our parents were ok with it as long as we didn’t do more than make out and rabbis and teachers frowned on it and extolled the virtues of being shomer negia. So when the boyfriend started pressuring me to go farther than kissing, I didn’t want to, I knew by all standards I shouldn’t. He kept up the pressure and manipulation and I eventually gave in on everything except actual sex. That was my red line. He knew it. And one day, he held me down and did it anyway. I was initially in too much shock to protest, and then I was afraid, because he was a lot bigger than me. There was no point in struggling against him, so it was just “lay back and think of England” as they say, until he was done.

Now here comes the crux of why I didn’t tell anyone. First of all, that was not the last time he raped me. He did it several more times in the following months until we finally broke up. I know, stupid me. Why didn’t I dump him after the first time? And why did I ever allow myself to be alone with him again, several times? I don’t really know, even now, and that’s why even now I still blame myself. It took me a long time to even think of it as rape because I let it happen repeatedly. Then there was the fact that I had consented to “fooling around” before the first time he did it. Under pressure and manipulation, but at the end of the day, I still consented. So maybe it was my fault he took things to their “logical” conclusion.

Another reason I didn’t tell anyone is that we had in the past been caught making out by teachers/counselors and been yelled at for it. So I knew those people would blame me for not being shomer negia. I knew some friends would be supportive, but others would take his side. I’d seen other girls in my class endure serious slut shaming, so I wasn’t about to open up that can of worms. I also didn’t want my parents to know, because they would be devastated and feel horribly guilty. I didn’t want to burden them with that. They still don’t know, even now.

I did tell a couple of friends about a year after it happened and they were very supportive, but agreed that I was smart to keep quiet. I told my husband back when we were dating and he has always been amazing. I’m so fortunate to have him. We also told our Rav shortly before our wedding in order to clarify a few halachik matters (silver lining: my wedding night did not make me niddah) and he was very kind as well. I am fortunate and it has, thank God, not hindered me much in life. It never does leave, and ever since that time I have struggled on and off with depression, but I was able to marry only a few years after it happened, it has not affected much in the bedroom, and I’m enjoying raising my kids and working at a job I like, and am happily frum.

The thing is, the Modern Orthodox community is small. As my rapist and I are both still in MO circles, even though we haven’t run into each other in years, we have tons of mutual acqauintances, so I do know a bit about what he’s up to these days. And that’s another reason why I have not, and will not, report. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose. He’s not in some powerful position and he’s not super well-known or majorly respected. He’s an average Joe, going to shul, going to work, raising his family. I’m sure most people who know him think he’s just a nice guy in the neighborhood. As most people think I’m this nice, bubbly young mom in the neighborhood with no idea of the darkness I’ve endured. There’s no reason to bring up what happened well over a decade ago. I know what happens to women who speak up, especially if it’s years later. No thank you, I’m not opening myself and my family up to that.

Unfortunately, these problems are not specific to any one community. The Modern Orthodox world does not really have a better handle on this than the Ultra Orthodox world, nor anywhere else. MO institutions still often have the first instinct to protect themselves when allegations first arise and while I think there’s a bit less victim shaming, there is still a lot of skepticism directed at victims because it’s hard to accept that the nice guy who sits next to you in shul, and who has done business with you, and whose kids play with yours, could be a rapist. There’s definitely a lot of reckoning left to do.”

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Prager: Ignore Sexual Assault – For Moral Reasons

So Dennis Prager decided, on erev Yom Kippur, to bastardize and distort my religion for the purpose of sexual abuse apologism. I’m going to address it because I think it speaks precisely to the widespread misconceptions we have about teshuva. He starts off with this:

“It is almost impossible to overstate the damage done to America’s moral compass by taking the charges leveled against Judge Brett Kavanaugh seriously.

It undermines foundational moral principles of any decent society.”

With no due respect, Dennis, what undermines the moral principles of any decent society is the blase attitude with which we respond to sexual assault, and the lengths to which we regularly go to shame victims into silence. There’s a reason it takes decades for survivors to disclose, and it’s not because they just haven’t gotten around to it. It’s because they know full well that regardless of when they come forward, people like you will be there to call them liars, to impugn their character, to minimize the way they were violated, and to protect the violator.

They hope and pray that the pain, the memory of it fades, and that they can just get on with their life and move past it, but it never really goes away. Most of the time we can forget about it, Dennis, but not so much when your abuser is on every television screen, every newspaper, every other Facebook post, and about to be appointed to a lifetime term on the nation’s most powerful court.

“Those who claim the charges against Judge Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford are important and worth investigating, and that they ultimately, if believed, invalidate his candidacy for the U.S. Supreme Court are stating that:

  1. a) What a middle-aged adult did in high school is all we need to need to know to evaluate an individual’s character — even when his entire adult life has been impeccable.
  2. b) No matter how good and moral a life one has led for 10, 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years, it is nullified by a sin committed as teenager.

No decent — or rational — society has ever believed such nihilistic nonsense.”

No otherwise decent seeming society has ever really given too much of a crap about sexual assault, because women, who make up the majority of sexual assault victims, are never really seen as important enough to matter compared to the men who violate them. What a middle-aged adult did in high-school is usually not sexual assault, and if your assertion is that sexual assault is, in fact, normal behaviour, then we are not, in fact, a decent society.

Not all sins are created equal, and not all sins can be mitigated by time. Some sins take a lot more to forgive, and sexual assault is one of them. States across the nation are moving to eliminate or extend their statutes of limitations on rape and sexual assault because we no recognize the damage – sometimes lifelong- caused by these crimes. The fact that you’re so willing to forgive simply because time past is very generous of you, but it’s not your place here to be generous. The victim of this sin is still living, still in pain, and still aggrieved, while the abuser has never faced a single consequence for his actions. The fact that you’re upset that he’s finally facing one which is simply depriving him of something to which he is not fundamentally entitled (unlike the bodily sovereignty to which his victim was, in fact, entitled when he violated her) perhaps merits a solo on the world’s tiniest violin.

“This is another example of the moral chaos sown by secularism and the left. In any society rooted in Judeo-Christian values, it is understood that people should be morally assessed based on how they behave over the course of their lifetime — early behavior being the least important period in making such an assessment.”

Again, he did not cheat on an exam, or rob a candy store of a box of Junior Mints. He violated another person. And don’t bring “Judeo-Christian” values into this (as if the two deserve to be linked), when Judaism actually has a prescription for atonement for such crimes, and not one of the criteria involves the passage of time. It does, however, include monetary restitution (a lot of it), appeasement of the victim, sincerely asking and sincerely receiving forgiveness, abandonment of the sin, regret of the sin and its effect on its victim (not fear of consequence), verbal confession, and a concrete resolution for the future to never sin in such a way again. Even if we assume that he hasn’t committed this sin since, we know for a fact that he has never attempted to make restitution to, appease, or sincerely seek the forgiveness of his victim.

“These religious values taught us that all of us are sinners and, therefore, with the exception of those who have engaged in true evil, we need to be very careful in making moral evaluations of human beings.”

Is there a truer evil than sexual assault, a crime for which there are no conceivable internal or external justifications?

“And, of course, we were taught to extend forgiveness when people demonstrate through their actions that they have changed. As a well-known ancient Jewish adage put it: “Where the penitent stands, the most righteous cannot stand.” In other words, the highest moral achievement is moral improvement.”

Nothing in Kavanaugh’s history indicates that he was ever penitent for this crime. We have no reason to assume, (and in fact every reason to assume that he didn’t) that he ever sought to make restitution to, appease, and seek the forgiveness of his victim. He is not a penitent, he’s an unrepentant sexual predator.

“Perhaps the most important principle violated by taking this 36-year-old high school-era charge seriously is the principle of the moral bank account.

Every one of us has a moral bank account. Our good deeds are deposits, and our bad deeds are withdrawals. We therefore assess a person the same way we assess our bank account. If our good actions outweigh our bad actions, we are morally in the black; if our bad actions greatly outweigh our good actions, we are morally in the red.

By all accounts — literally all — Brett Kavanaugh’s moral bank account is way in the black. He has led a life of decency, integrity, commitment to family and commitment to community few Americans can match. On these grounds alone, the charges against him as a teenager should be ignored.”

God isn’t a vending machine, and sexual assault isn’t the kind of sin you can simply drown in things that aren’t sexual assault. It leaves a victim – a real, living, breathing, suffering victim – who isn’t helped by any of the other actions that their abusers take. And it’s funny you should use the word ‘violated.’ There’s no way that was a coincidence, which makes this piece all the more despicable.

He has not led a life of decency, integrity, commitment to family, and commitment to community, he has lead a farce to cover for the fact that he is an unrepentant violator of another human being whom you are trying to dehumanize by asking us not to care about her and what Kavanaugh did to her.

“So, why is this charge taken seriously?

One reason is, as I recently wrote, the greatest fear in America is fear of the left — the fear of what the left will do to you if you cross it. Not fear of God. Not fear of doing wrong. Fear of the left. Offend the left and you will lose your reputation and, quite often, your job or your business.”

Nice of you to just come right out and say that part of being a God-fearing member of the Right is condoning, enabling, and arguably celebrating sexual assault.

“Another reason is pure, amoral, demagogic politics. No honest American of any political persuasion believes that if a woman were to charge a Democrat-appointed judge such as Merrick Garland with doing to her 36 years ago in high school what Brett Kavanaugh is charged with having done 36 years ago in high school, the Democratic Party and the media would be demanding the confirmation vote be delayed or the candidate withdraw.”

Objection, calls for speculation.

And yet, we sent Franken packing for much less, and thank God for it. We will not tolerate sexual harassment or assault any longer. No amount of it.

“A third reason is feminism’s weakening of the American female (and male, but that is another story). A generation ago, a drunk teenager at a party trying groping a teenage girl over her clothing while trying to remove as much of her clothing as possible would not have been defended or countenanced. But it would not have been deemed as inducing post-traumatic stress disorder either.”

Well goddamn those feminazis for ruining the good ole’ fun we used to have groping women whenever we wanted, holding them down and trying to rape them, and actually raping them when they’re not conscious enough to fight back or scream. A few generations it was ok to lynch a black person. 75 years ago, it was ok to throw a Jew into an oven. 80 years before that it was perfectly acceptable to enslave people. Find other ways to have good, clean, God-fearing fun, you monster.

This weakening of the female is perfectly illustrated by the statement released by Susanna Jones, head of Holton-Arms School, the private preparatory school for girls in Bethesda, Maryland, that the accuser attended. “As a school that empowers women to use their voices, we are proud of this alumna for using hers,” Jones said.

“Empowers women”? Please.”

Yes, women, if you want to truly be empowered you must submit to the kind of behaviour Dennis describes above as perfectly acceptable. Because true empowerment is silently accepting the fact that you’re a sexual object to which men are entitled for any sort of sexual exploitation or violation they’d like to engagement. God forbid yous eek any agency in decisions made about your body, the Right might think you unempowered. They’d be more than happy, though, to forcefully, non-consensually show you how empowered you could be under them if you only submit.

“Nearly every woman over puberty has experienced a man trying to grope her (the groping of a pre-pubescent is sexual molestation of a child and an act of evil). My mother was groped by a physician. She told my father about it. My father told the physician that if he were to do it again, he would break his hands. And it remained a family folk tale. If you had told my mother she was a “survivor,” she would have wondered what you were talking about. The term was reserved for people who survived Nazi concentration camps, Japanese prisoner of war camps and cancer survivors, not women groped by a man.”

Listen if you want us to break every bone in Kavanaugh’s body instead of blocking his nomination to the Supreme court, we might be able to work something out.

And nice work trotting out a semantic argument. As a basis for a moral code in responding to sexual assault, it seems as good as or better than whatever you currently base your moral code on.

“When my wife was a waitress in her midteens, the manager of her restaurant grabbed her breasts and squeezed them on numerous occasions. She told him to buzz off, figured out how to avoid being in places where they were alone and continued going about her job. That’s empowerment.”

Again, because empowerment is not wanting to insist on just consequences and accountability for people who violate you, an. True empowerment is clearly submitting to it and at most verbalizing a desire to not be so violated once it’s already happened, if you’re feeling really cheeky.

“In sum, I am not interested in whether Mrs. Ford, an anti-Drumpf activist, is telling the truth. Because even if true, it tells us nothing about Brett Kavanaugh. But for the record, I don’t believe her story. Aside from too many missing details — most women remember virtually everything about the circumstances of a sexual assault no matter how long ago — few men do what she charges Kavanaugh with having done only one time. And no other woman has ever charged him with any sexual misconduct.”

So what you just got done describing as normal behaviour women should be tolerating is now something that only some men commit but only serially, which you’re finally calling sexual assault, and you don’t believe her because he hasn’t committed enough of it. Also, we know you don’t believe her, you jackass, the problem with what you did here was that you advocated for tolerance, acceptance of ,and even, arguably, the embracing of such behaviour as a society, and all in the name of female empowerment.

On the day before Yom Kippur, Dennis. For shame.

“Do not be surprised if a future Republican candidate for office or judicial nominee — no matter how exemplary a life he has led — is accused of sexual misconduct … from when he was in elementary school.”

To sum up all of what I just wrote: YOU HAVE NOT LIVED AN EXEMPLARY LIFE IF YOU ARE AN UNREPENTANT SEXUAL PREDATOR, DENNIS.

But hey, what do I know, I’m just a left wing Feminazi cuck who doesn’t believe in True Women’s Empowerment™.

 

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If At First You Don’t Succeed

Some people just can’t be wrong. They can’t just take the criticism, admit they were wrong, apologize, and move on. Early on in blogging I learned that being wrong is a good thing—it means you learned something new. Knowledge is power. Well, I suppose no one could accuse George Will of being power hungry.

Following a Washington Post oped piece in which he called sexual assault “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,” George Will appeared on C-SPAN’s Q&A to respond to the outrage expressed over his article. Anyone hoping for an apology, or at the very least a clarification, had another thing coming.

Will opens by calling the people who vocally disagreed with his piece “the rabble.” I had a response prepared for that remark, but one commenter, ModerateRepublican, in the response section of The Blaze article, took the words right out of my mouth:

 So one thing is certain: the “rabble” he talks about probably includes virtually every woman on the planet earth.

Try this: [T]ell a female that you think women want to be raped because of the status and privileged they get by being raped, and see how she responds.

Next he incorrectly quotes a New York Times article citing the “1 in 5” statistic, stating that “The [Obama] administration has said that 1 in 5 women experiences sexual assault.” Using that statistic, he then goes on to discredit it by extrapolating from the 12 percent reporting rate mentioned in the Times article that were the two statistics correct, either the number of assaults—at the one college from which he too numbers, Ohio State—should be higher, or the number of reports should be lower. Had Will checked the New York Times article off of which he built his straw-man argument, he would have noticed that on April 30th, the Times printed a correction on the article stating that the 1 in 5 statistic it had quoted had not applied to assaults on college campuses, but to experiences over the lifetimes of women in general. Will’s Washington Post article was published on June 6th.

Moving along, Will then contends that new evidence standards set by the administration for college disciplinary hearings—preponderance of evidence—is too low, and will therefore result in false accusations. He argues that the evidence standards should be, as it is in the criminal justice system, beyond a reasonable doubt. The new evidence standards in question were suggested by the Department of Education in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent on April 4th, 2011 to colleges across the country. Interestingly, these new standards George Will is complaining about, have been standard practice for more than a decade in college disciplinary hearings. A guide published in 2003 by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) states that “The vast majority of schools employ, at the very least, a ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard.”

College disciplinary hearings are not court cases; they do not bear the same penalties, do not adjudicate the same crimes, and do not have any bearing on the criminal justice system. Therefore, the criteria for adjudication are, and have always been, much lower. Either Will is advocating for “beyond a reasonable doubt” to be adopted for all disciplinary matters because he truly believes that such a high standard is required for any disciplinary matter, or because he’s jealous of the status and privilege conferred on sexual assault victims, and wishes to minimize the number of people who can officially claim that privilege.

Actually, the only thing George Will got right in the whole interview, was when he said that sexual assault cases should not be adjudicated by colleges at all, and should instead be handed over to the criminal justice system. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), in a February, 2014 recommendation letter to the Obama Administration’s White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, recommended that instead of internal disciplinary hearings, colleges should “use the criminal justice system to take more rapists off the streets.”

There is no reason why crime should carry a different penalty or process simply because its perpetrator had the good fortune of committing his crime on a college campus. College campuses should not play haven or sanctuary to people who deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Internal hearings instead of proper trials only serve to encourage abuse and discourage reporting. It should be noted that the reporting rate off college campuses, as reported by RAINN, is 40 percent. Compared to that, the 12 percent reported on college campuses is a horrifying pittance.

Ever the advocate for unfortunate young men who wouldn’t know consent if it slapped them in the face, Will blames a “sea of hormones and alcohol” for what will, when coupled with these “new” disciplinary hearing guidelines and recommendations by the Obama administration, result in “charges of sexual assault, and…young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this, and…litigation of tremendous expense as young men sue the colleges for damages done to them by abandonment of the rules of due process that we have as a society[.]”

Will seems to have a hangup with the fact that women drink on college campuses, and still have the gall to expect sex not to be forced upon them while in a state in which they are unable to consent. Perhaps, instead of worrying so much about the money that college campuses may lose as a result of disciplinary actions which may or may not be based on allegations resulting from accusations some feel are ambiguous since the notion that a person too drunk to stand straight is somehow able to give consent to sex, to them, is laughable, colleges should instead focus on educating its students on what constitutes clear and affirmative consent. The fact that men on college campuses never have to worry about being raped if they consume too much alcohol at a party should attest to not only the existence of a problem, but a pervasive rape culture which permeates college campuses.

Lest you think for a second that George Will doesn’t care about sexual assault, he assures us all that he cares even more than we do. He cautions against “defining sexual assault so broadly…that it begins to trivialize the seriousness of it,” thus implying that a case where a man as sex with a woman who is too drunk to consent, is somehow too trivial to be considered rape. The FBI disagrees.

The new Summary definition of Rape is: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Seems to fit pretty handily into the legal definition of rape.

Finally, he concludes by bemoaning the death of civil public discourse and trying to invalidate all of the outrage at his public display of ignorance, by holding up a few examples of people who said they wanted him dead for what he had said, or that he should be raped to know what it feels like. This is a common political trick in avoiding very real issues by focusing on the crazies on the sidelines, and projecting their extremes onto any intelligent and legitimate disagreement.

Honestly, I don’t know why I expected better of George Will. There are an unfortunate number of people who believe, as he does, that rape must fit a very specific template to be considered valid, thereby subscribing to a culture which not only discourages victims from coming forward by telling them that what happened to them was their fault, but also creates a climate in which an abuser feels comfortable and secure in the knowledge that even if his crimes are reported, he will likely receive no punishment. Rape culture fosters abuse, and environments which breed abuse. Columns and interviews like George Will’s attest to a complete unwillingness to dispel the ignorance and backward opinions that women’s rights and anti-abuse activists have worked decades to eradicate. Apparently abusers are more worthy of support and erring on the side of caution than victims. And he wonders why only 12 percent come forward.

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No Means No Has Got To Go

I came across the following comment on an LA Weekly article responding to George Will’s characterization of being a rape survivor as a privilege:

[I]s “survivor” really the correct term for girls who get wasted at parties and are too drunk to remember whom they had sex with?

I’m only all too familiar with the atmosphere at this campus.  The majority of the women at UCLA are Asian girls who have no interests other than having their face between a book in their dorm room.  Even though they make up the majority, I would be willing to bet they’re almost never victims of “rape”.

The “victim” will always fit this profile: girl from a small town, too young to drink but ends up at a party where she gets wasted, ends up with a guy she thought was cute and then wakes up to regret. Instead of taking responsibility for her actions, learning and moving on now she’s told that she is a “survivor” of rape.

Taking responsibility for your actions would be the first step in getting on with life, but that’s not what society wants.  It wants you to feel eternal shame, regret, misery, self loathing.  Then they can get you the number to a nice, expensive therapist who’ll prescribe some effective drugs for your depression and now you’re now perfectly inserted into the matrix.

Really, to group these women in with real victims who are kidnapped at knife point and brutally assaulted is insulting, to say the least.

I couldn’t help but respond.

First, the “stranger in the dark alley” attack, is largely a myth in the US.

Second, your comment is a perfect example of rape culture; thank you for bringing up every commonly held misconception about rape and what constitutes rape. You made it easy to address. Rape culture, simply put, is a societal attitude of entitlement toward sex. Rape culture is telling a rape victim that she brought it on herself by dressing provocatively, by drinking more than one or two beers, by being a “tease.” Rape culture is the sense of entitlement to sex behind the resentment someone in the “Friendzone” feels at not having his “kindness” and time rewarded with the sex he figured he’d get if he logged enough hours being a friend. Rape culture is every time he says “she was asking for it.”

Rape culture is an attitude that believes that sex is something every man (generally men, but not always. I use men vs women in this piece because that scenario is most prevalent, but the dynamic exists in other forms as well.) is inherently entitled to, especially if a woman, in a man’s opinion, does more to indicate that she wants sex in general than she does to protest when a man initiates. Thus the unfortunate joke: Is it shoplifting or rape if you force sex on a prostitute. Mode of dress, how attractive a girl is, how drunk she allowed herself to get at a party—which is completely irrelevant since someone who is drunk lacks the mental capacity to consent— how overtly sexual she is in general, are all excuses used by society and people who subscribe to rape culture in trying to diminish the severity and validity of rapes which don’t conform to their mental image of what a rape victim to be. The stranger in the dark alley myth does a lot to reinforce rape culture. To someone who subscribes to rape culture, only the victim of a stranger in an alley, or a similar situation, can call themselves a true rape victim. Everyone else is either exaggerating, or seeking privileged status as a survivor.

I’ve learned a few things about rape culture, through discussion, that I’ve found interesting.

The question of prudence always comes up in discussions on rape culture—which precautions is it reasonable to ask a woman to take to avoid sexual assault, while simultaneously not blaming them for their rape. An example I like using in framing this discussion is walking at night, alone, in a neighbourhood known for crime, and getting mugged. While the mugger has absolutely no right to mug, there were precautions the victim could have taken to possibly avoid being mugged. That’s not to say that the victim is at fault for the mugging, but it leaves what to be said for prudence. It’s the same rationale behind advising women not to drink heavily at parties, or not to dress too provocatively on campus, or handing out straws which can detect date-rape drugs in drinks.

I always feel a mixed reaction toward women’s safety seminars. On the one hand, as I said, there is what to be said for prudence, but putting the focus on women protecting themselves rather than on men controlling themselves, has always seemed, to me, wrong. That mugging victim wouldn’t have to worry about being mugged if the neighborhood was cleansed of its criminals. Rape victims wouldn’t have to worry about being raped if men were better equipped by society to control themselves. What makes these discussions so difficult is a pervasive lack of education focused on teaching young men how not to be rapists, rather than teaching women not to be raped.

A perfect example of this is “No Means No.” No Means No was meant to raise awareness of rape on college campuses, and set a standard by which rape could be reduced: If you hear no, stop. Don’t ask again, don’t “just finish,” don’t back off and then start again—just stop. At the time—back in the eighties—it seemed like a good idea. Recently, however, there has been a push to redefine the way we view consent. The problem with No Means No, is that it places the onus on the woman to say no, rather than on the man to receive consent. Therefore, consent is not an affirmative process, just a tacit understanding until the woman says “no.” It’s kind of ironic how a slogan meant to fight rape culture instead promoted it by—almost certainly unintentionally—implying that one is entitled to sex without receiving prior affirmative consent, as long as they believe they have consent.

The problem with that is that it often becomes a debate over what constitutes no. Often the media perpetuates the notion that when a woman says no, she’s just playing hard to get. Rape cases have been lost because, despite the fact that there was no consent, the victim did not fight back hard enough. The onus was on the woman to protest instead of on the man to receive affirmative consent before initiating. Rape culture goes so far in its sense of entitlement toward sex unless the woman protests just the right amount, that there are still those who believe that partner rape (also known as spousal rape or marital rape) is not a crime! The rationale being that marriage itself constitutes overall consent, and therefore, consent is not required to initiate sex with your partner. I have a friend who was repeatedly raped by her husband, despite her protests. He believed, as do an unfortunate many, that marriage, by dint of the institution itself entitled him to sex whenever he wanted, regardless of his wife’s opinion on the matter. Even after she left him and demanded a divorce, he had no idea that he had done something wrong. Again, he felt entitled to sex, for whatever reason, and therefore required no consent.

There are people who will read all of this, and still fail to understand the validity and prevalence of rape culture and its terrible effects. They will continue to deny the validity of rape claims by people whose rapes do not fit into their idea of what rape should be to be valid. For their benefit, I’d like to explain what rape is. Rape, and the reason why its effects are so severe, is a violation of what it is that makes a person a person. It violates the sovereignty of a person’s body and sexuality. All we really control in this world is our body and what we choose to do with it. We choose what we eat, we choose what we wear, we choose whom we have sex with. Sexuality is the most intimate and personal function of our bodies. We exercise control over our bodies and sexuality when we give consent to sex and sexual activity. Rape violates the control a person has over what is most intimate and personal to them. It violates a person’s sovereignty over his or her body. It is one of the most traumatic things one person can do to another, and it often results in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, addiction, complete destruction of self-image and self-worth, inability to form lasting, healthy relationships, depression, even suicide.

I’ve dealt with enough rape cases to know that regardless of how valid other people think a survivor’s claim of rape is, the effects are always the same, and always devastating. The PTSD, etc, is the same whether the rape happens in a dark alley by a stranger, in a little girl’s bedroom by her father or brother, or at a party by some bro who thinks it’s cool to take advantage of the drunk chick. Again, consent cannot be given by someone who is drunk because they lack the mental ability to consent. The violation is real regardless of the circumstances, the effects are real regardless of whether or not an opinion poll says they should be. The act of forcing or coercing someone to have sex with you without first obtaining consent is rape, and it is devastating. Period. The squabbles over whether or not the victim was at fault only highlight a serious problem that we as a society must address: Changing consent from something passive to something active.

It’s time for Yes Means Yes. Consent should be affirmative and constant. It should be understood that unless she actually asks for it, she isn’t “asking for it.” That skirt she’s wearing is not an invitation for sex unless she actually invites you to have sex with her. There can be no room for ambiguity with Yes Means Yes because sex cannot be initiated unless consent is affirmative and understood. The onus is placed on the man to receive consent rather than on the woman to protest. Therefore, operating under Yes Means Yes, questions of how loudly or how violently a victim protested against her own rape, or whether or not she actually consented of she doesn’t fight back at all, will be irrelevant. Unless consent is obtained, it’s rape. Yes Means Yes should be an integral part of sex education programs in schools (many of which currently lack even basic consent as part of their curricula), promoted through popular culture and media, and enforced legally. Yes Means Yes would effectively end rape culture because consent would no longer be a matter of assumption or entitlement, implied unless a woman protests enough—it would be affirmative and clear with no room for ambiguity.

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