(content note: I’m going to discuss rape and sexual assault. Also, I’m feeling ranty and sinus-y, so I’ll probably say something offensive…)
I took a few days off from getting angry at the news because I had to pull off my daughter’s birthday party (Planning! Organizing! Shopping! Cleaning! 10 other little kids in my house!), and I planned to continue my short posting break due to my raging sinus headache and lack of Sudafed. But I was just happy-assing around online and I saw this. Oh, hell no. So I wanted to post about it, and I wanted to explore some ideas about rape culture.
To summarize the article at the link: Robb Gary Evans, a police officer in Arizona, used his badge to gain entry to a bar where he sexually assaulted a woman. He was quite rightly fired from his job and convicted of sexual abuse. Good so far, yes? It went way, way downhill during sentencing. Judge Jacqueline Hatch apparently didn’t feel that his crime was particularly serious, because instead of giving him the maximum sentence (2 1/2 years in prison), she sentenced him to probation and 100 hours of community service. Evans is also not required to register as a sex offender. Well, okay. Seems light to me, but I wasn’t there. I’m sure Judge Hatch took into account some information that I’m not aware of. Then I read what she said to the victim, and I remembered why I’m an angry, angry feminist:
“Bad things can happen in bars(…)If you hadn’t been there that night, none of this would have happened to you (…) When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”
Yeah, that’s some bullshit. Bad things happen in bars because people do bad things. A sexual assault in a bar is not an act of nature. It doesn’t “just happen.” Sexual assault is something that a perpetrator chooses to do. I hate that particular linguistic framing. “A woman was assaulted.” “A woman was raped.” Like rape just falls out of the sky. And that’s not how it is. It should be “A man assaulted…” or “a man raped…” (Yes, I know women can rape people, too. I also know that men are raped. I’m not trying to erase that, but for this particular post I am discussing the most statistically common type of sexual assault and that is a male perpetrator and a female victim.)
And yes, if the victim hadn’t been there that night, it wouldn’t have happened to her. True enough. It probably would’ve happened to someone else instead. The presence of that one particular woman didn’t precipitate the assault; the presence of a man intent on assaulting did.
“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” Change what, exactly? Just what the fuck does that mean? Oh, wait. I know the answer to that. Probably something along the general lines of “this is what you get for going out and doing something fun.” Because the duty of rape prevention always falls to the potential victims, and if a woman “gets herself raped,” then she probably broke one of the rules. Don’t go to bars or parties. Don’t drink. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t wear this. Don’t act like that. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t to infinity. First of all, that shit is really stifling. Women can’t do a bunch of stuff that men do because men can’t be expected to, you know, not rape? I don’t buy that. I think better of men than that. I have yet to meet a man who becomes an uncontrollable rape-monster at the sight of a woman holding a drink or wearing a short skirt. Most people never see rape-prevention tips as something that is insulting to men, too, but they are. So much. I think it can be best summed up by something a friend posted to my Facebook the other day:
Another thing about rape-prevention tips? They’re probably really good advice if you’re looking to prevent stranger-rape. You know, the stereotypical evil man in a ski mask who jumps out of the bushes. (Yes, I know that it happens sometimes. Still not the victims fault. Not even if she was walking on a not-well-lit path and wearing her hair in an easily-grabbable ponytail, or whatever it is that women aren’t supposed to do.) According to RAINN, 73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger. And that’s just reported assaults. So it isn’t strangers that women need to look out for. It’s significant others, family members, friends, friends-of-friends, coworkers, acquaintances…people who they’ve already built at least some amount of trust with. A woman can follow all the rules and still be raped. Because, to borrow from Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, “the only thing a person can do to avoid being raped is never be in the same room as a rapist. Since they don’t announce themselves or wear signs or glow purple, that’s not a very reasonable expectation, is it?“
As a woman, I’ve always found the concept of rape-prevention tips to be a huge double-edge sword. If you don’t follow them to the letter and end up being a victim of assault you were “asking for it.” If you do follow the rules, there’s always someone willing to spew a different kind of garbage at you. Women who take care to follow the rules are called prudes, or bitches, or dykes, or any number of other slurs. They’re told that they’re paranoid, or that they must hate all men. They’re told that “no one would rape you anyway, because you’re fat/ugly/crazy/whatever.” We can’t win.
We need to change how we think and speak about sexual assault. Teaching girls and women bullshit tactics to not get raped isn’t working. We need to teach boys and men to not assault. We need to teach everyone what sexual assault is. We all need to start calling out unacceptable behavior when we see it or hear about it. We need to think of sex as a collaboration between two (or more) people, not as some kind of sum-zero game. We need to abandon the language of consent that says “go ahead until you hear a ‘no’”, and replace it with “don’t do anything unless you have a ‘yes.’” (For more on the concept of “enthusiastic consent,” visit Yes Means Yes.) We need to treat woman like people. Otherwise, nothing will change.