It's time to STOP blaming rape victims and start dismantling the culture that creates them.
The rape culture in our society is real. Any police computer, crisis center or online statistical report can show that. This is true even if you only focus on reported rapes and not estimates on unreported ones.
And yet, part of our society is in denial about sexual assault. These are people who are default skeptics from the first moment that they hear about someone reporting a rape. To them, there are two sides to the story regardless of evidence, witnesses, etc.. Furthermore, they believe the plaintiff gets preferential treatment and that society and the law paints the defendant as guilty until proven guilty. All of this without even peeking into the details.
But why? What is the rationale for this default skepticism? To truly explore this question, we must first explore stereotypes and the role they play on how we see others. For instance, according to some in our society, anyone who wears baggy pants is a thug. To these same people, men who wear pink shirts and get manicures are either gay or feminine, no questions asked. Such ignorance is clearly not bliss and, in fact, is outright dangerous.
I was on an interview panel and one of the panel members noted their skepticism about the corporate potential of someone who, two days earlier, rolled up their dress shirt sleeves and exposed their tattoos. In another workplace far away, I did a keynote during Women's History Month. During one of the breaks, I heard a guy compliment a woman on her dress. When I noticed she was visibly uncomfortable with his use of words, I asked him why he felt it appropriate to compliment her. He noted, "She wears that dress to get attention." Like "Rolling In The Deep" off Adele's tongue, his words just flowed in such an unapologetic and nonchalant manner. He actually believed what he was saying!
Each of these examples paints a direct line between a look or affinity to expectations and characteristics. In our troubling rape culture, certain groups draw similar archaic parallels. These are the three most troubling from my perspective.
1. Did you SEE her/his outfit? She/He was asking for it.
Really? I didn't realize outfits could talk. Nor did I realize that a person's choice of clothing was a symbol for treatment they expected or wanted. Nor did I realize that symbols or perceptions of symbols could be reason enough to act. And apparently I'm especially stupid because I truly did NOT know that my perceptions and subsequent actions could trump someone saying "No."
2. She/He went to their house. What did she/he expect?
Over the past three months, I've gone to someone's house to pick up furniture, drop off money I owed them (d*mn NCAA gambling!), play Cards Against Humanity, have drinks and talk. For all of those house calls, I got raped zero times. I know what you're thinking, so let me save you the suspense:
- "You're a man." Oh, so only women experience rape? And, if a woman goes to a man's house, she should expect it? Got it.
- "You weren't seeing any of those people." Well, I have eyes so I was, in fact, seeing them. Sarcasm aside, I did visit the house of two people I was "seeing," but in neither case was I raped.
- "You weren't there at 10:30 having drinks." Actually, I was.
- "Assuming some of those house visits were friends and males, your analogy has holes." So if they were dates and female, rape would've been on the agenda?
3. She/He even took her/his clothes off!
I will save the sarcasm for this example and talk plainly. In the birds and the bees and Meatloaf songs, there is first base, second base, third base and a home run. The reason we make these distinctions is because we understand, based on the history of sex, that people are sometimes comfortable going to first and sometimes to third. And yes, sometimes they ARE comfortable hitting a home run.
Taking one's clothes off is sometimes a sign that someone is comfortable going to third. It may even be a hot and heavy moment in which someone takes their clothes off not knowing what may come. But here's the thing—and there's really no way around it—as soon as they signal they don't want sex, home runs are off the scoreboard. Period. End. Of. Discussion.
Those who paint rape accusations with a broad brush of skepticism make excuses like, "If anyone is guilty, it's the plaintiff." Now, from this point forward, I shall unmask the plaintiff as a woman and the defendant as a male. I do this not because only women experience sexual assault, but to point out the stereotypical bent that some apply to women who accuse men or raping them.
Let's paint some judgments and stereotypes that really frame the skeptics train of thought:
- If a woman wears a short skirt, it's because she wants men's attention.
- If a woman wants to have sex with a man, there is no way he's turning that down!
- If a man goes to a woman's house, it's because he wants to have sex with her—no other reason.
Henceforth, some men will be skeptical of a woman's accusations because these men think with their heads and not her heart. They do not put themselves in her shoes.
- To them, not wanting to have sex with anyone just boggles their heads. Nevermind that women are not, in fact, desperate, nor do all women see sex as just a physical act.
- To them, a woman wearing tight-fitting clothes and showing cleavage is saying that she wants to get down. That's what their heads tell them. Nevermind the fact that it that maybe she just likes to look good and feel confident for herself.
- To them, you don't go to a member of the opposite sex's house, especially not at night, unless you want to have sex.
Finally, there's another subsection of men who are not only skeptical, but angry about it all. These men are living with old school views of gender expectations and in their minds, men take and women give.
- To them, women are subservient to men, thus his desires trump hers.
- To them, the new normal we are trying to create is dangerous. They believe that equality has killed the family, so they will often blame rape, abuse and divorce on the woman's refusal to simply accept her place in the world.
It's all very scary, not to mention IGNORANT. Stereotypes and default associations run plentiful in some circles.
Bottom line, good men DON'T think this way. Archaic men do. The end.