The Rape Apologism Fails of Emily Yoffe

I’ve previously covered a gender-essentialist Double X Fail for the blog, and unfortunately, they’ve done it again. As now infamously reported across the feminist blogosphere, Emily Yoffe thought it was a good idea to tell college-aged women to stop drinking alcohol in order to avoid rape. In her extremely paternalistic piece, Yoffe writes such gems as:

Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.

I’m so confused: Since when is it a feminist issue to match men drink for drink? Did I just not get the memo on that? Did Yoffe just try to (wo)mansplain victim-blaming, while simultaneously victim-blaming? Does Yoffe even know what feminism is? I just…I can’t do it today.

Almost immediately, feminist journalist Ann Friedman posted a parody to her blog (later published at The Cut), that switches the pronouns on Yoffe’s piece with often hilarious and insightful results, including the following sentence I find devastatingly true:

But the obsessive focus on blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn young men that when they get wasted, they are putting young women in potential peril.

Although Friedman’s exercise is deceptively simple, it gets at something: when we discuss rape culture, far too often the onus is on women to change their behavior. Rape doesn’t occur because of Yoffe’s ignorant assumption that there’s a lack of knowledge about potential prevention methods. On the contrary, growing up socialized as female means being constantly aware that your body is not your own, that it is vulnerable to violation by any man at any time. We are drilled by a misogynistic society to expect a potential rapist to be an unknown assailant that jumps out of the bushes and so-called prevention methods are rattled off accordingly: to carry keys to use as potential weapons, to have a buddy system if we do have to walk home alone, to carry mace or pepper spray, to not wear short skirts or shirts that are too revealing. So, yeah, Emily, me and every other person socialized as female in this culture is probably aware of what we supposedly need to do to “prevent” rape.

What I love about Friedman’s parody is that it addresses the missing piece too often ignored in conventional discussions of rape culture: male perpetrators rape women, and they often use alcohol as an aid to do that, yet no prescription is ever made on men’s behavior. Outside of feminist circles, men are never told not to rape, and when they are (as in the case of Zerlina Maxwell’s badass appearance on Fox News), they can expect vicious death threats.

By omitting the crucial fact that drunk men play a role in coercing women, Yoffe’s article assumes “boys will be boys,” with insatiable sex drives they have no ability to control. Despite what the conventional narrative would have us believe, these men know what they’re doing – rape is about control and domination, and we should acknowledge that preying on inebriated women creates a clear power imbalance.

Most conversations had about rape in our culture, Yoffe’s piece included, render invisible the obvious role that male rapists play in rape, and in so doing, assumes the innocence of the white male perpetrator. And, I, for one, am sick of this unquestioned centering of the white male experience. But if the cultural conversation about rape in our culture is going to stay at the level of changing behavior, we may as well talk about men’s behavior. (But for self-care purposes, I also endorse Mychal Denzel Smith’s response to her follow-up.)

Surviving and Speaking Out: Where Is Our Safe Place?

Babysitting has always been an easy source of cash for predominantly teenage girls. I’m no exception; I babysit at least once a week to fund my increasingly expensive social life. One natural side effect of babysitting is being able to observe the attitudes of children about various big-picture themes and potentially increase their own social skills. I went to go babysit for a nice family with two little boys, a 4 and 6 year old. Most of their behavior was expected and I had an easy time correcting it; they didn’t share well, so I told them why that was important. They hit each other, so I sent them to time out because violence isn’t okay. But when the 4 year old tried to kiss me on the lips and I said no, he didn’t quite understand the concept. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t want to kiss him and he had to respect my words. He said that if I didn’t kiss him, he would hit me. I didn’t let him kiss me, and he punched me in the face because “boys are supposed to kiss girls and since you didn’t let me, I get to hit you”.

When did society redefine the word “no”? According to dictionary.com, the word “no” is a negative used to express denial or refusal. In most situations, that meaning still holds. However, when it comes to sexuality, the word takes on a whole new meaning. The person saying yes has more power than the person saying no when it should be the opposite. This is the foundation of rape, and while it begins in childhood, it certainly doesn’t stop there.

I’ve known many women who have been sexually assaulted and raped, and personal connection has always incited me to do whatever I could to change the hostile environment that society allows when it comes to victims of sexual violence. This includes making my own school a safe place, which is a significantly more difficult task than it seems. It’s not so much the administration or faculty who hinder my efforts, but rather the attitudes of my peers.

When I speak out on behalf of sexual assault victims at my school, I’m met with a negative reaction 95% of the time. Students of both genders will show their disdain with comments that are geared to not only undermine what I do, but to attack me as a person. This has always confused me because I’m not trying to do a bad thing; I want to make the school a safe environment for victims of sexual violence and also prevent people at my school from being perpetrators.

But until now, I never truly realized the implications of what a hostile environment meant for a victim. I guess it’s difficult to know what it’s like until it happens to you, and even then, you don’t quite know what to think about everything or anything. It’s hard to not adopt the mindset of those around you concerning  sexual assault. It’s hard to not blame yourself. It’s hard to not make excuses for your rapist. It’s hard to not forget about everything that happened. In a situation that’s already hard enough, the accusatory and judgmental mindset of society puts the victim on trial for the crime.

I was 15 when I first got pressured into doing something sexual that I didn’t want to do. Before that point, I had been privy to cat calls and unsolicited sexual attention, but it was all “normal”, so I didn’t pay it much mind. In fact, I thought it was flattering because guys thought I was pretty. Then I started kissing boys and boys started kissing me, and then it started going farther and that was fine  because I knew my boundaries and I made sure that boys knew them too. But then one time I was kissing a boy and things were going too far and I said that I didn’t want to do anything anymore, that I wanted to stop. I thought saying “no” one time would be enough. It wasn’t. He tried to persuade me, tried to convince me that it would be fun, tried to tell me that everything was okay and that I needed to stop being a bitch. I really liked this boy and I wanted him to like me so I nodded and did what I was told.

I was 16 the first time I was sexually assaulted. After the incident that happened when I was 15, I moved my boundaries back a little more because “what the hell, it doesn’t mean anything anyway”. Then I had a boy that I thought was just a friend come over to my house and I learned that even if you repeat the word “no”, it still isn’t enough. He shoved me up against my bedroom wall and tried to take off my clothes, tried to have his way with me. I could barely fight him off. Then he slapped me, I suspect for the same reason that the 4 year old that I babysat for punched me. Boys are supposed to kiss girls and since I didn’t let him, I deserve to be hit.

I was almost 17 the first time I was raped. After the incident that happened earlier that year, I moved my boundaries back even more because “what the hell, no one will respect them anyway”. Then I went out with a boy I sort of knew, and he started kissing me and I let it happen, but I specifically told him that I would not have sex with him. I thought at least that boundary would be respected.  He tried to persuade me, tried to convince me that it would be fun, tried to tell me that everything was okay and that I needed to stop being a bitch. I still said no. I said no the entire time, but this time I couldn’t fight him off. After it was over, he said he thought I was “one of those girls who says she doesn’t want it but is really just playing hard to get”. Then he apologized and left. I was in shock after it happened. I ignored it and went on with my day. I laughed, I smiled, I went to my friend’s house and never said a word. It hit me the next day. I let myself cry for 30 minutes, and then I tried to reason with myself.

It couldn’t have been rape because I didn’t bleed even though I was a virgin. It couldn’t have been rape because he didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt me; he just wanted to have sex. It couldn’t have been rape because it would have been my fault because I knew the reputation he had and I went out with him anyway. It couldn’t have been rape because I wanted it, right? 

Then I watched some TV and tried to forget. I babysat some more and tried to forget. I went to sleep and tried to forget. I can’t forget.

I called the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline and spoke to a nice, helpful woman about my options. I didn’t want to go to the police because if I pressed charges, everyone would know. I couldn’t handle people knowing for two reasons: 1) I knew what people would say about me and 2) I knew that my rapist would get people to hate me. Whenever someone claims that they’re sexually assaulted, their peers will either try to blame them (what were you wearing? why did you put yourself in that situation?) or say they’re making it up (just because you regret it doesn’t mean it was rape!) Additionally, the rapist will try to make the victim seem guilty (I thought she wanted it! She’s a slut anyway. She’s lying!) My other option was to try and talk about it with friends to build a support system. The number of people I felt comfortable talking to was shockingly low. I couldn’t even tell my best friend or family what happened because I didn’t want to be blamed. I was blaming myself enough already, I couldn’t handle someone else interrogating me about what happened. I felt so alone and so unsafe and it took a long time for that feeling to go away. It still hasn’t gone away.

This guy wasn’t a serial rapist. He wasn’t a scary psychopath. In fact, I was never really scared the entire time that we were together, which is confusing even to me. He was just a normal, popular high school boy that wanted to have sex with another high school girl and so he did it. He knew that what he was doing wasn’t right (hence the apology), but if he were to read this article, he would have no idea that I wrote it about him. He doesn’t think he raped me. He just thinks that we had sex and I didn’t like it. This is the case for a startlingly large number of young adults who rape other young adults. 1 in 5 women are the victims of an attempted or completed rape, and of that number, 44% are under the age of 18 according to the New York Times and RAINN.  He is one of the countless reasons why we need to talk about consent, and rape, and communication, and healthy sexuality. I am one of the countless reasons why we need to have that conversation. The people at my school make up the countless reasons why we need this education.

In all honesty, I’m terrified of having this article published. I’m terrified of the reactions I’ll get if/when people who know me read this. I’m terrified that a college could see this article and reject my application for some reason based off of it. I’m terrified that my parents will read this and never let me see another boy. I’m terrified that if I admit to what happened, people will never look at me the same again.

But I shouldn’t have to be afraid.

Yale to Students Found Guilty of Rape: “Don’t You Ever Do That Again!”

In the state of Connecticut, a person convicted of felony sexual assault can face up to five years in jail — up to one year if convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault. Unless, that is, that person happens to go to Yale.

Yale reported eight sexual assaults on campus between January 1 and June 30, 2013.  Two of those cases were dismissed, and the remaining six were adjudicated by the university. A recent report by the Huffington Post reveals that of the six  students found to have committed sexual assault at Yale in 2013, four received only written reprimands from the university. A fifth student was suspended for two semesters but allowed back on probation to finish his degree, while a sixth received probation. Not a single one of these students spent a day in jail.

Even more problematic, these students’ records will not reflect that they were found to have committed sexual assault. Instead, Yale chooses to use the term “nonconsensual sex,” which downplays the severity of the offense. By labeling sexual assault, including rape, with the more innocuous “nonconsensual sex,” Yale promotes a sense that these incidents were the result of misunderstandings, perhaps too much alcohol, rather than the acts of violation they actually are.

Yale was investigated by the US Department of Education in 2011 for the mishandling of sexual assault cases on campus. The university was found guilty of violating the Clery Act, which mandates reporting of sexual assaults, and forced to pay a $155,000 fine. In addition, the university has produced a semi-annual Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct since the time of that investigation. In spite of the investigation and the fine, however, Yale seems content to punish perpetrators of sexual assault with minimal penalties —  the maximum penalty anyone found to have committed sexual assault at the institution is a two-semester suspension, and even the students receiving that penalty are allowed to return to campus to finish their educations.

When one of the most respected educational institutions in America is not only found to have misreported sexual assaults on its campus, but also delivers slap-on-the-wrist punishments like a written reprimand, what are we telling young women and young men? When the institution label acts of sexual violence as merely “nonconsensual sex,” what does this tell us about prevailing attitudes towards rape and other forms of sexual assault? What type of education is Yale providing young women when it tells them that if they are raped, they will not only not receive justice, but will have to share classrooms with their assailants? And what is Yale telling young men when it demonstrates that, should they commit sexual violence, they will probably just get a “note in their file”?

This is a problem that goes far beyond Yale, as the more recent investigations into the handling of sexual assault at campuses like Occidental and UNC-Chapel Hill demonstrate. Perhaps Yale, not unlike USC, hopes that the sexual assault adjudication process will be “educative” rather than “punitive.”

Certainly, these cases are both educative and punitive for victims and survivors, in that they teach very pointed lessons about the prevalence of rape culture, victim-blaming, and institutional negligence. The question is whether what these incidents teach is what we want young women and young men to learn.

We Need to Make #TwitterNoise, Not #TwitterSilence

It’s become pretty obvious just recently that Twitter has a huge problem with misogyny. That might not be news to a lot of women who use the site; we’ve been getting this kind of abuse for our entire Internet lives. But since Caroline Criado-Perez, a British feminist who recently campaigned the Bank of England to keep the image of a woman on our banknotes, started making noise about the horrific abuse she began to receive after seeing success, it’s finally getting the coverage that it rightly deserves.

According to Criado-Perez, at one point the rate of abusive tweets she was receiving was up to “50 an hour”. The abuse also spread to other women who have spoken out in support, culminating in several female journalists receiving bomb threats. It hardly needs stating, but that is a lot of harrowing tweets for one individual to receive at a time. Even more so when every one is a rape threat, a rape joke, or a death threat.

The popular response to the situation has been to call for Twitter to install a “report abuse” button, which would allow users to instantly report offensive tweets directly to the Twitter team, who would suspend the user if they were deemed to have breached the terms of use. Certainly, this might have helped Criado-Perez when the volume of abusive tweets she was receiving was simply too large and too constant to report every one via the existing form. But is it the right solution?

Twitter allows anyone to project their opinions in 140 characters to millions across the globe. Why is it that the first thing so many men seem to want to do with access to such a platform is send women misogynistic abuse and threats of rape? This isn’t just a one off; it’s symptomatic of a toxic culture. A “report abuse” button might hide individual tweets and maybe see individual accounts closed, but it won’t stop more tweets being sent, or more accounts being set up. It definitely won’t stop those men going out and actually causing harm to the women they clearly hate so much.

Social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If men are abusive on the Internet, and treat rape as an acceptable act to wish on someone, then those opinions transfer directly into real life. They might well be less inclined to say to a woman’s face that they are going to rape her in the way that they do in a tweet, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to. They just think there are less consequences of doing so on the Internet. Which is what really needs to change.

It’s all very well having a “report abuse” button, but something needs to happen when those tweets are reported. Twitter needs to acknowledge what real abuse is, the police need to be made aware, and the police need to act. Right now, I see little reason to believe that this will happen. We’ve already seen the way Facebook’s moderation team considered the most horrific, violently misogynistic content acceptable, and we see every day the way that the police just do not take rape seriously at all. Add to this the way that a “report abuse” button could very easily be used by the abusers that it is meant to remove as another way of silencing their targets, and what exactly is going to improve here?

Clearly, a shift on a much wider scale is required. It’s less clear how best to achieve this. For some, including the journalist Caitlin Moran, the answer was to “boycott” Twitter, to show both the site and the abusers on it that they would not stand for the situation any longer. This is what became the #twittersilence. But is removing yourself from the platform that abusers are already trying to forcibly remove you from an effective form of protest? Is silencing yourself, in response to people actively trying to silence you, sending the right message?

Men are tweeting abuse at Criado-Perez, and anyone offering her support, because they are women with opinions, and that is apparently the biggest threat to a man.

Maybe we should make our opinions our biggest weapons.

USC to Rape Victim: If Your Rapist Didn’t Orgasm, It’s Not Really Rape

Yes, you read that right: according to one student who reported a sexual assault at the University of Southern California, campus police told her that they had determined that no assault had taken place because her assailant didn’t orgasm. In explaining the university police’s decision not to refer the case to the Los Angeles Police Department, an officer told her, “Because he stopped, it was not rape. . . . Even though his penis penetrated your vagina, because he stopped, it was not a crime.” A student judicial officer reportedly gave the same reason for the lack of disciplinary action against the accused assailant.

I’m not questioning that the lack of semen certainly would make the collection of forensic evidence more difficult in a sexual assault case. But law enforcement asserting that the lack of semen means that no rape occurred turns my stomach. There is already a culture of shame and silence around sexual assault, which results in (by some estimates) less than half of all assaults being reported. For a victim who was brave enough to report her assault to be silenced in this way is horrifying.

It would be nice to think this incident is the result of one clueless police officer at USC, however, according to a recent Title IX complaint filed against the institution, it is part of a larger pattern of mishandling — or refusing to handle — sexual assault cases in the community. Given that being a woman in college is, in and of itself, a risk factor for sexual assault, as well as the dismal statistics about sexual assault on even those colleges ranked among America’s best, the lack of support found by victims and survivors in our educational communities is all the more infuriating.

Along with the “no orgasm, no rape” incident, victims at USC have reported a systemic pattern of refusal to punish assailants or hold them accountable.  Some students report that even when assailants were found to have committed rapes against fellow students, they received light punishments and were allowed to graduate from the university without facing any criminal proceedings. In other cases, the university refused to pursue investigations even in the face of what would seem to be overwhelming evidence. Tucker Reed, the lead complaitant in the suit against USC, presented university police with audio recordings of her ex-boyfriend admitting that he had raped her. A USC official told Reed that the university’s goal was not to “punish” the assailant but to provide an “educative” opportunity. (She does not seem to have told Reed what exactly they wanted to “educate” her rapist about, but I’m guessing the takeaway lesson for him was “You can rape your ex-girlfriend and get away with it.”) Yet another student says campus police asserted that women should not  “go out, get drunk and expect not to get raped” when she reported being assaulted at a fraternity party.

USC Title IX coordinator Jody Shipper told the Huffington Post that the university “remains vigilant in addressing any issues promptly and fully as they arise,” and is in the process of internally reviewing policies and procedures regarding sexual assault reporting and adjudication at the institution.

Hopefully, should the Justice Department find that USC and the other educational institutions named in the Title IX complaint are in fact guilty of violating federal law in their (non)handling of sexual assault on their campuses, it will elect for a process that is more than just “educative” and in fact holds institutions and administrators accountable. Certainly, the process has already been “punitive” enough for victims and survivors.


What I Learned At the Women’s eNews and WAM!NYC Workshop on Best Practices for Writing on Rape and Sexual Assault

I previously mentioned  my excitement about the workshop Women’s eNews and WAM!NYC held on best practices for covering sexual assault. I spoke to my awkwardness in writing about and describing the actual acts of force that take place during a reported sexual assault; my own skittishness in describing the act of rape underlines how difficult it is to write about sexual assault, particularly to audiences who don’t understand the power differentials at play in our society. This workshop revealed to me that my own challenges writing about sexual assault are deeply linked to the sexist assumption writers and reporters make daily: to write from an “unbiased” perspective, we are expected to write from a male perspective.

photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/futurowoman/">Nancy Stockdale</a> on flickr

Claudia Garcias-Rojas, a reporter and activist who is currently working with the Chicago Task Force on Violence Against Young Girls and Women, shared her findings on how journalists contribute to a culture where rape is largely misunderstood, and ways in which journalists, together with activists, can do better. In describing the misleading language journalists commonly use to describe sexual assault, I realized much of the erroneous terminology, including “engaged in” and “sex” conflates rape with sex, implying a degree of consent where none exists. Garcias-Rojas recommended describing the act in explicit detail in order to jar the reader and really show them, clearly, that force was involved, something the term “sex” obscures.

In Western culture, we experience a daily paradox in news coverage: although crime is heavily reported, readers aren’t given a means to understand the context in which that crime occurs. In her presentation “Man Kills Wife, Shoots Self,” Rita Henley-Jensen, Editor-in-Chief of Women’s eNews, noted that crime is understood as an aberration, something we aren’t supposed to make sense of. This framing is only misleading but also deceptive. Common offenses committed by journalists in this genre (as it were) include pulling quotes from clueless neighbors who insist the husband was “just a regular guy,” and either completely omitting or burying quotes that would provide context into why men murder their estranged spouses with such frequency. Journalists must prioritize quotes and evidence-based research which places violent behavior in a context under which it can be better understood. If writers show crimes always have motives, we can begin to delineate structural patterns of misogyny that endanger women’s lives.

Perhaps the most important lesson I took away from this workshop was the importance of framing pieces in ways that illustrate how our society is defined by different but interrelated sets of violence: institutional violence and interpersonal violence. As Garcia-Rojas noted, most stories are written from the perspective of the perpetrator, and presumes their innocence. As writers and activists who are sensitive to the concerns of rape survivors, we must go the extra mile to establish a victim’s innocence and use terminology that makes it evident that rape is an act of violence and force.

Examples of bad stories covering rape and sexual assault abound, but examples of good stories are few and far in between. This is an endemic problem in journalism that is highly revealing of the class and gender biases of writers. It’s up to us to start implementing some of these practices in our own writing. In the future, I will challenge myself to be less shy in my own writings on assault and hold journalists accountable in their coverage of sexual assault.

This Community Stood Behind A Survivor – At Any Cost

Until we have found ourselves in the situation of being repeatedly raped by our own father whilst the rest of our family are absent, we can never know what our reaction will be. When an 18-year-old girl in Papua New Guinea found herself in this exact situation, it was her decision to behead her rapist father with a Tramontia bush knife. In a world where rape survivors are forced to marry their attackers, or bribed to stay silent, you might think that this was a surefire way of guaranteeing condemnation from her community. Instead, she has received full support from the District Leaders.

Many, I’m sure, will be denouncing her for what is, of course, murder. I wonder how many of those have had to live with the knowledge that their father, the man who is meant to love them, violated them, and was imminently going to violate them again? Nobody should have to live with the trauma, the pain, and the fear that goes with being a rape survivor. This girl acted upon her instinct at a time when she had very little choice. She did what she felt she had to do to survive.

And her community are acknowledging that. The Dei District Leaders of the Western Highlands Province – in which this is reportedly the first instance of a father raping his own daughter – stated that she will not be shunned, because she “did what she did because of the trauma and the evil actions of her father.” They added that they will neither turn her over to the police or give her father a proper burial. Note to society: this is the kind of unwavering support rape survivors need, and the kind of condemnation that rapists deserve.

Of course, Papua New Guinea is by no means a beacon of human rights, especially for women. Witch hunts, of which women comprise six out of every seven reported victims, have been occurring in the country for many years, and in recent months have seen women publicly burned alive, beheaded and tortured. Clearly, it has a long way to go. But in this instance at least, they got it right.

Rape Culture Meets Rape Jokes: The Responsibility Trap

A lively, somewhat confusing, conversation about bad and violent rape jokes has taken center stage for some in the comedy community again. The state of this conversation tells me something: a dangerous vacuum of social responsibility exists on a cultural level around sexual assault. Socialized victim blaming along with a lack of understanding of rape culture may help explain how these rape jokes continue to be defended by some comedians and fans alike.

The current paradigm of the so-called “feminist vs. comedian” rape joke conversation goes something like this:

Comedian: I tell jokes. Censorship is un-American. Obviously I tell jokes about rape and I am not actually encouraging rape. You don’t get it.

Feminist: I get it. I’m not asking for censorship of your jokes but some of thse jokes are akin to outright hate speech. If you understood rape culture you likely wouldn’t tell bad rape jokes and you’d have some humility about the damage caused when you do.

Comedian: Obviously reasonable people in the world know rape isn’t funny and get I’m just joking. Bad rape jokes have no real negative impact on women and survivors of sexual assault.

Feminist: Consider this: “Reasonable” people rape. A naïve use of rape jokes furthers misogynistic behavior all around you by supporting it and laughing with it, not at it.

Furthermore, using violent rape jokes is unwise when about one in three of the female fans (and possibly some of the males too)  in your audience are likely triggered by this type of language due to their own sexual assault or the sexual assault of their close friend or relative.

Trivializing rape by joking about it when women already don’t feel safe reporting rape and often experience an internalized guilt for their sexual assault is NOT helping your audience take this epidemic seriously. Do you take rape seriously?

Enter the trolls stage left, right and center.

This conversation has been going strong for a year in the wake of a rape joke made by comedian Daniel Tosh. A resurgence of the conversation was sparked when feminist writer Sady Doyle e-mailed comedian Sam Morril about his use of rape jokes. In the email Doyle made an attempt at a good-faith conversation about the use of rape jokes as comedy. Doyle, as well as those who came to her defense, were met with violent hate speech including rape threats. Jezebel’s Lindy West read some of those rape threats aloud and filmed the situation. This, ladies and gentlemen, is rape culture.

For those still in the dark, Hello Giggles offers an excellent summation of the term rape culture:

The term “rape culture” refers to a culture in which attitudes about rape are tolerant enough to be an enabling factor in anything ranging from sexual harassment to actual rape. When a girl complains about being catcalled on the street because it made her uncomfortable, and you tell her to just take a compliment, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When a girl has one too many drinks at a party and is taken advantage of, and your reaction is that it’s her fault for not being more careful, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When you say that someone was “asking for it” because their skirt was too short, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When you assume that men are never victims of sexual harassment or assault, yes, you’re still perpetuating rape culture (not only because desexualizing one gender sexualizes the other by proxy, but because classifying one form of harassment or assault as valid over another is contributing to the problem).

When asked about rape jokes last year comedian Sarah Silverman argued making fun of this heinous crime seems like a “comics dream” and incredibly edgy but really it’s just the safest joke. Silverman jokes, “Who is gonna complain about rape jokes? Rape victims? They don’t even report rape!” And I will add, by the same token, why worry about making homophobic jokes either when many gays still aren’t even willing to come out of the closet?

Recently a BBC reporter was forced to apologize after making a comment about his ability to to “cure” a lesbian. You know the joke: if only this one lesbian had sex with this one straight guy she would know she is actually straight. Keep in mind, there are parts of the world where rape of lesbians is used by some men in a homophobic culture with the intention to cure women of their homosexuality (“corrective rape”) for example South Africa. But maybe as a lesbian I’m being too sensitive? Or maybe I have some internalized homophobia to work through before I feel comfortable speaking out against this form of violence? This is rape culture too.

Ultimately the responsibility of not making bad rape jokes rests with the comedian. Tosh, Morril, and plenty of comedians making crude sets of jokes I can’t sit through in the NYC’s West Village every week carelessly toy with misogynistic language because at the end of the day so much of it is still culturally acceptable.

In the aftermath of her e-mail Doyle tweeted she didn’t believe there was a need for censorship of rape jokes and instead pointed to the role of shifting social mores. The flip side of victim blaming is instead a belief in the social responsibility for everyone to take seriously their part in confronting rape culture regardless of whether you are a rape survivor, a sister of a rape survivor or a guy who knows a girl he thinks shouldn’t become a statistic.

When stopping violence against women is taken seriously on a cultural level, bad rape jokes may finally lose their punch and comedians relying on them, their audience.

This Isn’t About Tourism: On Travel, Rape, and India

An American woman was gang-raped in the northern Indian town of Manali. The 30-year old joins a long list of women and girls who have fallen victim to sexual violence in the country in recent months. This apparent epidemic is concerning, certainly. But is the most pertinent message we can take from it really, as others are suggesting, that India is an unsafe destination for tourists?

Undeniably, India has a problem with rape. As Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of Plan India, testifies, the country has “deep rooted” gender issues, lying within “the status of women [and] … the male mindset.” It remains legal for men to rape their wives. More than this, though, a survey supported by UN Women found that 95% of women in New Delhi feel unsafe in public places. At the same time, three out of four men agreed with the statement that “women provoke men by the way they dress”, two out of five men agreed with the statement that “women moving around at night deserve to be sexually harassed”, and 51% of men considered themselves to have sexually harassed or committed violence against women in public spaces. Yeah – that’s a problem.

But it is by nature a problem that affects the women of India far more than it affects tourists, American or otherwise. We absolutely should be worried about the rate at which rapes are occurring there, and the way that sexism and misogyny appears to be ingrained into Indian society – but out of fear for the lives and well-being of the women that are there, not just our own when we choose to visit. That’s bordering on narcissism, and for what? India isn’t going to get safer if tourists never go there; if anything, it’ll get less international attention, leaving chaos unchecked. If the root of the problem is India’s heavily patriarchal society, then addressing that is the only key to stopping sexual violence.

Besides, telling female tourists not to travel, or giving them a laundry list of things that they mustn’t do if they decide to go anyway, is veering dangerously into victim blaming territory. All those things she should do will be hanging over her head, stopping her from having a good time… and then, if she is attacked, they’ll quickly become what she should have done. Considering that attacks on tourists are said to be rare, who is that helping, exactly?

Perhaps most significantly, though, this discourse completely ignores the greatest threat facing American woman – and it ain’t traveling abroad. Someone is raped or sexually assaulted every 2 minutes in the US; far more frequently than in India, where statistics suggest it is one every 20 minutes. And those are just the reported attacks. We can focus on India’s problem with rape all we want – it won’t make our own glaringly obvious issues disappear. Have we forgotten Steubenville and the countless other school and college rape cases? What about the exorbitant rates of sexual assault in the military? Or Ariel Castro?

The gang-rape of a tourist in India should teach us something, but it is not that American women should stay at home. When is that ever the solution to rape, here or abroad? No, we need to observe the problem in India with the intention to end rape for all women, not just Americans – and then we should open our eyes and realize that we’ve got a pretty huge problem with rape of our own.

More on Ms. Magazine’s Ten Totally Typical Examples of Rape-Splaining and Victim Blaming, and Why They Need to Stop

TRIGGER WARNING: discussions of rape, abuse and offensive language and ideas.

December 15, 2012 CHICAGO— a 12 year old girl is held by gunpoint and gang-raped by three 16 year old boys in the basement of one of the rapist’s homes. August 12, 2012 STEUBENVILLE— an unconscious 16 year old girl is raped at a party by two 16 and 17 year old football players The thing these two heinous crimes have in common? Both victims were blamed for what happened to them.

Rape-splaining and victim blaming are two of the biggest proponents of the pervasive rape culture that we all live in. Rape-splaining is the explaining away of a sexual assault or rape; this includes coming up with excuses for the rapists and subtly placing the blame on the victim. Victim blaming is more overt in its shifting of the blame from rapist to victim, but both of these tactics give the victim responsibility for what happened to them. Since people are constantly bombarded with this cultural mindset, both rape-splaining and victim blaming can easily be found in verbal and cyber conversations. Ms. Magazine pointed out the 10 most common examples of victim blaming in an article last week.

Let’s take a deeper look at them now:

1. The victim was asking for it. This is the line that I hear most commonly in regards to sexual assault and rape. If a girl is drunk, acting like she “wants the D”, or is dressed provocatively, she obviously is asking for rape, right? The more thought you put into this argument, the more absurd it sounds. Women have every right to drink, be flirty, and wear what they want without being in physical danger. Scotland got it right when they filmed an anti-victim blaming advertisement; the victim is never asking for it!

2. Men get these biological urges to rape; they just can’t help themselves. According to the UK’s Rape Crisis Center, “studies show that most rapes are premeditated i.e. they are either wholly or partially planned in advance. All rapes committed by more than one assailant are always planned.” Men are human beings, right? Don’t human beings have free will to make their own choices? Why are men any different when it comes to sexual urges? Men aren’t animals, and if I were a man, I would honestly resent the implication that I couldn’t control myself. Rape is a choice that men make with their brains, not with their penises.

3. The victim might have made it up. This one makes me, and countless other feminists/women/rational humans, quite upset. Why are people more ready to believe that the woman is lying than that she has been victimized? If someone was robbed, this question would never even be fathomed by onlookers. Look below at the lovely infographic made by the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. It speaks for itself.



4. The victim is ruining the life of the rapist; the rapist had so many prospects. When a man chooses to rape a woman, he is making a choice. Albeit a stupid and awful choice, but it is a decision that is consciously made. He weighed the pros and cons of the situation, and although he might claim that he was caught up in the moment, he infringed on another individual’s liberty and personhood. For this, he must face the consequences. It is not the victim’s fault that a man chose to rape her, even if he was a star athlete/genius/musical prodigy/etc. He may be such a “promising boy”, but he is also a rapist and that can’t be forgotten.

5.  The victim should not have been in that situation/known that person/lived in that neighborhood/walked down that street/gone to that  bar, etc., etc. Again, the point must be made that MEN NEED TO CONTROL THEMSELVES!! It’s a disgusting double standard that our society perpetuates. Name any situation where a woman would feel unsafe, some examples being: walking down a dark alley, going to her car at night in an empty parking lot, going to a bar, going over to a guy’s house. Now imagine a man being in the same situation. People wouldn’t consider it unsafe for him to be there, but if a woman does the same exact thing, she is asking for whatever happens to her. The point here is that society shouldn’t be restricting a woman’s freedom in this way; instead, society needs to be telling men to not rape women.

6. People of certain races/ages/classes/backgrounds are just more prone to violent behavior. False false false. There isn’t a cookie-cuttter, typical rapist. Yes, rapists are a product of their environment, but not of economic/ethnic/racial/age/social groups. Rapists are a product of the Rape Culture, of a culture where violence against women is tolerated, of a culture where women are sexualized to such an extent that it is incredibly easy to view them more as objects and less as human beings.

7. The victim didn’t say no. Just because she didn’t say no, doesn’t mean she’s saying yes. What is consent, ladies and gentlemen? The legal definition of consent is when “a person who possesses and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision demonstrates consent by performing an act recommended by another.”  There are many important aspects to this definition, such as the person must be mentally able to make this decision and they perform the act recommended. Consent is a resounding yes, not the absence of a no.

8. In cases of underage perpetrators: The rapist is only a child him/herself. The rapist made the conscious decision to violate another human being. He made the choice and should therefore be tried as an adult. Rape isn’t a juvenile offense such as shoplifting; it is the exertion of power and dominance over another resistant human being. Shoplifting, vandalism, and other lesser offenses won’t ruin lives. Rape, on the other hand, can end lives. 13% of rape victims will commit suicide. If an adolescent can cause another human so much trauma that they take their own life, then why shouldn’t they take the full punishment for their actions?

9. The victim should have known what he/she was getting him/herself into. Rape isn’t the victim’s mistake, it’s the rapist’s. Why should women have to live in fear because of men’s choices? Obviously the victim didn’t know they were going to be raped, or else they wouldn’t have gone. Saying that the victim should have anticipated a sexual assault is absurd. This is just another excuse to try to let the rapist get off free.

10. The victim’s parents should have taught him/her warning signs. I think Andrea Gibson said it better than I ever could. Society has told women and girls so many different ways to try and prevent rape, but those haven’t seemed to work. The question shouldn’t be “What should you tell your daughter?” The question should be “What are you going to teach your son?”

Rape-splaining and victim blaming perpetuate a rape culture. These are the 10 most common examples of victim blaming, but there are many more that are tossed around in conversation every day. These excuses make a hostile environment for victims, and even more unsettling, they make a safe environment for rapists.

They need to stop.

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