Espousing a culture of inclusivity and respect is inherent in fostering opportunities for people to have meaningful dialog, effective interactions, and positive discourse. There is no change, either on a personal relationship level, or a societal one, without respect. It’s quite simple: who feels the need or pressure to adapt to new thinking or behaviors unless those requesting (or those who will benefit from) those changes are people we, at the very least, respect as human beings?
We talked about this concept recently with regard to the equality movement and the need for a changing dialog. The fight for equal human rights, however, is not the only area of societal life in which we need desperately to change the conversation. We must also change how we talk about rape.
America lives in a rape culture, whether we are comfortable admitting it and discussing it or not. Our media engages in the most abhorrent forms of “slut-shaming” narratives possible by constantly making comments about the victims’ behaviors, clothing, inebriation level, and past sexual history. They minimize rape by saying things like, “The victim suffered no serious injuries.” This is never, ever true. Rape itself is a serious injury. Whether the victim required emergency surgery and extensive, immediate medical attention for physical injuries certainly speaks to the level of violence involved in the rape, but make no mistake: Rape is a serious, traumatic injury, regardless of the level of physical violence involved in the attack.
People who survive rape tend to heal physically long, long before they ever heal emotionally. Being physically assaulted in any way is incredibly traumatic and can result in (among others) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, and depression, all of which can manifest as OCD, extreme social anxiety, agoraphobia, hoarding, and more. Rape is physical assault and sexual assault, so all of the preceding apply, but there is so much more involved that the results can be even more extreme. So rape is always a traumatic injury, even if not a single stitch or ice pack is required, and to imply otherwise is not only ignorant, it’s irresponsible and perpetuates the myth that rape somehow occurs in a vacuum – that we somehow heal physically and just move on – when nothing could be further from the truth. Additionally, when we minimalize rapes that do not involve extreme physical trauma, we further discourage victims from coming forward by invalidating their experiences as somehow not “true” rape.
Think of it this way: when a man is raped (and that happens, whether we talk about it or not), does anyone say, “Oh, well, he was drunk.” No. We don’t. Does anyone say, “Well, he was walking alone at night… what do you think is going to happen?” No. We don’t. And our collective answer to this would-be rhetorical question should be this: NOTHING. Nothing should happen. A person should be able to drunkenly walk naked through the streets and the only thing that should reasonably happen is that s/he should get arrested for public intoxication and exposure. There is no such thing as an invitation to rape. There is no such thing as, “asking for it.” Do victims sometimes make bad decisions? Do they put themselves in unsafe situations? Absolutely. And that still does not make rape acceptable, or less despicable, or remotely the victim’s fault.
First, let us be very clear that rape certainly involves sex acts, but it is absolutely not about sex. Rape is about power, control, violence, and anger. It is not about sex. So the argument that a sexually provocative woman somehow welcomes or invites rape is again invalid because rape simply isn’t about sex.
If your car gets stolen, is it your fault for having such an attractive car that the thief just couldn’t help himself from stealing it? No. That is ridiculous. Thieves have a choice. And that is a CAR, not a person. When a woman is raped, and society blames her for dressing or acting provocatively, what we’re saying is that men are so without self-control that if they somehow perceive that a woman is available for sex, men simply cannot help themselves and must rape. Not only is this completely ridiculous, it’s insulting to men and to women.
This is where the dialog change must come into play. Men should be so vociferously offended by the rape-culture discourse that paints them as sub-human beings completely ruled by some innate impulse to rape that they stand up and join women in saying that rape is never acceptable. We must change from a society in which we tell young women not to get raped to one in which we tell everyone not to rape. We must infuse our society with a deep disgust for the very concept and act of rape so that it becomes an unthinkable act as abhorrent as cannibalism. And this change will be successful only when men are on board.
When men reject the rape culture, when men are willing to tell one another that rape jokes are never funny, when men can confidently say, publicly, that rape is never, ever anything less than completely wrong, only then will the dialog truly change. It starts, just as with the equality movement, with the individual. It starts with people who are willing to stand up and go against the herd by being true to their morals and values rather than keeping quiet or laughing at locker room humor to avoid standing out.
In addition to public support from men, changing the rape culture dialog requires a shift in how we talk to our children. Obviously, rape isn’t something people like to discuss with their kids. But as our children mature, it is imperative that we teach them not only about sex and about making smart choices with regard to sex and their own personal safety, but about how not to rape or be raped. This means teaching our young men, in particular, what rape actually is. It means teaching them, specifically, that unless you hear a clear, coherent, sober, “yes,” the answer is always “no.” We should be raising our children to value other people (and themselves) so that they are truly respectful of others and would never even consider violating another person.
Let us raise our boys to be respectful men who are confident enough in and of themselves that they are willing to stop the “locker room talk” when it’s inappropriate and say that rape is not a joke, which will in turn free others to join the cause and ultimately change the dialog so that we are no longer a slut-shaming society that perpetuates the cycle of violence with victim-blaming, but rather so that we can become a society in which rape is seen for what it is: a heinous act for which there is never, ever any excuse.
At Sanctuary, we have worked extensively with rape and trauma survivors, and we understand the unique needs of people who have been violated and traumatized in this way. If you need help, please reach out. You are welcome here.
Tara Cohen is the Director of Business & Marketing for Sanctuary Counseling. She is a professional writer and marketing expert who blogs on a variety of topics including psychology, marketing, parenting, politics, social issues, and American culture.