Tag Archives: sexual assault

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.


(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)



Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

What I mean when I say it isn’t the victim’s fault

The world is an inherently risky place.

There are all kinds of things out there that can, and will, hurt us if given the chance.

Some of these risks come in the form of natural disasters, toxins, disease, allergies, loose rocks, animal attacks – whatever. They are risks that stem from living on a volatile planet in the middle of space. We have little to no control over these “When nature attacks” kind of threats. I mean, yes, we can talk about global climate change, and human settlements encroaching into wildlife habitat, and how in our desire to over-sanitize the world we are simultaneously creating super-bugs and increasing the instances and severity of allergies… But that is a whole other blog post.

This one is about the risks of living in society – with other people. This is an important point to make because often when I try to have this conversation many of the arguments against putting blame on perpetrators of certain types of violence instead of their victims use these kinds of “false equivalence” comparisons to try to make their point. But taking steps to avoid the risk of falling off a cliff is different than taking steps to avoid “provoking,” “inviting,” “encouraging,” or “inspiring” violent behavior from another person.

Because the risks inherent in living in society stem from the reality that we cannot control each other’s behaviors or actions. We are only ever directly responsible for ourselves.

This is not to say that there are not things that we can do to reduce many of the risks of cohabitation – not eliminate them, but reduce them.

We can look both ways before we cross a street. We can lock our doors. We can avoid certain venues that have a reputation for being violent or dangerous.

As a society we can enact laws that say, “We as a group have decided that this action is not okay and there will be artificially imposed consequences for anyone who commits it.” We do this to deter actions such as theft, murder, drunk driving, consuming certain intoxicants and then getting behind the wheel of a car…

But taking those actions does not eliminate risk, taking those actions does not guarantee our safety.

And choosing not to take those actions is not the same as consenting to violence.

Most of the time we, as a society, remember this.

I drive a piece of shit car. I rarely, if ever, lock it. I don’t leave the keys in the ignition (usually) but if someone wanted to go in and dig through the mountains of garbage littering the floorboards to steal my old CDs, there’s really nothing stopping them. If they wanted to hotwire my car and take it for a joyride, they wouldn’t even have to smash the window first.

And yet, if someone did decide to take my unlocked car, society at large would still call that theft. If I called the police and reported it, they would still investigate and arrest the thief. Because me leaving my car unlocked (or even unlocked and running) is not the same as me giving someone permission to take it.

We understand that.

If someone comes into my house without my permission, even if I left the front door unlocked – I have the right to shoot them. Yeah, I can take away their “right to life” just because they stumbled into the wrong house. If I choose not to shoot them, I can still call the police and they will be arrested for trespassing. They might also be charged with attempted burglary, or attempted assault, or attempted whatever potentially criminal act we think they were trying to do when they opened a door that wasn’t theirs.

I don’t have to post “No trespassing” signs on my front door to invoke this right, or lock my door, or even close my front door. My home is my castle and you don’t get to come inside unless I invite you.

But… my body?

Not so much. At least not according to current legal rulings. Not according to people looking for a way to excuse certain types of violence directed at other people.

Too often when it comes to personal violence, especially sexual violence, we (as a society) try to use the victim’s actions against them to excuse the actions of the perpetrator.

This is called this “victim-blaming.” And no, it is not feminazi’s attempt to make it so that victims are not held accountable for their actions, or so that victims can do anything they want consequence free. We are simply saying that perpetrators of violence should be held accountable for their choice to commit violence regardless of how “easy” their target made it for them.

When a bunch of TV personalities support the thesis that the biggest threat to fraternities is drunk girls coming in and tempting all those upstanding young men – that is a case of victim blaming. It also erases the long and storied history of fraternities throwing parties for the express purpose of getting women too drunk to say no. (Because in a “no means no” model of consent, that isn’t rape. But in the up and coming “yes means yes” model, which so many people are freaking out about, that is rape.)

So, when I say that it does not matter if a victim is drunk, dressed in skimpy clothing, completely naked, flirty, passed out or otherwise making themselves an “easy target” for violence, what I mean is that the victim’s behavior should not alter the sentencing of the perpetrator of the violence, nor be used to excuse their behavior or actions.Did the victim make a choice to engage in certain actions? Yes. Does that mean they consented to violence? No.


I am not asking for victims of violence to be coddled, or saying that actions shouldn’t have consequences – I am saying that violence is not the price someone should have to pay for being in public or living in society. I am saying that violence is not the price that anyone should be expected to pay for enjoying the same social privileges as their peers such as enjoying a drink – or several, wearing revealing clothing, walking at night…

not asking for violence

Clearly asking for it.

I am saying that the victim’s actions and choices do not negate the responsibility of the perpetrator, nor invalidate THEIR actions and choices to commit a crime.

Let’s look at a couple of specific examples.

Late last year a Montana judge sentenced a teacher who repeatedly raped one of his students to only 30 days in jail. Why? Because, he claimed, the student was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation as her teacher.”

Here’s the thing, there is a reason that there are rules prohibiting teachers from having sex with their students – there is an inherent power-imbalance at play there. This is also why there are statutory rape laws, because a 49-year-old man should know better than to have sex with a 14-year-old, but 14-year-old children more often than not don’t have the information, emotional maturity, or psychological understanding of long-term consequences, etc. to make that call. Again, there are power dynamics at play in that age differential, not to mention differences in knowledge about healthy relationships, sex and sexuality, etc. Those differences are easy for the older person to exploit to their own ends, severely damaging the youth in the process.

The victim in this case committed suicide while the case against her attacker was still pending.

This is a case where a judge seemed to be trying to do everything he could to create wiggle room for the perpetrator of a violent crime. In defending his sentencing of the teacher to only 30 days, the judge said, “This wasn’t forcible beat-up rape.” which is a way of saying that the victim wasn’t victimized hard enough to punish her attacker even to the MINIMUM requirements laid out by the state in which this judge presides.

We also have a case out of Texas from earlier this year in which a young man plead guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl. Both the victim and the accused testified that the girl said “no” and “stop” repeatedly. The man was facing 20 years in prison for this crime, the judge instead handed down a 45 day sentence because the victim “was not the victim she claimed to be” according to the judge, because the victim had had consensual sex with three other partners at some point in her life prior to the rape.

There are two problems with this argument – the first, if we take the judge’s statement about the victim as truth, is that it assumes that once a person has consensual sex once with someone, they are somehow consenting to all sex forever with everyone. This is a common argument in rape cases, as if people lose the right to sexual discretion once their “cherry” has been popped.

I don’t understand this argument at all. I don’t believe we lose the right of refusal once we’ve said yes once, or twice, or a thousand times. I don’t think that a person who has consensual sex becomes magically unrapeable.

The second problem is that the victim claims she was a virgin before the rape. While the judge says she has access to confidential medical records that show the girl had three previous sexual partners and gave birth to a child – both the victim and the victim’s parents deny this. That is worthy of an investigation right there. How did the judge get these medical records – and why? Shouldn’t it be the perpetrator being investigated, not the victim?

But all too often in rape cases, defense attorneys are encouraged to go for the “slut” defense – “The victim slept around, so this couldn’t have been rape.” and both judges and juries are willing to give those arguments weight.

We saw this in another big news rape case recently, Steubenville, OH. Where, despite video footage of the rape taking place, the defense still tried to go for the “she was a slut” and “she was asking for it” defense. I am not sure how someone who is passed out drunk can ask for anything… But then we are back at only “yes means yes” rather than, “See, the victim didn’t say no.”

Did this girl’s actions make it easier for someone to rape her? Yes. Does that in any way excuse the actions of her rapists, or the crowd of peers who watched, photographed, filmed and cheered on the rape? NOT ONE SINGLE BIT. Does she deserve rape as the natural consequence of getting drunk at a party? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Should she be allowed to report her rape and, with the support of a thorough police investigation, be able to prosecute her rapists? YOU BETCHA!

Just as the woman who left her car running to dash into the store made it easier for someone to steal her car, that did not excuse the actions of the person who took advantage of that opportunity. Her actions did not prevent police from investigating the crime, nor did they absolve the criminal of choosing to commit their crime.

When people say they are not victim blaming, they just want to help victims protect themselves from rape, I think that they are forgetting – we’ve already heard it. What we are asking for is that we talk to perpetrators and potential perpetrators as well, that we focus at least half our energy educating people on what rape is and how to avoid committing it. We are asking for police, medical personnel, judges, advocates and allies to step back from asking what “don’t get raped” rule the victim may have broken and instead focus on what the perpetrator chose to do wrong.

We live in a country where only 50% of rapes are even reported, and it is estimated that only 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a jail. Rape is a hard crime to report – the victim’s body becomes the evidence and collecting and cataloging that evidence for trial is invasive and unpleasant and often performed by people with little sympathy. While I fully support the “innocent until proven guilty” judicial standards in our country, when other violent crimes are committed we rarely try to deny the existence of the crime in order to set the perpetrator free, we instead acknowledge that there was a crime and simply quibble over who committed it.

When we focus on what the victim did wrong, or what the victim did to invite this crime, or how the victim wasn’t victimized enough to take seriously we are giving perpetrators of violence a pass and telling them that their actions are justifiable because they picked a an easy victim. So many rapes, the majority of them, are opportunistic rapes. Serial rapists know which victims to prey on – the kind who won’t be taken seriously, the ones who are a little too tipsy to be reliable witnesses, the ones who have a reputation for sleeping around, the ones who are too young or immature to fight back…

But if we treated rape and sexual assault the way we treat other crimes – by starting with the assumption that the crime being reported actually happened, and that the job now is to discover the perpetrator and bring them to justice, instead of questioning the integrity of the victim, this dynamic would shift in really important ways.

First, it would help victims come forward, knowing they would be respected, listened to, trusted. Knowing that they would be believed. Second, it would help encourage a culture where bystanders would want to intervene lest they be charged as accessories. Third, hopefully it would make perpetrators of this kind of violence think twice, if they knew that their victims would be heard.

Last, it would let people know that social freedoms, privileges and responsibilities are the same for everyone, shared by everyone and that violence is not an okay price to pay for exercising them.

In fact the first social responsibility we all share is the responsibility to treat others with decency and respect and not violence, and I’m pretty sure that we as a society have agreed that violating that responsibility should come with some judicially imposed consequences.

asking for justice

The only thing she’s asking for is justice.







Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Defining Rape, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

This a post about semantics, and how much language matters.

It’s also a post about rape.

Because, when I teach workshops about consent, when I write articles about consent, when I have conversations about consent and about rape and about what rape REALLY, ACTUALLY is, when I say “Only ‘Yes!’ means yes.”, one of the first responses I tend to get is, “Yeah, but…” As if there are exceptions, as if there is wiggle room, as if maybe if we just ask one more time what the victim was wearing, or how much the VICTIM had to drink, or whether the victim physically fought back, or whether they woke up long enough to actually say no… It somehow won’t be rape.

teach children about rape

What are we teaching our children?

When I say that we need to teach men not to rape because clearly teaching victims not to get raped isn’t working, people tell me that is impossible, that rapists be raping and there’s nothing we can do about it. They already know rape is wrong – they just don’t care.

BUT, here’s the thing – A LOT of rapists don’t actually consider themselves to BE rapists!

About a year ago I fell into the rape research rabbit hole – and it was TERRIFYING.

Because if you ask a thousand CONVICTED RAPISTS if they have ever committed rape, 999 of them say no.

BUT, if you remove the word rape, and instead ask a series of questions, all of which meet the legal definition of rape… Suddenly ALL of them are like, “Yeah, I did that. And that. And that too. But, it wasn’t like, RAPE rape.” (That’s all convicted rapists, remember – NOT all men.)

Language MATTERS.

When you realize that even convicted rapists who admit to performing acts that meet the legal definition of rape don’t consider themselves to BE rapists, suddenly making sure that EVERYONE knows and understands what rape is feels really fucking crucial.

If the people who are CONVICTED of rape don’t define their actions as such – what about the many, many, many more people (primarily men, but not all men) who are perpetuating rape and sexual assault and are not being reported, not being prosecuted, not being convicted – Turns out, they don’t believe they are committing rape either!

And what about the (often male) police, medical staff,  lawyers and judges when a victim does report their rape? How many of them actually understand what rape is? We would hope all of them, but… Not so fast.

This is one of the most terrifying aspects of being raped – the fear that you will not be believed.

And that fear is born out again and again and again in the news, from judges who claim an eleven year old girl was asking to be repeatedly gang raped by 20 men, to police who won’t file charges because the victim didn’t act victimized enough, to family and friends who ask “What did YOU do to deserve it?”, or who assure you that it wasn’t a “real” rape because you don’t have any broken bones, or the rapist wasn’t a stranger, or…

Not to mention politicians who don’t want rape exceptions on their abortion bans because “the female body has a way of shutting that whole thing down.” Or who don’t believe husbands can rape their wives because sometimes wives wear lingerie, which is clearly the same as saying yes. Or who believe that rape kits magically clean a woman out and make her whole again. Or who believe it isn’t real rape if the victim doesn’t fight hard enough, but then turn around and say that if it’s going to happen the victim should just lay back and try to enjoy it. YES, these things, and more, have been said.

And THAT is why it is important to educate people about what rape is, and what it is not. So that EVERYONE, from victims, to advocates, to police, to medical personnel, to judges, to juries, to politicians, to journalists, to rapists are ALL working from the same dictionary, using the same word to mean the same set of things.

Defining rape

Defining rape

And I DO believe that making sure everyone knows what rape is will decrease the number of rapes that happen, because I do believe that most men (because rape is most often perpetuated by men, not because most men rape.) DO NOT WANT TO RAPE.

I believe that most men want consensual sex, that they want their partner to enjoy it and come back for seconds – or at least advertise their prowess to other potentially willing friends. I don’t believe that men want to be labeled rapists, or have their names written on “rape walls“. I believe that if most rapists truly understood what their victim experienced, they would be appalled and ashamed.

But, most rapists reject that label, they defend their actions using rape myths, propped up by rape culture, supported by the media.

There was an article about “Gray Rape” or “Grape” – and the slant of the article seemed to be trying to create more wiggle room for rapists. “The victim was drunk, flirty, didn’t say no properly…”

But when I read it, I saw – rape. Rape. Rape again.

And I think that what we need to be teaching is that… If you find yourself in that gray area, where you really, truly aren’t sure – STOP! DON’T “GRAPE”!

If someone seems too drunk to stand, to talk, to walk away – THEY ARE TOO DRUNK TO CONSENT.


If someone said yes earlier, but something has changed or they’re acting different now – ASK AGAIN (and respect the answer). Having sex with someone who doesn’t want to, but is too uncomfortable to speak up or doesn’t know how to say stop may not get you prosecuted for rape, but there’s a good chance that it will feel like rape to the person you just had sex with. And you don’t want to be that guy, right?

If someone’s “yes” sounds less than enthusiastic – BACK OFF. Because if they are feeling threatened or coerced and that is why they are saying yes – THAT IS RAPE.

If someone says no – Believe them. Don’t pressure them, don’t ask again, don’t badger them, don’t “come on, just the tip?” at them, STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND BACK OFF. Having sex with someone who has said no, or “stop”, or pushed you away – IS RAPE.

If you are unsure, for any reason, BACK OFF. DON’T RISK IT. DON’T GRAPE, because “Gray Rape” IS STILL RAPE.

See, we, as a culture, want rape to be a violent crime that psychotic monsters perpetuate on innocent girls. Because that means that none of our friends, our brothers, our fathers would ever do it. We want that, because… No one wants to think their loved one is a rapist. And certainly no one wants to label themselves that way – look at all the men who admit to rape, as long as that isn’t the word that is used.

The truth is much harder to face, that most rapes take place between people who know each other. That most rapists are trusted by their victims prior to the rape. That most rapes are not what many people consider “violent” (Victims will argue that one with you all day long if you let them. Having something forcefully shoved in your body against your will feels pretty f’ing violent in the moment. But most rapes don’t result in broken bones or even black eyes. The wounds are much, much deeper – and much, much harder to see, and heal.)

The truth is that most rapists fly under the radar, they are “Nice Guys”, they are neighbors and friends and brothers and fathers and cousins and uncles and sports heroes and pastors and priests and…

The truth is, while rape IS about power and dominance, it is also about sex – and there is a certain group of (mostly male) people who feel entitled to sex, who think it is part of their birthright, who believe that it is owed to them, and who believe they have the right to take it if it is denied to them.

When I read the rape research, over and over and over again I read testimony from convicted rapists who said it wasn’t really rape because she owed him, she deserved it, she secretly wanted it (all women do), she got what was coming, he needed it, he couldn’t help himself, he deserved it, he earned it – and she had NO RIGHT to refuse. That is how rapists think. And when we blame victims because of what they were wearing, or how they were acting, or what they were drinking – we contribute to that culture where rapists see wiggle room to take something that isn’t theirs to take.

The truth is, while some rapes are planned out, many rapes – and especially “Grapes” are crimes of opportunity – a victim is too drunk to say no or fight back, or they are passed out, or they are disabled in some way, or they are someone no one would believe, like a stripper or a prostitute.

The truth is that not all rape victims are virgins. And that doesn’t matter. Because having consensual sex once, or twice, or a thousand times – does not mean you are available for all sex, everywhere, anytime, from anyone. No matter how many times you have had sex, nor with how many people – you still get to exercise personal discretion EVERY SINGLE TIME. You NEVER lose the right to say no.

The truth is, until we ALL understand and agree that sex without enthusiastic consent is RAPE, we can’t hope to make a dent in the numbers. Until we ALL understand and agree that all people have the right to bodily autonomy, regardless of their gender, sexuality, career, time of day, sobriety, ability, etc… We can’t hope to make a dent in the numbers.

Until we teach that NO ONE is entitled to sex, that NO ONE owes anyone else sex EVER, that consent is a continual process – that yes to a kiss is not yes to everything, that yes to sex once is not yes to sex forever, that consent can be revoked AT ANY TIME and the action MUST STOP… Until everyone understands that they do not EVER have the right to physical pleasure at the expense of someone else’s autonomy, we can’t hope to make a dent in the numbers.

rape stats

Rape is NEVER okay!

So, when I say we need to teach men not to rape – first we have to start by making sure EVERYONE really understands what rape is.

Rape is sex without enthusiastic, non-coerced consent. Period.

Sexual assault is sexual contact with another person without their enthusiastic, non-coerced consent. Period.

“Gray rape” is rape. Don’t do it. If you’re not sure and your partner can’t tell you – STOP. BACK OFF.

And then, we have to dismantle the ideas that support rapists – the ideas that a person who has had sex previously has lost their right to say no, that buying dinner for date means they owe you sex, that spouses have given forever consent and thus cannot be raped, that people who have sex for a living cannot be raped, that the way someone dresses implies consent and thus sex with them cannot be rape, that if you can prevent them from saying “no,” it isn’t rape… We have to stop slut-shaming and scapegoating rape victims, and stop trying to find new ways to excuse and apologize for rapists.

We have to educate ourselves, and our peers. We have to educate our children. We have to educate our teens. We have to stop excusing bad behavior as something that can’t be helped.

We CAN stop rape culture, but it’s going to take some work. I hope you all are ready to pitch in.


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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

The Expectation of Violence

In my current stream of reading there are two simultaneous conversations going on –

One is an acknowledgement that a majority of women in America, and in the world, live their lives in expectation of violence. Ranging from subtle and vague to immediate and direct, most women in this country take daily precautions against the threat of violence – from strangers, from acquaintances, from loved ones… If we go out after dark, or to parties, clubs or places where there might be alcohol or drugs, those precautions become very real and nearly universal.

The other conversation taking place constitutes a lot of hand wringing by the “good guys” wondering why it seems like all women fear them, wishing there was some way they could let us know that they’re not bad guys, that they won’t rape us, beat us, assault us. Wondering how to get past our suspicion of them and feeling like they are somehow being punished by us for their gender. (Hint: as long as the onus is on women to prevent violence against themselves, good guys will continue to be “punished” for the bad behavior of the few.)

This ties in to yesterday’s post about how we, as a culture, tend to excuse male violence and bad behavior as “boys being boys”.

If boys being boys means boys behaving badly, then is it really any wonder that women are taught to fear and be cautious of boys and men in general?

My daughters have both, at the ages of 7 and 9, already been the victims of sexual harassment by their peers. The younger one has already been the victim of physical assault by a group of boys. While I do my best to remind them that these boys are not representative of all boys, it becomes harder and harder to convince them that the majority of boys and men are safe when they see how easily their male friends are pulled into this type of behavior. It becomes harder and harder to convince them that they are safe in this world when they seek adult help and are told they are being too sensitive or taking it too personally and to relax because after all, this is just boys being boys.

If sexual harassment and physical assault are acceptable in first and fourth grade – what do my daughters have to look forward to as these boys get older, and by all accounts that my daughters have heard, more aggressive?

And how do I convince them to ask for help when the adults in their lives are telling them that what is happening is no big deal?

If they cannot expect adults to take a stand against these perpetrators, how can they reasonably expect their peers to step in?

So, yes, many if not most women and girls live under the threat of violence. This threat is often vague. It is not as if we wake up each day knowing a specific person has threatened us, unless we are victims of intimate partner violence. Instead it is our reality that any number of the many men we know, or possibly a complete stranger, may decide to hurt us. Often we don’t know their reason or motivation. We are only told that it is our job to protect ourselves from it. (1/3 of American women report having been sexually assaulted or raped in their lifetime. 83% of girls report being sexually harassed at school.)

And this leads us to the hand wringing from the many, many men who don’t hurt women and don’t want to live in the shadow of other men’s violence.

What can they do? Is there a shirt they can buy and wear to let us know that they’re safe?

nice guy

Never trust a man who says trust me!

Nope. Sorry. No shirts.

But all is not lost. There are still things that “good” men can do.

I want to share a couple of stories about men who stepped up in my world, when it was being stalked by violence.

In college I worked as a security guard in the student activity building. Three of my bosses were professional MMA fighters. (Seriously!) They took me aside and taught me some very basic, and very effective self-defense moves. They broke the rules and allowed me to take one of the work walkie-talkies home with me at night so that if anything happened along the way, or if my stalker/rapist/abuser was waiting for me when I got home, I could call for help.

One night as I was walking home (alone, at about 2am) from a concert I had worked, a man began approaching. I could tell by his silhouette that it was not the man I feared most, but all the same I tightened my grip on my mace, straightened my shoulders and got ready for a fight. He stopped outside of my much expanded personal space bubble.

“My girlfriend was attacked recently. She told them she had herpes and they let her go.” Then he veered off and disappeared into the night.

My shoulders relaxed and I breathed again. He had popped my bubble just long enough to let me know that not all men were out to hurt me, some of them were interested in helping.

At a party I went to, one of the male hosts greeted me at the door, and sensing my discomfort, offered to shadow me and keep an eye on me. He was the designated driver for his girlfriend that night, so he was staying sober anyway. I also stayed sober, but seeing him keep an eye on both me and his very drunk and flirty girlfriend (without restricting her behavior) was another reminder that there were safe and caring men out there.

Many years later I had another experience like this. I went to a party with the man who is now my husband. I was still a little jumpy. My then boyfriend, now husband, and his best friend and roommate looked after me all night. Not by hovering or stopping their (or my) fun, but just by checking in visually every so often, making eye contact and waiting for my nod and smile to let them know I was okay. They made a point of introducing me to a few other good guys who they trusted and who I could go to for help if I felt I needed it. By the middle of the party, I was comfortable enough to take part as my normal, outgoing, flirty self.

I had male neighbors who made sure I not only had their phone numbers on speed dial, but we also had codes so that if I couldn’t get to the phone (as happened one night) I could stomp on the floor or knock on the wall, and they would know I needed help and to call the police.

I had men offer to walk me home, or let me sleep on their couch.

I had men give me the keys to their very nice sports cars because they were too drunk to take me home, but they wanted to make sure I was safe.

I had men look me in the eye and tell me that they liked me and that if I was into them, they would be thrilled, but that they were not going to make the first move. And then – they stuck to their word and remained my friend without pushing the issue.

I had men stop the action and check in – to make sure I was enjoying myself, feeling good, feeling safe, and to ask what I wanted from the moment – and then respect my answers, boundaries and desires.

Most important though – I had men intervene.

I had men pay attention and step in in moments where I was feeling threatened or unsafe and put themselves between me and my attacker and let him know that his behavior was unacceptable.

I had men stand up to other men who were being dicks and shut them down in no uncertain terms, letting those men know that their behavior was unacceptable and would not be tolerated or rewarded.

I watched as jerks were escorted from parties, banned from bars and calmly removed from the scene for being offensive, threatening or violent.

These are the types of things that men can do to remind women that not all men are violent. To remind us, just as I remind my children – most strangers are safe – most men are safe. If you really need help – ask for it. Chances are good you’ll be asking someone who won’t hurt you.

As a woman, and as a mother, I need this to be true. I need to believe that most of the people on this planet would step in, if they were asked.

I’d like to hope that most people on this planet would step in even if they weren’t asked, if they saw someone being hurt. Sadly, this hope has not been born out, but I think that that is a change we can create. We have the power to create movement away from passive bystanders and toward active engagement.

Here’s a sample of what that looks like:

And to all the many, many good guys out there – thank you.

Thank you for standing up and declaring yourself. Thank you for denouncing the violence of other men (and women). Thank you for standing up to your peers to help others be and feel safe.

Thank you.

Continue standing up. That is what you can do.


Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant