Bailey Beem, ‘16
If you are a woman, you’ve been told your whole life not to walk alone at night or through deserted areas. If you are a woman, you’ve been taught to never let your drink out of your sight. If you are a woman, you know how to turn your keys into claws if a man walks too close or watches you too long. If you are a woman, you’ve been told time after time not get too drunk because it makes you an easier target. If you are a woman, you are told you should not wear revealing clothes because people will think you’re asking for it. If you are a woman, you’ve been taught that no means no, but you’re aware that won’t always stop them. If you are a woman, you are afraid.
I was still raped
I am a woman. I’ve been taught all of these things. I was still raped. Spring semester of freshman year, I was at a frat party, drinking and having a good time with my friends. A guy approached me, we started talking and he made sure my drink was always full. He asked me to leave the room and go dance with him. Should I have seen it then? We never made it to the dance floor. He led me, stumbling, to his room. I didn’t really have any misgivings at first. Things were fun and new and exciting. He went too far too fast, though, and I got scared. I was drunk to the point of not being able to hold my head up. I said no, but as women know, that won’t always stop them.
I don’t think that guy meant to hurt me. I don’t think he saw me and thought this would be an excellent opportunity for rape. I don’t think he realized that his actions would mess me up so badly; the nightmares and anxiety attacks and raw fear that I still experience didn’t have a place in his thought process. I believe he was just an idiot who wanted to get some. Since I didn’t shut him down right away and he probably figured I was too drunk to remember it anyway, he saw a green light. It may not have been his objective, but he raped me. It was rape, and he was wrong.
The concept of consent is apparently a tricky one in our world, though it should be clear as day to anyone who really considers it. The Albion College Health Services website defines assault as “any unwanted sexual contact that is coerced through threats or physical force, or any sexual contact that occurs while the victim is not able to give consent, such as while intoxicated.” I think this is a comprehensive definition, and it needs to be more widely taught, particularly to young men.
It is necessary to teach young men about the definition and significance of consent, as well as the incredible pain rape causes. No matter how often we tell women to keep themselves safe, no matter the precautions we take, rape will happen as long as men disregards or do not understand consent.
I write here only to focus on the men who do not necessarily understand because men who do not care are an entirely different case. Also, as a disclaimer, I am fully aware that women can rape and that men can be raped, but I’m choosing to focus on the more prominent issue of men raping women. Additionally, ignorance of the complete definition of consent is not in any way justification for rape. Even if you don’t know the laws, any form of sex without consent is rape. There are no excuses. In any case, we need to shift the focus from telling women to be careful so they don’t get raped to telling men not to do it.
Only yes means yes
As I said earlier, we need to teach young people, high school and college-aged, the all-inclusive definition of consent. I think the “no means no” campaign is well-intentioned, but we would be better served to change it to “only yes means yes.”
People can’t always say no. If someone is unconscious or asleep, if someone is being threatened or is simply too afraid, silence cannot be mistaken for consent. Consent can only be given by someone who is alert and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and in a situation where they are not being coerced and feel safe to say no. Consent must be enthusiastic and on-going. Saying “I’m not sure” or “not yet” should automatically be taken as no. Even if you’re already having sex and someone wants to stop, you must stop immediately, or that is rape.
Aside from educating young men about consent, I think young women must learn about it, too. I remember feeling completely awful about myself because I didn’t do enough to stop him, I only said no once. I blamed myself for drinking too much and for leaving the room with him. I still feel like that sometimes.
It wasn’t until I learned the fact that I was drunk is enough on its own to call what happened to me rape that I could start to forgive myself. I think many women have been in similar situations and feel the same way. Maybe if they know the laws that apply to their situations, they can feel more at ease with themselves.
Rape is never, under any circumstances, the victim’s fault. We do not say this nearly enough. So many rapes (mine included) are never reported because women are afraid they will be blamed for the thing that has hurt them so badly. Personally, I didn’t want anyone to say what I was thinking: that it was my fault. I didn’t want to talk about it for so long, but my silence was damaging.
Survivors do not need to suffer alone. Survivors can report their attacker, contact Sexual Assault Services or make use of our Counseling Services. Importantly, however, a survivor should do only what they feel comfortable doing and should not be pushed or feel obliged to do anything.
It’s never the victim’s fault
We need to eradicate victim-blaming, and where better to start than with young people? We must underscore the fact that no matter a victim’s action, she is not responsible for being raped. So what if she was wearing a short, tight dress? So what if she’s had sex with him before? So what if she’s drunk, teasing him or walking alone at night? None of those things make nonconsensual sex OK. Someone told me I should be able to drink an entire bottle of vodka and dance naked on a table without having to worry about being assaulted because no part of that is “asking for it.” No one ever asks for rape. It is never the victim’s fault.
Additionally, men must realize the horrific impacts that rape has. Unless they truly understand the pain they cause (feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and so much more) men will continue to rape. Rape is not a joke and must be taken seriously.
The best way for this to happen is to teach young people about consent and all of its consequences. We must all be clear about why victim blaming is wrong. I believe when this, the definition of consent and the trauma sexual assault causes is more widely and intensively taught, rape will significantly decrease.
If you are a woman, you should be informed. If you are a woman, you should have the right to do whatever you like, wearing whatever you want, and feel safe while doing it. If you are a woman, you should be able to feel confident your “no” will be taken at face value. If you are a woman, you should not have to be afraid.
Photo via Albion College