Friday, June 3, 2011

It's Not Really Rape If... Busting the Myths

Britney Spears via Wikimedia Commons
Is Britney a "slut"? Or a healthy young woman,
secure in her own sexuality?
Yep, this is a blog about writing, and one form of writing is writing for social change.  There are few causes as close to my heart as freedom and equality and fair treatment for men and women alike.  So, today's post is going to be about rape and sexual assault, and busting the myths that lock men and women into an unhealthy dynamic.

So shut up, lay back and enjoy it, as they used to say.

One of the enduring myths about rape is that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.  This myth is so pervasive and widespread that members of the Toronto Police, among others, have voiced it as "truth," because they believe it is the truth.

The facts?  Do rape victims provoke the attack by wearing "provocative clothing" or otherwise "asking for it"? 
  • Wanting attention, even wanting consensual sex, is not the same thing as wanting to be forced, coerced, or drugged into unconsenting sex.  As Caitlyn put it in comments to the original article that stirred up the SlutWalks movement (more on that later) "Blaming the woman for wanting to look attractive is like blaming a store owner for having such nice and expensive things in his store, after the store is subject to an armed robbery.  Clearly the owner should cover up and hide all the nice things so no one wants to steal them."

  • A Federal Commission on Crime of Violence Study found that only 4.4% of all reported rapes involved provocative behavior on the part of the victim, and most of this consisted of nothing more than dressing or walking in a way that is socially defined as attractive.  In murder cases 22% involved provocative behavior (as simple as a glance.)

  • Assault victims range in age from days old to those in their nineties.  (I never thought of Onesies or flannel nighties as "slutty," did you?)

  • Women who live in countries with conservative dress, or who wear it in Western countries, such as Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Mennonite, LDS - also experience rape.

  • Women, children and men who have limited mental capacity are often sexually assaulted.

  • Women in the US Armed Forces are more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat.  Men in the US Armed Forces are also experiencing sexual assault in record numbers by "straight" soldiers, often by a group of them.  Both male and female assault victims are typically young, low-ranking and vulnerable.  The dynamics are similar to prison rape.  It's all about exerting Power Over another human being.

  • Most convicted rapists do not remember what their victims were wearing.

There are a lot of people who pay lip service to "Rape is not about sex, rape is about violence," but they don't truly believe it.  Deep down, they believe men rape because they are desperate for sex, their wives are frigid or they can't get a girlfriend. 
Men rape because they want power and control over someone weaker than themselves. They use their penis as a weapon to control and humiliate their victim. They rape because their own lives are inadequate and unfulfilled. They do not rape for sexual satisfaction. Most rapists do not enjoy the sex, they say things like "I didn't enjoy the sex, just the fear in her eyes."  Rapists often don't ejaculate.
Rapists may also have problems achieving or maintaining an erection.  Many assaults are committed with foreign objects forced into a man or woman's body.

Many women and men in Canada and the United States  and other countries are getting fed up with victim-blaming, along with the myths and misconceptions that still - still! linger about rape and sexual assault.  Therefore, grassroots organizations - different in every area  - have sprung up to hold SlutWalks to help educate the public about the sad realities of what rape is, and what it isn't. 
Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim. 
Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.

<snip> We are asking you to join us for SlutWalk, to make a unified statement about sexual assault and victims’ rights and to demand respect for all. Whether a fellow slut or simply an ally, you don’t have to wear your sexual proclivities on your sleeve, we just ask that you come. Any gender-identification, any age. Singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers, children, friends. Come walk or roll or strut or holler or stomp with us. This has become a global movement, with Satellites happening all over the world. See if there’s one in your city.

I'm joining SlutWallks LA on June 4 - that's tomorrow!  There will be some fabulous guest speakers and wonderful volunteers, including co-organizer Hugo Schwyzer of the Good Men Project, who wrote a wonderful editorial on Why Men Should Join SlutWalk, including some very poignant hopes and wishes for his own daughter.  If you can, please join us.

If you can't attend, please consider donating, because there are large and scary expenses for permit fees, etc. You can make a straight donation via PayPal, or buy items through merchants who are donating items.

Why does it matter if many men and women believe things about sexual assault which are simply not true?

Rape myths are not just a set of harmless beliefs. Rape and rape myths are destructive forces. They do not fall on deaf ears, nor are they said in a vacuum. Although some people may think they are just “saying words” or holding on to innocuous beliefs, rape myths have profound impacts. They hurt. They hurt individuals, they hurt survivors, they hurt families and they hurt communities. They encourage silence, shame and pain. They shift blame away from the perpetrator, and, ultimately, keep us believing that sexual violence is natural and normal. And, most assuredly, perpetrators count on us believing them in order to continue perpetrating sexual violence.
People who believe rape myths sit on juries.  They serve on police forces, in D.A.'s offices, they act as judges.  They write our laws.  They make it possible for a culture of victim-blaming - and raping - to continue.

Rape myths lead to otherwise intelligent men like Ben Stein reasoning that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was unlikely to be a rapist because he could not think of any economists who had been convicted of violent sex crimes.  Unfortunately for BS (hey, those are his initials, blame his mama,) The Daily Show has a research team.  They shortly proved, by the same line of "reasoning," that economists are actually "the rape-iest profession going."

Myth: Rapists are 7 feet tall, and covered with rank hair.  (Or, perhaps not that exactly, but obviously creepy and menacing, like Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear.) 
Rapists look just like anybody else.  They are often married or have a steady girlfriend, even those who assault other men.  They come from all walks of life, all economic levels, all races, and all ages.

Myth: Rapes are spur of the moment. 
Actually, 90% of group rapes and 60% of single assailant rapes are planned.

Myth: If s/he doesn't say no, that means yes. 
Not in the case of minors, people with limited or diminished mental capacity, people who have been drugged or have given alcohol to the point of unconsciousness, or who are otherwise not able to give their consent.  Know what means yes?  Yes means yes.

Myth: It's not really rape, if you've had sex together before. 
Yes, it is. Even if this person is your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend.  No means no.

Myth: If they enjoy other sex acts with you, even though they've always said they don't want to participate in anal sex, it's okay to insert a penis or other object into their anus when they're deeply asleep.  
No, that's still rape.  And an excuse of "Gee, I missed, I didn't realize I was in the wrong place" is especially lame if you are a prominent gynecologist.

Myth: women don't need abortion coverage for rape, because they should always be prepared.  Like keeping a spare tire in the trunk. 
However you feel about abortion rights, that has to go down as one of the most brain-dead things anyone has ever said.

What other myths have you heard about rape?  
It's not really rape if...

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