When headlines dropped about one of Stanford’s elite swimmers caught sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and sentenced to only six months in county jail, I knew there was a story I had to write. My first instinct was to write an article about the horrors this woman went through. I wanted to write about the shame we should all feel that our society let the man who did this to her be merely slapped on the wrists for his actions.
I was infuriated that yet another story of a woman in her early twenties, just like me, had her life irreversibly damaged by the actions of a damaged man. I wanted his face plastered all over social media, all over the world, so that just like the victim, he would never go a day without being impacted by the act of terror he committed. But, that is not the article you will read today. As important as that story is, it’s only a piece of the bigger picture. What is the bigger picture? The bigger picture is the rape culture our society has cultivated. The rape culture that allowed this man to assault a woman and practically get away with it.
I distinctly remember the conversations my parents frequently had with me after I moved away to college. Conversations about never going places alone, how I shouldn’t show too much skin if I was going out and once I started drinking- endless conversations about watching my drink, never sitting it down, always taking a friend to the bathroom with me, etc. It wasn’t until a few years ago when a random man followed me down several aisles of Target and proceeded to push “himself” against me on a Tuesday afternoon that I realized why they were having these conversations with me. It wasn’t just so I wouldn’t get separated from my friends while I was out or so people from Church wouldn’t see pictures of me on Facebook and think my parents raised some provocatively dressed wild child.
No, they had these conversations with me because I had entered a world that compromised my safety the moment I stepped into it. I had entered a world where what I wore, what I said and the way I said it were all things that would be used against me. What a terrifying world to send your child into. But, do you know what the most terrifying part of being in a world like that is? The most terrifying part is that my parents had these conversations with me about how to ward off predators, but nobody’s parents had the conversation with them about how to not be one. Parents don’t sit their children down and explain that sex isn’t when you force yourself onto another person. No one is talking to their kids about how when someone is inhibited, they cannot give consent; and sex without consent is not sex, it is rape.
I get it. You aren’t having these conversations because you can’t fathom that your child would ever do that to someone. Your child doesn’t need to be exposed to something so vulgar, so wrong. But the fact of the matter is that your children are going to grow up and either them or someone they know will directly be effected by the lack of conversation our society is having. So, what do we do? How do we change this culture of rape?
“If anything is going to change the culture of rape in our society, it will be a turnaround led by men.” -Mel Robbins, CNN
Mel Robbins made a powerful statement in her CNN article in regards to the Brock Allen Turner case when she said, “If anything is going to change the culture of rape in our society, it will be a turnaround led by men.” Robbins goes on to talk about the importance of showing the victim’s letter to our sons, our husbands, our brothers and our partners. She’s right. It is time this society bands together and puts an end to this culture of rape we have created.
A great start would be to put an end to the “boys will be boys” perspective we so frequently use to excuse the behavior of our male counterparts. We need to start holding men accountable for their actions. Instead of solely coaching our daughters on how keep themselves away from potentially harmful situations, let’s focus more on teaching our sons how to respect women and the importance of truly consensual sex.
In a baffling article I came across online entitled College Women: Stop Getting Drunk, the author takes the view that we (society) need to stop being reluctant to tell women to stop drinking, because essentially they are choosing to put themselves in “potential peril.” Why is it that women must change their behavior in order to maintain their basic right to safety? This pattern of thinking is where our society has gone wrong. When we criminalize the victims, we are robbing them of their voices and of their rights. A woman wearing a dress is not an invitation. A woman drinking alcohol is not a reason. Rape is never okay.
It's time that we, as a society, start having these tough conversations. Let's have these conversations because we have faith that this hole in our society can be fixed. Let's have these conversations because everyone deserves their right to safety, their right to having a voice, and their right to feel human.