Monday, May 2, 2011

Take Back the Night

 Possible Trigger Warning
Disclaimer: This post has possible triggers present, and also vaguely addresses some of my own sexuality. If you don't want to read that stuff, please skip the portion of this post after the break.

On Thursday, April 28th, I attended my third consecutive Take Back the Night march, an event that seeks to raise awareness and fight against rape, sexual assault and abuse. A friend of mine from my secular student group attended with me, as he had never been to an event like this. Due to inclement weather, we were forced to move the event indoors at the start. There were speakers that told their own stories, as well as the stories of loved ones. There were simple narratives, short story formats, song, poetry, prose, and a couple short speeches. The turnout this year was remarkable, and I am happy to see attendance go up every year that I attend. Unfortunately I was not able to attend that actual marching portion of the event due to the inclement weather (with finals this week, I can't afford to get sick). I was also happy to see several men in the audience, as this issue is not just a women's issue.

It was fitting that the event be held that night, as during the day in my Human Sexuality class, we concluded our two class long address of sexual violence and coercion. For the most part, my classmates were with the program as to what constitutes consent, and ways to avoid being a perpetrator of sexual violence. However there were some comments that upset me and a few others in the class. We used the novels Speak (from the perspective of the victim) and Inexcusable (from the perspective of the perpetrator) and their characters to address these complex and emotional issues. At one point, an older gentleman that is a nontraditional student spoke that the victim in Inexcusable shouldn't have been surprised that she was attacked. I mean, both she and the protagonist were intoxicated, and she had done romantic-type activities with him earlier in the evening, and she was even sleeping in the same room with him! I mean, what was she thinking? This man admitted he has two teenaged daughters of his own.

At that point, my hand shot into the air. A few others spoke before my professor addressed me. "Perhaps," I said "we should focus less on what women need to do to keep from being raped, and instead focus more on what keeps men from raping in the first place." A novel idea, I know. We are always eager to blame the victim. Even our so-called methods of prevention subtly blame the victim: Don't go out at night, don't go out alone, watch your drink, don't accept drinks, and so on. We make it the victim's priority to keep from being violated, rather than keep the violator from violating in the first place.

The statistics speak for themselves:

- 1 in 6 women in the U.S. has experienced an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

- Victims are 6 times more likely to experience some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

- 93% of juvenile victims know their attacker. 2/3 of Adults know their attacker.

- 60% of assaults go unreported, due to feelings of shame, lack of faith in the justice system, or a belief that the victim will not be believed.

- Only 6% of rapists ever spend a day in jail.

- More than 50% of attacks occur within 1 mile of the victim's home.

- 43% of attacks occur between 6pm and Midnight.

1 in 4 women on college campuses will be raped before graduation. 90% know their attacker.

- Only 10% of college women report their attacks.

- One in twelve college-age men admit having fulfilled the prevailing definition of rape or attempted rape, yet virtually none of these men identify themselves as rapists.

- 43% of college men admit using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman’s protest; using physical aggression; and forcing intercourse.

There is something wrong with these statistics.

That is why Take Back the Night, and other organization like it, exist. I was slightly disappointed in several members of my secular student group, as just the previous week, we had discussed sexual violence and its surprising prevalence. And the numbers don't lie. There is a problem, both here and abroad, with how quick we are to blame the victim, and in how complacent we are in just accepting sexual violence as a part of life. Education, activism, and prevention are the only ways we can turn the tide against a horribly accepted part of our lives.

My own story after the break.

These are issues I take seriously. While I generally consider myself to have a healthy sense of humor, there are certain jokes I do not tolerate; jokes on someones physical or mental disabilities, and sexual violence. This is mostly due to my own biases. I worked with special needs kids in middle school, so I have a soft spot for them (they were my escape from the rampant bullying in my school). I am also a survivor of sexual assault. I also have several friends that are survivors of sexual violence or coercion.

Consent and battling the rape culture of this country has become an addition to my long list of personal crusades. The violence perpetrated against me has left me with permanent scars. Significant Other is wonderful in understanding that there are simply certain things I can not do sexually as a result of my trauma (something that past partners have not clearly understood). Consent plays a large part in our sex-life, and we constantly check in with each other that what we are doing is okay, that they are alright with proceeding with the activity, and that no one's boundaries are being pushed. We also frequently talk about what is/is not okay in the bedroom. Since he knows survivors other than myself, he takes these issues very seriously and is incredibly supportive. By including men and boys in the conversation, we attack the problem at its source.

While it is true that anyone can be attacked, the vast majority of attacks are committed against women by men. The majority of attacks against men are committed by other men. However, anyone can be sexually assaulted by anyone. This is why starting with kids, in the earliest of sex-ed classes, need to learn safe sex practices; including consent. If we don't teach our kids what rape and sexual assault are, and what constitutes consent, we are just sticking our heads in the sand and hoping they figure it out. When only 25% of college women that are raped personally define it as rape, there is a serious problem. That means that 75% of these women that are being attacked don't know that what happened to them is in fact rape. We need comprehensive sex education that addresses what is and is not consent (among many other things). We need to nip rape culture in the ass by addressing its root causes and trying to actively educate against the rampant victim blaming that occurs every time there is a headline-grabbing case of sexual violence.


  1. Insert obligatory "rape of a mentally disabled child" joke here.

  2. True, you must look at both sides to truly eradicate any sort of problem - And although rape is not just a simple problem easily solved, you must also consider more than just the people involved. Consider the actual action, and what causes that it, what influences that action. It's not necessarily just "men" and "boys" who should be blamed, it is society, the media, our schools, a constant battle against violence and promoting violence. Although those who caused such an act must also serve the consequences, think about how boys grow up. Constantly under pressure to prove their strength on the so called "battlefield" while girls are pressured to look pretty, thin and anxiously await the magical moment of love and all they think it includes. That needs to change before we can truly change anything else.