Dear Germ Readers, hello and welcome back to our corner of the world known as the Internet! Strap on in and join me on this little ride to a place that no one really likes going to, but it’s necessary to visit nevertheless: the topic of sexual assault.
By now, several of my colleagues have spoken to the epidemic known as the global culture of rape, or rape culture for short. Although we’re lucky to have had the ability to inform our readers that we live in a society that blames a rape victim for the rapist’s assault, there’s something that I feel needs to be added on to this topic. Why do we allow our society to not only blame victims of sexual assault, but to also absolve the perpetrators of these crimes of any wrong doing? Because that’s the true crux of the issue here in the world we live in.
Often times the spotlight of rape or sexual assault is not cast on the main trigger of the issue. Of course, it’s crucial to highlight the damages done to someone who has been assaulted and to make the world understand that they will be dealing with this issue via triggers, flashbacks, and perhaps even constantly seeing their assaulter or rapist on a daily basis for the rest of their life.
It’s important that we understand the emotional heartbreak as well as the trauma that victims undergo, but at the end of the day, they should not be the ones who maintain and inhabit the spotlight. Because as much as society tells us that victims are the problem — “Why were they out so late?” “Why were they wearing that?” “Why didn’t they protect themselves properly?” “Why were they so inebriated?” “People should really carry pepper spray/mace/a pocket knife” — the true issue lies with the individual who commits the crime.
And let me remind you, it is a crime.
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you have assaulted or raped someone within your lifetime, you have committed a serious crime. And let me be clear when I say that crimes don’t go away even if the charge doesn’t go on your record. Just because someone doesn’t have a record does not make what has been done any less of a crime. Unfortunately for your victim, you just got pretty damn lucky.
So why have I decided to write this oh-so-cheery article for you all today?
This isn’t fun for me to write or share, but for the majority of my young adult life — starting around the age of thirteen — women in and out of my family that I had known for years and years began coming out and saying that they had been assaulted or raped in their lifetime. Anecdotes from family members and close friends — mostly women — concerning their stories of assault became this warped rite of passage into womanhood for me.
How messed up is it that as young girls enter womanhood, the women in their lives feel the need to inform them that it’s quite possible that sexual assault could happen to them?
Imagine sitting down with a future young member of your family one day when they’re old enough to understand certain concepts of the world around them and saying, “I don’t want what happened to me to happen to you, so in an attempt to avoid this from happening, I am giving you this whistle and this canister, and you use it whenever you feel the least bit terrified walking home at night. In fact, put it on your keychain so that you have it with you at all times.”
Now, in our culture of rape, this scenario is actually quite normal to young girls all over the world. We are taught to protect and observe, to make sure that we don’t wear revealing clothes, to make sure to wear our hair up in a ponytail at night so that a stranger in the dark doesn’t snatch it and take advantage of us. We are taught to become potential victims of assault, and that, my friends, is incredibly disgusting.
Because the lessons we are taught as young women are not balanced with the lessons that are taught to young men. You would think that if young girls were being taught to protect themselves, we would also teach our young men not to be the person that young girls need protection from.
Again, messed up.
Instead, what we hear come out of the mouths of parents or teachers concerning the discipline of young boys is: “Oh, boys will be boys,” or “That’s just how boys are. There is no changing that.”
How funny that we ask our girls to alter their perceptions on life and love the day they hit puberty, but when a boy reaches that age, we still allow them to “just be boys.” We tell our girls that Prince Charming is actually just a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but we still allow our boys to wear that costume.
And that brings us to the main issue of this article, my dear readers. Remember that anecdote that we were talking about before — the one where we are sitting down with our future young girls and telling them what to do in order to not be assaulted on the streets, at a party, in their homes, or in the homes of someone they thought they could trust?
When we picture this scene in our heads, traditionally, the people that we see set up in this scenario are two women; an older woman telling a younger girl about the harsh realities of the world. What I want to help point out is that when we view this picture, we are often so preoccupied with the dialogue that happens between our two women that we forget that there is a third person who is a part of this discussion.
The stranger in the shadows.
And if we’re being honest, isn’t this stranger the person who has caused this conversation to occur? Aren’t they the ones who have caused this issue to even be an issue in the first place? Jackson Katz, an educator, author, and activist for gender violence prevention, spoke on this anomaly in his Ted Talk:
“The dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege—the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection—and in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about [them]. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence—how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.”
Why is it that in the discourse concerning sexual assault, we aren’t talking more about the people who commit the crime rather than the people who are victims of the crime? This will be explored in part two of this article on Monday. Stay tuned!