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Sexual assault discussion misses the point

There’s been a lot of rape talk in the news and online recently, which is great, because rape talk is uncomfortable and hits too close to home for a lot of people, myself and the Sheaf obviously included. There’s a wider and arguably more important discourse here than that which the immediate discussion seems to allow. That immediate discussion being around claims that bodies can terminate pregnancies from legitimate rape, and that there is a distinction between “legitimate” or “forcible” rapes and other rapes.

And the discussion of what’s wrong with those ideas, while generally well-intentioned and useful, has its own set of problems too diverse and difficult to unpack in this space. Sexual assault and rape are not black and white issues, and anyone with an ardently-felt position in that binary is probably, well, wrong.

My point is, bodies do kinda-sorta shut down some unwanted pregnancies. Some, at least. Seminal priming is a valid and useful theory. Sexual science writer Jesse Bering’s article on the theory, “Darwin’s Morning After Pill,” has a great discussion if you’re interested.

I’ve been sexually assaulted. I’ve also been raped. They are fundamentally different. I have not been violently assaulted, which is also different.

Sure, rape is rape is rape. But sexual assault is not acquaintance rape is not violent rape. And penetrative rape is not envelopment, (when a woman rapes a man). They all count, and they all suck.

Women rape men. (Sorry! But really, it happens!) Men rape women. Men rape men and women rape women. The second case is most prevalent outside of prison and is most currently pressing, but acknowledging and validating the range of sexual violence that individuals are exposed to all too regularly is important for creating an intelligent conversation about the most dominant issue. So I don’t want to leave those out.

I’d like to skip over discussion of my experience with rape and sexual assault. I’d also like to skip having any more experiences of that kind. Which is why, even if you’re already bored of hearing about this stuff, maybe you should be paying closer attention. If everyone was paying close attention, maybe we could move past expecting these things to happen. At which point it would make sense not to talk about it.

A big part of the problem, and here I am using myself as a proxy for most women, is that because I’m afraid of being in some way violated, I no longer drink in the company of men without a close friend available for protection. This is true whether at home or in bars.

Because I am female, I am aware that my gender means my appearance is more likely to be noticed than my work. So I work hard to try and make up for it. I expect unwanted ass-grabbing when I go to work at the bar. I brush off cat-calls alone in the street.

Are you female? Do you also do these things, expect these things? Does that seem right? Do you violently disagree with the imperative to protect yourself thus?

Are you male? Are you adamantly not a rapist, not an objectifier of women? Do you consider this whole discussion unfair and presumptuous? Hey, me too.

It’s not good for anyone that assumption of guilt is a reality. You may never have compromised someone’s sense of themselves sexually, but someone very much like you very likely has. We are all on edge because of presumed guilt, and if you are lucky enough to not understand the reality of victims or of victimizers, then it may well be useful to investigate them.

In a perfect reality, adult women would not be like me. They would not be aware of themselves in sexual terms at all times. They would just be ladies who could go home unattended. Or they would be ladies who could get a walk home from a dude and not be worried he’d try “something.” Except those are still pretty scary things to do, because lots of the time it’s fine and a whole lot of the time it really isn’t.

The onus should not be on potential victims to protect themselves. The onus is on potential aggressors to not rape, but even this is not enough. The imperative is to keep talking about it, to acknowledge what is wrong and to understand how we (even victims) are contributing to a culture that forgives and ignores rape while flattening very real differences in experience.**

I am afraid of men because experience has taught me to be so. I protect myself because I have learned how. Those are things I wish weren’t true. But they are, so, I’m just trying to be better.


**This paragraph was altered from original publication to reflect a more precise point. The original text read: The onus should not be on potential victims to protect themselves. The onus is not solely on potential aggressors to not rape. The imperative is to keep talking about it, to acknowledge what is wrong and to understand how we (even victims) are contributing to the culture.

This piece originally appeared on the Sheaf. I feel nervous reposting because it always feels like posting something like this could draw the ire of people on all sides of the issue and lead to an altogether different form of victimization that the internet has unleashed. But not reposting would go against my deep belief that this discourse is vital, so here I am.

CUPC Conference Booklet

CUPC Conference Booklet

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