Sexual assault discussion misses the point

Polarizing the rape discussion just propagates the issue.

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, us 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 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.

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.


Photo: Morgacito/Flickr

  • R. Gordey

    Thank you for speaking on behalf of victims/heros and those that “miss the point” because we must continue to evoke courage required to educate, challenge, advocate and I celebrate the courage and the freedom of speech, journalism and the voices of today. Very well written article. The Sheaf has gone from writing about agriculture and advertising men’s clothing stores in the early1900′s to advocating for human rights and has become a forum for today’s young adult, both female and male. This article is another testament to the necessity for good quality journalism.

  • The T.

    As one of those men part of the Adamantly Not a Rapist club, and whose girlfriend is a victim of traumatic sexual assault, I can say that I’m proud to see a rape/sexism Op-Ed piece in The Sheaf that ISN’T itself sexist. Oh wait, that was a lie.

    I will start off, however, by saying that the bulk of your article is good, and this is sadly one of the least sexist Op-Eds I’ve seen in The Sheaf in a long time. You show an impressive knowledge of the differences between the types of sexual assault and rape, and I especially approved of this bit: “In a perfect reality, adult women … would not be aware of themselves in sexual terms at all times … They would just be ladies who could go home unattended.” though I would perhaps add “in sexual terms as they appeal to men, at all times.” It’s fine to be aware of oneself sexually, but when a woman is only made constantly aware of their sexual existence ONLY as it serves male interests, it can be overbearing and make them feel like sexual objects, not just sexual beings.

    I also really appreciated this: “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.” I wholeheartedly agree.

    Now onto the nasty bits which practically compromise your entire efforts here. I’m sorry it turned out this way.

    Firstly: “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.”

    From what I can see in that article, this phenomenon is a rare occurrence and in no way has, as of yet, been practically utilized to prevent pregnancies caused by rape. As such, I see no reason to be mentioning it here as a response to (or even relevant information related to) all the criticism Todd Akin received for his inane comments about “legitimate rape” … comments which even Mitt Romney tried to distance himself from. I’ll say that again: even Mitt fucking Romney distanced himself from Todd Akin’s remarks. And here you are defending the very idea of it, pretending Akin’s perverse ideas actually have some credence in the form of potential “pre-eclampsia sprays” developed in the unknown future, as if Akin had even an inkling that this theory existed when he “misspoke,” as they say. I think it is you who is missing the point here. Darwin’s Morning After Pill is of absolutely no consequence in this discussion surrounding Akin’s victim-blaming, because that’s what his comments and the retaliatory criticism is about: who to blame for rape.

    And even if this theory had already birthed a current (not just potential) viable solution, it would still only be a last-resort preventative measure for pregnancies caused by rape (basically an alternative to abortion in such cases); it would still do NOTHING to reduce rape or the objectification culture surrounding it.

    Secondly and worst of all: “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.”

    No. Just … no. Unless I’ve misread something here, you believe the onus to NOT rape is not solely on the potential aggressors. Upon whom, then, might the onus not to rape someone be? This is either some poorly worded attempt to say “we all contribute to rape culture, so let’s co-operate to reduce the effects of patriarchy,” or you sincerely believe that rape victims can share at least some of the blame when they are actually being raped or sexually assaulted. There is a world of difference between contributing to sexist culture through non-physical subjugation and ACTUALLY raping someone. I think I just have to chalk this one up to poor choice of words.

    • The T.

      Please excuse the strange cutting off of my paragraphs; it did that by itself and it seems my “Edit” option has disappeared.