A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER
Yesterday, I posted what now seems like a rather ironic tweet: “If you’re tired of seeing SexualAssault cases in the news, GOOD! News of this epidemic is finally reaching people! UniteAgainstRape” I tweeted it proudly, thinking maybe I in some small way helped to raise public awareness of the epidemic of sexual assault in our society through UniteWomen.org’s Unite Against Rape program, which I co-founded. The fact that reports of sexual assault are rising is welcome news to those of us who work to fight sexual assault. Instances of rape aren’t increasing, but rates of reporting it are, which means we are making progress.
Then, I signed onto my computer today to find a retraction of the Rolling Stone story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia due to what Rolling Stone editors now believe are discrepancies in the victim’s story. My first thought was, “Oh, sh!t!”
Just when we have finally reach a spot where sexual assault is out from behind a veil of shame and secrecy – and it seems we are finally shedding a light on a problem that plagues our society – one of the most high-profile victims of collegiate rape in recent history has (rightly or wrongly) now been publicly deemed untrustworthy. Whether trust was or was not “misplaced” in her by Rolling Stone is beside the point; either way, the legacy that will linger from this story is that women lie about rape.
The perception that “crying rape” is a common occurrence largely thwarts our efforts to stave sexual assault. In most cases, the assumption is that the victim is lying or seeking attention, as was suggested by George Will who asserted that being a rape victim is a “coveted status” on college campuses (to which I had a very strong retort).
Following Rolling Stone’s retraction, Mother Jones published an almost immediate “let’s-not-lose-sight-of-the-bigger-issue” piece that is filled with statistics about sexual assault on college campuses. Please read them. They are staggering.
While false reports of a crime, any crime, are heinous, the public focus must remain on the genuine reports of sexual assault and (more often than not) those that are not reported at all. For a moment, forget about Cosby; forget about Rolling Stone; forget about everything that has been in the media lately about rape – and let’s think for a moment about one of the most common scenarios of sexual assault.
A young girl is at a party in Anytown, USA. After getting separated from her friends, she finds herself alone and suddenly very drunk. A seemingly concerned upperclassman puts his arm around her and says, “Let’s get you home.” She feels appreciative, as it is clear she is ready to curl up and go to sleep. The next thing she remembers is opening her eyes to find this man on top of her, having sex with her. She feels panicked but fades back into unconsciousness, still deeply affected by the alcohol (or the drug she was given). The next thing she remembers is waking up at home alone, feeling terrified with a pit in her stomach and pain in her loins.
This happens every day. Every. Single. Day. And THIS IS RAPE! Above all else – is the message that I want everyone to hear: the most important fundamental aspect of a sexual encounter is that there must be consent. If consent can’t be given, it is rape.
We indeed live in a culture that reinforces the acceptance of non-consensual sex, and our sense of right and wrong in these circumstances is often…misplaced. While there are some who take joy in victimizing others, I honestly do not think that is the case in the majority of isolated (non-serial) rape cases. The much larger problem is that the 8.4 % of men who account for 95% of the rapes, these perpetrators being serial offenders according to a Lisak & Miller study, choose not to understand or care care about the definition of rape and the importance of consent.
To all the men and women out there: if a woman is intoxicated, please make sure she is safe. Is it your personal responsibility? No. But why weigh one’s legal responsibility against what is ethically right? An argument I’ve heard countless times from men is, “If a woman wants equal rights, why should I then treat her with any kind of special care? Either you don’t need special treatment, or you do – but you can’t have it both ways.” An unfortunate extension of that line of thinking is, “Why should I take responsibility for a drunk girl’s well-being when I wasn’t responsible for her getting in that condition?”
Because it is the right thing to do – and if anyone out there doesn’t know that, your parents did you a great disservice. It’s on us, folks. Teach your kids about consent. Teach yourselves about consent. And practice it.
Update: New evidence in this debacle shows ‘catfishing,’ creating an imaginary suitor, might have been the catalyst. Washington Post article: http://wpo.st/IWq21