I know names of three female friends who have been sexually assaulted or raped. Three. It is true that I have always had more male friends than females, but 1 in 5 women have been the victim of a rape. The latest CDC report found that over 40% of all women have experienced other forms of sexual violence. I have roughly 400 female friends on social media. True, I am not close with them all, I don’t even consider them all real friends, but I know of just three of their sexual violence stories.
I am preparing my first sermon. I have never presented anything in a religious setting and a month from now I will be preaching on gender/domestic violence so I am doing a lot of reading. It is likely this that has me feeling a little raw the last few days. Two nights ago I sat down to watch one of the last episodes of The Newsroom, as my play for the day, when I was smacked in the face with some recently read ideology on gender and fear. I fell into a mess of tears not because I am alone in my fear but because I am far from alone.
We live in a society that engages its young men, its boys, in a patriarchal dialogue and a degrading sexism at a very young age while we teach our girls and our women how to avoid coming into contact, getting into trouble with, or falling victim to our cultural creations. Instead of teaching young men about consent we tell young women to:
- Not wear revealing clothing
- Go out in groups
- Walk with your keys held as a weapon
- Avoid walking in wooded areas alone
- Never leave your drink unattended
This list could go on and on, but what these helpful brochures and freshman workshops are really teaching young women, all women, is to be afraid of men. Be afraid of half of the population.
So if 18% of women have survived a rape or attempted rape I should “be friends” with roughly 72 survivors. I know of three. I love numbers and statistics so I got to thinking about this number a little further. 80% of victims know their attackers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Study (2009-2013) 42% of perpetrators were friends or acquaintances, 25% were intimate partners, and 5% were relatives.
Statistically speaking there is no one alive who does not know a survivor of rape. Chances are good then that not only do you know a rape survivor but you also know a rapist. Rapist. This is the word that describes a person who rapes. 99% of the people who rape are males. This does not mean that 99% of males are rapists. I know and love a lot of truly wonderful men. I probably also know a lot of rapists. I am likely friends with rapists and I don’t know it. Chances are also good that they don’t know they are rapists either. They may not even know that they have violated someone in the most heinous way possible.
In a recent study of male college students 88% of participants admitted to behaviors that fall under the legal definition of rape but deny having ever raped a woman. What does this say to you? To me it screams that we are not educating our children and that we are avoiding using language because it is viewed as callus. Media outlets don’t say “rape” because it makes us uncomfortable to hear it. Take the Bill Cosby “sex scandal.” How often have you heard this discussed? Now tell me how often you have heard reporters use the word “rape”. How are men supposed to know that they are raping someone if we never say “this is rape”?
My ex-husband was being investigated for the sexual assault of a 19-year-old employee when we first separated. Under definition of New Jersey law this was a rape. I saw the surveillance video. He committed an act of sexual penetration while using physical force not resulting in injury of the victim. “Sexual Penetration” is defined as “vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio or anal intercourse between persons or insertion of the hand, finger, or object into the anus or vagina either by the defendant on the defendant’s instruction.” In this instance an employee was physically forced into position to perform oral sex on her boss on her first day of work. Of all of the disturbing statements I have heard in our ongoing family court litigation, the repeated assertion that “this act was proven to be consensual” is the most revolting. Proven consensual? By whom? Is that why she did not return to work, not even to pick up her pay? Is that why she pressed charges? You want me to believe that she thought about it for a while and decided “oh wait, I totally wanted to do that.”
Only 32% of rapes are ever reported to the police. Of those, only 7% lead to an arrest with 2% felony conviction. And only 2% of rapists will ever spend a day in prison. The other 98% can go tell the world that it wasn’t rape because they were never convicted and chances are they will do it again. Without consequences they will rape again.
In a debate about legislation that would prevent women from showing their nipples in public (currently both sexes can be topless) New Hampshire state representative Josh Moore stated “If it’s a woman’s natural inclination to pull her nipple out in public and you support that than you should have no problem with a mans inclantion [sic] to stare at it and grab it. After all… It’s ALL relative and natural, right?” Aside from the poor grammar, misspellings, and missing punctuation this comment is grossly offensive because he is responding to a comment about public breastfeeding. This is an elected official who not only thinks this, but was willing to tell the public that he thinks it is acceptable for men to assault breastfeeding mothers!
What is going on here!? Something has got to change! We have to engage in these conversations with our friends and our families. We have to speak up and speak out. We have to work TOGETHER, men and women, to make this world a safer place because it is personal. Our moms, sisters and daughters are in danger. This is not a world I would be comfortable raising a daughter in. I am, however, proud to know that I am raising a feminist boy who will understand consent because he is being raised to respect all people, including women. I am also truly grateful to have my husband by my side showing this little boy what it really looks like to be a man.