Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

Are we teaching them that rape is wrong?

Are we teaching them someone who is unconscious is not capable of consent, regardless of whether is is because they have been drugged, drank to much, or just happen to be asleep, and it is wrong to rape them?

Are we teaching them that there is no implied consent in the clothes a person wears and that it is wrong to rape someone because of one's raiment?

Are we teaching them that there is no implied consent in where a person chooses to be and it is wrong to rape someone because that person happens to be out late at night, walking in a certain neighborhood, protesting their government, or serving their country?

Are we teaching them that there is no implied consent if someone accepts a drink, a meal, a ride home, help with homework, or any number of other overtures one may make toward someone and it is wrong to rape a person who has accepted one's aid?

Are we teaching them that people can change their minds and that just because a person has consented does not mean consent cannot be revoked?

Are we teaching them not only that "NO" means "NO", but also that they need to wait for a clear "Yes" before proceeding?

Are we teaching them that rape is wrong?

We live in a culture that apologizes for rapists, especially if the rapists are good athletes or are smart or are attractive or come from wealthy families or find themselves privileged in any number of other ways. When discussing punishing rapists, people invariably will often suggest the accuser is lying in order to "ruin the life" of the rapist- despite the fact that most rapes go unreported and shockingly few rapists are  convicted, many people believe that rapists are wrongfully accused or, when faced with overwhelming evidence that the rape occurred, that the victim "was asking for it." Someone steals your wallet, no one asks you to defend your having the wallet with you in a neighborhood while wearing expensive clothes  or suggest that, really, you actually gave your wallet away and have just changed your mind about it, but if someone steals sex from you, well, clearly you must have brought that crime upon yourself.

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned gender, either of the children who need to be taught all of the above or the people who should not be raped. Part of the reason I did this is because I feel that when we make genderized assumptions, say that the rapists are men and the rape survivors are women, men may check out and assume this isn't about them, that they have nothing to learn from this and women, well, women may go through their checklist of "how not to get raped" and, possibly, suggest that any woman who strays from said checklist brought the crime, in some way, upon herself. Rapists think they are good people (and oftentimes do not consider their actions rape). We live in a society which reflexively blames victims and many of us do so, in part, as a coping mechanism (i.e. "the victim did something wrong, but it cannot happen to me because I do everything right!")

However, another reason I did not mention gender is because women can commit rape and men can be raped. To make genderized assumptions about who rapes and who is raped let's both men and women off the hook-men often don't take the crime of rape as seriously as they should and women are not held accountable for their predatory actions.

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A friend of mine once told me a story about a series of rapes which took place in the city where he used to live, how at first the news just reported about how people were picked up off the street and thrown into a van where they were raped for a few hours and then let go. My friend said that later news reports revealed that the rapists were kidnapping and raping men and women and, suddenly, shit got real. Suddenly, my friend felt visceral fear, this was no longer just a terrible crime that was occurring on the streets, and he understood a bit of what women experience every day out in the world.

Another friend of mine told me a story about how his girlfriend would force him to have sex when he did not want to and how humiliating it was, in part because he felt his body had betrayed him through producing an erection despite himself.  My friend didn't consider what happened to him rape, and for that matter, many women I have met over the years have not considered the times they were forced into having non-consensual sex to have been rape either.

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When I read about Steubenville, I'll admit, I am more horrified by the people who stood around and did nothing while a drugged girl was assaulted in front of them. And I reflect on how lucky I have been.

When I was twenty-three years old I went to a party at my acting teacher's house. Before the party, I met up with a friend of mine for Thai food and I drove us to the party. I think I had two glasses of white wine before switching to water. At some point, I went into the bathroom and stayed there until my friend and my acting teacher's husband managed to get me home. I remember my acting teacher screaming to get me out of her house because she wanted to go to sleep. The next day, I was hungover and my friend told me that she had her husband pick her up at my house after she drove my car and me there. She mentioned our acting teacher's husband was a saint and she was surprised how unsympathetic and unkind our acting teacher had been. I thanked her profusely, apologizing for what I perceived to be my stupidity, and she said that it happens to everyone and that she has been the recipient of such kindness in the past, so she knows how important it is to take care of a friend in need. I have looked back on that night for the past sixteen years with shame. Getting so drunk at what was a professional event was beyond stupid and what the hell is wrong with me that I got so drunk on two glasses of wine? My friend suggested I must have gotten food poisoning from the food, but since she did not, that has never seemed to be an adequate explanation. I also believed that I was allergic to Chardonnay, though there is very little to explain why I have been able to drink other white wine over the years without ill effects. Maybe I was really a lightweight back then? Yeah, maybe. As I said, that night has stuck with me in a way that few other evenings of debauchery from my past have, but it was only recently, when reading about the effects of date rape drugs in relation to the Steubenville rape, that I started to wonder if maybe I had been drugged that night. It doesn't really make sense that I would be, I mean, it wasn't like anyone was chatting me up (as far as I recall) and most of the people at the party were friend from acting class, why would they do that to me? Besides, aside from the embarrassment and, potential lack of opportunities being hated by our acting teacher may have caused, nothing terrible happened to me, so does it even matter if I had been drugged? I think about how I would have reacted if I had woken up in someone's bed-I probably would have assumed I had agreed and while I would have felt disgusted with myself (I was dating Fred at the time, why would I have slept with someone else?) and angry and ashamed, while I probably would have avoided that person forever after, I would not have considered myself a victim of rape. Given how little I was able to piece together of the night before, however, I am not really sure I would have been in a condition to give consent, so it would have been rape even if I didn't consider it such. Lucky for me, I had a friend who was looking out for me who made sure I made it home, I do not need to dwell on the what might-have-beens, and for that I will be eternally grateful. It sucks that the victim in Steubenville didn't have a friend at that party, even though she probably thought she could trust everyone in that room, they were her friends, who would do that to her?

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We need to teach our children what rape is because too many people just don't know.

We need to teach our children that no one "deserves" to be raped.

We need to teach people to respect others.

We need to teach our children to be heroes, to have courage, and to stand up for people in need.

We need to teach our children that rape is wrong.

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