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What if rape reduction programs are actually just redirecting assault? A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that an anti-sexual assault program directed at first year female students in three Canadian colleges lowered women’s risk of being raped by half. For the women who took this course, that kind of reduction is amazing. But what about those who didn’t?
Jaclyn Friedman, former Impact self defense instructor and author of What You Really, Really Want, noted that the chances of permanently deterring a rapist is very low.
“Rapes are perpetrated by a tiny percentage of men who know what they’re doing and who rape again and again – they’re just going to find another target” she told me.
Friedman, who also co-edited an anthology on ending rape with me in 2008, said: “So just because these girls [who took the training] are less likely to be picked, it doesn’t mean there’s less rape on campus … This isn’t rape prevention, it’s rape protection.”
Certainly, the more women who receive trainings that have been proven to reduce their rape risk, the better – so it’s great to give money to programs like these and implement them where we can. But as Friedman noted: “unless the vast majority of women are getting this training, I don’t see how it makes a dent.”
The training program for freshman women not only included elements of self defense and risk-assessment, but a session on relationships, setting sexual boundaries and ways to “overcome emotional barriers to resisting the unwanted sexual behaviors of men who were known to them.” The students were contacted a year after their completed the program, and researchers found that their risk of rape was 5%; women who simply given brochures and a less comprehensive education had a rate of 10%.
This impressive reduction is reason to celebrate. But there is no easy answer to ending rape, and there’s a real danger in believing the solution to sexual assault is on the shoulders of women who might be attacked.
As Kathleen Basile from the Centers for Disease Control said in an editorial accompanying the study in the New England Journal of Medicine, as a sole solution this program “places the onus for prevention on potential victims, possibly obscuring the responsibility of perpetrators and others”. And in a world where rape victims are routinely blamed for the violence perpetrated against them, sending the message that stopping rape is women’s work is a slippery slope.
There are multiple ways to stop sexual assault among young people – and other programs that focus more on community responsibility have had just as much success. The Green Dot project, for example – which focuses on bystander intervention – showed a 50% reduction of sexual assault in 26 Kentucky high schools that participated in the program. Programs like this also have the added benefit of making ending rape all of our responsibility, not just women’s.
Those who participate learn what sexual assault looks like, the actions a potential perpetrator might take, and how to stop them. It means that a school full of people trained to know what a rapist acts like is much more likely to be able to remove rapists’ social license to operate, and take away their ability to rape within a community.
We need more than just one study and more than just one training to stop rape, not just on college campuses, but everywhere. Small, short-term solutions that work for some women are terrific and I hope we fund a lot of them. But what we need more are lasting solutions for all of us – solutions that don’t just change statistics, but the culture.
• This article was amended on 15 June 2015. An earlier version attributed a quote to Charlene Senn, the lead author of the study into the efficacy of an anti-sexual assault program in three Canadian colleges. In fact the quote was from Kathleen Basile of the Centers for Disease Control, who was writing in an editorial accompanying the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
There are some essential life skills that high schools know they have to teach students. That’s why most offer classes like woodshop, home economics and drivers education. So I have to ask: Given that we’re keen to teach teenagers the basics they need to function in society, why do we still have no mandated education around rape?
Expecting high schoolers to fully grasp what sexual assault is without comprehensive education is ridiculous. Politicians still routinely demonstrate their ignorance around rape, the FBI only changed its outdated definition of sexual assault in 2011, and even the courts regularly muck up rape cases.
And while it’s wonderful that more and more universities are creating sexual assault orientations and mandating courses on consent, by the time young people reach college (assuming they go at all) it’s often too late. Nearly half of American teenagers are sexually active by the time they’re 17 years old and 44% of sexual assault victims are under 18 years old.
Earlier this month, Senators Claire McCaskill and Tim Kaine introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act, which would mandate sexual assault and violence prevention education in high school. But we need more than a guarantee that rape will be talked about – we need a national standard for how it’s discussed. Victim-blaming, confusion around what the definition of rape is, and terrible ideas about how to stop assault all show that there’s too much misinformation around sexual assault.
We can’t have abstinence-only education enthusiasts teaching the topic, for example. Rape victims – including kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart – have said that receiving abstinence only education worsened their feelings of shame after being assaulted. (Curricula frequently teaches that young women are ‘dirty’ or ‘used’ after sex.) Some of the curricula even directly blames victims: In one popular textbook, for example, students are asked, “How do some people say NO with their words, but YES with their actions or clothing?
Considering the full-on backlash to ‘yes means yes’ laws and standards at universities, I don’t expect that a push to mandate similar education at the high school level would be met without opposition. But rape is not a talking point or a thought experiment. And now is the time – when ending sexual assault is a central part of the national conversation – that activists and legislators should be pushing for the most progressive, results oriented curricula possible for teens.
Young people need a clear understanding of what sexual assault is through a curriculum devised by experts, a comprehensive explanation of enthusiastic consent, and a roadmap for how to deal with a culture that victim-blames and is generally decades behind where it should be.
If most states require sex education for teens, and we continue the fight for medically accurate, non-religiously based sex education – we can certainly do the same for education on rape. If we can manage to have nearly every state pass an anti-bullying law and mandate education on the topic, we surely can gather up the same kind of support to end sexual assault and raise awareness. The question isn’t one of ability, but of will. Yes, it will be controversial and it will be an uphill battle. But if we want to truly stop rape before it happens and arm young people with the knowledge they need to deal with the reality of sexual assault – this is our only option.
It was Andrew’s sixth night of freshman year at Brown University when he was assaulted by a male student in his dorm bathroom. When Andrew brought on-campus charges, his assailant was expelled.
Unlike myriad students who report mishandled cases in the burgeoning national campaign against sexual assault, Andrew initially believed his case was handled appropriately.
But after The Huffington Post discovered Andrew’s assailant had previously been found responsible for assaulting two other students and had not been expelled, Andrew was devastated.
Andrew has decided to share his story in hopes that victims of assault — and specifically male victims — be taken more seriously.
“It’s time to include male survivors’ voices,” he said. “We are up against a system that’s not designed to help us.”
In the early hours of Sept. 5, 2011, Andrew, who asked that his last name be withheld, was up late excitedly chatting with his hallmates in Keeney Quad, one of two main freshman housing units. Jumping from room to room, Andrew admired the varied displays his classmates had on their walls. In his room, Andrew had put up Art Deco travel posters and a screen print of neighborhoods in his hometown of Washington, D.C.
Around 5 a.m., his classmates returned to their rooms while Andrew headed to the communal bathrooms to brush his teeth. Halfway down the hall, a male student he didn’t recognize passed him. Not thinking much of it, Andrew entered the bathroom and began to wash his hands.
A knock on the door surprised him. The bathroom required a dorm key, so anyone who lived in the building should have been able to get inside. Andrew opened the door. It was the same student he had seen in the hall.
Andrew went back to the sink, and the student approached him. “You’re hot,” Andrew remembers him saying. The student propositioned him but Andrew politely declined.
“Nobody has to know,” the student said.
He came up behind Andrew, grabbed his crotch and moved him into the bathroom stall. Frozen, Andrew protested but did not fight back, scared of what would happen if he did.
For 15 minutes the stranger assaulted him.
Andrew has a hard time articulating what he felt during the assault. All he remembers is being unable to speak or act. “I just remember focusing on the stall door, knowing that he was between me and my escape.”
When the assault was over, the assailant “just left.” Andrew remembers resting his head against the bathroom stall and listening to the buzz of the fluorescent lights as he tried to reconcile what had just happened to him.
“I didn’t even know his name,” Andrew said. “I didn’t know who he was. Nobody saw anything.”
Andrew later found out the assailant’s name through a mutual friend. During the hearing process he also learned that his assailant was a sophomore who had been visiting a residential adviser in the dorm earlier that night.
The day after the assault, Andrew told his friends what happened, but joked that it was a “5 a.m. hookup in the bathroom.” It was easier to deal with the shame if he felt control over the situation. At 8 p.m. Andrew and his classmates were required to attend a mandatory orientation meeting entitled “Understanding Sexual Assault.”
Andrew remembers feeling isolated in the auditorium populated by his peers. “It was a sad twist of irony,” he said.
At first, Andrew berated himself, wondering if he could have done more to stop it. But after a couple months he started feeling like himself again, excelling in his introductory course on Urban Studies and joining groups like the Queer Alliance, the Brown University Chorus and a coed literary fraternity.
Things took a turn in the spring when Andrew was cast in a campus production of “Don Pasquale” and attended rehearsals nightly on the north side of campus, where his assailant lived — and seeing him “almost every single time” he was there.
On the morning of Feb. 29, 2012, he had a panic attack. “I got in the shower and suddenly started shaking and could only see in front of me and probably couldn’t have told you where or who I was.”
Andrew started meeting regularly with a counselor, but initially chose not to share the assailant’s name, as he was not ready to pursue a campus hearing. But in May, after a couple months of counseling, he decided to file a formal complaint with the university. The hearing was held the following November.
Andrew’s assailant participated via phone as, unbeknownst to Andrew, he was on suspension for two other cases of sexual assault.
The two other victims, Brenton (who would only give his first name), and another student who requested to remain anonymous, said they filed a joint complaint in December 2011. They had hearings for their cases in March 2012; the university found the assailant responsible for sexual misconduct in both cases and suspended him until the following December.
“I was happy that he got suspended, but I didn’t think it was enough. I knew there were even more people he had gotten to,” Brenton said.
After Andrew’s hearing in November, the university found the assailant responsible for a third case of sexual misconduct and expelled him. The assailant appealed all three sanctions and was rejected. He declined to comment for this article.
The timeline of all three assaults was as follows:
Brown has recently been in the news for accusations of mishandled cases of sexual assault, notably that of Lena Sclove, which prompted a federal Title IX investigation.
In Sclove’s case, the accused student was found responsible for two counts of sexual misconduct and suspended for two semesters. Similarly, the student who assaulted Brenton and the anonymous victim was merely suspended for just over one semester.
Brown’s failure to impose a sufficient sanction was unsurprising to Andrew but upsetting nonetheless. “I wish they had taken it seriously the first one or two times,” he said. “The process weighed on me from April to November. … I could’ve had days of my sophomore year that I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed every morning. … To know that [the hearing process] could have been prevented if they had expelled him the first time is incredibly upsetting. My sophomore year could have been totally different.”
Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, recently sent a letter to the Brown community outlining revisions to Brown’s sexual assault policy, including that a student given a sanction that includes separation from the university would be immediately removed from campus residences (though not necessarily barred from campus). The letter also included clearer guidelines on how the university determines a sanction, but it didn’t determine specific sanctions for violations of sexual misconduct, leaving Andrew’s concern unaddressed.
In a statement emailed to The Huffington Post, Brown University said it could not comment on the individual cases.
“The circumstances of each case are taken into account by the conduct board and adjudicated under our current sanctioning guidelines, which are reviewed regularly,” the statement said. “We believe our process is the right one for our University and we remain committed to doing all we can to keep our community safe and to being a leader in establishing best practices.”
For all the focus on campus sexual assault in recent years, male victims have been frequently absent from the news coverage, except for the most tragic cases, like that of Trey Malone, an Amherst College student who committed suicide after his assault.
One study shows rape victims are 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to have attempted suicide. Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victims services at Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the largest anti-sexual-assault organization in the nation, said both men and women who survive sexual assault face similar psychological effects — but there are some differences. “Male survivors who are suicidal tend to use more lethal means,” Marsh said.
Studies show that one in five women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and that approximately 50 percent of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. But statistics vary on the incidence of sexual assault against men. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of 5,000 college students at over 130 colleges, one in 25 men answered “yes” to the question “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” Other organizations, such as 1in6, an advocacy group for male survivors, put the estimate much higher, at one in six males before the age of 18.
Steve LaPore, founder and director of 1in6, believes male sexual assaults are underreported because the issue is still taboo. While women have “really moved the ball forward,” resulting in a heightened awareness about sexual assault against women and children, it’s an awareness that doesn’t include men as victims, he said.
“We tell little boys and men to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
“Culturally we still don’t want to see men as vulnerable or hurt,” LaPore explained. “We tell little boys and men to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Because of the stigma, he said, there are fewer resources available for male victims.
LaPore was not surprised by the fact that Andrew’s assailant initially received a lighter punishment. “In many cases we find that it’s more difficult for men to be believed, or to take their case seriously,” he said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of seeing men’s roles as bystanders and preventers, but we don’t recognize men who are survivors of sexual assault and abuse.”
Clayton Bullock, psychiatrist and co-author of Male Victims of Sexual Assault: Phenomenology, Psychology, Physiology, found that male victims are also less likely to come forward or be taken seriously because of their physiological response to assault.
“It is possible for men to get aroused and ejaculate when being assaulted,” Bullock said. “What’s particularly bewildering for the males is that if they ejaculated or were aroused during the assault, it adds a layer of shame or confusion in their culpability of their own victimization.”
Men also have difficulty with the language of sexual assault, according to Jim Hopper, instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a founding board member of 1in6.
“There are words like ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ that are hard to identify with, especially for men,” Hopper said. “For many men, they don’t want to be a ‘victim’ because it’s antithetical to what it means to be a real man.”
A friend of Malone’s at Amherst, who identified himself as Eric for this article, said he was raped by his freshman-year roommate. After feeling dissatisfied with the school’s handling of his case, Eric attempted suicide by overdosing on Benadryl, but it didn’t work.
“I remember waking up to [my roommate] kissing the back of my neck, and I feel his erect dick behind me,” Eric recalled. “I turn around and am like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he says, ‘What are you doing in my room?’ And I said, ‘No, dude, you’re in my bed.’”
Eric feels he was targeted because of his sexuality. “I was very open about being gay, so I think that’s a big part of it; he assaulted me because he knew I was gay,” Eric said. “After that I felt like I couldn’t be as out as I was. He thought that was an invitation.”
Andrew, who identifies as queer, believes it’s more difficult for people to talk about queer victims of assault. “They don’t want to think that queer people exist to begin with, so the idea that sexual assault happens in those communities is something people don’t want to talk about,” he said. “There are some people who also believe [sexual assault] is punishment or retribution for being queer.”
The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found about 40 percent of gay men, 47 percent of bisexual men and 21 percent of heterosexual men in the U.S. “have experienced sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lives.”
Bullock says gay men are often targets of sexual assault because of gay-bashing, or because of conflicted feelings about the assailant’s own attraction to other men in which they are “exorcising their internalized homophobia.”
And since the LGBTQ community is often perceived as promiscuous, it can be difficult for victims to come forward.
“The sentiment I hear the most and feel the most is that because we’re being open about our sexuality, when someone assaults us it’s not an assault,” Eric said. “Like, ‘Oh you were kind of asking for it,’ or ‘Are you surprised you got assaulted?’”
Eric struggled at Amherst in the immediate aftermath of his assault, eventually dropping out when the administration allowed his assailant to remain on campus. After leaving college, he joined the military and became an engineer. He’s feeling optimistic about what’s next, but he still feels the impact of what happened to him.
“You know ‘Carry That Weight’?” he asked, referring to Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz’s campaign to raise awareness of college sexual assault by carrying a mattress around campus until her rapist is expelled. “How I imagine carrying my weight is physical weight. I actually gained a lot of weight, and part of that was intentional. It’s comforting for me being heavier and less looked at as a sex object. In my life I want to be smart, I want to finish college, I want to be good at my job. But I don’t want to be attractive.”
According to Marsh, Eric’s sentiment is typical of both male and female victims.
“The idea that they don’t want any type of attention, or anything remotely resembling sexual advances,” Marsh said. “I think there’s a fear that this could happen again. And if they make themselves so unappealing, they won’t get hurt the way they’ve been hurt before.”
Like many other victims, Eric doesn’t think the punishment for sexual assault at colleges is sufficient.
“If we treated rape the way we treated plagiarism on college campuses, there would be minimal rape,” Eric insisted. “They expel people all the time for plagiarism.”
However, punishment for rape is just one part of the solution. LaPore, founder of 1in6, believes resources need to be more easily accessible for men, including the way clinics and programs are named and advertised. “If we could become willing to be inclusive, we would see more men willing to come forward and say we would like some help,” he said.
Michael Rose, who was in the same coed fraternity as Andrew at Brown, believes the role of bystanders is also integral. “Making sure every space is a safe space” is important, he said. “If more people can be trained as bystanders, and feel comfortable intervening. That’s huge.”
Rose was surprised when Andrew told him about the assault. Despite Rose’s involvement in Brown’s Sexual Assault Peer Education program, Andrew was the first male survivor he had met.
“We were just together in the lounge and we had been talking about consensual sex and life on campus, and he mentioned to me he’d been assaulted his first semester,” Rose said. “I was shocked at first. You never want it to happen, but especially not to someone you know.”
Rose was one of the first people Andrew told about his assault. He told his parents about it the following summer and came out as a survivor to his friends on Facebook during his junior year, when he participated in an online campaign for sexual assault survivors called Project Unbreakable.
He also participated in “Carry That Weight” in solidarity with Sulkowicz’s campaign by carrying a stall door, since his assault occurred in a bathroom.
Both experiences helped Andrew in his healing process. Upon sharing his story, he received encouragement from his friends and family. “My parents were pretty supportive,” he said. “They reiterated the points that I was still valuable and it had no impact on how they thought of me.”
Andrew is now a senior at Brown. He’s finishing his concentration in Urban Studies, writing a thesis on suburban poverty and completing an applied music program. A sign on his dorm door reads, “Hi! Come talk to me about sexual assault, consent, relationships or really anything.”
Walking along the campus green, Andrew seems energized. He talks about the campus buildings and how they provide a great microcosm for exploring urban planning. Specifically, he likes to think about transportation and how it connects people.
As Andrew passes the auditorium where he had his freshman orientation on sexual assault, he says he wants to continue advocating for sexual assault victims. He believes telling his story could make a difference, especially for men. “There are a lot of male survivors who haven’t found someone they can relate to,” he said. “I want to break the silence, and I want other men to know that they’re not alone.”
(Trigger Warning: Sexual violence)
Editor’s Note: This piece focuses largely on the experiences of sexual violence perpetrated by men against women. However, Everyday Feminism recognizes that all people can be perpetrators and survivors of sexual violence.
Originally published on Mic and cross-posted here with their permission.
This just in: Rape is in no way, shape, or form a “learning experience.”
Yet that’s exactly how Susan Patton, aka “Princeton Mom,” described it on air during a CNN interview on Thursday.
Brought on to discuss campus sexual assault, she grossly mischaracterized being raped while drunk as “a learning experience” and “a clumsy hookup melodrama.”
Patton is but one recent example of “high-profile” commentary gone wrong.
Recently, highly publicized cases – such as the Rolling Stone-University of Virginia debacle, Lena Dunham’s revelations, and the mounting Bill Cosby allegations – have exposed the vast discrepancies between people’s perceptions and the reality of rape.
But for most survivors, it doesn’t take a media spotlight to beget insensitive, uninformed, and downright erroneous remarks about sexual assault.
It’s something they face every day. Here are some things we should stop saying to survivors – immediately:
This question is a classic, if not ubiquitous, victim-blaming approach.
Time and again, survivors are asked what they were wearing at the time of their assault, implying they were “asking for it.”
Newsflash: The cause of rape is 100% rapists, not clothing choices.
In March 2014, Twitter user @Steenfox addressed this issue when she asked followers what they were wearing at the time of their assaults. The responses clearly demonstrate the irrelevance of fashion when it comes to rape.
At its core, rape is about power and control, not sex or attraction; the common claim of a woman “luring” or “enticing” her rapist with an outfit is absurd.
Furthermore, the idea that a woman who is dressed a certain way is somehow responsible for her own assault isn’t just inaccurate, it creates a class system of women and girls who are more “rapeable.”
But people are not raped or assaulted because they’re drinking or drunk. Rather, as one expert quoted in USA Today said, “People get raped because there is a perpetrator there — someone who wants to take advantage of them.”
In fact, a 2001 research report found that while alcohol consumption and sexual assault often co-occur, “the desire to commit a sexual assault may actually cause alcohol consumption (e.g., when a man drinks alcohol before committing a sexual assault in order to justify his behavior).”
Perhaps it’s time to start looking at alcohol as a date rape drug instead of an excuse to justify or shrug off sexual assault.
Despite the myth that “real” rape is only committed by strangers, statistics say otherwise.
According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 73% of rapists are non-strangers.
Specifically, 38% of rapists are the survivor’s friend or acquaintance, 28% are intimate partners, and 7% are family members.
The bottom line: Any unwanted sexual contact is assault, no matter who is perpetrating it.
According to RAINN, there are several reasons why survivors are reluctant to report their assaults. In their report, they state:
“The most common reason given by [survivors] (23%) is that the rape is a ‘personal matter.’ Another 16% of [survivors] say that they fear reprisal, while about 6% don’t report because they believe that the police are biased.”
Even when a rape is reported, only 3 out of 100 rapists will ever serve a day in prison, a bleak statistic that may also discourage survivors from reporting.
At the end of the day, it’s vital that we support survivors in their decisions whether or not to report their assaults. Only they can make that call.
Last month, the FBI finally updated its definition of rape, removing the word “forcible” to recognize that not all assault survivors are physically overcome by their rapists.
There are several instances in which survivors might be raped and either don’t or can’t fight off attackers.
For example, they may be drugged or otherwise mentally incapacitated, in fear for their lives, outnumbered, or experiencing tonic immobility – a response to trauma in which a person freezes.
If a women has sex with a man, regrets it, and cries rape, that constitutes a false allegation — which is extremely rare, despite men’s rights activists’ claims that this practice is endemic.
In fact, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), only 2% to 8% of rape reports are false.
However, as the NSVRC points out, false reports are not necessarily the same as false allegations: “Investigators, prosecutors, and others often decide that a sexual assault did not happen based simply on their own views of the [survivor], the suspect, and their credibility.”
A man has a greater chance (1 in 33) of becoming a rape survivor himself than being falsely accused of raping someone.
This simply is not true.
Despite this, many men are reluctant to acknowledge, let alone report, their attacks.
According to research published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity in July 2014, “the majority of men who have experienced something that would qualify as child sexual abuse or adult rape based on research definitions do not label their experiences as sexual abuse or rape.”
ABC Family’s Campus Rape Story line Goes Where Scripted Television Hasn’t Gone Before, via BuzzFeed:
The anger directed at HBO’s The Newsroom in December in the wake of an episode that attempted to capitalize on the debate surrounding the scourge of college sexual assault crystallized the complexity of emotions surrounding the very complicated issue plaguing campuses nationwide. At the time, the Rolling Stone/UVA debacle was dominating headlines — a magazine story that was meant to serve as crusading journalism, peeling back the lid of insidious behavior at the Virginia university and bringing awareness of the situation to a larger audience, instead had the opposite effect as the story’s factual basis was attacked and the magazine backed away from supporting the writer. Any platform that the story could have provided rape victims — particularly those on college campuses — was undone, and the piece itself has become a watchword for reckless reporting and a lack of fact-checking. In the months that followed, the conversation continued, especially when two 2015 Sundance Film Festival projects dealt with campus rape: Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground and Morris May and Rose Troche’s interactive Perspective. There is something in the air at the moment — the discourse and epidemic are reaching a boiling point.
The latest entrée into the conversation is, on the surface, a surprising one: A teen television show waded into the murky waters of campus rape narratives in its Feb. 3 episode. But that teen series, ABC Family’s groundbreaking Switched at Birth, has never been one to shy away from potentially explosive issues of race, class, or the hearing/deaf divide (many of its main characters are deaf or hard-of-hearing and the show has embraced the use of American Sign Language and closed captioning). The teen drama, created by Lizzy Weiss, might have initially been about the ramifications of two families — one white and wealthy, the other Latina and struggling to get by — learning that their daughters had been switched at the hospital as babies. But in the four seasons since, it’s evolved into a canny exploration of communication, expression, and identity.
There’s a reason the particular issue of campus rape is one that is poignant forSwitched’s deaf and hard-of-hearing characters — and why it’s fitting now. Last year, the Washington Post ran a story about the climbing rates of campus rape and the belief among university administrators that “robust reporting” could contribute to preventing these crimes in the future. The university with the highest rates of reporting forcible sex offenses proved to be Gallaudet University, which saw “more than 11 per thousand students in 2012.” Gallaudet also happens to house the nation’s premier deaf education program, and the university’s dean of student affairs and academic support pointed toward the resources available — “direct access in terms of communication and language with on-campus personnel without requiring the need for an interpreter” — as the reason for the higher overall numbers and reporting rates.
Switched at Birth has long looked toward Gallaudet and deaf history and culture for inspiration for its storylines. Though it’s unclear whether the Post’s reporting played a role for Weiss and the writing staff in penning the Jan. 27 episode, the installment saw Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) waking up after a drunken night in the bed of her ex-boyfriend Tank (Max Adler), her clothes scattered on the floor. In the Feb. 3 episode, Bay struggles to recall the events of the night before, wondering whether she had cheated on her long-distance boyfriend, Emmett (Sean Berdy), by possibly drunkenly sleeping with her ex. But more troublingly, she is uncertain about whether she consented to having sex with Tank or not in the first place.
It’s Bay’s birth mother Regina (Constance Marie) who first utters the r-word — noting that if a woman is drunk, she cannot actually give consent, and that any consent given while impaired isn’t actually consent. It’s a shock to Bay, and to the viewer, really, to hear such an open discussion on such a controversial subject on a teen drama — but it’s important that this is a conversation happening on a show geared toward a younger demographic. All too often, rape gets swept under the rug or is used as a means to an end to look at victim culture or false accusations or something different altogether; on Switched, however, though it’s used for a narrative, it’s also instructive and educational. Regina’s lines are uttered with such certain sincerity that the moment, like many others on this series, isn’t saccharine or forced, but significant.
Typically, sexual assault storylines play out with strangers, their repercussions barely, if at all, glimpsed. A recent episode of The Good Wife looked at the epidemic through the lens of a college disciplinary board following a student accusing another of rape, taking its title (“The Red Zone”) from the most dangerous time of year for sexual assault against first-year female students. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), representing the victim, flicks at the specter of Title IX, saying that the university could open itself up to a lawsuit under the U.S. Code for gender discrimination in education. But the rape didn’t happen to Alicia’s son Zach (Graham Phillips) or her daughter Grace (Makenzie Vega) — and while the episode was powerfully rendered and meticulously constructed, there was an inherent narrative distance between the topic and the framework of the show; it was a case to be won or lost by Alicia, and while it drew upon real-life inspiration, it ultimately doesn’t change the direction of the show or any of the central characters.
That’s not the case with Switched at Birth. As Bay goes back and forth about whether she consented to sleep with Tank, the show shifts between each of their perspectives — hers increasingly inebriated, his equally drunk — which differ in small but meaningful ways. Did she kiss him? Did he kiss her? Did she push him away? And if she didn’t, did it mean that she was actually able to give her consent?When Bay confronts Tank about her lack of clarity regarding the events of the previous night, he is horrified by what she is implying: that he took advantage of her, that he assaulted her, that he raped her. They were both drunk, he bellows, and he would never do anything like that. Tank is not a stranger to Bay or the audience: He’s been presented previously as a “good guy.” Which is precisely the point.
The plot doesn’t wrap up neatly after one episode; in fact, there’s a simmering level of anger, fear, and distress that threatens to boil over in next week’sSwitched, even as Bay says she doesn’t want to do anything about what happened, that she just wants it to go away. But Bay’s brother Toby (Lucas Grabeel) — who is also Tank’s roommate — tells his girlfriend Lily (Rachel Shenton) about what happened… and Lily is an administrator at the university, meaning she has a legal obligation to bring the situation to the disciplinary board. It looks like Bay’s hope that this just goes away will soon be evaporating completely.
But that’s because this storyline is realistically messy and fraught — it’s painful and profound, showing a night that Bay deeply regrets. Of course, regretting that something happened does not mean accepting responsibility for it — andSwitched carefully threads its narrative here, placing the blame for what may have happened on Tank for having sex with Bay when she was clearly too drunk to actually give her legal consent.
That this is all playing out in a show that so many teenagers (and adults) are watching is important for so many reasons. The ultimate irony is that this ABC Family teen drama is doing a far better job of tackling this difficult topic than its allegedly more hard-hitting and award-winning adult counterparts — and that, thankfully, means those in the audience who may soon be college-bound themselves are actually watching.
Kassie Edwards reported her rape. But that was before the attention on U-Va. or Cosby, via The Washington Post:
Kassie Edwards reported her rape. It wasn’t much of a decision, really.
She was attacked on Halloween 2008. Two months earlier, Edwards had transferred to Florida State University to be an African American studies major, with dreams of eventually working at one of the Smithsonian museums. Soon after arriving on campus, she was assigned a work-study job at the university library.
She had the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift that day, and just before noon, she took the elevator to the third floor to restock shelves. It was dark until she walked out and triggered the motion-detector lights.
That was when she noticed a young man with bloodshot eyes standing very still in the lobby. No one else was around. She was pushing her cart down an aisle when he came up to her from behind, took her in a chokehold and wrestled her to the ground.
“Don’t say nothing,” he told her, indicating that there was a gun in the pouch of his hooded sweatshirt. She was afraid to scream but remained conscious throughout the attack. When the man was done, he pulled up his pants and instructed her to count to 100 before she got up — warning that if she didn’t, he would come back for her.
The backlash against women who have raised sexual-assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, including Victoria Valentino, left, and Barbara Bowman, could intimidate other women who have been sexually assaulted, Edwards says. (Left: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Rigjht: Erin O’Connor for The Washington Post)
Edwards counted to five, heard the sound of shuffling papers and ran to find a co-worker. Within minutes, Tallahassee police were at the library.
She didn’t cry until later. Until after the rape kit was administered at the hospital and a detective had taken her statement. Then her roommates took her home. “And I didn’t know what to do but just cry. I felt like my life had changed,” says Edwards, now 28.
Today, more than six years after the attack, Edwards is a victim advocate and speaker with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. She sat down for an interview at an apartment in Laurel, Md., where she has lived for two months and which overlooks the woods. Tall and outgoing, she now speaks of the rape with a matter-of-fact calmness. She feels it’s especially important to be vocal about her experience, in light of the avalanche of media attention that high-profile sexual assault cases have received in recent months.
She stayed in her room for much of the week after the attack, she says, and when she did emerge, she shuddered at the sight of every man in a hooded sweatshirt, wondering whether each one was her attacker.
Edwards had never known anyone who said they had been raped, and she had never thought that it would happen to her. But something happened as she talked to her friends about the attack. They started talking back — about their own experiences with sexual assault.
“I learned about all my friends who had been raped before, which I would never have known about because they were afraid to come forward. And these were close friends,” she says. “There’s a veil of shame about being raped.”
Rape and doubt
Two months after the attack, Edwards’s rapist was caught. He had raped two other women and then murdered his girlfriend. Edwards wrote a letter to be read at his sentencing. “I’ve forgiven you,” she wrote. “I hope you will live the rest of your life making the right choices.”
Her assailant, who was not a Florida State student, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Edwards doesn’t think about him much anymore. She finished college — had a great deal of fun and had her heart broken. She healed her wounds through prayer and counseling and poetry.
And whenever the opportunity arose, she talked about what had happened — to the media, to her friends, to audiences at spoken-word open-mike nights. She talks because it’s helpful to her, but more than that, because she hopes it will be helpful to others. “To give them inspiration to be more inclined to report crimes that happened to them,” she says. “Especially rape.”
And at this moment, her advocacy work feels more urgent than ever. The past year has shone a bright light on the issues surrounding crimes against women — first there were the accusations against quarterback Jameis Winston at Edwards’s alma mater. Then came Ray Rice, and the University of Virginia story in Rolling Stone, and the multiplying number of women coming forward to say that Bill Cosby once drugged and assaulted them. And unfortunately, Edwards thinks, the sum result is that it may now be more difficult for women to come forward than ever before — especially if their attacker is someone previously known to them.
“Legislatively we’ve made it easier for rape victims, but culturally I think we’re taking a couple steps back,” says Edwards, who works at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Although it didn’t happen in her case, Edwards says she has learned that one of the biggest problems is that people “tend to doubt the rape victims’ stories. They tend to blame the victim or they don’t believe them, instead of saying, ‘Oh, how could somebody do this?’ ”
Edwards fears that the backlash against women who have come forward — especially the Cosby accusers, whose motives have been questioned — will dissuade others from taking the same step. “Because they’ve seen how the victims are being portrayed,” she says. “It’s good that we’re talking about it, but the conversation is not steered in a positive light.”
Her message to victims is this: “It’s not something you could’ve prevented. It’s not about you being a weak person. It’s about somebody who doesn’t have control over their greed and their desire for power.”
She encourages victims to tell someone about what happened, although she knows that’s often a much more complicated endeavor than it was for her. “It’s about what feels comfortable for them and exploring all the avenues before making the ultimate decision not to report. Whether it’s reporting it to an anonymous hotline or friend or advocate or going to counseling.” By reporting the crime, she says, they may be able to prevent it from happening to someone else.
Edwards says that her initial fear — that her life would be forever damaged because of the assault — has proved not to be true. “Going through that experience just made me a stronger person,” she says.
The advocacy work in particular has added new depth and meaning to her life. But mostly she has just stayed on track, knowing that nothing — and no one — has the power to knock her off course.
In the coming weeks, Edwards will start a new job — at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
These 13-Year-Old Girls Want To Use Their Sex Ed Classes To Fight Rape Culture, via ThinkProgress:
Two eighth graders in Toronto, Canada are pushing to overhaul their province’s sexual health curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships, saying that combating rape culture involves creating a “consent culture” among youth.
Tessa Hill and Lia Valente, both 13 years old, are asking the Ontario Ministry of Education to add consent education as a topic in the province’s health curriculum. In an attempt to accomplish that goal, they launched a petition on Change.org last week that’s garnered more than 2,000 signatures so far.
In a recent interview with Canada.com, the middle schoolers explained that they learned more about consent after being assigned to complete a school project on a social justice issue. They chose to explore “rape culture,” or the set of cultural assumptions that allows sexual assault to flourish by assuming that violence and forcible sex is a normal part of gender relations. That got them thinking about how more information about consensual sex could help address issues like cat-calling and slut-shaming, which they say they’ve witnessed in the hallways of their school.
“Our society is scared to teach teens and young people about safe sex, and most importantly, consent. Young people will have sex, despite teaching abstinence in the classroom, so the most important thing is to educate us and other young people about consent,” the petition reads. “When young people don’t learn about the importance of consent in a sexual relationship, it can lead to unhealthy relationships and ultimately perpetuates rape culture.”
Ontario’s current sex ed classes have been in place since the 1990s, and are widely considered to be the most outdated in the country. Education officials attempted to update them in 2010, but that project was shelved after pushback from social conservatives, who complained the proposed changes — like including information about masturbation and homosexuality — were too “explicit.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay head of government in Canada, has indicated that she wants to keep moving forward with the 2010 proposal. In December, she directed the Ministry of Education to rework the curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships. And last week, she tweeted that Hill and Valente are doing “important work” and she’d be happy to meet with them.
Similar efforts to update sex ed classes here in the United States are often met with resistance. In California, for instance, parents recently grew outraged after learning that their kids’ sex ed classes include information about gender identity and consent. Across the U.S., proponents of abstinence education have raised concerns about “X-rated” and “pornographic” sexual health classes that teach students about condoms and healthy relationships. Just as in Ontario, these objections often successfully prevent school districts from implementing the curriculum of their choice.
But young people are also increasingly fighting back and demanding medically accurate information in their health classes. Teens in Nevada recently held a rally to push back against their school district’s decision to drop comprehensive sex ed materials. A West Virginia high school student made national headlines for protesting against a “slut-shaming” abstinence education course. And last summer, a Canadian teen convinced her school to drop a course on sexual purity after she filed a human rights complaint against it.
“Yes” Is Better Than “No,” via The New York Times:
SUPPOSE someone you know slightly arrives at your home, baggage and all, and just barges in and stays overnight. When you protest, the response is, “Well, you didn’t say no.”
Or imagine that a man breaks into your home while you sleep off a night of drunken revelry, and robs you blind. Did your drinking imply consent?
Until now, this has been the state of affairs in our nation’s laws on sexual assault. Invading bodies has been taken less seriously by the law than invading private property, even though body-invasion is far more traumatic. This has remained an unspoken bias of patriarchal law. After all, women were property until very recently. In some countries, they still are.
Even in America, women’s human right to make decisions about their own bodies remains controversial, especially when it comes to sex and reproduction.
That’s why the recent passage of Senate Bill 967 in California is such a welcome game-changer in understanding and preventing sexual assault. The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously after a 52 to 16 vote in the State Assembly, now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, which is expected. It would make California the first state to embrace what has become known as the “yes means yes” law, because it alters the standard regarding consent to sexual activity on college campuses. It is the first state response to President Obama’s initiative on campus sexual assault, announced earlier this year.
Until this bill, the prevailing standard has been “no means no.” If she says no (or, more liberally, indicates any resistance with her body), then the sex is seen as nonconsensual. That is, it’s rape. Under such a standard, the enormous gray area between “yes” and “no” is defined residually as “yes”: Unless one hears an explicit “no,” consent is implied. “Yes means yes” completely redefines that gray area. Silence is not consent; it is the absence of consent. Only an explicit “yes” can be considered consent.
This is, of course, completely logical, and fully consistent with adjudicating other crimes. Nevertheless, it is bound to raise howls of protest from opponents of women’s equality and their right to make decisions about their own bodies.
“Yes means yes” has been the law of the land in Canada since 1992, yet the reporting of sexual assault has not skyrocketed with this higher standard.
In the 1990s, there was a similar conversation in this country when Antioch College, long a bastion of innovations in education, also decided that consent to sexual activity required more than just a failure to say no. Verbal consent, the new code of conduct stated, was required for any sexual contact that was not “mutually and simultaneously initiated.”
When the so-called Antioch rules were first enacted at that college, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative. The anti-feminist chorus howled in derision at feminist protectionism gone berserk. “Saturday Night Live” parodied it. Charlton Heston added it to a list of examples of campus political correctness gone completely out of control. He told an audience at Harvard in 1999 that “at Antioch College in Ohio, young men seeking intimacy with a coed must get verbal permission at each step of the process from kissing to petting to final copulation — all clearly spelled out in a printed college directive.”
While doomsayers lamented that the new rules would destroy the mystery of campus sex, the students took it in stride. Instead of, “Do you want to have sex?” they simply asked, “Do you want to implement the policy?”
Of course some guys on campus were against it, in an honest way. “If I have to ask those questions, I won’t get what I want,” blurted out one young man to a reporter. Bingo.
But seriously, since when is hearing “yes” a turnoff? Answering “yes” to, “Can I touch you there?” “Would you like me to?” “Will you [fill in blank] me?” seems a turn-on and a confirmation of desire, whatever the sexual identity of the asker and the asked.
Actually, “yes” is perhaps the most erotic word in the English language.
One of literature’s most enduring works, James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” concludes with Molly Bloom’s affirmative declaration of desire (considered so erotic, in fact, that it was banned for more than a decade after publication): “and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
“Yes means yes” is clearly saner — and sexier. And that’s true for both Leopold and Molly Bloom, as well as the rest of us.
Cee-Lo Green Pulled From Military Base Performance, via Jezebel:
After his atrocious Twitter comments about rape and subsequent terrible apology, Cee-Lo Green has been cut from the performance line-up of a concert at a D.C. navy base. It seems concert organizers realized that having someone who has allegedly drugged and raped a woman and then complained about it was not the right person to appear at a military facility, when the military is struggling to prove it has a handle on its own sexual assault issues.
Freedom LIVE – the name for the programming presented by the Naval District Washington (NDW)’s portion of the military’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) department, which is currently in its first season – announced Thursday evening they had removed Cee-Lo from the line-up of their September 20th show with Little Big Town at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in D.C. They wrote on their Facebook page:
We seek a Department-wide culture of gender dignity and respect where sexual assault is completely eliminated and never tolerated, where sexual assault victims receive compassionate and coordinated support, and where offenders are held appropriately accountable.
Unfortunately, one of the performers we signed for the JBAB Freedom Live show on 20 September recently posted comments on social media that we consider to completely inconsistent with Navy core values. Regardless of intent or context, the lack of sensitivity towards an issue that is one of the great challenges facing our Navy is unacceptable.
As a result, we have made the decision to pull CeeLo Green from the Freedom Live event on 20 September. Little Big Town, the main attraction for the event, will still perform as scheduled. We will announce as soon as possible a replacement opening act of the high quality that you expect and deserve.
After Cee-Lo’s original appearance was announced and his tweets were sent and deleted, one veteran told Jezebel he sent a complaint about the performance to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Department of Defense, though it’s unclear how many other people complained. The comments on the Facebook post about the cancellation are almost universally positive.
Image via Ethan Miller/Getty