Rape Culture On Display in a Few Stunning Sentences

By Katie Feifer

The father of convicted rapist Brock Turner (Stanford student, varsity swimmer, sweet, white face) stated the following in a letter to the court opposing his son’s six month sentence (more on that, later):

As his father, he knows that Brock has "never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th.” (Italics mine)

And what were those actions, exactly? According to rapist Brock Turner, in his statement to the court prior to sentencing,

“Being drunk I just couldn’t make the best decisions and neither could she….I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong…. I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.”

Here are the facts of the case, as summarized by the district attorney in a press release expressing the horror of the sentence:

“After midnight, on January 18, 2015, Turner was seen by two witnesses sexually assaulting the unconscious victim, who was laying on the ground behind a dumpster on Stanford campus. When they called out, Turner ran away. The two tackled him and held him until police officers arrived. Evidence showed that the victim was so heavily intoxicated that she did not regain consciousness until hours later.”

Brock Turner’s victim demolished his pathetic rationalizations for his behavior, and made an incredibly powerful statement about the impact his actions had on her, detailing the events of the night he raped her, and what followed. If you only click on one link today, make it her statement.

In case you can’t quite see the display of rape culture in Brock’s and his dad’s statements, allow me to shed some light.

Rape is inherently violent. The act of penetrating a person without consent constitutes violence. Brock was convicted of penetrating the victim while she was unconscious, behind a dumpster, after they left a party together. Brock’s dad, like too many of us, still believe that it’s not violent if…what? There’s no broken bones or weapon used? This belief is a big part of rape culture.

The victim did not make a “decision” or have a choice. To see equivalency in their actions, holding her at all responsible for his actions because ‘we were both drinking and didn’t make the best decisions’ is rape culture in action. And it’s much, much worse that these words convey, when you consider that his attorneys went for a tactic that works surprisingly well in cases where the victim was unconscious while she was raped. In her words:

"I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn't remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me."

 Relatedly, Brock seems to feel that his real crime was getting drunk. “I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong.” I’ll let the victim school us about the fallacy of this belief.

“Again, you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me. You were wrong for doing what nobody else was doing, which was pushing your erect dick in your pants against my naked, defenseless body concealed in a dark area, … Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to insert your finger into my body, is where you went wrong. Why am I still explaining this.”

 Brock’s statement that he’s starting a program to raise awareness about the dangers of the “campus drinking culture and sexual promiscuity that goes along with that” would be surreal if it didn’t reflect what many in our culture believe: If the victim hadn’t been drinking and wasn’t so ‘promiscuous,’ he wouldn’t have gotten into trouble.  The victim addressed this absurdity best in her statement.

"You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less."

There’s more. Judge Aaron Persky - running unopposed for re-election this year -  rejected the prosecution’s recommendation of a six year sentence for Brock Turner. Instead, the judge sentenced Brock to six months, which means he’ll be out of prison in a few weeks. His reasoning? He agrees with Brock’s father that it would be awful to make Brock feel bad. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.”

How the judge can know that Brock will not be a danger to others is beyond me. The only way you can judge that he will not be a danger to others is to believe that raping someone is not a dangerous, violent act. Because if sad, depressed Brock drinks too much in the future, around women, it’s entirely possible that his future will look like his past.

And that’s it in a nutshell.

To review the clear evidence of rape culture: rape isn’t violent, because no bones were broken nor were copious amounts of blood spilled. The rapist was only guilty of drinking too much, and his victim is equally (or more?) responsible for his attack on her because she’d been drinking too. (Never mind the fact that she was unconscious when he attacked her.) And God forbid we should punish Brock for his actions or “ruin” his life because, as one reporter noted, “…the ex-swimmer has a record of real accomplishment.”

On the other hand. In all this horror it is important to recognize that very many people behaved well, and by all that I can see, carry the kinds of values we would like to see in a culture that is not a rape culture.

The two Swedish men on bicycles who intervened, stopping the ongoing assault, tackled the rapist and held him for authorities.

By the victim’s account, several hospital personnel were kind to her.

Law enforcement treated her well, and didn’t judge her negatively.

The victim was provided with advocates, who advocated for her and supported her.

And this victim had family members who believed her and stood by her, supporting her in the best possible ways, including provision of chocolate at important moments.

Her boyfriend didn’t accuse her of being a slut. He didn’t abandon her. On the contrary, he, too supports her.

Even her employer appears to be understanding enough to be patient with all the time off she needed to deal with healing and the legal proceedings.

This is what all victims deserve, and too few get.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Affirmative Consent: It's Happening, So Get on Board

Jaclyn Friedman has written a brilliant piece in the Washington Post, explaining (again) the beauty of affirmative consent as a model and a practice for behavior, and as policy when considering sexual assault cases.

The idea is simple: In matters of sex, silence or indifference aren’t consent. Only a freely given “yes” counts. And if you can’t tell, you have to ask.

One of the many points Jaclyn raises is that while some older people are all up in arms about the idea of affirmative consent, many young people get it, like it, and in fact are quite relieved to see it becoming the norm.

Why? A couple quotations from Jaclyn's article helps to spell it out. But really, the best thing for you to do is just read the whole article.

By emphasizing that you can’t make assumptions about what a sex partner might want, Yes Means Yes reminds everyone that there is no universal “right” answer to what any of us should want to do in bed. Instead, practicing affirmative consent encourages young people to get to know their own needs and desires and boundaries.
...affirmative consent is, in reality, a gender-free standard: It tells young men that their needs and desires and boundaries matter, too, and that it’s just as important when someone violates them as it would be if they were a woman. And it teaches people of all genders that it’s easy to make sure you’re not hurting anyone during sex: Just show up and pay attention to your partner; listen to what they’re telling you; and if you can’t tell, you have to ask. That’s especially helpful for young men, many of whom are worried that they’ll accidentally violate their sex partners, somehow, just by way of being male.
Of course, asking isn’t so simple when you’ve been raised in a culture that seems to say that talking about sex with your sex partner is some kind of a buzzkill. (It’s not, of course — if it were, phone sex wouldn’t be such a lucrative business.) That’s why the new affirmative consent laws are also a great opportunity to teach the kind of sexual communication that makes sex both better and safer for everyone.

And that's the bottom line to a large degree. Our culture, and the acculturation and socialization many of us who are over 40 and in positions of policy and law making lived through, told us that talking about sex is wrong, bad, and just not done. Sex is "supposed" to happen in the dark, with no real communication. The idea of affirmative consent shakes that belief to the core. And it's about time.



Now Do You Believe Us?

By Katie Feifer

The case of Bill Cosby, beloved television “father,” comedian, role model and alleged rapist continues to unfold. And as it unfolds, it exposes some of the key issues at the heart of how we think about and confront (or don’t) sexual violence.

The latest: A deposition Cosby gave in 2005 as part of a lawsuit by a woman alleging he raped her has been made public. In it, he admits to giving women Quaaludes prior to “having sex” with this woman, and others.

Q. "When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?" 

A. “Yes.”

The line of questioning was stopped by Cosby’s attorney before he was asked whether the women he gave the drugs to took it freely and knowingly, and whether they subsequently consented to “having sex” with Cosby.

Here’s what we see. So far, 40+ women have accused Cosby of raping them. Most say that he put drugs in their drink, without their consent.  Many of the women who have come forward have been called liars, by a public that believes Cosby would never do something so heinous. This despite the fact that the survivors’ accounts of what Cosby did to them are eerily (but not surprisingly) similar. Sexual predators have an MO. They find what works, and stick with it. As Cosby apparently did, over decades.

So first (false) lesson: A woman is not to be believed. Not even when she has no reason to lie. Not even when her testimony is the same as those of many other women. Their testimony doesn’t count and can’t be “proof.”

From a CNN report

Singer Jill Scott was one of the celebrities who had supported Cosby after the allegations started emerging.

She previously tweeted, “I’m respecting a man who has done more for the image of Brown people that almost anyone EVER. From Fat Albert to the Huxtables.”

But she changed course after learning about Cosby’s deposition.

”About Bill Cosby. Sadly his own testimony offers PROOF of terrible deeds, which is ALL I have ever required to believe the accusations,” Scott tweeted.

When the alleged predator himself is discovered to have admitted to drugging women before “sex”, that’s when a few of the disbelievers change their tune? Judd Apatow spelled it out quite nicely in Esquire.

I don’t think there is anything new here. It is only new to people who didn’t believe an enormous amount of women who stated clearly that he drugged them. We shouldn’t need Bill Cosby to admit it to believe forty people who were victimized by him.... Maybe now more people in show business and all around our country will stand up and tell the people he attacked that we support you and believe you.

The true lesson here? Believe us. Whether it's one of us or 20 or 40 saying it. When we tell you someone raped us, believe us. 

Second lesson: We’re confusing things with the language we use. We often use the word “sex” when we talk about “rape.” The words have entirely different meaning. As Cara Courchesne of Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault so rightly pointed out, “Sex isn’t against the law. Rape is.

Reading “Cosby planned to use drugs to have sex with women” instead of “Cosby planned to use drugs to sexually assault women” prevents readers from fully understanding that we are in fact talking about a violent crime.

When we use euphemisms to talk about horrific crimes that are perpetrated against people, we are diminishing the crime, devaluing the experience of survivors, and removing the distinction between a consensual act and a crime.

Our media frequently describe sexual violence using the language of consensual sex. Even when they talk about children being raped by adults, as in “Roman Polanski had sex with a 13 year old girl.” Sounds a lot different than “Roman Polanski forcibly penetrated a 13 year old girl’s mouth and vagina with his penis.”

Third lesson: Not listening to women when they tell us they have been raped and sexually violated, and confusing rape with “sex” in our conversations, makes it ever so difficult for us to have a clear and true picture of what sexual violence looks like. Yes, there are a few instances when it can be confusing – to both victim and perpetrator – whether “what just happened” was rape or not.

Far, far more often, though, there is no objective confusion. We become confused when we are so sloppy with language that we equate a violent crime with a consensual, mutually pleasurable experience. And when we don’t listen to or believe the (primarily) women who tell us what they know so clearly has been done to them by predators who rape them.

Watch Your Language!

By Katie Feifer

I've written about this before, but the subject is worth talking about a lot, especially when there are new perspectives on the subject of how the language we use when we talk about rape gives power and protection to those who rape, shames victims, and perpetuates rape culture.  One example comes from the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault which recently published a message that calls the culture to task for labeling sex as "consensual sex."

“Consensual sex” is just sex. To say that implies that there is such a thing as “non consensual sex”, which there isn’t. That’s rape. That is what it needs to be called. There is only sex or rape. Do not teach people that rape is just another type of sex. They are two very separate events. You wouldn’t say “breathing swimming” and “non breathing swimming”, you say swimming and drowning.

On the heels of MECASA's message comes another brilliant article by Soraya Chemaly, illuminating many of the ways our use of language around rape perpetuates rape culture and even makes us complicit in the perpetuation. In addition to making excellent points, with many examples, Chemaly's article contains a wealth of links to more information, insight,  and wisdom. Well worth reading and following the links.

What are we talking about? Phrases like "classic rapist" that perpetuate the myth that "real rape" ( or "rape rape" pace Whoppi Goldberg) is perpetrated by strangers jumping out from the bushes rather than the "nice young men" who "simply couldn't control their natural urges." How many times have we read or even talked about "a hook-up gone wrong," "drunk sex," or "grey rape." What about all the reporting in the media about a child who "performed oral sex" on an adult man, instead of calling it what it is: a man forced a child to fellate him.

In fact, we are particularly loathe as a society to label rape and sexual assault perpetrated against children as what it actually is. I get it - it's very difficult to think about, let alone talk about. But there's danger in not calling  it what it is, whether the victims are children or adults. Case in point: Josh Duggar, of 19 Kids and Counting fame, who is said in the media to have "fondled the breasts and genitalia of young girls (his sisters) while they were sleeping." I have not seen any articles - outside feminist press - calling it what it is: sexual assault and rape of his sisters. Incest. "Molestation" is as far as most outlets go. And Josh himself said only "I acted inexcusably." Which God, his parents, and many other people apparently forgive. Would we be so forgiving if we said "Josh Dugger sexually assaulted his sisters?" If Josh had come clean and confessed "I raped  my younger sisters?"

What's the danger? Soraya Chemaly says,

Every time you hear or say these types of expressions, the question should be “Who benefits from not saying ‘rape?’” Who is helped when we refuse to be accurate about rape?

Because it’s certainly not rape victims....

As long as we live in global culture where shame is assigned to the raped and not the rapists, the only people allowed to use euphemisms should be survivors.

Writing last year, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Jacob Lief, and Sohaila Abdulali explained, “Rape is utterly commonplace in all our cultures. It is part of the fabric of everyday life, yet we all act as if it’s something shocking and extraordinary whenever it hits the headlines. We remain silent, and so we condone it.”


"Consent is Not a Lightswitch"

By Katie Feifer

The Supreme Court of Canada is about to rule on a case that centers on the issue of whether a person can give "advance" consent to sex. The specifics involve a woman who consented to participate in a specific sex act with her partner. She passed out; he penetrated her anally, while she was unconscious. She never told him she was okay with anal penetration. Did her consent at one point in time, for one particular act, render her consenting to any and all acts with this partner?

We, like many others, say no, no and again NO. We need to do a lot more educating and awareness raising on this point: consent is not something that, once given, applies to any and all acts for a night, a day, a weekend, or an entire relationship. 'Sex' is not a single thing or act that you say yes or no to once, and then are stuck with being committed to. 

As we know, 'sex' is a series of activities engaged in by two (or more) people each of whom should be enthusiastically consenting to each act or activity s/he participates in. You can't consent if you're not awake. And even if you are awake, consent can be withdrawn even after freely given.

Jaclyn Friedman, writer, activist and founding member of CounterQuo, brilliantly educates us all on the issue of consent - again - in her latest on Amplify: "Consent is Not a Lightswitch."

Spread the word.

Giving "Ask Amy" a Little Advice When it Comes to Rape

By Katie Feifer

Amy Dickinson, a nationally syndicated advice columnist wrote on November 27, 2009 responding to a request for advice from “Victim in Virginia,” a young female trying to determine whether she had been raped at a fraternity party. We were deeply dismayed by Ms. Dickinson’s response.

Ms. Dickinson displays an all-too-common ignorance of the dynamics of non-stranger sexual assault, the law and the appropriate ways to advise a survivor of such violence. Because such misperceptions have an effect not only on victims but also on public safety, and because Ms. Dickinson’s widely heard voice is an important one, we are compelled to make several key points.

Ms. Dickinson’s apparent disdain for the judgment of the advice seeker (“Were you a victim? Yes. First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment”) is as painful a display of victim blaming as we have seen in some time.  The first response to this clearly struggling young woman should have been one of empathy, not shame or blame. Even if consuming alcohol, agreeing to spend time alone with a peer, or attending a fraternity party are indicators of “bad judgment,” rape is not a justifiable consequence. Neither do these choices justify shifting responsibility for this crime from the assailant to the victim.  Insinuating otherwise is not only punishing the young woman who is at the center of this case but is problematic from a public education standpoint.

Despite the fact that the advice seeker clearly indicated that she said “no” and was coerced by the alleged perpetrator, Dickinson suggests that what was by legal standards a rape may have in fact been merely a misunderstanding fueled by alcohol consumption. In suggesting that the consumption of alcohol is a great neutralizer, one that morally equates the sexual violence victim and the perpetrator, Dickinson ignores current law and decades of rape education efforts. She also ignores this fundamental truth: alcohol lowers inhibitions that might otherwise prevent behavior that is nevertheless consistent with the desire of the inebriated person (in this case, that of the alleged perpetrator). It does not unleash a heretofore non-existent urge to violate a resisting woman who has protested her attacker’s advances.

Dickinson’s imprecise use of language is equally troubling. She conflates “unwise” sexual conduct with “unwanted” sexual conduct, implying that a victim might choose (because of her attendance at a party and the voluntary consumption of alcohol) to “engage” in either or both. In fact, one does not “engage” in unwanted sexual conduct anymore than one “engages” in being robbed at knife point. Describing sexual violence as a contract negotiation gone wrong sends the wrong message to victims and the broader community, fueling social attitudes that make the world less safe and less just. Indeed, when over 80% of the rapes committed in the United States involve people who know each other – and many of those rapes involve alcohol – the symbolic and practical impact of Ms. Dickinson’s ill-considered advice is potentially quite large.

Most troubling to us was Ms. Dickinson’s assertion that the alleged rapist should be involved in discussions with his victim “in order to determine what happened.” One problematic aspect of this particular piece of advice is the presumption that this young woman cannot know what happened to her – only the accused perpetrator can tell her. From a legal standpoint, such advice is ill conceived and irresponsible: one does not direct the victim of a crime to confront the perpetrator of that crime after the fact, and on her own time.  This is what the legal system is for. From an ethical standpoint, advising a victim to reach out to her alleged perpetrator is cruel, unreasonable, and likely to be traumatic (as well as ineffective). It is also, for the victim, potentially unsafe.

There is a wealth of important information available on rape and sexual abuse — information that we hope might inform future “Ask Amy” columns. Indeed the most helpful and accurate aspect of Ms. Dickinson’s answer was the information that she included from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Now we encourage her to learn more. The website of one of our Chicago-based CounterQuo partners, The Voices and Faces Project (www.voicesandfaces.org), includes the names, faces, and stories of women and girls who have lived through rape and abuse.  Information about the legal response to rape and sexual assault is available from the Victim Rights Law Center (www.victimrights.org). We hope that after reading the testimony of victims with experiences not unlike the “Victim in Virginia,” Ms. Dickinson will be less likely to blame those who have lived through sexual violence for the damage that has been done to them.

"No Means No?" How about "Yes Means Yes!"

By Katie Feifer

"No means no." It's language that is familiar to many high school and college students, and an important part of most anti sexual violence education efforts. What those of us working to end rape have talked much less about is the right to say "Yes." We believe that the freedom to decide whether, when, where, how, and with whom to have sexual intimacy is a civil right that should be upheld in our nation’s laws and culture. Put another way, our right to say "Yes" to sexual intimacy matters as much as our right to say "No."

Jaclyn Friedman and her co-editor, Jessica Valenti, now bring us an important new book that explores these themes. "Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape" calls for a greater understanding of and respect for female pleasure as part of a societal effort to end violence against women.