Next Friday (June 1) is the Wellington Rape Crisis annual appeal. Aside from urging you to get involved and to donate generously, I feel that it’s relevant to talk about some of the myths surrounding the rape of women.
Rape is a difficult subject for anyone to discuss at the best of times. It’s difficult for women, who may have experienced being sexually assaulted and for whom the subject brings up bad feelings. It’s difficult for men, who may feel they need to defend themselves against generalisations and so-called “man-hating.” However, one of the only ways that we can bring about changes in people’s attitudes is by bringing up these “taboo” subjects and talking about them openly and honestly in an environment that is supportive, understanding, and non-accusational. With this in mind, I’m going to briefly address some of the myths about rape and give some advice on strategies which may help to avoid rape and sexual coercion in our communities. It’s also important to bear in mind that the kinds of rape that get blown up in the media tend to be random and between strangers, but more often that not, rape occurs between parties who actually know each other.
Rape is often mistakenly associated with uncontrollable sexual urges in men. This would mean that a man would be overcome with lust and his “natural” primal instincts would take over, thereby reducing his capacity to rationalise and detect whether a sex act is consensual. However, in reality, the act is more likely to be one of violence – trying to obtain a feeling of “power” over the woman and causing her humiliation, rather than anything sexually motivated. We see evidence for this in the fact many rapes are actually premeditated.
I’ve often been told by caring friends before I went out to go to a party or a gig in town that I should watch out for myself and not drink too much, so that I wouldn’t put myself at risk of being assaulted. Certainly alcohol and drugs can cloud judgement – we all know of the physiological effects they can have on people. But I don’t believe that by virtue of being in a vulnerable situation, women are in any way making rape or assault their fault. By placing the blame primrily on the victim, it means that men cannot and do not take responsibility for their actions. It does not address the problem. It serves to keep women silent.
Alcohol and drunkenness can create big problems when it comes to sex and consent. This is particularly relevant to University students, a group renowned for binge drinking and kooky weekend antics. I’ve heard men talking about the girl they got with on the weekend who was “totally out of it” or “fully wasted,” and even bragging about their sexual conquests to their friends. Sure, lots of people like to drink alcohol socially and lots of people like to have sex, but it must be reaffirmed that an intoxicated woman is not an opportunity for sex. Men have to be particularly wary in these situations. If you are unsure about how far a woman is willing to go, it is better to ask her in advance to avoid confusion. If she says no, that means no. Bear in mind that crying and silence can mean no too, so it’s better to be on the safe side and just ask.
Another common myth about rape is that if you’re a woman who wears revealing clothes, it makes rape somehow more excusable. Some people might say they were “gagging for it” or “were desperate for attention.”
We as humans all need love and attention, but this does not somehow translate into it being acceptable to rape someone. Rape is never okay in any circumstances.
With these pieces of information in mind, close this copy of Salient. But remember that in New Zealand, one in four women have been sexually assaulted at some point in their life – a disturbing statistic for anyone who thought that rape was only a background issue for women. This could be your mother, your sister, your friend, your lover.
If you are interested in collecting for Rape Crisis next friday, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.