It seems that whenever important conversations about sexual violence and rape culture are raised, the dialogue easily gets derailed by a handful of recycled misconceptions. These dangerous platitudes pose a constant threat to progress, so too often we choose to ignore them instead of confronting them. Too often, we assume that the individuals peddling these misconceptions are doing it maliciously, instead of considering that they might genuinely lack understanding.
In an effort to clear things up, I spent an absurd amount of time in what can only be classified as the Internet doldrums: reading the comments on a cross-section of articles related to sexual violence including one of my own. (In an unrelated side note, can somebody please provide me with the textbook definition of "dumb ass female chauvinist"? Because it seems like something I should add to my LinkedIn headline.)
The goal of my cringe-worthy investigation was to identify and subsequently debunk the most pervasive misconceptions, ones that have been perpetuated both online and off.
"If I leave my laptop in my unlocked car and someone steals it, the thief is responsible BUT my negligence was still a contributing factor. In terms of sexual violence, isn't it a woman's responsibility not to be negligent?"
Your laptop is an inanimate object, a piece of property with an assigned monetary value. A woman's body, on the other hand, is not. This comparison (which has been made in all sorts of colorful varieties) underscores the problem at hand: treating a woman's sexuality as a material commodity instead of treating a woman's sexuality as one of the many aspects that make up a human being. Faulting a victim for how they dressed, acted or behaved leading up to an assault is as illogical and offensive as faulting a businessman on 9/11 for working in a tall and iconic building. We need to hold perpetrators accountable, not victims.
"People who fight against so-called 'rape culture' are treating all men like predators at default."
Actually, rape culture treats all men like predators at default -- people fighting against rape culture, in my experience, hold men in much higher esteem. I think a culture that says "boys will be boys and some of them just can't help themselves," treats men like predators. I think a culture that holds women and girls accountable for the way they are perceived by boys and men treats men like predators. Fighting in opposition to that culture requires a belief that men can and should be held to a higher standard of behavior and culpability.
"Rape happens when a man can't control his urge for sex -- so women should avoid dressing and acting in ways that might provoke him."
Rape is about power, control and dominance -- not a perpetrators inability to control themselves. Sex is the weapon, not the motivator. This explains why inmates perpetrating same-sex rape in prison consider themselves heterosexual and this explains why rape is used as a strategic weapon of war.
"Lots of rape reports are false. So-called victims lie about being raped all the time."
That depends entirely on your definition of "lots." Studies show that the rate of false reporting for sexual assault ranges between 2-8 percent. When you consider that incidents of sexual violence are the most underreported types of crime in this country, and factor in the Justice Department estimates that about 54 percent of rapes go unreported, the percentage of false reports is more like 1-4 percent. One of the reasons victims frequently cite for not coming forward is a fear they won't be believed.
"Talking about 'male as perpetrator, female as victim' rape as a pandemic is dismissive toward individuals who have been a victim outside of those circumstances."
Every case of sexual violence is different and oftentimes different circumstances require a different set of conversations and solutions. Of course there are perpetrators and victims of all gender identities but 20 percent of all women in the United States suffer rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Addressing, acknowledging and challenging that heinous reality doesn't negate other experiences, in the same way that talking about breast cancer doesn't negate the experiences of people with prostate cancer.
"The way we talk about sexual violence is too gender-oriented. Why can't we just teach EVERYBODY to treat EVERYBODY with respect and humanity?"
We can and we should. Unfortunately, at present, sexual violence is largely gender-oriented. Our culture impresses completely different messages to men and women about their roles, instincts and respective degrees of accountability. If we want to change that, we have to acknowledge and address it. Pretending like gender stereotypes and gender expectations don't pervade sexual violence is untrue and unproductive. For example, while female victims are often scapegoated for "enticing men's violent urges," male victims are often told they aren't victims at all and too often queer victims are dismissed all together -- all of this is the result of how we have been socialized to see and understand our gender. We're not starting with a blank slate and we should not pretend to.
"It doesn't matter how we talk about rape or the jokes we tell about rape or how the news media covers rape or the way we portray rape on TV. Rape happens because of criminals not because of culture."
Rape is, of course, the fault of the perpetrator but suggesting that sexual violence is not empowered or perpetuated in a culture that normalizes it, is blatantly untrue.
"I'm not a rapist. I would never be a rapist. I would never be friends with a rapist. I think rape is horrible. I get it. Can we stop talking about it now?"
Somewhere, somehow, some people got it in their head that some women or all women or feminists or liberals or sociologists or "progressive-types" just LOVE talking about sexual assault. I can only speak for myself in saying that I HATE talking about sexual assault. But you know what I hate even more than talking about it? I hate that it occurs. I hate that it occurs rampantly. I hate the way that so many people accept it as an unfortunate reality instead of seeking to curtail it as an unacceptable abomination.
I hate that a Montana judge handed down a 30-day prison sentence to a 54-year-old rapist because he deemed the 14-year-old victim was "older than her chronological age."
I hate that "revenge porn" is actually a thing.
I hate that a pro-rape chant at St. Mary's University becomes a five-year tradition before anybody thinks to condemn it.
I hate how often we forget that systematic rape in wartime is a crime against humanity.
I hate story after story where colleges and universities fail to take reports of sexual assault seriously.
I hate that a survivor of rape receives threats of death and assault for sharing a very valid opinion.
I hate that a jury acquitted a man who shot and killed his escort because she refused to have sex with him.
So no. We can't stop having important conversations because they remind us of unsavory realities. We shouldn't deal in myths because it is more comfortable than dealing in facts.
And we must always have more patience for discussion than for silence.