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April 6, 2010

Rape within Our Society

In support of Planned Parenthood’s efforts to communicate the problematic reality of rape, I was asked to create a conversation about rape to advance the public dialogue. As a father with two daughters, as a son whom dearly loves his mother, as a man who has passionately loved women in my lifetime, and as a human being who believes everyone’s humanity and physicality should be respected, I jumped at the opportunity. So, I decided to begin this blog with a familiar point of departure for me. In the diversity class that I co-teach at SUNY-Plattsburgh--within our gender theme--we read an article from our unbelievable text (Readings for Diversity & Social Justice) called The Rape of Mr. Smith. In this very short but powerful (anonymous) essay a parallel is drawn between the interrogation of a female rape victim and a male robbery victim. The essay demonstrates how the law is intolerant of female rape victims in a way that isn’t on par with its tolerance for robbery victims. I will provide you an excerpt:

“Mr. Smith, you were held up at gunpoint on the corner of 16th & Locust.”
“Yes.
“Did you struggle with the robber?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“He was armed.”
“Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than to resist?”
“Yes.”
“Did you scream? Cry out?”
“No. I was afraid.”
“I see….
“What time did this holdup take place, Mr. Smith?”
“About 11 p.m.”
“You were out on the streets at 11 p.m.? Doing what?
“Just walking.”
“Just walking? You know that it’s dangerous being out on the street that late at night. Weren’t you aware that you could have been held up?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“What were you wearing at the time, Mr. Smith?”
“Let’s see. A suit. Yes, a suit.”
“An expensive suit?”
“Well—yes.”
“In other words, Mr. Smith, you were walking around the streets late at night in a suit that practically advertised the fact that you might be a good target for some easy money, isn’t that so? I mean, if we didn’t know better, Mr. Smith, we might even think you were asking for this to happen, mightn’t we?”

I’m sure by now, you get the point. Aside from the fact that men can be raped as well, the reality of the situation is that it happens to men mostly in situations when they are incarcerated. Our women however, the women that we love, are under siege. What are we doing about it? What are you doing about it? What do you think should be done?

The psychological scars that women carry who have been raped are much more than I can begin to fathom. The impact upon a woman who avoided a rape is even difficult to imagine. I have never had a woman in my life (that I know of) who was raped or almost raped, but the thought of it terrifies me. As I said earlier, I have two daughters and one of the biggest fears I have is that one day some man will target one of them. Just as much I harbor the fear that one of my daughters will be with a man who doesn’t hear no, or doesn’t understand what no actually means.

I recently had to admonish my son for not stopping when his sisters tell him to stop crowding them, or affectionately swatting them on the rear. I reinforced that teaching moment by telling him that historically men have had problems hearing "no" when they date women. I made sure he knew that the word no is especially not something for him as a young black man to ignore because historically towns have been decimated over false accusations against Black men. I told him that in many places in this country, or in many people’s mind the Angela Davis articulated “Myth of the Black Rapist” is still alive and well. I hadn’t expected to have this conversation with my then 12 year old son until much later, but it came up in the flow of conversation and he is into girls enough that I figured, what the hell, might as well.

Coincidentally, just two days ago my 10 year old daughter and I were channel surfing while grabbing a bite to eat in the kitchen and caught the very moment that Ike Turner rapes Tina Turner, his wife, in the movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Since it was on cable they didn’t take it far, but ironically it went far enough for my daughter to ask me if Ike raped Tina. I wasn’t pleased to know that somehow my daughter understood, on some level, what rape was. But I told her that he did and that once upon a time a man couldn’t be convicted of raping his wife because she didn’t have the right to say no to him. I told my daughter that while our society has changed quite a bit, it hasn’t changed enough for her to not be ever vigilant about protecting herself against someone forcing himself upon her.

While no one can fully protect themselves against a rape, women can lessen the possibility of date rapes occurring by “really” talking with the young men who would like to spend time with them. I told her that it never hurts to make sure that the person you are involved with and you speak the same language when it comes to your interpretation of what “no” means.

I have always thought that when anyone is a victim of a hate crime, we are all victims of that hate crime. I have always felt that when anyone is physically abused, we are all physically abused. And yes, I have always believed that when anyone is sexually violated, we are all sexually violated. Why, because yesterday the victim lived around the corner, today across the street, and tomorrow perhaps in your home. How do we get this point across to our youth so that we can change the game? What are your thoughts? What is your story?