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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.”
“Did you struggle with the robber?”
“Why not?”
“He was armed.”
“Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than to resist?”
“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?”
“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?


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I'm very happy that this topic has come because this is something that has targeted me and my friends several times through out our lives. It's about changing our language and how we approach it. We need to stop letting people talk about "how that test raped me" because this minimize rape is happening over and over again.

I think another issue is how we fail to educate and empower people about sexuality. Kudos JW, educating in the moment is sometimes the best solution to this issue. Empowering young women and men (because we can't forget this is also a men's issue as well) could be beneficial. Even bringing our youth to campus events like Take Back the Night where the reality of rape and violence is talked about openly can be a great way to educate.

Lastly I would like to point out that we as a society need change how we look at people who have been sexually assaulted. They are survivors, not victims. It's going to take some time but if we take out the stigma of "what'd you do to get yourself raped" and stop point fingers at the institutions that allow rape. Let’s start looking at survivors as survivors and what we can do to help them!

My man,
First of all, we need to catch up. Secondly, thanks for helping to bring the issue of rape in our society to the conversation. At the very least, I hope this conversation raises people's consciousness of the prevalence and vast effects that rape has not only on individual victims, but society as a whole. I find it interesting, although not surprising, that your note was framed almost entirely from your perspective as a heterosexual male and father. As a whole, I think rape and many of society's problems are in part manifested by the difficulty we all to often have in not only viewing, but appreciating situations from another's perspective. As a man who has built his professional and even social identity largely on being able to see from the perspective of the other, I by no means am saying that you are neglecting to view the issue of rape from the others' point of view. By knowing you personally and by the other words in this note, your ability to understand others is evident. That being said, if you were a gay man, I wonder if your statements may have focused more on the increasing concern and prevalence of rape in the gay community as opposed to focusing it largely on the rape of women in the predominately heterosexual community. Based on its severity and the broad effect it has on society, the rape of women is an epidemic that may very well deserve more attention compared to the rape of men. Nonetheless, I wonder if this note could have been framed in a more gender neutral light and still gotten the point across that rape (regardless of gender) is a societal issue that deserves more attention and critical thought to defeat.

To be honest there is no way to get the point across. Everyday you read in the newspapers about rape. We were worried about strangers, but what now when rape happens in your house. Take the case of Josef Fritzl for instance who raped his own daughter. And i keep reading about such cases in India too.
So what do you do, keep distance from parents too. The people who gave birth to you are the ones you need to protect yourself from.
the only way i can suggest is teach your kids good values, train them at a young age. Tell them that what rape does and what you should or should not do. Because boys are not safe also.
And like you I don't know anyone who has been raped but I am scared too.

As others have said, Kudos to you JW for bringing this topic to the table. First, I’d like to say that “the Rape of Mr. Smith” was one of the most influential reads during your Diversity course for me. It hit me on so many levels; even today I will still bring out my book and read the article. Not to diminish anything else we read at all, but it still amazes me how simple, yet significant the passage is.

Next, and getting to the heart of the post, I feel proudfeministscholar makes a great point regarding our choice of language, example “that test raped me”. I hear that quite a bit and every time the hairs on the back of my neck go up a bit. As the post states, we minimize the word ‘rape’ by using it in such impertinent way. This is the challenge with words that need to be addressed, yet we simply ignore them.

Then I come to Amishi’s post, which states we cannot get the point across. I do not agree. Perhaps it is difficult. Yes it is difficult. Yet JW (as you give the example from a father’s perspective) is making inroads within his own family by discussing the issue that his children have brought to the table. Rather then ignoring it as some may. With a majority of issues in our country we ignore them, thinking they will get better even if we do nothing. Yet, if we do not talk about these issues then they can only get worse.

JW.....Very informative Blog. I agree with your point that yesterday's victim around the corner could be today's victim in your very own family or circle of friends. Today's youth are flushed with violence and sex on a regular basis from what is being shown on TV and pumped through our various media outlets. From what they see, they may think it's okay to ignore the word "NO". It may seem like something of the norm to most. But this is where we as Adults, Parents and Mentors come in and Educate the young about the choices they make. No means No and is pretty universal throughout the world!! Don't let the media educate your kids, it's your job to make sure they understand that the woman has the right to say No and mean just that.

I would not be writing this post if it were not for rape. The rape of African women by slave masters produced much of what we call Black culture in the United States. There are certain elements within this culture that I love passionately: music, language, food. Can I give thanks to the act of rape for these, even a little?

When I think of rape on a deeper level than sexually, I think about what it means emotionally. Something is being taken from someone without permission. It wasn’t offered. It was stolen. Worse, the person was present to witness the burglary and could do nothing to stop it. When I have something taken from me, I feel helpless. I lack control over something I held as valuable. The person who took it has some sort of power over me…

Maybe that’s what it is, power. In our country we are taught that we need to have a leg up on somebody. From business deals to basketball championships and beauty contests to rap battles, we are trained to believe that we need to overpower somebody as though that should be our ultimate goal. We are trained to take something from somebody while they are present to witness. We watch them fight for what they hold dear and triumph as we take it from them. We are encouraged to rape.

How do we tell someone it is OK to beat a fellow runner in a 100 yard dash at the Olympics (the fellow runner having trained his/her entire life for this event; sacrificing time, money, relationships, etc.; toiling beyond what most humans deem capable; and pinning this race as the crescent of their entire life), yet tell a rapist his/her (or other gendered options) actions are unacceptable, to say the least.

Forgive my attempts to erase our morals and equate rape with a foot race. When stripping down the layers while carving away our value system, does rape really seem that different?

I come from a privileged perspective because I have not been sexually raped and I am aware that my comment reflects this. For those of you reading who have been sexually abused, or know people who have been sexually abused, I apologize for what may be perceived as insensitivity on my part. I in no way mean to perpetuate the carelessness and indifference that has contributed to your pain. What I do wish to do is raise awareness at the deepest levels of our society, so that what has plagued you will no longer seek victims.

Thank you for your eloquence Mr. Wiley. Your children are lucky to have you as a parent, and the community is fortunate to have you as a writer.

Have you ever had a moment so unexpectedly emotional, so raw, so real… a moment with no warning… where you were left pondering for days what lies below the surface to have caused such a reaction? I had one of those moments just last year while at a city council meeting. Two young women from SUNY Plattsburgh, involved with organizing the events for Take Back the Night, had come to request the privilege to hold their yearly march through a few of our city's streets. Often councilors, when voting on a request, will take the opportunity to qualify their voting position. It was at that moment, when it came time for me to speak, I was overcome with such deep empathy... I just began to cry. I was filled with a profound sadness for all those who had suffered rape, been victims of domestic violence, and for the understanding that we live in a culture that condones sexual violence against women and men.
1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. We regard violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. We have much to work to do to correct the sexual inequalities that plague our society. It is through opportunities such as your blog (thank you!), Take Back the Night, and Rock against Rape where we can continue to help reshape these very values and attitudes that have caused such hurt and loss.

There are women in your life, colleagues, students, friends, perhaps even family members, who have been raped; have fought off an attempted rape; or been the victim of some other type of sexual violation. We just don’t talk about it very often. Your thoughtful, heartfelt and compassionate words raise our collective awareness and encourage each of us, as friends, colleagues, parents, and partners to be involved with the prevention of all sexual violation.

Silencing Sexual Assault

April 16, 2010 03:01 PM

by R. L’Heureux Lewis

This in addition to the Campus Rape series on are really eye-opening. 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted during her collegiate years, but only 5% report it. The roots run deep, but we are the gardeners.

I agree with abv when she states, “We regard violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. We have much work to do to correct the sexual inequalities that plague our society.”

This brings to my mind all the sexually violent and highly influential forms of so-called entertainment (video games, DVDs, music, etc.) one might have their choice of in our society.

One example of many: I was recently introduced to the ever -so -popular Japanese Anime by a close and highly respected male friend of mine who was promoting it to me as “sexy,” and insisted I watch it. What I saw was rape. Not only did I see rape, but rape of very young, if not underage girls. It makes no difference that it is a cartoon. I was appalled at how degrading it was. It concerned me and I considered what type of impact this has on men as well as women in our society. The scenes I watched featured men forcing themselves sexually on very young women or girls; however you may interpret the images. Initially, the women/girls resist, say “no” even. The man continues and continues. Ultimately the female character begins to like the violence and sex that is being forced upon her.

This sends a message to men that it’s okay to rape a woman because it is sexy and eventually she will like it. What is really bizarre is that it seems to be promoting to women that rape is fun, which might have women looking to be raped, which technically isn’t rape, or is it? Regardless of the definition, I think these forms of entertainment should be rejected by our society out of respect for society as a whole. Overall censorship may not be a practical request; but those who want to make a difference can begin by rejecting it out of respect for the women in their lives and the young men they are role models for.

Via Via's comparison between rape and a healthy athletic competition misses on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. My immediate reaction was “seriously? Are you kidding me?”

First, rape by definition, means that one party is an unwilling participant. In athletic competition, all parties enter knowing full well what the risks and rewards are.
Rape usually happens between different genders. In athletic competition, like-genders usually compete against each other. Competitions are gender-exclusive. And by the way, since the implementation of Title-9, participation by women in college level sports has increased exponentially – are you telling me that most of these women are like rapists?

Frankly, I wonder about the motives of someone who can’t tell the difference between a healthy drive to measure one’s own efforts and skills against those of others for the sake of self-discovery and the horribly unhealthy drive to completely humiliate another person. In order to equate the two, one must believe either that all competition and struggle should be eliminated from our lives or that rape is nothing more than survival of the fittest. Do you honestly believe that the loss experienced by a willing competitor in an athletic event is akin to the loss felt by a rape victim?

Card Buddy,

Please reread my post with less passion and a removed morality. By doing this, you may find the answers you seek...

It may take some time, but I challenge you to really consider this. If you do what I have suggested and still have trouble wrapping your head around the deeper meaning I am trying to relay, comment again and I will respond to your passionate inquiries.

I did re-read your post, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to dialogue. You apologize for “comparing rape to a footrace” but then in the next sentence you say “When stripping down the layers while carving away our value system, does rape really seem that different?” And my answer is “absolutely it does.” In as cool of an analysis as I can muster, rape might most dispassionately be defined as depriving another of their rights. Of what rights are the losers in an athletic competition, business deal, beauty contest, etc. deprived? From the legal side of the argument, rape is a crime. Of what crime are “winners” in these enterprises guilty?

I suspect what you may be trying to say is that our society puts too much emphasis on winners and losers, zero-sum games (I win, therefore, you must lose), material success, the exercise of power, political or otherwise etc. And I might agree with some of that. However, to me, your statement says less about your attitude toward rape and more about your attitude toward “basketball championships, rap battles, business deals and beauty contests”; any endeavor in which everyone may not be rewarded equally. So you’re the one who insists that everyone get participation ribbons at all the soccer games, eh?

As an aside – to me, beauty contests are worthless. The best business deals are “win-wins” where both parties are satisfied with the outcome. I don’t really know much about rap battles. Basketball championships have little or nothing in common any of the other three.

It’s interesting that you picked a running event ultimately to make your point. This is something I know a little about. I’ve been a runner most of my life, and, I’ve NEVER won a race – ever. (I led a race once because lots of people in front of me went the wrong way). Winning isn’t why I run – or play basketball, or baseball, or any other athletic event in which I am engaged. I do it because I like to compete, it keeps me in shape, it allows me to set goals, achieve them, and set higher goals. Losing does not equal failure, or ridicule, or being stripped of power, or having my rights violated, or my dreams ripped from me. It just means I wasn’t the first one across the finish line. The effort to finish, to compete, to train is its own reward.

I simply disagree with your premise that by encouraging competition in a variety of fields (sports, business, etc) and then rewarding some of the competitors less equally than others, society is somehow encouraging a form of “rape.” I do not believe that the “losers” in these events have had anything taken from them at all. On the contrary – they have GAINED mightily from the preparation necessary to compete and the experience of competing itself. Further, I think the comparison you make betrays a bias on your part against any kind of reward system in which superior ability or effort might garner superior reward. Finally, conclusions like yours actually perpetuate the myth that “winning is everything” because you appear to believe that society gives no credit whatsoever for the effort put in by those who may compete but do not “win.”

As others have expressed so well, this is an eloquent and thoughtful case for addressing what might feel unspeakable with our children. This is of course essential for any real social change to occur. We must also continue to understand and tackle the more insidiously rooted and systemic aspects of our culture which support rape.
It saddens me that an essay like this still needs to be written 40 years after the women's movement of the 1960's and 70's raised awareness about rape. As mentioned by others here, sexual violence has a profound effect on the women and men who have been directly affected, and on all members of society. I had direct evidence of this as a practicing psychotherapist where at least 4 out of every 5 women served by my agency had experienced sexual violence at some point in her life -which created the need for therapy.
As a woman, I dream of a society where I and my daughter, her friends, and mine can walk on the street after dark or alone in the daylight without fear, without having to look over our shoulders, quicken our pace, or tense our bodies in preparation to flee. I would like to trust all the men I see on the street and not have knee jerk suspicions and fear. While there is progress, we're not there yet.
Thanks JW.

I'm a twenty year old woman that goes to one of our local colleges. I am also a rape victim. I'd like to think of us as survivors. I feel like it helps us break a stigma and look inwards to try and find the strength we need to keep surviving. I would just like to thank you for writing this piece. Any article or contribution that helps educate people about and prevent rape means a lot to me, and other survivors I'm sure. It's hard to find understanding from most people you encounter day to day. Sometimes it feels like you're alone in the world and you can't find anyone that supports you, or begins to understand what you may be going through. I don't know all of the words that I would like to say, but in the simplest form I can muster- Thank you so much for addressing this in the manner that you did. It means more than words can say to see the compassion that people have for supporting survivors, while at the same time spreading education to the masses.

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