One relatively simple way to counter domestic violence is to talk about it. Some thoughts and some ears are all we need. The conversation initiated could be complex. That’s fine.
My friend and I recently attended a discussion about sexual violence. Two members of the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico presented a talk on Rape Culture. They did not charge for admission, nor did they charge the small, wonderful sex shop where it took place. Free, open dialogue about important community issues. Fabulous!
Allow me to share some of what I learned:
Rape culture is a term that applies to societies in which factors that lead to rape are normal rather than exceptional. It allows us to consider that sexual violence is not an isolated incident between perpetrator and victim, but rather one strand in a web of cultural institutions that maintain violence, like our media, music, education, and sports. This is a culture that is organized hierarchically, such that some of the population wields power over other members; that adheres to a rigid gender binary (male or female) and attaches specific values to each gender (i.e., active or passive); that places blame and shame on victims of sexual assault; that minimalizes the gravity of sexual violence; and that skews or silences statistics about the frequency and conditions of sexual violence.
All of the above elements directly or indirectly perpetuate rape and violence in general.
After the talk, I noticed myself dwelling most on one factor: the role power takes in normalizing violence and thus maintaining rape culture. Sexual violence serves to assert power and dominance over one person, the victim, by another, the perpetrator. So, we can argue that any time such a power-play occurs, it affirms and maintains an environment where the unjust use of power is normal (read: permissible).
The understanding that any oppression, any injustice (not merely oppression of victims of sexual assault by sexual offenders) contributes to rape struck me as profoundly simple and applicable. Behavior as seemingly inconsequential as teasing a male peer for being sensitive reinforces the permissibility of sexual violence precisely because it feeds into that power-play, allowing one person to demoralize another’s way of being.
So, one productive conversation we can initiate is a critique of how we claim power over others. There are people we may deem less deserving of respect—people who have an addiction, say; or who’ve been to prison; or who have a mental or physical disability; or who identify as gay/lesbian/bi/trans; or who are young; or who are old; or who live in poverty; or who don’t speak English. We often categorize people by such qualities as race, religion, sexual orientation, material wealth, political leaning, age, etc.—and then treat them with more or less consideration based on the values we attach to each quality.
These biases, which we may perpetuate consciously or not, contribute to violence, to sexual violence, and to rape simply because they devalue the existence of some humans in relation to others.
To teach each other and our youth the immense importance of deconstructing prejudice in order to honor each individual’s worth and autonomy is to counter rape culture.
Unfortunately, the way we educate about sexual violence (and sexuality in general, but that’s another conversation…totally related, though!) sorely needs rethinking. The approach we often take to resolve the prevalence of rape is to charge the victim with the responsibility of self-protection rather than entrusting every person in the community with the task of treating people compassionately and respectfully. The former approach is injurious to everyone, male- and female-identified, in that it often draws on the false notions that
a) on any given night, there are swarms of stealthy, sex-crazed men lurking outside restaurants, bars, etc., waiting to encounter a vulnerable victim, and
b) that any female reckless enough to go out alone past dark should know better than to put herself at such risk.
In reality, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that almost 85% of rapes are perpetrated by an acquaintance or intimate partner of the survivor; assault by a stranger is relatively infrequent.
We need to circulate accurate information about sexual violence: most sexual offenders are known and trusted by the survivor; males and females experience sexual assault; males and females perpetrate sexual assault.
Teaching females to expect assault if they exhibit certain behaviors fosters a society of terrified, dependent women who distrust men and build their lives over a rickety, fear-based foundation. Additionally, such attitudes directly feed victim blaming post-assault, where we say things like “well, why was she in that part of town, alone, at that hour???” Or, “she could have dressed more conservatively.”
In preventing sexual violence, it would be more effective to come to an agreement that there is NO justification for rape. No behavior, no hair color, no outfit warrants rape. There exists no neighborhood-where-rape-is-permissible-and-thus-anyone-found-in-said-area-should- know-to-expect-it. Nothing warrants rape or sexual violence or any violence! We must strive to convince ourselves of this belief rather than giving women rape whistles when they get to college and telling them to cover up. Rather than treating men like predatory animals powerless to control their libidos.
That’s all for now, though the conversation continues endlessly. Talk about sexual violence! Talk about compassion rather than condemnation. Grab some ears and exercise your lips.