Sheree Bekker | Friends, we need to talk…

[Content note: sexual assault and rape]

 

I am incandescent with rage.

There is a Facebook post circulating – it has been for years now – called “Through a rapist’s eyes“. It claims to be the outcome of interviews with rapists and date rapists (first note here: rapists are rapists…date rape is not ‘lesser’ than ‘real’ rape…rape is rape is rape), and offers tips to girls and women on how to prevent themselves from being raped. I am not going to write a full debunking of the piece now, as it has been done brilliantly here and here and here and here and here and in countless other places. TL;DR: what is it so utterly wrong about this piece on rape prevention is that it is steeped in victim-blaming and myth. Victim blaming is when the victim of rape or sexual assault is partially or fully held responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. For example, when questions are raised about what the victim was wearing. Let me be clear here: there is only one cause of rape: rapists. What a person was wearing is always irrelevant.

“Appearance and clothing have nothing to do with who gets raped and many rapes happen in the home. Women are raped no matter what they wear: babies in nappies, old women in tracksuits and nuns in habits also get raped. Rape is the rapist’s fault, not the survivor’s.”

 

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Why do we teach our girls and women not to be raped, why don’t we teach our boys and men not to rape? 

The thing is, we don’t engage in constructive conversations about sexual assault and rape because of socially constructed rape myths that seem so “common sense” – yet, when closely examined, are so far from the truth it is staggering. We don’t talk to our children and family and friends about this because it seems so “obvious” that sexual assault is wrong.

We need to talk honestly and openly about what rape really is, what rapists looks like, and where rape really occurs.

I once read somewhere that Sweden is the “rape capital of the world” – and remember being shocked by this and immediately deeming it to be untrue to my mind and knowledge. The thing is, it may actually be true: but only because of the way that rape is both defined and reported in Sweden. Rape accusations are taken incredibly seriously: any non-consensual sexual activity is defined as rape. Furthermore, the fact that people actually DO report rape in Sweden is a good thing: it means that the problem is being acknowledged and constructively counteracted. Just because sexual assaults and rapes are not reported does not mean that they do not happen.

I also remember the first time I learned of marital rape, and how mind-boggling that seemed to me at the time.

Penis-in-vagina rape is not ‘real rape’, with anal rape, or oral rape, or digital rape being ‘lesser rape’. Men and women are raped in these ways too.

Rape is rape is rape.

Why the Brock Turner case (Stanford rape case) is so important

This story has infuriated me. But also galvanised me this week. Why this case? I don’t remember ever seeing so much constructive conversation around one case – and all due to the courageous victim herself. This case shows so clearly why rape, in the vast majority of cases, is not perpetrated by strangers who jump out of bushes. In fact, the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by acquaintances and friends and family and intimate partners – people known to the victim. This [Brock Turner] is what a rapist really looks like. This is not only the case in countries like America, but so too on places like South Africa – as is illustrated by the ongoing #RUReferenceList protests.

The Brock Turner victim impact letter to the judge has been viewed by millions of people – it is SO incredibly hard to read, as the nuance and depth here is utterly breathtaking. This is the culmination of insidious rape culture. Please do click through and read it if you can (it is 12 pages long), please share this with your people. This is important:

Still in doubt about rape culture? Read Brock Turner’s father’s letter in which he fails to once acknowledge the trauma of the victim:

Finally, Brock Turner’s own letter. No comment needed here.

We need to open up a constructive conversation about rape and sexual assault. Too many myths and mistruths abound. To start, here are 7 Rape Myths From Brock Turner’s Friend Leslie Rasmussen’s Statement, Debunked (*Note: she has since apologised for this letter).

One of the most pervasive of myths is that of false accusations of rape. The thing is, this very rarely happens. Here is the truth:

People, and women especially, it is important to listen when a person says that they have been sexually assaulted or raped. Listen when people are telling you that another person has sexually assaulted or raped. Their account is almost always the truth.

Most importantly, we need to teach how not to sexually assault or rape:

Consent people. Not just consent, enthusiastic consent. It really is as simple and as hard as that.

The thing is, I don’t believe we adequately teach consent, especially to our boys. Here is an excellent primer:

 

Teaching consent is vital because this is not as common sense as it may seem – especially in a society which blames victims. Teaching consent is also important because it has been shown over and over again that abstinence-only education is not working, for a variety of reasons, and perpetuates harmful misinformation about sexual activity.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted please know that this is not shameful at all. As Brock Turner’s victim recently said: she has chosen to remain anonymous because

I am every woman

Support services (here and here) are available to all victims of rape and sexual assault, please do be brave and ask for help if you need it. There are people who can and will help.