I have been contemplating writing about this for weeks. So much has hit me recently regarding women and men and rape I haven’t been able to settle my mind enough to communicate coherently.
I work with high school kids who recently went through prom season and there is nothing I wanted more than to protect them from the perils of prom, where sex, drugs and booze often provide a lethal combination. These kids will leave for college and I wanted to warn them about the increased danger there. I know. I’ve seen it.
The final straw was when George Will crossed a line I wasn’t even sure he could cross and made so many horrible statements I can’t and won’t even begin to address them here.
What Will’s “Women are willing victims” column did was start a million conversations about what is happening to our women and men in this country and this got me thinking of my role as a parent of both young men and a young woman. I read one of the articles spawned by Will’s column about a woman who was raped at Yale and never said a word. Amanda Ruggeri and a friend were handed a shot at a party that contained some sort of drug that all but knocked her out. Later that night, after her friends carried her home, the young man Ruggeri was with had sex with her. In the article, she says she has no recollection of any of it but she woke up naked in his room. Later her friend confirmed that Ruggeri did indeed have sex with the young man in question.
George Will would say she wasn’t raped. George Will would probably criticize her for speaking out because the young man in question did not supply the drug, therefore his life shouldn’t be ruined for having sex with her. George Will is a lot of things I am too polite to say here, but he has hit on something so powerful it is frightening to me. What is frightening to me that I understood, for a minute, where Will might come from. Because, my first reaction, when reading this article was, oh, man that boy didn’t even give her the drugs, but if she accused him of rape he would be a labeled a rapist. I could understand why Ruggeri didn’t speak up. I can even understand why she tried to justify the boy’s actions and downplay the event in her own mind. It had nothing to do with victim shaming and everything to do with not wanting to be a victim.
After some more thought (I told you I’ve been on this for weeks) I realized, that boy was a rapist and what the hell would I do if that was my son.
See, I talk to my girl about how to behave. I talk to my girl about modesty and protecting her body and being in control. I tell her not to be afraid to tell people when she is uncomfortable and never question that feeling she has in her gut when something isn’t right. That feeling is always right so, just get away and stick up for yourself, no matter who or what you are standing against. While I would not change what I’ve said, I realize it may be setting her up to think this is entirely her responsibility. As if the boys are free to act like horny jerks and it is up to her to stop them.
With my boys, I talk to them (firmly) about how when someone says stop, they must stop instantly. Don’t get me wrong, my house is not full of inappropriate touching, but there are times during most days where tickling, wrestling and general roughhousing is going on and someone always says stop. In those moments, I am quick to jump in and make sure the other party does.
I hoped this meant my kids would catch the lesson that you can’t touch someone in a way they don’t want to be touched, ever. Even if you are mid-playing and the person you’re with, for seemingly no reason, decides they have had enough, you have to respect that. Yes, it’s a noble lesson, but what if it isn’t explicit enough?
What if, like the college boy in the article, or maybe even George Will, my boys need to be taught, explicitly, that having sex with a person in any situation where they have not consented is rape? Even when it is with a person who is too unconscious to consent or refute you, it is rape. Period.
What if they need to hear, explicitly, that sex is only ok if both people are willing, able and conscious to decide they want in- at that moment and for the entire time? What if they don’t quite understand, because the world tells them differently, that even if you’re mid-playing and someone changes their mind, seemingly for no reason, you have to stop?
No is no, even if it follows six yeses. What if they won’t just “catch” that there really is no grey area? Rape is rape no matter the amount of alcohol, existing relationship or number of preceding yeses? Are we taking for granted that everyone know that?
What if, in all the victim shaming women have endured for years, we’ve also failed our boys by assuming they’d figure out how to be good and then being shocked and disappointed when even good boys rape?
You can blame society. You can blame history. You can blame the hyper-sexualized media that our kid are exposed to today. But the fact is, rape has existed since the beginning of time and the lessons surrounding it start in the home. They are about respect. They are about ego. They are about explicitly teaching kids their roles as responsible humans in the world. Parents need to have these conversations with their daughters and their sons. We need to stop concentrating only on how to protect our girls from rape and start educating our boys on how not to rape. Always.
Because, George Will, being a victim isn’t a privilege and rape hurts everyone.
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