perpetuating rape myths, one child at the time

doing violence prevention work in middle and high school for over a year now, I have seen many scary, inaccurate stereotypes about sexual violence going around, but never like today I realized to what extent the schools are perpetuating false information about rape as part of the educational curriculum. During a break between two classes today I was looking at one of the Health class book for the 7th grade and stumbled upon the chapter on sexual violence. I took pictures, but I am transcribing it for clarity.









Protecting Yourself from Rape

Rape is any kind of sexual intercourse against a person’s will. Over half of rape victims know their attackers. Whenever a person is forced to have sex, whether with someone he or she knows or with a stranger, a rape has occurred. Rape is always an act of violence, and it is illegal. To protect yourself from rape, you need to recognize and avoid situations that might increase the risk of an attack, here are some suggestions.,


  • if you go out alone with someone, make it clear that you are not interested in any sexual activity.
  • Avoid secluded places
  • Don’t drink alcohol or use other drugs or date people who do.
  • Always carry money so you can call home or tae a cab or bus if you feel unsafe.




People across the nation are making an effort to reduce and prevent violence. here are some of the actions they have taken

  • Holding stop violence rallies
  • Supporting stronger gun laws
  • Installing lighting in parks and playgrounds
  • Breaking up gang control of public parks
  • Starting neighborhood watch programs
  • Supporting teen curfew
  • Teaching non violent resolution
  • Assigning more police to street patrols  










  • Lock doors and windows when you are alone
  • open the door only to people you know well
  • do not give personal information over the telephone or computer
  • never agree to meet alone with a person you met online
  • if someone comes to the door or window and you are frightened, call 911 or the police
  • never shoot firearms or pick them up, even if they are unloaded
  • when you come home, have your key ready before you reach the door. Do not enter if the door is ajar or appears to have been tampered with
  • never tell a stranger that you are home alone. Instead, say that your parents are busy and can’t come to the door or the phone.


  • do not walk alone at night
  • avoid poorly lit streets
  • if you think someone is following you, get into a store or other public place
  • never hitchhike or accept rides from strangers
  • do not look like an easy target. Stand tall and walk with confidence
  •  if someone wants your money or possessions, give them up
  •  if you are attacked, scream and get away any way you can
  •  do not carry a firearm or other weapon.


I underlined some the parts I found most appalling, even though much of the premise of the idea of prevention in the book is at best inaccurate, and at worst just plain fucked up. Prevention is only seen as a potential’s victim responsibility, where each person must recognize and avoid danger. No talk of accountability or responsibility on the perpetrator’s part is even mentioned.


But besides the theoretical framing of the issue, the chapter is just spreading false information. I have worked as a gender violence advocate since 2005, and I have listened to countless stories of sexual violence, besides being a survivor myself. Most people are assaulted by someone they know, not half like the book says, but more like 70% to 80%. Most times it is a date, or an intimate person that you trust, not a stranger in a dark alley.


None of the information provided will be helpful to avoid sexual assault, it will just make the kids (and mostly girls, who feel rape is their problem) scared, and limit their freedom and mobility. How can anyone not look like an easy target? We know that people that are young, or disables, or homeless, are at a higher risk of being assaulted. Are they telling 12 year olds that they should stop looking like themselves? Or that as a disabled person, I should magically rid of my disability?


The whole chapter sets up people to feel guilty and responsible for the assault, because they should have seen it coming, or they should have been able to protect themselves. And then there is a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) racist message in the whole bit about gangs and public parks! What are they even talking about?  Yes, gang rape does happen, but it is a much rarer occurrence than people being pressured into sex by who they are dating, or being assaulted by an acquaintance or even a family member.


There is no prevention, besides the decision taken by someone to not assault, to choose consensual sex, and to strive for healthy relationships. And better street lights or more cops will not cut it.

kicked out

i kicked out someone of the classroom today for the first time ever.  i have always hated when teachers did that. it’s such a cope out. and here i am.

i wish i had more time to address his reaction, his discomfort, his prejudice, but i did not. i had 45 minutes to try to explain the complexities of sexual violence, and crack the hard shell of streotypes and myth surrounding the issue.

he just couldn’t get over the fact that gay people do not rape. that men that rape men do it to humiliate, hurt and a overpower, not for sexual pleasure. they are straight men. they have girlfriends and wives. they are not attracted to other men. but none of that was being received. he would not even let me finish a sentence. all that was coming out of his mouth was “then they are gay, if they want to rape guys then they are fags”.  then he got up, started disturbing other kids, and throwing pencils.and i told him to leave, but it was throughly unsatisfying. he left that classroom with the same homophobic ideas than when he entered it, and i failed.

the past 2 days
February 12, 2009, 12:46 am
Filed under: gender violence | Tags: , , ,


i have read today about the killing of Xin Yang on January 22. i don’t understand how it went under the radar. i read newspapers everyday, listen to the news, go on a couple of favorite blogs, but nothing. no word of Haiyang Zhu decapitating with a kitchen knife Xin in a cafe on the Virginia Tech campus. how not? why is this not talked about? is this kind of violence just normal now, no longer worthy of news? all i could find were short snippets describing the  murder, without any analysis or elaboration.

at the same time there has been much coverage of Chris Brown’s violence against Rhianna, most of it vague, and much of it supporting stereotypes about violence against women: she provoked him, she is too jealous, she is clingy, he is a good guy. I have not yet seen any connections being made about this violence, or even locally to the rape that happened in bloomington last night, when a man that had been already convicted twice of rape and sexual assault hurt another woman.

aren’t these just pieces of a broader picture? they are not isolated incidents, they are not just individual decisions.  why are these men deciding to hurt women? i don’t want to go into some trite, easy sociological theories about this. just the way these examples of gender violence have been covered in the media feeds the trend towards  normalization. well, it’s not normal. it’s not ok, and i wish i could say it louder, it’s fucked, and it needs to stop.

i have been thinking about how to create a reality were men’s violence against women is a thing of the past for a long time, and i wish i had a single answer, but i don’t. it will not take one single answer, but tens, thousands, millions.

what is yours?

the links between
November 6, 2008, 2:03 pm
Filed under: gender violence | Tags: , , , , , ,


i stumbled upon an excellent article as i was answering questions for the high school students about the incidence of group rape. it makes a really intelligent, and in my experience at least, sound argument for the similarities between ant-gay harassment, and group rape. it’s a bit long but it might blown your mind!

where is the line?
September 5, 2008, 8:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

the whole underlying idea behind advocating is that you are there to support, empower and validate someone, to respect their actions and choices and not stomp them with your preconceptions. only it’s not always easy. i came across one of these situation a couple of weeks ago, as i was playing with the children of a woman that came to talk to our legal advocates. we were drawing animals and people together, and i added speech bubbles and asked them what to write in them.

one of the kids eagerly responded “i love god!”, which i wrote. the girls then asked me if i go to church, and let me know that god is against tattoos. “the bible says you shouldn’t have tattoos, it makes god sad”. i looked at her for a bit, smiled, thanked her for the information, and let her told her i had no idea the bible said “no tattoos”.

once the mom heard what we were talking about she shared that she has asked for help repeatedly in her church community regarding the abuse in her relationship, and the ubiquitous answer she got was “you should pray more”. she didn’t say it bitterly or sarcastically. she said that she prayed and prayed but things were not changing. she said that she was gonna continue praying in hope god would help her change things for the better.

my mind went blank. i nodded and validated the fact that people have many ways to feel stronger, or to cope with violence and that every path is personal and can be helpful.

as a person that experienced in first person the carelessness of the religious community, masked as concern as a child, i had a hard time keeping it to myself. my mother asked for help from her church community all throughout my childhood, and the response she got was to pray, and to keep her family together, because that’s what god wanted. no matter how much violence, degradation and danger there was to her familial reality. to this day my parents are separated and not divorced, because of fear of being excommunicated from the church.

the woman and her children left shortly after she started talking about her experience with the church, and i was left asking myself: where is the line?

talking to high school kids about sex- part III

so, today was the last day of a week long session of workshops and discussions at north high school. all my thoughts seem to be very dense and inextricable. it might be because i am awful at waking at at 6:45 and maintain a cogent line of thinking, or because there is so much to say.

even though i have been doing this for a while, and the information shared is similar in every workshop, the experience is always very different. even between one class and another the way people respond to the discussion varies greatly. the past week left me with many questions i struggle to have answers for. one of the classes in particular was very resistant to the idea that rape can mean someone freezing up instead of physically fighting , that if you are married you can still rape your spouse, and that making the first move does not equal to consenting to intercourse.

the people pushing these ideas forward happened to be male, white, and conventionally attractive and athletic-looking. i found myself battling my internal stereotypes as i was discussing with them, while trying to welcome other people in the conversation, and keeping the discussion respectful for all parties involved. it was not easy.

it left me wondering how i can engage men, as a woman, without making them feel like shit about themselves , but also challenging the myths that surround rape and sexual assault that i know to be hurtful. It feels like i am trying to tear down a wall with a bare finger. the ideas that man cannot be vulnerable or victims is still alive and well, as one of the piece of information that seems to be most shocking is that, according to the FBI (which is not one of the most progressive sources), one in 10 men is sexually assaulted or raped in their life time. it seems incredibly difficult to engage both genders in a conversation about consent and sexual assault, without man feeling like they are being accused of something.

why is that? do they just have an internalized guilt of being potential perpetrators? did they actually do something fucked up?

the other side of it is that, without fail, in every class there are men willing to challenge their peers, and to talk about masculinity. i met boys every day that are disgusted by rape, and angry at the social pressures they bear on their shoulders. these boys and men fit well outside the box of the expected intellectual sensitive guys, they are everyone.

Today i had a bulky, burly farm boy tell me about how aggressive his father is when he drinks, and that he has vowed to be different and responded vehemently to the other guys in the class claiming that what a woman wears can justify assault. This other kid that came in the first day with a tough swagger, and an air of being above it all, told me about the police coming to his house and not arresting his dad after he had beat his mother. he wanted to know more about the legal rights of people that are hurt by their partners.

so i finish my week feeling both drained and energized, defeated and victorious. and amazed at the infinitely complicated hues of human nature.

masculinity from the outside
August 13, 2008, 11:43 pm
Filed under: gender violence, rants and such | Tags: , ,

today i had one of the hardest hospital calls ever. usually as an advocate i go to the hospital and meet people in the ER, where they are because someone has sexually assaulted them, or injured them physically. the usual people present are ( besides the nurses and doctors) family members, friends, and sometimes cops looking for a deposition.

other times i go directly to a person’s house but only if the violent partner is not there. it’s dangerous for the person asking for help, and for the advocates also.

today, because of some oversight from the hospital, i found myself in a room with the woman that asked for assistance, and her boyfriend, whom she was calling about. i was not aware that he was her partner, i though he might have been a family member or friend. however, as i started explaining to her the services the middle way offers, he started yelling that “this country has gone to shit, and people are just reverse sexist and racist. no one give a fuck about men anymore, the only people that can get help are women and blacks”, he also yelled at the woman i was with, demanding to know why i was even there.

he proceeded to scream that the organization i was representing was sexist because it helped women, and not men. then he stormed out the door after slamming things around the room.

in moments like these there is no rational train of thoughts, i find myself usually oddly calm, and unfazed. i was worried that my presence might have triggered a worse situation than before i got there for the woman. we were able to talk a bit, and i gave her phone numbers and resources, and talked about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

after not so long he came back, and i approached him trying to explain the services the middle way has for men, and that we try to be as gender conscious as possible, and advocate for anyone that needs help.

he broke down and started to cry, and told me about how abusive his father had been to him, and saying that he just wanted to feel loved, and being in a relationship was just too painful. i ended up talking to him for a very long time.

he expressed feeling helpless, and hopeless, and that nothing or no one had ever helped him when he needed it. feeling completely hopeless at 18 is one of the saddest things i can think of.

in the end we all came together again and talked about things that they think could help their relationship, and where to find support with them.

it was strange, and i don’t think i have even quite digested the intensity of it all. what jumps out at me is that he needed help as much as she did, and that thinking of violence as a clear cut issue won’t help anything.

it makes me crazy to think that in a way he is right. what help is there for a man wanting support in learning how to be in a healthy relationship? in bloomington at least the choices are meager. counseling works for some people, but not for everyone. where can he go to find a supporting network of people that can undo the violence he lived through? and as a woman, where do i hit my limit as an advocate and ally to men?

tonight i went to see one of my friends play music, and he talked about masculinity, and gender in a way that makes many people uncomfortable because he says it like it is. he talked about how many of his friends, including himself, grew up with shitty role models, and that gender dynamics are something people should always be conscious of within themselves. i am thankful to him for bringing it up.

as he was talking though, i couldn’t help thinking about the kid from this afternoon, and how he is on a lonely quest to find a less toxic way to be a man. i felt lucky for having friends that are thoughtful, and unafraid to pick at what is vulnerable, or unhealthy in themselves, and that they have support for that process.

in a way though, the fact that someone growing up with the worst possible role models, and in an extremely sexist environment, still recognizes the need for change gives me renewed strength.

it makes me certain that change is possible, that people have no desire to be assholes, or to be hurtful, and will transform themselves if given the tools to do it.

gender violence in Italy and the U.S.
April 22, 2008, 11:45 am
Filed under: gender violence | Tags: , , ,

chiara gender studies research

i am finally done with my senior thesis, which i am attaching.

i wrote a study about the way gender violence is perceived in Italy and the U.S., and how the responses to such violence are informed by culture.

i learned so much in talking to people cross-culturally, and in having to put down in words the experiences of the past 3 years.

i hope it’s interesting