BEYOND MERE SURVIVAL


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.

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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.

 

PREVENTING VIOLENCE

 

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  


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HOME

  • 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.

OUTDOORS

  • 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.

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more Q&A

i am trying to post more questions from students as i get them, because there see, to be a never ending avalanche of them, and it is often a challenge for me to try to answer in a way that feels appropriate and thoughtful, accurate and helpful…

so there:

  1. Why are guys into sex at a young age (13)? Why are men more sexually attracted to porn than women?

These two questions are similar and both ask about men and boy’s feelings about sex.

Not all guys are into sex. There is a lot of pressure on guys to act or speak as if they were really interested in sex. We talked about gender and different messages we get from society on the first day we were there, and saw that for a guy it is expected to like girls, and to care a lot about sex. A guy might not really care or know much about sex and still feel like he has to talk/act as if he does, to get attention or to feel accepted by his peers. Similarly, it is more accepted for men in our society to use porn. Every person’s sexual desire is different and personal, and should be respected.

  1. Has anyone received threats while staying at the middle way?

Shelter was created as a safe place for women and children to live away from violence. The middle way staff and volunteers put in their best efforts to make it a welcoming and comfortable environment for the residents. We keep information about residents confidential, and respect their privacy. We also have specific plans to respond to threats or to abusers looking survivors at shelter.

  1. Why do people rape? Why do men rape more that women?

That’s a really good question! We talked a bit about that already. People assault mostly because they want to feel in control of another person, and have power over them. Many times people that rape/assault feel entitled to force someone to have sex with them, many times because they feel that they are better than the other person because of sexism, classism, or racism. Unfortunately we live in a society where rape and sexual assault are sometimes seen as acceptable and not a big deal. It’s up to all of us to change that, and to push for a society where people engage in healthy behaviors, and see each other’s as equals.

There can be many different answers to the question of why men assault more than women, and some research has been done to try to find out why rapists decide to assault. The most accurate answer I can give goes back to the ideas of gender we talked about on the first day, when we did the girl and boy box activity. Many boys and men still grow up in an environment that teaches them to be aggressive, insensitive and to see women as less then them. Interviews and studies done on rapists show that the vast majority of rapists hold very traditional beliefs about gender, and feel that having sex is their right, no matter what the person that they raped wanted .

    As Lisa Vetten , the Gender Co-ordinator of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa explains: “men rape because they believe they have the right to control and to punish women who do not obey their rules of behavior. Rape is an expression of unequal power relations between men and women. Such unequal power relations are not the result of nature or evolution but societies which, through legislation and social custom, have made women second-class citizens”
    I want to make it clear that even though men account for over 95% or rapes (Kats, 2006), most men don’t rape. Since most rapists are men though, men are in a unique position to help in the movement against sexual violence. I am attaching a few resources from men’s organizations committed to ending gender violence.

TEN THINGS MEN CAN DO TO PREVENT GENDER VIOLENCE

  1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers
  2. If a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a teacher, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.
  3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers. Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz. www.jacksonkatz.com
Reprint freely with credit.

  1. How many calls do you get about rape?

It really depends; some weeks are busier than others, especially around the start of the school year and little 500. We have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital.

  1. What should you do if someone is trying to rape you?

Every person has a different reaction to being assaulted. There is not one “right” way to react. Some people freeze, and become really still during the assault because of fear, some cry, some try to push the perpetrator away. It’s important to listen to your instincts. Many people that are raped say that they felt uncomfortable with the person and unsafe even before the assault happened. If you feel unsafe/uncomfortable with someone leave the situation if you can, call a friend or trusted adult. And whatever happens know that it is not your fault, the person that decided to hurt you is responsible for it!

Here are some more general tips from the University of California rape Prevention Center.
IN GENERAL

  • Know the real picture. Most rapes (85%) are committed by non-strangers and in familiar, social situations.
  • Men who rape usually try to gain trust to test your boundaries.
  • Trust your very first feeling of uneasiness.
  • Don’t dismiss that feeling.
  • Act on it by firmly saying “no”, “leave me alone” or leave if necessary.
  • Don’t worry about hurting feelings or appearing rude.
  • Use a strong, serious voice. Don’t plead or play cute.
  • Don’t apologize.
  • Look for others to assist if you need to.
  • If the aggressor is an intimate partner, tell them in a serious tone that you are not comfortable and want them to stop. Now.
  • Believe in your right to your own body.

    AT PARTIES
  • Be aware that men who rape often use alcohol to exploit your vulnerability. They tend to try to make you drink more than you intended.
  • Keep in control of your drinking.
  • Don’t leave a drink unattended, or accept a drink that someone else has given you. Most times this is harmless, but you are trying to avoid the one time it isn’t.
  • Think ahead. Have a safe way to get home already planned.
  • If in a group, plan ahead to watch out for one another.
  • If a friend looks as though she or he is losing control, step in and take care of them.
  • If a friend is harassing women, make it your concern.
  • Remember you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys by appearance or good looks.
  • Watch out for someone who is pressuring you; who keeps giving you drinks; who wants to get you alone; who guilt trips you if you are reluctant.
    Don’t be afraid to ask for help if someone is making you feel threatened.
  1. How do boys rape boys (like physically how)? How do girls rape girls?

Remember that when we talked about rape we clarified that rape is any non-consensual intercourse. It can happen if someone pressures, threatens or tricks another person, and not just with physical force.  The law says that rape is any unwanted intercourse, meaning any unwanted vaginal or anal penetration.

  1. If someone is over the age of 18 and has sex with a 16 yr old, can the parents do anything about it since the 16 year old is under the age of consent, but still a minor?
    The legal age for consent in Indiana is 16 years old. Legally speaking a person that is 16 can consent to sexual activity. However, we discussed how there is more to consent than just the legal factors of being 16, sober, and awake. Consent is giving permission, meaning that a person has the information and the time to think in order to make a decision they are happy with. In a relationship where one partner is much older than the other, it can be difficult to maintain an equal relationship, and it may be easier for the younger person to feel pressured, or to be manipulated. Your parents or guardians are legally responsible for you until you turn 18, so they have the legal right to stop you from seeing someone that they don’t approve of. However they could not press charges against the person that is over 18 if the sex was consensual and you are over 16.
  1. Does the middle way help people in romantic relationships who are having problems but no evidence?
    Absolutely! In the majority of cases there is little evidence, in the traditional sense of DNA or witnesses, for sexual assault and rape. We support and advocate for anyone that needs it, and we believe what people say. Our role is not to prove crimes or question people, but to empower, support, and advocate for you.
  1. How many sexual assault cases happen and go to Bloomington hospital in a year? How many are female and how many are male?
    It is really difficult to figure out how many cases of sexual assault happen every year, because sexual assault is a widely underreported crime. In terms of the Middle way, we have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week for sexual assault and rape, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital fro sexual assault.
    The majority of people that call for sexual assault are female, but we get calls from males also sometimes.
  1. What is the best was to fight or stop a situation that is going the wrong way?
    It’s hard to answer this question because it’s a bit vague. We discussed the difference between fighting and arguing. Healthy disagreements and discussion can happen between people and are characterized by open communication, listening, and feeling safe around the person you are arguing with. If someone is using intimidation, put downs, cuss words, and violence than it’s unhealthy and scary. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their relationships.
    In terms of stopping a situation that is going the wrong way, if someone is being violent towards you it’s their choice to do that, and they are responsible for stopping themselves.
    If the violence is happening to you, you have every right to be safe and to be in a healthy relationship. There can be many options to get out of a violent situation: You can decide to call for the police or if you are at school, you can call a teacher that you trust. If you see someone getting inappropriate attention you can also engage them directly and ask them if they are ok, if they need help or resources. You can also simply tell the assaulter to stop, many times people that assault rely on everyone around them being silent about what is going on, and calling attention to it can be a powerful deterrent. And remember the crisis line and the middle way resources are there for you.
  1. Does your “cherry” pop the first time for every girl?
    From the Sinclair Intimacy and Health Institute (Copyright 2002)
    The hymen, colloquially referred to as “the cherry”, has historically been a marker of a woman’s virginity. The belief that since the hymen blocked the vaginal opening, it should remain intact as long as a woman did not have sexual intercourse was widely propagated, especially in cultures where a woman’s virginity was highly valued.
    But it is scientific fact that the hymen can be separated for reasons quite unconnected to sexual intercourse. It can separate when the body is stretched strenuously, as in athletics; it can be separated by inserting a tampon during menstruation or through masturbation; and sometimes it is separated for no apparent reason.

A separated hymen is not an indication of having had intercourse, nor can it prove a loss of virginity. When the hymen is separated, whether during first intercourse or at some other time, there may be some slight bleeding and a little pain. Both the bleeding and the pain are quite normal and both usually stop after a short time. Some women experience no discomfort at all during this process that is commonly referred to as “losing your cherry”.



Q&A high school

here are some of the high school questions

4. Are there gangs of people that sexual assault?

Gang rape (as of gang members raping) does happen, but it’s more of an overblown media story than the reality of sexual assault. What is more frequent is that rape can happen at the hands of a group of people. That’s because there can be a lot of peer pressure to engage in a certain behavior within a group, or because the toxic ideas of gender we talked about on the first day can be exacerbated in a group setting, and sexual assault can become a way to prove one’s toughness, or masculinity. That’s why it’s so important to speak up against behaviors that are hurtful.


1. What if you are in an isolated place and you get raped?

Most people are raped in isolated places, as to minimize risks of getting caught. In terms of what you should you do if you are sexually assaulted, it really depends. Everyone has a different reaction to being attacked, and there is not necessarily one “good” way to react. Some people physically resist the assault, and some become numb because they are so scared, it’s important to remember that whatever reaction you had was appropriate, and that it’s important to trust your instincts. If you feel in danger, try to find a safer place. Many people say they felt unsafe but did not leave the situation for fear of being ridiculed, or because they did not want to show that they were uncomfortable.
2. How likely is it that the same perpetrator will strike the same victim again?
Many people that sexually assault are repeat offenders. There are several reasons for that: we have seen that holding certain beliefs of superiority and entitlement over other people can lead people to believe that it’s ok to rape as a way to feel powerful, to control and to humiliate. Rape can become a way for people to feel in power, and it has little to do with sexual desire. If a person feels that there will be no or little consequences for their choice to assault they might do it again. Consequences for raping are not limited to jail time, but could be isolation from friends and family, loss of jobs, humiliation and social shunning. Unfortunately there is very little research about the frequency of repeat rape because sexual assault is an incredibly difficult crime to measure and quantify.
3. How can a girl rape a boy?
We have seen that rape is not just forcing someone to have sex. Making somebody have sex through pressure, coercion, or threats is also rape. A woman can rape a man by using these tools of coercion. If you mean how it is physically possible, men’s bodies can have a sexual response to rape and sexual assault, because that’s what we are physiologically meant to do. I want to point out that most rapes are perpetrated by men, even when the victims are men, and not women. Another important note is that men that rape other men are straight men, which illustrates the fact that rape is not about sex; it’s about control and power.
4. Is it true that people that are more sexually “inclined” are more likely to rape, even though rape is about power and control?
Rape can become a tool to prove one’s masculinity, and we saw that one of the pressures that men have from society is to have many sexual partners, and to be overly sexual in order to be a “real” man. So the power and control motive is still there, even if sexual assault can be a way to prove one’s sexual prowess.


5. How is it acceptable to not report rape? Isn’t it everyone’s responsibility to report, so it stops happening?

As we saw in question #3, some of the most powerful deterrent when it comes to rape are not the treats of jail time, but the fear of losing social status, friends and family, or a job. One of the most powerful ways we have to stop sexual assault is to not tolerate a culture where some people are worth less than others, where we feel entitled to treat others poorly because of gender, sexual orientation, race or class. That can be calling someone out on a sexist joke, or just watching out for our own way of treating other people.
Another step would be to push for a criminal justice system that strives for true accountability, where survivors are heard, and where offenders have a chance to change instead of sitting in a cell for a few years and then being released back into society.



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.