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.

maya angelou speaks
March 6, 2009, 7:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

angeloulast night i had the privilege to see maya angelou speak here in bloomington.

to be honest, i had no expectations for her speech, and it ended up being one of the best i have witnessed. i have been looking for a podcast of it without much luck, but i will post it as soon as i find one. 

i often feel very anxious about the relentlessness of time passing, and try to fill my minutes to escape the sense of smallness that accompanies the experience of being human. there is not much that can distract me from that, or leave me with a true sense of meaning.  Ms. Angelou weaved a careful net of stories about the weight each one of us has, that we are very much unaware of, and unmistakably left me with a mysterious sense of purpose. each of us cannot change the world, or escape death, or be indispensable, but we have no idea how much each action impacts our surroundings, and how far the ramifications of our choices will reach.

she also gracefully defied the apologetical demeanor that often accompanies the elderly in our society, the self-deprecating jokes about slowness, and bodies functioning at a significantly different speed than someone in their twenties. Ms. Angelou exuded an obviously hard won sense of comfort in her own skin, in her surrounding and in her 81 year old body that felt so rare and precious.

she talked about race with ease, without discounting the weight of privilege, and without choosing divisive words, or sentences that would have provoked easy cheers from the crowd. she also spoke of her experience as a survivor of rape , and the lingering sense of self-blame that comes with that experience…which i see as being so true and prevalent.

thanks, Ms. angelou ( and riley for standing in line and getting free tickets)

do you have something to say about gender violence?
November 24, 2008, 1:30 pm
Filed under: gender violence | Tags: , , , ,

i know i am kind of a broken record because i talk about the same things all the time, but here is the deal:
indiana is finally trying to implement a broad sexual asssault prevention plan, and insted of having random “professionals” decide what is best, they are asking hoosiers to fill out this survey to get an idea of what really affects people in their life and how to push for positive change.

it’s all online at : http://www. in. gov/isdh/23820. htm

even if you fill out a couple of questions it’s still helpful///deadline is dec.15

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.

Q&A- middle school

i decided to start posting batches of questions that are asked by students during presentations, i hope they are helpful and or interesting.

these are from middle school

1. How many rape calls do you get per week?

It really depends; some weeks are busier than others, especially around the start of the school year and little 5. 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.

2. Do you house couples that are both in a difficult situation?

We don’t house couples because it would be difficult and possibly dangerous. As you might remember the people in shelter live in a communal space, meaning that they have to share bathrooms, a kitchen and a room sometimes. In order for it to be a safe and comfortable place for everyone we don’t house couples, because it might become a dramatic, emotion-laden situation that would not be conducive to a safe living environment. Also, most often one person in the relationship is responsible for trying to control and have power over their partner, so we try to help and support the person being abused.

3. Why do people sexually assault?

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.

4. Do really young children get sexually assaulted?

Yes. Sexual assault happens to people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds. People that are more vulnerable (like young people/people with serious mental illnesses) might be at a higher risk for being assaulted. Again sexual assaults do not happen because of sex, or how attractive someone is necessarily, they are more about power and control.

5. How many people become pregnant because of rape?

The latest information is could find was from a Center for Disease Control (a federal agency) study done in 2000. They report that about 4.7% of people that are raped become pregnant because of it.

6. If someone is over 16 and it’s raped by a parent, is it still rape?

Absolutely! Indiana Law just says that when you are 16 you are legally able to consent, meaning that legally you can decide whether you want to have sex or not. If a person does not want to have sex and someone has sex with them against their will it’s rape. No matter if the person raping you is your boyfriend, or a member of your family, or a stranger!

Q: Have you ever had a call of someone saying they have an online relationship & feeling assaulted or in danger?

A: Yes. In the past 10-15 years dating online has become more and more common and can have similar dynamics to “normal” relationships. The anonymity of the Internet can also give people a sense that they are less accountable for their actions, and make violence and threats escalate. It can be a very scary situation for people that can cause a great deal of stress and trauma. Harassment on the web is illegal and punishable by law.

Q: How often does rape occur?

A: According to research 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men in the United States experiences rape or attempted rape at some point of their life.

Q: Do people rape to get rid of anger?

A: People usually rape because they want to control or hurt another human being. Anger can be part of this desire for power and control.

Q: in what places do the highest numbers of sexual assaults and rape happen?

A: If you mean places in the world, countries where there is war of civil strife have the higher incidence of rape. Rape has been used throughout history as a weapon of domination and control in war. The lack of law enforcement agencies during war also creates a lack of accountability for the rapists. Countries in which one gender is considered less important or valuable than the other also have a higher incidence of rape (example: places where women are considered inferior than men). If you mean to ask if there are specific places where people are usually raped, the answer is in their home, or in the house of someone they know. The idea that people are attacked in a dark alley by a stranger is a myth, a stereotype, and rarely happens in real life.

9. If you see someone getting assaulted, how can you help?

It depends on the situation. You can decide to call for the police if you think someone is in danger and you don’t feel safe stopping it yourself. 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.

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!

on scene advocate manual
August 6, 2008, 2:41 pm
Filed under: gender violence | Tags: , , , , ,

i just finished putting together the new on scene advocate manual .

it may sound really cryptic, but it simply is an information book for people learning to become advocates for survivors of domestic violence ans sexual assault.

i am posting it because i think it’s really useful to  anyone wanting to learn more about gender violence, and for anyone wanting to be a better ally for their friends, family and  loved ones that have been through that experience.

i hope it’s useful. here is the link  OSA MANUAL

april is sexual assault awareness month…?
April 11, 2008, 9:53 am
Filed under: gender violence | Tags: , ,

april is sexual assaul awareness month. it has been a hard one.
i have been a crisis liner for 3 years at a domestic and sexual violence shelter, and an on scene advocate for 2.
but these credentials do not matter so much as the fact that gender violence has affected me throughout my life, and i see it affecting women ( and men) around me every day. it’s hard to put it in a few words, how important this is to me.
i think gender violence and discrimination is one of the pivotal axes of the fucked up and skewed power structures enabling some people to be hurtful and cruel while believing their actions are justified.
the more i educate myself and the more experience i have with gender violence work, the more i cannot escape the fact that it is a cultural phenomenon that won’t change without rethinking and questioning gender roles and norms.
so, it’s been frustrating to try to organize for sexual awareness month and be part of an organization that decided to bypass discussions and action for sidewalk chalk slogans and handing out pamphlets and water at the bars.

i don’t even know how to feel about the whole ” BLANK- month” thing. it’s just becoming a gimmick. each month is dedicated to a different niche, but instead of bringing the issues to te front, it relegates them to a safe space adorned with a different color ribbon.

i really don’t like to hate, i am sure someone out there is doing something awesome with april being sexual assault prevention month. if you are, send it my way. i am in need of some serious inspiration.