Yesterday I became overwhelmed by the news. First of all, the stories from Newtown, Connecticut are enough to make anyone’s stomach churn. Then my pain doubled when I opened a New York Times piece on a small town rape incident.
A teenage girl, only 16-years-old, was black-out drunk at a party. Drug around naked and raped by two football players, the events were watched by others and recorded on cameras, then plastered all over the Internet. Yet, many in the town blame the girl for making the football team look bad, and those who posted the pictures online didn’t see anything wrong in their actions. They weren’t even disciplined.
This isn’t the first time I’ve read something this appalling. In 2011, The New York Times reported on a gang rape of an 11-year-old girl. Within their article it was insinuated that she was to blame for what happened to her, stating “she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” Locals were reported asking, “How could their young men have been drawn into such an act?” As if an 11-year-old lured them in with her sexual powers and convinced them to rape her in a brutal and violent way.
I was equally upset these past few weeks by articles The Good Men Project published. The first piece, by Alyssa Royse, told the tale of her friend who was rightly accused of rape. The jaw-dropping title of her piece was “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too.” On Feministe Jill Filipovic described it as “the worst thing I have read about rape all year.” Then to top it off, the next week The Good Men Project published an equally horrifying piece titled, “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying.” The writer also stated that he’s “pretty sure I’m technically a rapist,” and that “In the real world, especially among experienced drinkers, being blackout drunk … can look like being very sexually aggressive.” He concludes with, “I’ve accepted a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business.”
Before I was even entrenched in my women’s studies minor and theoretically understood the full effects of rape culture and victim-blaming, I instinctively knew about this cultural phenomenon. At a Christmas party, a previous friend of mine was constantly hitting on me. I rejected his advances, though attempted to do so in a non-rude way. I told him that no, I did not want to sleep in the same bed as him, and I kindly reminded him of the fact that he had a girlfriend.
When I woke up that night with him on top of me I hurriedly removed myself from the situation and went into a different room with multiple people in it, even though the room I previously slept in also had more people than just he and I. Later when I woke up to him again, this time with his hands down my pants, I shoved him away and left the apartment—at 3 AM—and walked a mile and a half back to my car where I sat alone for an hour until I felt safe enough to navigate my way through the foggy roads back home. Though I knew it wasn’t my fault I still found myself running through a list of all the things I would be accused for doing wrong: I had been drinking, I didn’t protest enough, I didn’t scream at him, maybe I hadn’t been direct enough in my “NO” (though I knew that my actions would have told almost anyone else that no really meant no).
I wrote him an email the next day explicitly telling him that what he had done was extremely wrong, that I was appalled and angry at his actions, and that he had to know and understand his misdoing. I even went into explaining rape culture, though I didn’t know it was labeled that at the time, and focused on how women are to blame in most situations like this. I said that I’m a strong woman; a woman less sure of herself may not have left the room before something worse had happened. Thankfully he responded in repentance and told supportive friends and family about the event in hopes to gain some guidance.
Even so, the next time I saw him two years later I had such an extreme anxiety attack that I hid from his view.
Both in the United States and around the world we blame rape on the woman. Women such as me understand this message at a young age. Guilt, shame, and stigma are ingrained into the center of our being. We slut-shame women ourselves, saying “What was she wearing last night?” or “She’s so flirtatious, it’s her own fault!” This exists in our Mennonite and church communities, too. That guy who stuck his hands down my pants while I was sleeping was a good Christian Mennonite, who went to both a Mennonite high school and college, and who was and still is well-liked by many.
Almost every piece of news that accompanies a situation of rape focuses on a woman’s appearance, her behavior, whether or not she was participating in drinking or drugs, and her sexual history—not a single one of those facts is mentioned about the perpetrator. If anything, it’s a message of disbelief: “But he was such a stand-up guy! I can’t believe he would have done something like this. There must be a mistake.”
Last Thursday I hosted a Twitter conversation about victim-blaming for Women Under Siege, the organization I work for. Hosting the conversation with UK Laura Bates’ project Everyday Sexism, our goal was to promote conversation about victim-blaming and the cultural roots of stigma in situations of sexualized violence and rape around the globe; stories we’re collecting on our Web site. Using the hashtag #RapeisRape allowed tweeps to contribute their own thoughts, stories, and solutions to the conversation of victim-blaming.
(Side Note: If you are Twitter illiterate like my parents, yet you want to have a bit of an idea what I’m talking about, check out this wiki on hashtags and this on twitter chats for a better grasp on the world of tweeting.)
As the social media associate I prepared for the chat by helping create a hashtag, writing questions, compiling stories, preparing links to publish, and contacting writers and journalists who would be interested in joining the conversation. What I didn’t prepare for was the emotional toll of hearing, talking, and reporting on the stigmatizing affects rape have on women worldwide.
During our conversation over 1,500 tweets were generated, which made 3,351,589 impressions (or in other words, that many people saw at least 1 tweet with the hashtag #RapeisRape), and Women Under Siege reached an audience of 1,067,521 followers through 1.5 hours of conversation about legitimate rape. Five days later, people are still using the hashtag #RapeisRape.
What I took away from the conversation was that there is an extreme need for women to have an outlet to voice their stories and frustration with rape culture and stigma. One tweet (@MMASammich) said, “I was 12 when I was raped, and completely unprepared for the accusations from all sides.” Another tweep (@stupid_fairy_) stated, “Makes me sick to hear the rape jokes around my school. It’s not funny. Imagine if it happened to you all; how would you feel?”
Stories are powerful. When voices come together to report the shame each individual experienced from their rape, change can occur. Through this twitter conversation solutions were thought up, a few of which included:
In order to live a spiritual life we must be aware of victim-shaming. I had a friend in college who was victim-shamed by the administration because she too had been drinking when she was raped. Our churches have events where victim-shaming occurred, like when we say “But he was such a nice guy!” instead of listening to a woman’s full story. We’ve said detrimental statements about women (and men) who “deserve” what happened to them, such as that girl in your high school class who always let her cleavage show.
Let’s focus our attention towards story-telling, compassion and love rather than the why of each event. Let’s gather together in a community of reconciliation and restorative justice. Let’s focus on helping the abused live through their pain, which is the most important aspect our communities should be paying attention to. Let’s not participate in rape culture and shaming, a culture that is detrimental to all of us, especially our inner-most spiritual being.
For more on victim-blaming, check out this great piece: Eight reasons why victim-blaming needs to stop: Writers, activists, and survivors speak out