Teaching About Rape: 2 Things You Can Do

It’s a testament to its prevalence that I  know three women who have been raped. (Undoubtedly, I know more.)

But what I find particularly striking is that in each of the three cases, the man showed no indication that he thought he did anything illegal.

One waved and smiled at his victim in the days after and even tried to connect on MySpace. Another sent a text the morning after apologizing for being, “too drunk to realize you were saying no.”

If you know you committed a crime–uh, you don’t do that.

What’s with these guys? Oh, so many things.

Conventional wisdom, for one. Consider thealleged Congress Theater Rape. A young woman, in a drunken stupor, is waiting for her friends at a restaurant across the street from the theater when she is approached by several men. They are seen carrying her out of the restaurant. Thirty minutes later, she is found a half block away, bloody and naked on the sidewalk. She has been raped and beaten so badly she is in a coma.

The story is horrible, violent, violating, everything we are taught rape is. It is also what happens about 16% of the time*. Mostly, rape is committed by someone the victim knows and many times, in comparison, it is almost subtle.

Subtle in terms of conventional wisdom only. Not subtle in truth. Certainly not subtle in pain. The insertion of a man into the body of a woman who does not want him there is violent. No blood or bruises necessary. No gang rapes, chains, foreign objects, strangulation, punches, or slit throats.

But my, we love the gore, don’t we?

I wonder how the Congress Theater story would have played had the woman been that drunk, but had been merely raped on a bed in a dorm room.

It wouldn’t have played. At all.

The victim of that horrible crime deserves every ounce of attention she has received, and more. But why are we too often on the side of the victim only when she is beaten to a pulp?

There are even apologists of the “subtle” rapes, men and women who argue, essentially, that because a woman says yes to some sexual acts she is saying yes to all; or that a woman should know better than to get too drunk; or that (shrug) things happen when people drink, a guy’s life should not be ruined because of one mistake. (Love the euphemism–did he mean to wash the dishes?)

It doesn’t matter what happened before, during, or after intercourse. If someone is violated without consent, that is rape. THAT. IS. ILLEGAL.

So what can we do?

I have a whole list of things, not-even-close-to-least of which is shaming our justice system into finding the courage to try cases they have a chance of losing (ie. cases in which the victim is NOT found naked in a coma on the street). But blog posts are supposed to be short, so today I’ve whittled my list down to two simple things:

1. Teach boys and men that a lack of consent is not only indicated by saying, “No.” That old slogan “No means no” gets us only so far. Lack of consent can also be indicated by NOT SAYING YES. This means, fellas, being too drunk or drugged or ASLEEP. And if you’re too drunk to know whether she’s too drunk, see #2.

2. Women are warned, as if the responsibility rests solely on their shoulders, that if they drink too much, bad things might happen to them.

Let’s warn the men, too. As in, “If you drink too much, you might think it’s okay to stick your penis inside the girl sleeping next to you. And guess what? If you do that, it’s a felony.”

Let me add that this knowledge is useful for women, too. Give yourself permission to cry, “Rape,” when you see it.

To sum it up: TALK ABOUT RAPE. What it is, what it isn’t only, what it looks like, what it doesn’t always.

I’ll leave you with a story that I think portrays this issue quite well.

My friend, whose wife had just had a daughter, was told by his friend, whose wife had just had a son, “I pity you. Thank God I won’t have to deal with worrying after a girl.”

To which my friend replied, “You know, as the father of a girl, I sure would appreciate it if you help me out and teach your son how to treat her well.” 

* 84% of women who are raped know their assailant, according to “Rape in America: A Report to the Nation.”  Source: http://www.rvap.org


She says it was like a bad after-school special, and laughs. But there is sadness in her eyes, and shame. Not much, but it is there, I think. I want to say the right things, but it is hard to find the words when she tells me her story.

Jake* was older than I was, a frat boy. I’d had a crush on him for months and I was newly single, having just broken up with my boyfriend of three years. And now Jake and I were at the same party.

He fed me drinks all night. I laughed and flirted. My friend asked if I was going to hook up with him, but I said no. I was still sad over the break-up. My ex-boyfriend was the only guy I’d ever been with.

I blacked out for a while. I don’t recall walking upstairs. The next thing I remember is standing in a bedroom. Jake locked the door. We kissed on the bed but I was very drunk. I could barely move. He took off my pants and I remember saying, “No, I don’t want to do this.”

“You think you don’t, but you do,” he said.

He kneeled on my thighs to keep my legs open and held my hands over my head with one hand. He was inside me and I began to cry. I remember feeling like I couldn’t stop it. I don’t know why. I was just—resigned.

I told him if he was going to force me to at least use a condom. He was still holding my hands over my head when he flashed a condom in front of me. I assumed he put it on.

When he finished, he left and I lay there crying for a while. I got up and put on my pants, wiped my eyes, and left the room to find my friends. There was no drama, no yelling. No one at the party knew what had happened, except my friends. On the way out, we ran into him. My friend said, “She liked you.” He shrugged and said, “Sorry.”

I didn’t even think of going to the police. I wondered if I’d led him on. I even thought that since I had liked him, maybe somehow it wasn’t “rape.” Even though I was aware you could be raped by someone you know, when it happened, I just—I don’t know. It was hard to accept that it was rape. It wasn’t bloody. I didn’t have a knife held to my throat. I wasn’t punched. No broken ribs.  But I did have bruises on my thighs and wrists where he held me down.

I saw him on campus that week and he waved.

Two months later, I found out I was pregnant. And I had an STD.

I called my mom from a bathroom stall in my dorm. She booked a flight for me and when I got home, my parents told me what was going to happen. They didn’t ask me, but I think they were just trying to make it easier. I don’t know if I could have made the decision.

The first trip to the abortion clinic, I couldn’t sign the papers so my mom drove me home. Two days later, I went back. I don’t remember much about the procedure, except that I cried a lot. In the recovery room, I listened to two mothers talk about their other children’s soccer practice later that day. That made me cry harder.

I was gone from school for three weeks, but I kept up with the work. When I returned, I just stepped back into things. Whenever I saw Jake on campus, he would wave and smile. A true, genuine smile. Not gloating, not mean. So I’m not sure he thought he did anything wrong.

A few years after I graduated, he tried to connect with me on MySpace. He sent me a note like nothing happened and asked if we could get together the next time he was in Chicago. I wanted to seem unaffected, like he did. So I wrote back. But I said no, we couldn’t get together.

I had a hard time with it for a while. I tried to date my high school boyfriend again, to go back to what was safe, I think. But when I told him what had happened, he said it was my fault. Then I went through a slutty phase.

But then I decided I was going to be by myself for a while. And that was the smartest thing I did. I became friends with myself again.

She feels healed now. She thinks about her husband, the way he loves her. She thinks about his goodness and his gentleness. It’s the only time she ever cries.