I, like most women I know, have had my run-ins with sexual assault. Not the kind that appears in a deserted parking lot in the form of a strange man with hungry eyes, though this is a scenario that has haunted me on many nights out. No, I’m talking about sexual assault of a different stripe. I’m talking about the kind that means a hand job in a dark room where you’re afraid to make a sound for fear of waking up your sleeping cabin mates. I’m talking about your sort-of-not-really boyfriend with his hands up your shirt in AP US History while you try unsuccessfully to take notes as if nothing was happening. I’m talking about the demons that make your best friend since third grade say to you, “Don’t have sex–it ruins everything.”
These stories are not unique. I will bet you that almost every woman you know could tell you countless anecdotes like these, most likely dismissing them as “not a big deal,” “I was stupid,” or “that was just one time.” Here in post-feminist America, women can expect to see one sixth of our numbers experience an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime and millions more be invaded, violated, scarred, and humiliated by a culture that treats the systematic abuse of women as no more serious than a locker room prank.
But the danger, authorities tell us, is not from the men we know and trust (even though 38% of rape victims know their attacker) and it is not for those who take appropriate precautions. Rape happens to women who go out alone, at night, in bad neighborhoods; to women who get drunk while wearing the revealing and immodest clothing that is marketed to them from every magazine cover; to women who talk to strangers and get in their cars without first checking the back seat for a lurking attacker. If you do not engage in risky behavior, if you stay home with people you know and trust (even though over half of teenage rapes happen in the victim’s own house or the house of a friend), then these things will not happen to you.
America, don’t believe the hype. What these rules really do is take the responsibility for rape away from society and place it on women themselves. Now, if you “get yourself raped” it’s not because our culture objectifies women and over-values men’s sexual conquest–it’s because you “engaged in risky behavior.” That’s why the image of the strange man in the parking lot haunts our collective dreams and shows up in movies like “The Lovely Bones” even though such cases are relatively rare. He, the psychopath, the deviant, is the only rapist we hate because his victims don’t break the rules and therefore can’t be explained away. As for all those other women being raped by their friends, lovers, and acquaintances–well, they shouldn’t have been out at night.
This week we at Brandeis are speaking out, both against sexual assault as a systematic oppression of women and against the fear-mongering and victim-blaming that allows us to ignore it. This Thursday at 7:00 pm we will march from Rabb Steps through campus, stopping in each quad to hold vigils and hear from students and administrators who are poets, survivors, and warriors. I invite you all to join us in our fight to Take Back the Night as a safe place for all people. I’ll see you there.