Sexual Assault Myths Perpetuate Problem
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 13:10
While both men and women commit and are the survivors of sexual violence, I find that many men don’t feel as if they have a role in the movement against it. They themselves don’t rape, so they think that’s enough. Yet the prevalence of sexual violence has major consequences for all of us.
At a time when one in four women and one in 33 men will experience sexual assault while college-aged, there is no escaping this issue. According to the National College Health Assessment, sexual assault statistics at Georgetown mirror national rates. Your friends, your roommates, your lab partner or a teammate on your intramural soccer team — survivors are everywhere, regardless of whether you choose to acknowledge it.
Women are taught from an early age to prevent their own assault, while men are cast as perpetrators. Women walking home alone at night fear men and often quicken their pace if they see one. They hesitate when a seemingly nice guy offers to walk them home or offers them a drink. Being sensitive to these issues is invaluable if you plan on going into any career that puts you in the public eye — don’t make a mistake like Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) discussing “legitimate rape.”
So I’ve begun to ask the men in my life questions in order to understand their lack of enthusiasm for the cause. I’m weary of their ambivalence.
During my time as co-chair of Take Back the Night, I’ve heard a lot of talk about gray areas and false reporting — there are few things that boil my blood more than people referring to an assault as a “misunderstanding.” I’d like to clear up a few myths.
To start, our flawed depiction of sexual assault hinders our ability to address it. Just to be clear — sexual violence is never the result of the survivor’s actions. Whether a survivor was wearing sweats or lingerie, had a sexual history or was a virgin, had never met the perpetrator or was the person’s partner, tried to fight off the perpetrator or went with him intentionally, sexual violence is never warranted. No one is ever “asking for it.”
Perpetrators are often upstanding citizens. Alcohol or other substances are frequently involved and survivors often voluntarily end up in the location of their assault. These factors contribute to gray areas or misunderstandings. But what seems to be a gray area on the outside is rarely a gray area on the inside.
Gray area No. 1: Sexual violence versus regretting a hookup.
No one is confusing hookups and sexual assault or regretting a hookup and accusing rape. Yet survivors hear this all the time. Someone who simply regrets a hookup would have no incentive to report the incident. But according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, only 2 to 8 percent of reports of sexual assault are false. Let’s be clear: There is no underground business in revenge reporting.
Gray area No. 2: Lack of consent as a “misunderstanding.”
Consent is rarely elusive or ambiguous. Most people already ask for consent indirectly — for example, asking if their partner is “into it” or “likes it.” Let’s give men the benefit of the doubt; they can tell whether or not their partner consents. It isn’t hard to ascertain whether a partner is explicitly saying “no” or if the person is unmoving and looks terrified. The majority of men and women respect a lack of consent — at worst, they would call their partner a tease and be sexually frustrated. Few would use coercion or force.
Gray area No. 3: Alcohol.
Just as drunken hookups are not sexual assault, trying to hook up with someone drunk doesn’t make you a perpetrator. Rather, a sexual assault might involve hooking up with someone who is so intoxicated that they are unconscious or unresponsive or ensuring that someone reaches an extreme level of intoxication with a premeditated goal of taking advantage of him or her.
Clearly, both men and women have a role to play in addressing this problem — calling sexual violence a women’s issue is like calling water pollution a fish’s issue. This is an issue that everyone should take seriously, and if we want to respond appropriately to survivors and perpetrators, there needs to be greater dialogue to address myths and misconceptions.
KATHLEEN KELLEY is a junior in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. She is co-chair of Take Back the Night.