It feels like we only discuss sexual assault, collectively, on social media. Sighs. But, talking about it via socials is helping erase the taboo surrounding something so familiar to many. As much as people would like to act like rape and other sexual violence are just foreign terrifying acts we’ve heard of or seen depicted on screens, they aren’t. They are real life every day tragedies. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. However, various demographic factors increase vulnerability for certain people. Women are especially impacted by assault. In the U.S. one in three women experience some kind of sexual violence in their lives, with 91% of victims of sexual assault and rape being female. More now than ever I see girls and women speaking up and speaking out about their experiences. Rape culture has been present for generations and women are demanding justice (which often must take place at their own hands).
Rape culture has been normalized because the teaching that women are not their own has subtly touched almost every aspect of our lives. Rape culture in short, is the normalcy of women being sexually degraded and violated. The idea of autonomy is often discouraged directly or indirectly. We can look to media, how girls are raised, gender roles, religion, politics, and power dynamics in society to see these themes. Society at large has taught us to always ‘be nice’, to ‘be someone’s’, to ‘be a woman like this’, etc. We are taught to reject male harassment or advancement by being kind because we don’t want any trouble. We are taught ‘boys will be boys’. We are taught to shrink. We are taught to be seen seldom heard. All of which happen in some shape or form through socialization. That is the first wrong planted in our subconscious, the idea that we are not our own.
The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Consent refers to permission, access from someone to something. Not having consent means violating someone’s boundaries. A simple concept right? Unfortunately, we are continuously met with justifications about why boys and men are violating the boundaries of girls and women. These justifications sound like ‘well what was she wearing’ ‘she put herself in that position’ and all things alike. The common denominator is blame being placed on the victim instead of the perpetrator. Girls and women are shamed, ridiculed, gaslighted, ignored, and chastised for being victims. Imagine that. The aforementioned explain why stories go untold. Many are forced into silence, into darkness, and into hiding for something someone else did.
When victims, come forward, they face groups of people ready to condemn them. People are ready to invalidate their stories, reject their trauma, attack their character, and demean their bravery. It’s interesting that the same people crucifying survivors or defending perpetrators of sexual crimes, because they are indeed criminal acts, always know exactly what a victim should’ve done. They have a million solutions to what women and girls should do to not be assaulted but none for people to stop assaulting.
Ultimately, patriarchy is why girls and women are treated as if their sexual trauma is their fault. The conversation around sexual assault becomes an attack when we are asked questions that allude to us being responsible for the actions of a perpetrator. The most common string of excuses I see and hear tend to fixate on whether or not women adhere to societal standards (which reinforce rape culture). For example, girls and women are blamed for what they wore, what time of day they were out, the impression they gave, or what activity they were doing. These ideas really imply that sexual assault is going to happen to women who do not follow a certain set of rules. But with some sense and research, anyone would know that is not the case. There is no particular circumstance that leads to assault; the only particular thing leading to assault is an abuser. That’s it. Sexual abuse does not happen to women and girls because of what they do, it has absolutely nothing to do with them and everything to do with the perpetrator.
Nobody wants to hear it, but sexually degrading and violating the female body is taught. It is a learned behavior that is reinforced through acts like cat calling, encouraging intoxication to lower inhibition, watching violent/degrading pornography, touching without consent, sexual irresponsibility, and harassment to name a FEW. All reinforce the thought of maintaining male dominance and assertiveness regardless of desire on the end of the opposing party.
The solution to ending rape and other sexual assault is teaching against sexual violence. It is teaching respect for the female body. There is no such thing as being proactive when it comes to these experiences. Forced vigilance is not equivalent to being proactive because it is survival. Women and girls are not out here assaulting themselves. The numbers don’t make themselves up. Education on rape culture is prevention. Respecting ALL female bodies is prevention. Understanding autonomy is prevention. Honoring consent is prevention. How not to get assaulted? How about how not to assault.