I suggest if you don’t want to read about a heavy topic, you go on to a different blog; this is going to be a doozy. We’re talking rape, discussion of rape culture, and also discussion of victim blaming from a cultural lens (FYI: If you want to see a great article about rape culture, go ahead and click over to BuzzFeed).
Last night, as I ate dinner with my parents, who were watching the news in Spanish, there was a segment about college campus sexual assaults in Columbia, Princeton, and other Ivy League schools across the United States. I was immediately on edge because as an advocate for victims, as someone who has worked extensively in the field against sexual assault and against victim blaming, I knew that what could be said would trigger a reaction from me.
I wasn’t prepared for what followed from my own parents.
I have done my best since I began college to keep the things I witnessed as an advocate and the things I heard quiet because both of my parents tend to lean back towards their cultural upbringings. Case in point, during the segment, one of the young women admitted to having been drunk during her first assault and then revealed that a year later, she was raped by a boy she was dating casually after a night out where he bought her drinks. My mother immediately scoffed and said that she was stupid for getting drunk, especially since she had already been assaulted once before. What did she expect to happen if she got drunk?
I wanted to bite my tongue but I couldn’t–not only because I have seen what victims go through as they try to heal but because as a feminist, I couldn’t justifiably be silent. “Bad judgement,” I said firmly, “is NOT a rapeable offense.” My mother snapped back that if I was stupid enough to get drunk, then the consequences of that were on my choice. I firmly responded that she was wrong; it is not the responsibility of young women to police other people. We deserve the right to be able to go have a few drinks and safely arrive home. We deserve to be treated like human beings by those around us, even if our ability to make decisions is impaired in some way.
She continued to protest, calling the victims on the television stupid, and claiming that if she was going to go somewhere, she wouldn’t trust anyone to take care of her. I was appalled and offended that my own mother was blaming the victims for what happened to them–I was even more appalled when my father tried to defend her point of view. I cut both of them off and said that they were wrong.
No matter how you try to say it, how you try to justify a bad judgement call, there is still no reason for anyone to take advantage of someone’s inebriated state. Be that state from alcohol or drugs or even exhaustion, NO ONE has the right to take advantage and NO ONE has the right to blame anyone other than the person who CHOOSES to take advantage.
“I am so sick,” I told my parents, “Of people telling women that we shouldn’t get raped. We shouldn’t drink, we shouldn’t wear this, or do that or go there or LEAVE our homes, just in case. How about we teach people not to rape instead? How about that?”
Neither had a response to me.
After dinner, I ruminated over what happened and I tried to figure out why they would blame the victims, why they would suggest that it was their fault instead of the people who took advantage. I recalled another conversation over dinner about the topic of human trafficking and how neither of my parents wanted to admit that it occurs in their country of birth. Ironically enough, an article in that month’s Time magazine was about human trafficking and it was full of facts regarding the reality behind that particular issue, including Central America’s own problem around human trafficking. The denial that my parents showed about that issue came to the forefront during this argument between my mother and I.
I am saddened by the fact that the two people I look up too, even now at 31 years of age, are unwilling to understand that it is not the victim’s fault if they are assaulted. However, I can’t blame them either because they are merely a product of their cultural upbringing; as two people who grew up during the 12 year long civil war that continues to tear their birth country apart, they both subconsciously have taken on certain cultural beliefs and mentalities that can’t be erased. Abuse or sexual assault of any kind is not discussed openly–they are the dark secrets that plague Latin American communities within the USA and also outside of the States.
There are so many people out there who have survived these horrendous acts that were done to them; I know and have befriended many. It is so disheartening to hear what people I love and respect say when it comes to this type of topic, and it is so disappointing as well.
When I was twenty-two, my best friend and I planned a night out with another group of friends as the youngest of them was finally turning eighteen. I was looking forward to a night of dancing and sweating out all the stress from classes and work; I was excited to thrown on some tight jeans and forget about the realities I had seen that week or heard from survivors.
I warned the girls to be careful; don’t take any open containers from people, even water because there had been a rash of incidents all over the city at different bars and clubs. The girls all said I was being lame and I merely sighed because youth is blissfully ignorant.
When we got to the club, one of two eighteen and over clubs in the city, we all immediately made our way to the dance floor. After some time, my best friend and I decided we wanted water and made our way to the bar to purchase a bottle to share; the birthday girl was there, talking to a guy she had met. He was buying her a water as well and the bartender handed it over.
The cap was open.
I immediately went over and took the bottle from my friend, smiled politely at the bartender and the guy, requested an unopened bottle, and watched as the bartender returned with a new bottle, the seal tightly shut. The guy was angry and demanded to know who I was, to which I replied, “Her friend. Who are you?” as our eyes locked.
He knew I knew what his game was; the bartender watched with a wary eye and I kept my eyes focused on this asshole who was trying to pull one over on my young, naive friend. Even though I was only twenty-two, I had been working in the field of sexual assault for 2 years by then. I knew exactly what this guy was trying to do and I wasn’t going to let them get away with it.
My friend was furious with me, claimed I was embarrassing her. The guy she had been talking too broke eye contact with me as I looked at her and my best friend pulled her away, hissing for her to be quiet. The guy stepped forward to try to reach my friend and I planted myself in his way, legs spread, knees loose and ready to kick out with my steel-toed boots that had been all over the city with me since I turned eighteen, in alleys and dive bars and raves.
“Don’t even try it,” I warned him.
Understand this, I am not the most physically intimidating person; I am only five-feet tall and only have what little self-defense training I’ve learned over the years. Yet there was no way in hell I was going to let this guy intimidate me to get to my friend, even if she didn’t appreciate it.
Hindsight is 20/20; I know now that if he had chosen to get violent, I probably would have wound up with some serious bruises or maybe I would have been arrested for brawling. Yet the guy seemed to rightly realize that I wasn’t budging, threw his hands up, and walked away into the darkness of the club. I immediately turned to my best friend and our friend, who threw a tantrum and walked way, angry that I “ruined her night”. I sighed and look at my best friend, who shrugged.
This is what happens when you become aware of what goes on in the world; when you have the rose colored lenses stripped away from your eyes and no matter how much easier it was to not know these things, you can’t put those lenses back on. You won’t because you find yourself better able to help those around you, to understand how these people who have been violated in the most basic way survive and thrive and become more than the label they are given for making one bad judgement call.
I’ve heard other women called slut, whore, cock-tease, and other derogatory terms by men who are angry they won’t acknowledge them. I’ve been called a bitch, frigid, asked if I need a good hard fuck to get over my issues. I’ve been told that if I am stupid enough to trust the men around me, then I deserve whatever happens. I’ve been taught to be afraid that I will someday be another statistic because I was born a women, and my worth is only equal the value of what is between my legs.
This is wrong.
This is rape culture.
This is what needs to be changed.
This is why I identify as a feminist; no one is going to tell me that I don’t deserve the same rights of safety and existence as everyone else. I deserve the right to be able to walk home without fear of being assaulted, to have a drink after a long week at work or school, to enjoy my time with friends without being afraid that they may take advantage of my inebriated state.
I am aware of the size difference between myself and other people; I have been aware of this since I was old enough to realize that my size was seen as a weakness. So I make up for it by having a large presence, a skill I learned working in the field and dealing with people who wouldn’t give the respect my clients and I deserved. I make up for my lack of physical intimidation by being brutally honest to the point of cruelty. These skills I learned as I moved from private school education to community college realities, have saved my life more times than I can count.
I refuse to allow anyone, be they stranger, friend, or family, to blame the victims. Because if I hadn’t made certain choices, I would have been a victim myself and I would have heard that question that so many ask:
“Why didn’t you fight back?”
I want my nieces and nephews to grow up in a world where rape is obsolete; where consent is taught to all children from the time they are young and unable to fathom the ugliness that exists. I want people to understand that until we force this change to happen, until all victims are not blamed and receive justice, regardless of their state of mind when the incident occurred, this will not stop.
We will still have young women and men shamed and forced to retreat into silence; we will still have media outlets sympathizing with the perpetrators and not the victims; we will still demand an explanation and rationalization for why this woman or man was the victim of that moment.
We will still wrongly blame the victim.