Let me start by saying that assault and rape are absolutely not acceptable. That our society not only trains our men to become people who perpetuate it, many times while being completely blind to their actions and even defending them, but that even those who are blatantly and violently raping rarely, if ever, get the punishments we have deemed as "sufficient". Women do not ask to be raped. Sometimes, when they are literally asking for it, they don't mean it. How is one to tell the difference? And how are we to do so without "choosing a side" and condemning one of the participants?
Even inside of my gender and sexuality classes, we have not found an accurate definition for rape/assault. We want to say it's a physical transgression of someone's boundaries, but sometimes it's not even physical. According to legal jargon in Title IX, for schools to consider it "assault", there has to have been some form of penetration. This means, a stranger ejaculating into your sleeping face, for example, would NOT be considered a Title IX assault. Other discrepancies include the idea that rape must be violent, but in the case of a young teen in New Jersey (commented in forum at the conference for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality), the police refused to press charges on her boyfriend and his friends, plus an adult driver/cameraman, who pulled her into a van and brutally gang raped her while they recorded, simply because she never screamed the word "no". It is arguably one of the hardest concepts for us to break down.
For starters, our lives have been full of silences. Our sexual assaults marked by instances that explain them away. Guy at the bar slides his hand up her skirt and she swats it away. 6 drinks later she is leaning into it. Stranger flashes his limp dick, she didn't go report him because she didn't know his name. Private naked pictures revengefully posted on the web, our ex was probably just mad. Best friend's older brother that held you down, they're a good family and we don't want to cause them trouble. But all of us, we are currently in a place where the president has paid off the women who have been assaulted by him, and the opposing candidate is forcing people to choose between believing the woman he assaulted, or voting for him. I may venture to say this is the first time victim blaming has gone to the ballot, with the most public and quantifiable display of silencing ever seen.
Last night a story came up that I have heard before, an anecdote about the high school party days of a school I did not attend, in a land I did not grow up, much too close to my current home.
*Zoom into the open bedroom door with a line of boys spilling out into the hallway, follow it inside where a girl with no previous sexual experience is spread-eagle begging for more, some say begging to be filmed. The next morning she was regretful. The next school day she became suicidal. Eventually she left the school.*
"I was mad at her for that", she says. "mad that she put herself out there, that she was just letting everyone have it". I tell her the girl was raped repeatedly. "She was asking for it" she said. But she was wasted. "So was everyone else". THAT, I say, was rape.
I start to realize that our conversation shifts, no longer about a girl whose life was destroyed, but about the people who's life could potentially be affected (cause we sure as fuck know not ruined) if we had the audacity to call it rape/assault. Our ability to see the lack of consent as having occurred was clouded by finding a person responsible. It is this search for the responsible person that then transforms into forms of respectability politics, where we get to make comments like "she put herself out there" because we want to make people accountable for their own situations. It's the Fundamental Attribution Error: the idea that the things that happen to us are results of our environment but the things that happen to others are results of their own actions.
(easier example for the FAE: when a car in front of us starts swerving, we assume they are either a terrible driver or driving irresponsibly (texting, drunk, etc). But when WE start swerving, we straighten up the car and think "wow that a funny billboard" or "the wind is strong today"-never our fault.)
The trouble with the idea that someone is responsible for rape is that it is never the rapist.
Historically, systematically, unless there is violence and even then, as mentioned above, the rapist is never at fault. I don't know if this is something that started in the court rooms of medieval times or long before with public stonings but somehow it is alway a woman's responsibility to keep HERSELF safe. Keep HERSELF undesirable. You can cover yourself head to toe burka-style and there is still some aggressor daydreaming about your eyeliner, trust me on this one. It is impossible to keep oneself from getting raped, because rape was never your choice to begin with. Yet somehow, we continue to find reasons to doubt that the experience occurred the way it is described by the victim.
So how do we unravel rape/assault in a way that creates an inclusive definition where we can believe the people who have dealt with it without resulting to moral policing? I have a radical solution: eliminate rapists. No, I'm not calling for death sentencing. I am calling for eradicating the concept of a rapist, a sexual predator. It's time we take the "perpetrator" out of the equation. Yes, this means we are going to actively decide to not care about "who" is responsible, and therefore eliminate the option that it is the woman who is.
Studies are finding that drinking people tend to believe that they are in better shape to make decisions than their equally inebriated peers, and that the next morning, that idea shifts to the opposite: I was way too far gone and they were probably much better than I was. This completely explains the consent theory of the next morning regret. That night so many years ago, everyone was drunk and it seemed like a great idea. Were the boys taking advantage? Possibly. Were they enjoying themselves? Possibly.
Did they think she was enjoying herself? Probably. Was she enjoying herself? Likely. Was it rape? Yes.
Here's why: First, one cannot give consent if one doesn't have a level head (this means sober), it actually goes against the definition of consent. Secondly, a child under the age of 17, according to the law in the state (18 in others), cannot consent to sex. Potentially third: she regretted it in sobriety. You can have consensual sex while drunk if you would've made the same choice while sober, which she did not.
Now here is the big question> are the boys rapists? not necessarily. Should they be held responsible? I would assume most of us would say no.
This scenario shows us that the existence of the looming rapist cloud really only clouds our ability to see the situation for what it was, to validate the emotions and experience of the victim because we default into the fundamental attribution error mode. This is something that occurred so she must have done it. Removing the idea that every person who is assaulted has been assaulted by someone we should label a rapist/predator creates a space where one is free of finger pointing, and therefore kinder to women in general.
Not to mention the uncountable number of people who do not come forward because they don't know if the person "realized" they were being coercive, or don't want to go through the system. We make choices to stay silent because the process of pressing charges and seeing them through falls directly on the victim, and when the charges don't go anywhere we become a statistic on the side of the "fake rape allegations" and our community immediately invalidates our experience. So what if your story didn't have to result in a dramatic criminal case? Would victims be more likely to be given access to tools to heal? Would they be believed more freely and unquestionably? Without the double edged blade in their hands that can hurt the attacker while injuring their own image and credibility- would more women get the support they need? I believe, yes.
The last thing anyone who has dealt with assault needs is to be questioned about where it "actually counts" or if you are just regretting it. These interrogations are directly a consequence of a system of punishment where we need to hold people responsible. So what if there was no one responsible? What if we could keep all of the attention on the person who was hurt and find ways to heal them instead of putting them through an inquisition where, let's face it, she will most likely be seen as the aggressor or at the very least, the instigator.
If we work steadfast to eliminate the idea of an aggressor, the narrative changes completely and gives us all the freedom to do the work. We want to act like we are shocked and outraged by rape and assault, but we do nothing but demand a head on a platter that we didn't even want to pay for. And then question if the platter is silver, if the head has been groomed enough for presenting, if there is too much blood, and if the knife was sharp enough. We must acknowledge that demanding that women to call out their rapists really means demanding to scrutinize a woman's behavior. And I, for one, want out.
PS. Gang bangs can be wholesome, joyful and respectful experiences for all involved.