A hot button issue in the media lately is the inevitable fact that one in four college women will be sexually assaulted in their time on campus. Lady Gaga’s unforgettable “Til It Happens To You” has shed a much needed light on the stigma and shame that comes with being a victim of rape or sexual assault. Recently, as the conversation of college rape came up in conversation with a couple of my male friends, one of them said
“If women don’t want to be raped, they should not put themselves in situations where rape is possible.”
While in theory, this is a wonderful (can you sense my sarcasm?) solution to not only a problem, but an epidemic in which women and men are violated, I have a couple problems with this reasoning.
- Rape is a possibility in nearly any situation
Nearly any situation that does not involve sitting in your room with the door locked, there is a possibility to be raped. Similarly, as every time you drive your car, there is an opportunity for a car crash- except the car is not a car, the car is the body in which you live.
Not only are most women at a constant risk for rape, it is not my, or any woman’s job to not “put myself in a situation where rape is possible”. Is it advisable as a small bodied woman to get blackout intoxicated in a frat house with a 10:1 male to female ratio? No, but even so, it is the aggressor’s job not to rape or take advantage of someone. The solution here is not pointing the finger at the victim and saying that he or she should not have put themselves in certain situations, the solution here is to realize we have a major societal issue in which some individuals feel they are entitled to a person’s body and entitled to sex- and will stop at nothing to get it. While men are also victims of sexual violence, the primary target in today’s culture is women. Women are human beings, who have feelings, hopes, dreams, and fears that include being taken advantage of, women are not objects to be forcefully used by some men for their own personal gain. As great a solution as it would be, we cannot bubble wrap all women to shield them from rape and sexual assault. Avoiding a situation where rape is possible would entail not going to college at all, does this mean that because women are typically victims of rape they should not get an education? It is not fair that women are told to avoid, while the majority of men should simply be told to not rape people.
- This is a form of victim blaming
Unfortunately, the reason victim blaming is an all too easy path to walk down is because of the unwillingness of some men, and women to realize we have a major, major, societal issue- one that is an epidemic and will affect all too many people in their lifetime. One in four women will be violated, and 2.78 million men in the United States have already been sexually assaulted. Why is it so hard to understand that this is a problem for the United States? Not only the amounts of mass rape going on, but the amount of victim blaming we participate in and condone. The worst and biggest fear of a sexual assault survivor is not being believed. The incident of assault is traumatic enough, but having people tell you that should should have done X, and shouldn’t have done Y is not only immensely unproductive, but it is hurtful and disrespectful to the trauma one may have experienced. Awareness must be spread about the trauma an individual can experience and feel. Often, the assault is only the beginning of a storm that can wreak havoc on a victim’s life. Flashbacks, depression, self harm, PTSD, anxiety, and more can all have life altering affect on those who have been assaulted.
The only solution to these problems is awareness, awareness of the fact that the picture of a woman or man who has experienced trauma is not the one most people fit. We picture a person who cannot get out of bed, who is a constant wreck and basket case, and someone who will never be “normal” again. While yes, at some point this may be a lot of victims’ truth, it rarely stays that way forever. A “normal” life like before is and never will be attained, but adjusting to a new normal and making the uphill journey of recovery and empowerment is a road many victims face. While rape and sexual assault is a traumatic and revolting act, empowerment is like bleach that disinfects the dirty feeling many victims feel. How do we empower those who have been affected? Releasing the stigma we have, talking about it, refraining from victim blaming, and supporting your friends and loved ones who have been through a traumatic experience is the only way.
For many victims, a feeling of revenge and anger at the world may take root. This is what we as a generation and as a society must fight just as heavily against as we do rape, the best revenge against an attacker is not letting your victimization define you. Being happy and successful in your own way is becoming a survivor, helping other victims, and standing tall, strong, and empowered as once a victim- becoming survivor is something we must help the one in four do.
Being a victim feels vulnerable, sad, and scared, but being a survivor is strong, powerful, and proud. Recognizing victim blaming and protecting the victims from such is where we start, and where we end as a generation? We never stop fighting for respect and love for others, instead of violence and exploitation, we end as survivors in the recognition of our problem- instead of our current state as victims of our problem.