Society fosters rape, sexism and misogyny

By Brye

As advocates for the Program Against Sexual Violence and as women fighting to end rape and sexism, our first reaction to Kenneth Reily’s article, “U’s rape-free zone trivializes serious issue” (Wednesday) was one of anger, frustration, and disappointment. We feel it necessary to address the issues raised by Reily and challenge him to stop disempowering our effort, and thus become part of the solution rather than the problem.
The Rape Free Zone week is a collective effort to educate, rejuvenate, empower and break the silence surrounding rape in order to make ending sexual violence a priority. It empowers survivors by providing them the support necessary to move from being a victim to a survivor. It also provides anti-rape and anti-misogyny activists a time for rejuvenation and an opportunity to continue our own education on sexual violence. We hope this explanation enables Reily to understand the purpose of the Rape Free Zone and why his unfounded, stereotypical beliefs demeaned survivors and activists alike.
Reily exemplified his ignorance throughout his article but particularly in the questions he raised. First, he asked, “What does one do at a rally against rape?” Well, we make our presence known and bring sexual violence issues into the public sphere. We raise awareness and provide support for victims, survivors and anti-rape activists. We form a coalition that says, “We have had enough, and we will no longer accept an environment that allows sexual violence to continue.”
The second question he proposed was, “Who gains from politicizing crime?” Simply put, women and men — because the liberation of women means the liberation of men. By politicizing rape and the issues surrounding sexual violence, we are also providing an opportunity to dismantle a power structure that oppresses and objectifies women.
We do not need to respond to his third question, “What is the goal of the anti-rape activists?” The answer lies in Reily’s question itself: The goal of anti-rape activists is to eradicate rape.
Reily, in his attacks against the Rape Free Zone, once again expressed his misconception of our efforts. If Reily is so naive to think that chalking a section of sidewalk a “rape-free zone” will prevent an act of sexual violence, then he has sadly missed the point. First, creating rape-free “zones” simply is not feasible in today’s society nor desirable. Women should not be limited by boundaries in order to feel safe. Second, it is the responsibility of society, more specifically men, to transform our current belief system into one that does not tolerate, perpetuate nor condone violence against women. We say this because more than 90 percent of criminal sexual conduct charges are acts perpetrated by men against women (Bureau of Justice, 1994).
Reily continues to trivialize the experiences of victims and survivors when he mocks signing petitions and wearing buttons in protest of sexual violence. Women may sign petitions and women may wear buttons in a statement against sexual violence, but we do this to claim our own voice. We are speaking from our experiences and do not presume to speak for women as a whole. Just as wearing a U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone button will not guarantee his re-election, women wearing anti-rape buttons will not protect us from being raped or assaulted.
The remainder of Reily’s anti-rape rally scenario is also uninformed and ludicrous. For instance, he states, “They use dolls to demonstrate various forms of rape and sexual assault.” Unfortunately, too many women have already experienced the “various forms of rape and sexual assault.” We do not need dolls to educate us about rape, as we have our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and friends to speak from experience.
The next part of Reily’s scenario, where “afterward, there is a question-and-answer session with a person who was raped 25 years ago and can’t work to this day because of it,” angers and saddens us. He marginalizes the experiences of rape survivors and the healing process by perpetuating women as being only victims. Surviving a rape means learning how to live with your rape or assault on a daily basis. The pain may subside, but the memories last for a lifetime.
He goes on to say, “Finally, as everyone leaves, they are asked to fill out a survey entitled ‘You may have been raped if…’ If they answer ‘yes’ to one or more of the questions, they should call the police immediately.” From our experiences as advocates for victims of sexual violence, we couldn’t agree more. But it isn’t about checking little boxes, but rather, it entails reconceptualizing our ideas of what constitutes criminal sexual conduct. As a society and as individuals, we need to understand the majority of rape cases are not strangers jumping out of bushes but rather husbands, boyfriends, teachers, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. If we fail to do so, then we might not identify ourselves as rape victims nor be able to support others that have been raped.
The conceptualization of rape enables perpetrators to believe that their actions were not criminal, but were their right. In fact, 84 percent of men whose actions meet the legal definition of criminal sexual conduct believed they definitely did not commit rape. (This statistic is from a survey of 32 college campuses during the mid-1980s.) So Reily’s point that “the overwhelming majority of rapists realize what they are doing is wrong; telling them so won’t change their behavior” is misinformed. The small few who do recognize their criminal behavior often continue to commit rape. We must continue to educate. We realize we won’t change the behavior of every perpetrator, but if one rapist or potential rapist changes his misogynistic beliefs, then our struggle to end sexual violence is meaningful.
We cannot place all the educational burden on the parents, as Reily states, but rather make it the responsibility of society as a whole. The parents themselves work within a structure that objectifies and perpetuates violence against women. Rapists are not necessarily deviant, psychotic individuals, nor do they always come from deviant homes. On the contrary, they come from a background in which many of us can identify. To blame parents as the sole producers of a rapist oversimplifies the problem. Ending sexual violence requires a unified effort between parents and society in general.
Reily raised an important question when he wrote, “When will the problem be solved?” The unified effort, as we addressed previously, is one way the problem will be solved. A more obvious way is for men, such as Reily, to recognize their responsibility as men in a rape culture. Goals for women are to find our voice, support rape victims and educate ourselves so as not to perpetuate the very system that fosters misogyny and sexual violence.
Reily’s solution to the problem of rape — “Maybe the entire student population needs to be raped in order to understand.” — is asinine. You don’t need to be raped to understand the issues. You don’t need to be raped to sympathize. You don’t need to be raped to not rape. You need to educate yourself.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home … the neighborhood, the school or college, the factory, farm or office. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning here, they have little meaning anywhere.”
Reily did get one fact right, “One out of every four women is too many.” Thus, our message and purpose in writing this response is to both challenge individuals’ conceptions of sexual violence and encourage people to become activists. We hope that by responding to Reily, we encourage further dialogue between students concerning sexual violence issues. Nothing will change unless we transform ourselves.
To survivors of sexual violence and hate crimes, concerned friends, activists and all those interested: The Program Against Sexual Violence provides crisis intervention, advocacy, information and referral services, as well as education to members of the University community — students, staff and faculty. It also provides training on a quarterly basis for those interested in becoming peer advocates.
ù The correct business line number for the Program Against Sexual Violence is 625-6512.
ù The 24-hour crisis line is 626-1300.
ù The University Police Department is 624-3550.
ù The University free Escort Service is 624-WALK.
Melissa Lind and Brye Paetznick are peer advocates at the Program Against Sexual Violence.