Last week, Brock Turner, a former Stanford University student, was sentenced to six months in county jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Since the ruling, people have been outraged by the lenient sentence handed down by the judge, one that has the potential to be cut down to just three months. (Turner's release date is set for Sep. 2.) Unfortunately, some observers have come to Turner's defense, blaming his action on a culture of "sexual promiscuity" and "binge drinking." However, these statements perpetuate a violent and dangerous cycle of sexual abuse. Here are five myths about rape, along with comebacks to counter them.
Sexual assault is a serious problem in the United States, and it affects Americans at a staggering rate. One out of six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and 90 percent of all adult rape victims are female. Trans people are at a higher risk of sexual assault, and 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming college students are victims of sexual violence, according to RAINN. Further, according to a National Violence Against Women Survey, 18.8 percent of black women reported being raped at some point in their life.
Because the rate of sexual violence proves a serious problem in this country, it is imperative for people to understand the ways that they perpetuate different violent discourses about rape and sexual assault.
MYTH: The Victim Was Raped Because Of Their Clothing Or Alcohol Consumption
Too often in cases of sexual assault, people will blame the victim for their own abuse by claiming that the individual was wearing something that was "too revealing," or if they were intoxicated. During Brock Turner's trial, for instance, the victim was questioned by the defense attorney who asked, "When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? ... What were you wearing?"
Comeback: Regardless of what a person is wearing, or how much they had to drink, an individual is never to blame for being assaulted. When we tell women not to dress in clothing that is too revealing, or not to drink too much when they're out — as a means of avoiding rape — what we're really saying is that it's their job to avoid being raped, and that it's OK to sexually violate a person's body if they aren't protecting themselves by covering up, or drinking less.
A victim of sexual assault is never to blame for what happened. It's never OK to ask a victim what they were wearing when they were assaulted because no amount of clothing prevents or excuses rape, and it's not a person's job to prevent their own rape. It's always the fault of the abuser.
MYTH: Rape Isn't A Big Problem/Rape Doesn't Happen Often
Some people might suggest that rape doesn't happen often, so it's not a big problem. The truth is, sexual assault occurs more frequently than you may realize, and it is perpetuated by a number of societal factors. For instance, the masculinist domination of public spaces and the sexualization and commodification of female bodies both contribute to the way people perceive women — not as people, but as sexualized objects.
Comeback: Rape is a bigger problem than you realize. It happens every day and in the most familiar settings. Americans are victims of sexual violence every two minutes and in any given year, 61,000 children are sexually assaulted. More broadly, 284,000 Americans from age 12 and up are sexually assaulted each year, according to RAINN. That's a bigger problem than you may have dreaded. But did you know that you may not hear much about this because only 344 of every 1,000 sexual assaults will ever be reported to police?
MYTH: Rape Is The Only Kind Of Sexual Assault
Some might believe that sexual assault means only rape, which is most often perceived as sexual penetration. However, sexual violence has different forms and people of various genders and sexualities can be victims. Engaging in a sexual act that your partner is not OK with is violent.
Comeback: Rape is far from the only form of sexual abuse. Any sexual act that takes place between two or more people where consent has not been confirmed is sexual assault. How do you know if it's consensual? Well, the best way to know is to ask. Before moving forward with any sexual activity, check in with your partner. It's important and always better to ask, "Is this OK?" or "Do you want to...?"
MYTH: The Perpetrator Is Also A Victim
Brock Turner's father wrote a letter to the judge pleading for a short sentence for his son. His reasoning was that the 14 years he could have faced would be a "steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action." Turner's father also wrote, "Brock's life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. ... His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. ... He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015." This letter paints Turner as a victim and alleges that his actions were not violent.
Comeback: The only victim in a case of sexual assault is the person who was violated. The only person who could have prevented the assault is the abuser. Sexual violence is always, only the fault of the person who acted, and they are absolutely not a victim, regardless of the backlash or punishment they receive. (However, only 3 out of every 100 rapists will ever spend a single day in prison, so punishment is often rare.)
MYTH: It's A Woman's Job To Protect Herself Against Sexual Violence
Rape and sexual assault broadly are connected to violent, patriarchal hetero-masculinity. And while women are often told to protect ourselves from sexual assault by covering up, controlling our alcohol consumption, or using nail polish that changes color if our drinks are drugged, prevention is not on us.
Comeback: When you say that it's a woman's job to take the necessary precautions to prevent rape, you're saying that it's on your friend, your sister, your girlfriend, your daughter — rather than addressing the root of the problem. This is a form of victim blaming. Women can absolutely take precautions that make us feel safer, but we shouldn't have to and should not be blamed if we don't.
Instead, consensual language and engagements should be taught and practiced from an early age. It's never OK to take what you want without confirming first with the person you are taking from. Consent is simply a matter of mutual exchange between people.
Images: RAINN (1)