The Thin Line Between Consent and Rape

The National Center for Victims of Crime estimates  that 16% of rapes are reported each year. 44% of rape victims are under the age of 18. 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. Approximately 2/3 of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known by the victim.

When I asked to write a column about consent for The Circle Voice, I encountered varied reactions. Some were enthusiastic, some were indifferent, and some were confused. I was told that it had no immediate connection to Groton, and a few expressed concern that it would stir up a lot of trouble. And that is where the problem lies. We are safeguarded in this bubble, where few bad things are supposed to happen, and we are all supposed to learn from our mistakes.

Most of us don’t even realize the extent of these incidents in our society. Just because an actual conviction does not follow doesn’t mean what happened was not rape. But whether it occurs on a campus or off, whether a student is the perpetrator or not, sexual assault happens. Not only is the assault itself a concern, but also the lack of awareness and the fact that some of those who are aware do not consider what happened rape.

People know that rape is wrong, but some don’t know what rape is. The legal definition of rape is forced sexual intercourse. Sexual assault is defined as unwanted sexual contact. Rape is so much more than a faceless attacker dragging a girl into a dark alleyway and holding a gun to her head. In eight out of ten rapes, nothing other than physical force is used. Sexual assault is more than a stranger coming out of nowhere; sexual assault is any activity where the victim does not and/or cannot give consent.

Rape can be perpetrated by someone the victim has previously had sexual relations with, and it can be perpetrated by the victim’s significant other. No means no, regardless of situation. If the victim is incapacitated by alcohol or other drugs, unconscious, or asleep, consent cannot be legally given. Taking advantage of someone who is at a party, stumbling around drunk, is rape. Not only is it illegal, it’s immoral.

A large part of the problem is existing ignorance of what rape is. There are too many people who have experienced some kind of sexual assault who don’t even realize it. We have this picture in our head of an unknown psychopath, coming to grab helpless girls of the street. Usually, the perpetrators are whom you would least expect. The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey revealed that nearly one out of every five women in America has been a victim of rape or attempted rape.

Even if sexual intercourse does not occur, sexual assault is still an utterly and completely gross violation of the law. Few offenders are reported, and even fewer are convicted. Most victims do not report their experiences to the police because they often feel guilty, thinking that they could have prevented it, but what some people, victims and others alike, don’t understand is that rape is entirely the fault of the rapist. Sometimes the victim feels that sexual assault is so common that it doesn’t matter. If the victim does choose to report the assault and endure the exhaustive and painful process, the police can be insensitive, uninterested, and indifferent. Victims are asked what they were wearing, why they were with the perpetrator in the first place, and how much they had had to drink. Many instances that are, in fact, criminal are taken lightly because that kind of behavior is considered normal.

The issue of consent is just an element of a larger, underlying rape culture. If you’ve never heard the term, rape culture is the product of a society that overlooks misogyny and trivializes sexual violence. Rape culture is victim-blaming, glorifying violent masculinity, and slut-shaming. It normalizes the behavior of rapists; if a rape joke is told and laughed at around a rapist, it shows him or her that rape is tolerable.

Another significant part of rape culture is the way our society deals with sexual education. We have had Model Mugging since 1991 to teach girls how to defend themselves, and while self-defense is beneficial knowledge for anyone, the school obligates female students to take the course, which is a twenty-hour time commitment. The boys take one, brief leadership class—if they want to. This discrepancy is another manifestation of rape culture. We have things like Model Mugging because women learn to expect this kind of abuse. The blame is put on women, and not only causes significant harm to women, but marginalizes any male victims.

What we need is better sex education. In addition to the anatomy, substances, and body image issues we learned in middle school health class, we need to be taught about date rape, abuse, and the prevention of assault. We are instructed to dress, drink, and act modestly—to not get raped.

When will we start teaching people to not rape? I can’t remember the last time our society focused on, “Why did he rape her?” rather than, “What was she wearing?” or “How much did she have to drink?” But rape doesn’t happen to women alone. Though an overwhelming majority of rape victims are female, rape can happen to anyone.

People belittle instances of male rape because of certain pressures placed on men. They’re supposed to be dominant, sexually aggressive, and eager for sex, and this stereotype makes male victims seem as if they should not be affected by the fact that they were raped. Rape is an extremely serious offense, and no one deserves to be shamed, mocked, or belittled about his or her experience.

Too many stories have been, in fact, criminal, but taken lightly because that kind of behavior is considered normal. Rather than normalizing assault, we need to educate and prevent assault from happening at the source, and we need to stop perpetuating rape culture.

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