Last week, Anna at Jezebel discussed an article in the American Prospect about combating the campus rape crisis. The writer, Jaclyn Friedman, proposes that instead of teaching female students how to avoid geting raped, we should be educating men on how to avoid being rapists.
At about this time every year, adult anxiety about sexual assault reaches a tipping point and gives way to an avalanche of advice to young women from campuses, commentators, and parents alike: Don't hook up! Don't dress provocatively! Watch your drink! Actually, don't drink at all! Always stay with a friend! Don't stay out too late! Don't walk home alone! Etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam.
And every year, it fails to work. A 2007 Department of Justice-funded trend analysis of rape studies over time revealed that rates of rape haven't declined in the past 15 years — in fact, they may be increasing.
As early as the eighth grade, I was being taught to watch my drink at a party, and to always buddy up if I was going someplace where I wouldn't know a lot of the people. Not until very recently have I thought that there is something very warped about the rules we teach young women about how to avoid being raped, as if it is an act of God, something that just happens. Anna writes:
Even though I know that, for my own safety, I need to be aware of the potential threat of assault, it frustrates me that managing the threat is so often treated as women's responsibility.
So how can we end the campus rape crisis, and how would we teach men not to be rapists? Friedman has some suggestions:
Schools would stop telling girls to mind their liquor so they don't "get themselves" raped and start teaching young men that alcohol is never an excuse to "get away" with anything. They would offer bystander training, so that all students on campus know what it looks like when someone's sexual boundaries are being violated and what to do if they see that happening. They would teach students that the only real consent is the kind that's freely and enthusiastically given, removing the "she didn't exactly say no" excuse that too many rapists hide behind. And their campus policies would support prevention, recovery, and justice, not dismissiveness, victim-blaming, and denial.When girls are given "rules" to follow to avoid sexual assault, it places the responsibility of not getting raped on their shoulders. Then if they are raped, they are more prone to think it was their fault, because they must not have been following the rules closely enough. They must have left their drink for a minute, or wore the wrong shirt, or didn't stick with their friend. This victim blaming keeps women from reporting their rapes, continuing the cycle. And these "rules" are not just bad for women, they are bad for men as well, because it makes women think all men are just predators, when the majority of them aren't.
Ending sexual assault still seems like a pie-in-the-sky idea, even to me. I'll admit that the first time I saw "Stop Rape" graffitied in an alleyway in my college town, I let out a bitter laugh. But maybe I'd feel less like that if the schools I went to had been better at "taking responsibility for rape prevention off of the potential victims and placing it where it belongs — with the potential perpetrators and with the adults and institutions whose job it is to keep young people safe." And maybe if colleges — and everyone responsible for teaching young people — followed Friedman's suggestions, then the women who come after me won't have to live in fear.