I Can't Remain Silent

Rape Culture

I recently read something that said, “whatever it is that you’re most afraid to write, that is what you should write." So, here goes…

In reading about the recent events surrounding the Stanford Rape Trial, in which Brock Turner was sentenced to a mere 6 months of jail for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster - an act for which he was stopped and caught, an act for which he tried to flee, and an act to which he admitted, yet denied any wrongdoing - I cannot remain silent. My emotional response to this life-altering choice is composed of so many layers - my response to the reprehensible act itself, to the woman to whom this trauma was forced upon, to Brock, to Brock’s father who defended him, to the two young men who stopped him and held him until police arrived, and then, to the throngs of people reacting to this case, from all sides.

I am a survivor of college rape. My heart sobs for this young woman, knowing all too well, the litany of emotions, questions, and inevitable ‘what if’s' that will likely follow her into the years to come. I don’t know her. Other than reading the very brave letter she wrote to her attacker, I don’t know her story either. Rape affects everyone differently. I can only hope that light pierces her darkness and the rest of her story is filled with hope, and a grief that gives way to healing, triumph, and love. You are never the same after this kind of trauma. It becomes a part of you, woven into your story at very unwanted intervals. My hope is that it does not become her identity nor the measure of her worth.

I weep when I begin to think of the countless women, 1 in every 4, out there who have experienced sexual trauma. I ache for the ones who are still carrying this pain inside, feeling too afraid or too ashamed to share it with anyone. I think about the many incidents of rape that go unnoticed, unbelieved, and unpunished. This leads me to Mr. Turner, Brock’s father, who pleaded to the judge, saying that Brock’s life has essentially been ruined by his "poor choice" and that prison was a harsh sentence for “20 minutes of action.” To you, Mr. Turner,  I say this:

It has been over 20 years since I was raped and yet I still find myself emotionally undone as I read about how your son chose to rape an unconscious woman. It is still triggering, even after doing a tremendous amount of work and healing around my own trauma, even after meeting and marrying a man who loves in such a way that much of my mistrust for men has been redeemed. But you, sir, have no idea the deep reaching and long lasting effects that a violation like this has on someone. You have no idea what it is like to live every day - attempting to trust your own instincts, believe your own worth, engage in healthy relationships, and love people deeply - when someone once took it upon himself to decide that what he wanted in the moment was of greater importance than you and what you wanted or did not want, and then used his power to take it from you. As a parent myself, I can't imagine how devastating it must be to witness your son make a conscious choice to hurt and violate another human being. I suspect that, right or wrong, I would call into question my own parenting and all that I had taught or failed to teach my son. I don’t have a clue how you raised your son, what you did or didn’t model to him about relating to women and respecting boundaries. And regardless of what we teach our children, we cannot control them. They will still make their own choices, so I have no judgment for you there. But I think your greatest visible failure as a parent came when you did not advise your son to take full responsibility for his actions and instead, further victimized this woman by painting your son as the victim and discouraged him from accepting the consequences of his choice. There is a huge difference between continuing to love your child no matter his choices and defending your child’s choices, attempting to reduce his consequences. That is not love. That is failure to love.

How is it that we live in a culture in which a crime so devastating receives so minor a consequence? How is it that someone ever thinks he {because it's often a he, but not always} has the right to take whatever he wants from another person at any cost? How is it that we live in a culture in which the acts of attempting to force, coerce, possess, or control another human being are still not seen as wrong by so many? Is it any wonder that women are still so afraid to come forward and speak of their trauma? 

Whether we want to admit it or not, a rape culture not only exists but permeates the fabric of our society. There are those who still seem to be confused about the wrongfulness of rape, underplaying it's impact or worse, believing it was the victim’s {though these people wouldn’t call her a victim} fault for being drunk at a frat party. I cannot even dignify that mentality with a response other than to ask, “ok, so if you’re drunk and/or fall asleep, that gives me the right to go ahead and cut your testicles off?” I don’t think so. This, this contributes toward the existing rape culture.

But on the flip side, I am also angry, perhaps confusingly so, at the attitude which leads people to call Brock and his father things like "pieces of trash" or "shit" and far worse as they call for their deaths. Why? Because I think the rape culture of today is largely built upon layers of attitudes such as these, attitudes in which we deem ourselves better and our lives of greater value than someone else’s. In other words, I believe that whenever our attitudes and actions lead to the dehumanization, objectification, or commoditization of people, we contribute to a culture which sets the stage for rape to seem like a permissible choice. I don’t think rape culture is to blame for the rapes that occur. Let me be clear, the people who choose to rape, out of their own unhealed wounding and brokenness, are to blame, and ought to be held accountable. But identifying who is responsible for a crime and identifying the contributing factors in creating a culture which promotes the occurrence of that crime are two different things.

There are a whole host of attitudes and actions, big and small, that contribute to creating this kind of culture, and many of them have nothing to do with sex. While I'm still processing all of this myself, here are some of my thoughts on how we might bring light and change into the existing rape culture, both as parents and as adults...

  • Boundaries. We can teach our kids the importance of setting our boundaries {and not just with regard to their physical bodies} and of respecting the boundaries of others. When we don’t teach our kids why it’s important to stop when another kid says, “stop touching my head” or “stop pulling my hair,” we fail to teach them that each person is in charge of his or her body and that we must respect a person’s wishes with regard to her body.
  • Physical Affection. We teach our kids that it’s ok to say no to unwanted physical touch and that the giving of physical affection is their choice when we decide we are not going to make them give people, even ourselves or relatives, hugs or kisses, or any kind of physical affection. When we make them give hugs, we are essentially telling them that it’s ok for someone to make them {or guilt them into} do something with their bodies even if it’s against their will.
  • It's ok to say "no." It’s important for our kids to be able to say “no” to things like sharing a toy with someone else. It’s equally as important to teach them that they can’t just grab or take what they want and to allow them to feel the disappointment of not getting to play with a toy that they might want.
  • Empathy. I’m a big believer in empathy as a connecting force within relationships. Whether a child is hurt or a child hurts someone else, both modeling and teaching empathy is key. But empathy is not a substitute for consequences. And that’s where I think Mr. Turner got it wrong. I can say to my child when he hits another child, “You were really mad. You really wanted to play with that toy. I get that. That toy belongs to so-and-so, so we can’t use our hands to take it and we can’t use our hands to hurt him when he doesn’t give it to us. Do you see that he is crying? How do you think he feels right now?” But then I can also allow for consequences to occur, taking my son out of the play for a while, letting him know that the other kid probably won’t share his toy with him now, etc…”
  • Handling Power. My mom used to always tell me that, “with freedom comes responsibility.” And, so too it is with power. I wonder if this is why rape is so prevalent at the college age: underdeveloped thinking + sudden increase of freedom + sudden increase in bodily strength and power + recognition for achievements and accomplishments = a stage set for the abuse of power to occur. So, backing up to when they are little, how do we teach them to handle power? When they have someone over to their house they have increased power. When they are bigger than another kid they have an increase in power. When they are in the role of leader or decision maker in a group they have power. I come back to empathy here, teaching them to be aware of how their actions may affect others. Is it their intention to love or hurt others? How would they feel if the tables were turned and they were the one not in a position of power?
  • Using Their Voice. Teaching children from a young age to use their voice to express their hopes, feelings, desires, is equally as important as empowering them to stand up for themselves, using their voice, when something does not seem right. We have a rule that we don't keep secrets in our house {You can read more about that here} because I want my kids to learn from an early age that they don't have to keep hard things inside, that it is safe to tell me anything. Because should my children ever experience any kind of trauma, I hope to God that they don't remain silent about it.

As adults, male and female, how are we viewing and relating to women and each other? Women, and people in general - we are not a commodity. We are not an object. We are human and we should treat each other as such.

  • Let’s stop complimenting girls only on their appearance. Because when we do so it leads them to believe that their appearance is the only thing valued in this world and they come to believe that their looks are what make them valuable as women. I have yet to meet a woman who when asked what she would like her obituary to read, says, “So-and-so was really hot and beautiful.” If a woman secretly wants the world to think this, it’s likely because she has come to believe that her body/appearance is the only thing for which a woman is valued. Let us {women too} recognize women as whole persons, mind, body, heart, and soul, and value them as such. 
  • Let’s check our own hearts whenever we find ourselves attempting to use our position of power to get what we want from someone else; when we reach out to someone, not to connect, but instead, for what that person can do for us or to get our own need met in some way; when we erroneously think that because of our effort, skill, income, looks, race, sex, etc…that we are more deserving of something than someone else.
  • Let’s not lump entire groups of people into a category and slap general descriptors and labels across said group, because in doing so, we fail to recognize the individual names and faces and unique stories of those people, and this can lead to dehumanization, which in turn makes it feel easier to hurt people.
  • Let’s try empathy ourselves. It takes not thinking about ourselves for a moment to think about what it must be like to be in someone else's shoes. It takes setting aside, at least momentarily, our need to be right, because we cannot listen when we're busy trying to be right.
  • Let’s respect each other’s boundaries, whether they be of time, energy, money, or of a physical nature. Bosses, do you respect the boundaries of your employees when they prioritize their families and stick to a 40 hour work week? Friends, do you feel the disappointment when a friend bails on something but also respect the boundary they feel the need to set? Do we demand our spouses do something for us or do we ask if they’d be willing to do it and respect the answer? Are we applying pressure to the people around us in attempt to get them to do what we want?

This is as much a challenge to myself as it is to anyone else. I can do my best to live into the best version of myself, the person I was created to be and attempt to parent the way I hope to parent, but my heart needs to remain open and soft to the way of love, growth, change, forgiveness, and healing. That’s the only way people change. And it’s the only way culture changes.