On April 1st President Trump declared April National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. That’s right, our pussy-grabber-in-chief made the declaration as if April hasn’t been nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month since 2001. Not that I’m judging; the man needs all the education and awareness he can get his tiny mitts on. Just today he came out in defense of Fox News host Bill O’Riley, who recently settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit over allegations he had sexually harassed a number of women. When asked by the New York Times what he thought, Trump said “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong” because what’s the word of multiple victims against those of a rich, white predator?
Sexual assault, as has been made evident by our current presidential administration, is an on-going problem in the United States. According to a 2014 report out of the CDC, 19% of women and nearly 2% of men have been raped during their lifetimes and another 15% and 6%, respectively, have been a victim of stalking. And that is not counting the 54% of rape cases that goes unreported, or the fact that 97% of rapists will never see the inside of a jail cell, per the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. Small wonder considering the language we use when it comes to sexual assault tends to victimize people more by focusing on the “sexual” act of rape rather than the violence behind the act. After all, this is America and despite sex inundating everything around us, it still makes a court of law squeamish, especially when the perpetrator is a rich white boy, as was the case last year with Brock Turner. So what if he was caught red-handed raping a woman on his college campus? He has his whole life ahead of him, and she was obviously asking for it by getting too drunk at a party—because that for some reason is just one of the asinine standards by which we judge rape.
The legal system is obviously fucked up when it comes to matters of sexual violence. Michele Foucault recognized this in the 70s when he called for a decriminalization of rape, that courts criminalize the violence committed instead of the act of “sex”. But as author Carine Mardorossian (2014) points out in her book Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered, the legality of sexual assault is just the tip of the ice berg, that it is in fact the entitled capitalistic culture we find ourselves in which must be the source of change. Mardorossian goes on to explain that all violence, not just sexual violence, is sexual in nature, demanding a type of gender performitivity which mimics the heteronormative masculine which is the default here in the United States.
“The reason why legal redress in rape cases has been ineffective is, I believe, because the cultural understanding of rape misrepresents it as a special-interest issue rather than as the tip of an iceberg that saturates all social and power relations…We need to put rape on a continuum that recognizes the central role of sexuality and gender in the ‘making of culture’ in the United States…If we live in a ‘rape culture,’ it is not because U.S. culture is inherently in the business of normalizing sexual violence against women but because violence is an inherently sexualized phenomenon of which rape is the extreme form.”
The culture is changing, though, albeit perhaps not to the extremes Carine Mardorossian is suggesting. Since all those pro-rape rallies in universities came to light a few years ago, college campuses all over the nation are educating students about consent, and what that may look like. I like John Oliver’s definition of consent the best: “Sex is like boxing, if one of the parties didn’t agree to participate, the other one is committing a crime.” In a pinch, this sums up sexual consent, in a hyper-masculine sort of way, but consent is just one facet of our lives the societal powers that be have culturally indoctrinated us to give up without question, most times before we can even put voice to our own agency. We chop off the tips of boys’ penises when they are infants. We make our kids give grandma a hug even though she’s wearing that perfume we hate and her lips are always slimy and wet. These are just a few of the ways we are taught our agency doesn’t matter, and it plays directly into the hands of the larger, hegemonic rape culture we are all socialized into.
Even in the sex positive community, like kink and poly communities where the phrase “safe, sane, and consensual” is often a mantra to a good time, it can be difficult to gauge or put voice to consent. For example, a male caller to the Savage Love Podcast told host Dan Savage about a sex party he went to with a female friend of his in which he found her being raped though did not realize it until the next day. Sadly, instances like this are not uncommon in the kink community. Ayako Black, in an article for the Daily Dot, recounts her rape at the hands of her first dom at a party:
“After I told the hosts about this guy’s behavior, I was horrified when they invited him to another event I was attending. When this man showed up, I was informed by the host that he had claimed that he did not know me, the assault had never happened, and that it was a “misunderstanding.” I learned after the fact that this individual has crossed the line with other women as well, and yet he is still invited to events. Incidents like this one are precisely why I no longer interact with the community in my city.”
Incidents like this, according to BDSM blogger Thomas Macaulay Millar (2012), are not uncommon though, for the most part, these particular predators hang out on the fringe of this particular subculture. People recognize them, warn others about them, ostracize them. It is those privileged people who dig their way into the scene, Millar explains, who tend to serially cross boundaries and then attempt to silence their victims either logistically or to the extent of freezing them out of the community. It is this quieting of agency that can be seen in everything from the way we interact with children (gendering them; cutting off pieces of them) to the backwards way we handle sexual assault in a court of law. Millar sums it up with two words: No Drama.
“There’s a theme here: that silence and secrecy are the paramount values, and open discussion is to be avoided. It’s a basic function of institutions, but often of informal social networks as well, to protect the body from reputational damage. That’s what colleges do with rape: they use nondisclosure agreements so that whatever the result, nobody can talk about it.”
The good news is, though, we ARE talking about it. The bad news is that the conversation does not end at this “abuse/victim binary,” as sex educator Kitty Stryker has called it and that, for most of this blog post, yours truly has laid out. We have all violated boundaries and crossed lines in various different ways. Case and point—I am a sex blogger who loves talking about sex; not everyone is into talking about sex; sometimes I ramble on about sex and have to apologize later for having offended somebody with my incessant sex talk. It is that recognition of having crossed a boundary, especially after being called out for it, that has made me more mindful of the discussions I engage in with friends and family. If I read an article about, say, how ducks are rapists (and they are!) I can recognize now—after being called out—that not everybody wants to hear about the intricacies of duck intercourse.
The problems here, and there are 2, is that 1.) a lot of people inherently do not like owning up to their mistake and 2.) those people that do are crucified or burned at the stake. Especially affluent white men in positions of power (the capitalistic dream) would rather pay millions of dollars to keep from apologizing rather than owning up to their fuck up. Similarly, there is no platform in which those of us who fuck up, and, again, we all do because of the capitalistic, entitled culture we live in, can own up to those mistakes. Social media has proven over and over again that it can destroy a person within seconds and, let’s face it, some people deserve to be taken down a peg or two. But in this digital age people are thirsty for blood and are just waiting by their phones for the chance to pounce on anything that goes against the narrative we have created around rape. As Kitty Stryker wrote in her blog and paraphrased most recently on Sex Out Loud with Tristan Teormino:
“Consent Culture, the way I see it, is about recognizing that people fuck up, that consent is complex and influenced by many factors, that boundary-crossing does not automatically mean you are an abusive asshole and never a victim yourself or that having your boundaries crossed means that you are incapable of being abusive.”
On rape culture, Stryker goes on to say:
“…we talked about entitlement culture instead of rape culture, because rape is a triggering word and, frankly, not the most accurate. The issue at the core is the idea of combating entitlement to certain behaviours. Rape is an aspect of that, as is abuse, but it also covers things like racism, classism, sexism, ableism, sizeism, Twue Domism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Which is why, rather than just talking about rape, we try to talk about the various ways oppression and marginalization intersect within altsex communities. Because if we want to turn this shit around, we need to address the core issues, and the best way to do that is to start talking about them.”
And we are talking about it, which is a wonderful thing. Sadly, this rape culture isn’t about to end anytime soon, not when its systemic, oppressive roots threaten to choke us with each step we make, and definitely not when people like Donald Trump—rich white men who haven’t remained on the fringe of society but instead burrowed themselves out a comfy little niche of power and control—are allowed in positions of governance. Similarly, until we end this capitalistic entitlement over our bodies that has been engrained into Western Culture and begin calling rape what it is (violence) we will never have true agency, at least not without a fight. At the same time, it is important to recognize people fuck up. Consent isn’t always sexual, and it isn’t always visible, especially when we are taught early on that it doesn’t matter. Giving people the language to negotiate their boundaries or to admit when and where they fucked up is a tool each of us could use, and something affluent white guys like Donald Trump and, I fear, future DJT Brock Turner could use a little more of. After all, it was Donny who declared April Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month so apparently he needed a little educating. In a lot of ways, I think we all do.
Until next time loves,
Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. J., et al. (2014, September 5). Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm
Mardorossian, C. M. (2014). Framing the rape victim: Gender and agency reconsidered. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Millar, T. M. (2012, May 15). There’s a war on [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/theres-a-war-on-part-7-theres-a-crack-in-everything-thats-how-the-light-gets-in/
Stryker, K. (2012, April 12). Consent culture: Let’s review [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://kittystryker.com/blog/posts/consent-culture-lets-review/