I was at a friend's house when the topic of college rape arose. I mentioned that I knew of someone who had been accused and prosecuted for sexual assault. My friend was quick to jump in and say, "Oh, Im sure he didn't rape anyone. The girl probably was drunk and regretted it in the morning. It happens all the time."
"Yeah!" my other friend chimed in, "That happens a lot. Like girls dressing all slutty then getting drunk at frat parties..."
Did I mention that both of my friends are 19-year-old women?
In a few sentences, my friends had epitomized slut and victim shaming. In that moment, I felt enraged that my female friends had perpetuated rape culture. I also felt sad. Sad for every victim who has been or ever will be doubted because of the mainstream ideas surrounding sexual assault. When we allow ideas like this to be accepted, we only isolate the true victims and discourage them from reporting. It makes me sad to know that if I were to ever become a victim of sexual assault, I likely would not be believed. And for the record: statistical studies indicate false reports make up two percent or less of the reported cases of sexual assault. (Roger Williams University, 2012)
Our culture of victim shaming is present in subtle ways. During O-Week, I was constantly reminded to watch my drink and only walk in groups. Don't get me wrong; these are practical tips. But essentially, they tell women that they can behave in a certain way to avoid being victimized.
But, why don't we tell men similar things? Why aren't there anti-rape campaigns targeting women? Why don't we focus on telling men not to rape, instead of telling women how to not get raped?
I propose that we educate men about what constitutes rape. In North Carolina, having sex with someone who is legally drunk is considered rape. Perhaps we should make it a focus during O Week [editor's note: orientation week] to educate our students about the laws of consent, so that no one may ever revert to Robin Thicke's mantra of "Blurred Lines."
How about we teach young men that when a woman says stop, they stop? Or that if a woman (or man) is drunk or unconscious, they should help them, instead of taking advantage of them?
Our society needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts. How about we stop teaching women how to not be a victim and instead attack the culture that creates the perpetrators instead?
I dream of a day when my daughter can walk down the street without the fear of being assaulted. And yes, I think that I should be able to wear whatever the hell I want without being labeled as a slut. This idea that men cannot control their impulses is archaic and offensive.
For Gender Violence Awareness Week, anonymous writers have submitted their story. The story that was posted on Monday particularly moved me. To whoever wrote it, I applaud you. You are so brave and courageous for sharing your story with us. Thank you. I hope that whoever reads it will be inspired to treat anyone who has experienced sexual assault with the compassion and love that they deserve, instead of with the judgment and shame that has characterized our culture.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.
Originally published here on October 4, 2013.