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“What was she doing alone with those two boys anyway?”
“She shouldn’t have been drinking!”
“She didn’t say no.”

These were some of the things I heard when I recently had to lead a socratic circle seminar for new college freshmen. In socratic circles, an idea or article is presented. The leader of the discussion asks questions and challenge biases without entering their own. In these circles, those involved will share their input or ask more questions without being condescending or threatening. It requires total cultural competency, which becomes extremely difficult when the article presented was on teenage Savannah Dietrich and her public outing of her rapists on Twitter. Needless to say, it got heated, and fast.

The socratic circle was divided in three ways. There was a small group I was silently rooting for, the “She was completely in her right to out her rapists. Why are we focusing so much on the fact that she had been drinking and hanging out with guys but not that she was raped?” Then we had the two larger groups. One of them was on the stance of, “Well, she was in her right to out her rapists, but she shouldn’t have done A or B.” And the largest group was along the lines of, “She shouldn’t have outed her rapists. She could have prevented it. I feel bad for her, but some of it was completely her fault.”

At the end of the socratic circle, I told the room full of colllege freshmen that some of the statements I heard perpetuated rape culture. They listened respectfully, but seemed confused. Someone even stopped me to ask what rape culture was.

So, what is rape culture exactly? It’s a culture in which victims are expected to bear the burden of preventing themselves from being assaulted. It encourages victims on learning to “be more responsible, be more modest, beware of the risks when being out late at night, partying, clubbing, etc” instead of simply expecting the assailants to refrain from assaulting. It polices the bodies and behaviors of the victims, but not the rapists’.  Rape culture dictates the amount of consensual sex we have depends on our character and set of morals.  Rape culture tells people that it’s okay to shame those who make decisions for their own bodies for whatever reason.  It encourages sexual aggression and violence, and that sexuality is just violent and violence is completely sexy. It treats the rape of people who don’t fit society’s standards of beauty as a compliment. Rape culture is giving consent to one act but is no longer required for any other act or event that follows. It’s not wanting to have sex after initial consent was given, but when sex is continued after the change of mind, it’s not considered rape. It’s the lack of understanding what exactly consent is. It’s when politicians play doctor and claim that “real” rape do not result in pregnancy. It’s a culture in which a traumatic violence on another person like rape can be a joke or can be applied to video games or test taking with total disregard for victims.  It’s an erasure of our trans* community.  It’s a culture in which only certain kinds of victims can be raped, and others who do not fit in the same category must be vilified and questioned. Rape culture is a victim’s silence or an absence of no translated into a yes. It’s a culture in which 1 out of 33 men and 1 out of 6 women are raped. It makes people think that it’s natural and a default in society.

But it’s not. This is something we can all work to change. We can make people understand that no one is entitled to another person’s body without constant consent.

And what does it mean on a larger scale? Failure to understand consent and rape culture is a failure to our victims.  It is a failure to understand society and the politics surrounding it.  It is a failure to understand bodily autonomy, whether it belongs to a grown adult or a young person.  And of course, young people are at the greatest risk of sexual assault and loss of autonomy.  Rape culture inextricably affects our sexual and reproductive health and rights.

There is a strong stigma out there infecting the minds of our people that consent is not necessary, that our bodies are mere vessels.  And it’s for this reason and many others like it that we need to make greater attempts at understanding and analyzing how society views sexuality, which was made so painfully evident when I was leading a discussion in which victim blaming was abundant and making its rounds through a circle.

How can we hope to change these twisted attitudes on sexuality?

We start by getting involved and speaking up every time someone tries to perpetuate a regressive misconception, a traditional gender role, a negative view on sexuality, and opposes sexual and reproductive health and rights, etc.  We continue to educate ourselves and others whenever we can.

The cost of apathy and ignorance is too high.

Sources:
(1) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/savannah-dietrich-testifies_n_1885500.html
(2) http://nij.gov/topics/crime/rape-sexual-violence/victims-perpetrators.htm
(3) http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims

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