How did you learn about rape?

By Cassie Clemmer, WeWillSpeakOut.US Intern

I can’t even remember when I found out what rape was, but then again I can’t really remember when I learned about the birds and bees either (sorry, parents). But this isn’t my story of sexual education under threat of puberty, no, this is your story.

Can you remember when you first heard the word “rape”? Was it in the dramatic whispers of juvenile innocence, picked up around contextual clues that screamed “TABOO”?

Was it uncomfortably shoved in between the awkward stages of blooming sexuality and parental lectures?

Did you hear it spoken over the dinner table, as your parents lowered their voices to mention “that girl” down the street whose family skipped town without warning?

Or maybe it was when it first happened to someone you cared about, when the word seemed to drop like lead off your tongue with a single deafening syllable.

However it was that you first heard the word rape, most of us know the concept by now. We have the terrifying associations seared in our minds: the image of someone physically held against their will, of blood, of pain; a picture we can’t help but want to bleach from our memories. The media has taught us that much. Rape is a violent act, that’s all. One we don’t even want to think about, much less speak about.

Stop talking, stop writing about it, you’re making me uncomfortable.

We sympathize with victims, somewhere against the corners of our heart, but we keep it there. We can’t imagine bringing up the topic in conversation, much less with someone who’s experienced it in their own life. So we stuff our ears with rationalizations and fill our throats with reluctance – hoping victims will read the sympathy in the silence of our gaze.

But what happens when we refuse to talk about rape? When we stop teaching about sexual violence and what it means to give consent? I’ll tell you what happens… instead of learning from trusted family members and teachers who are able to give the accurate facts of sexual violence, we learn from our televisions, from our iPods, our video games. We learn that rape is something that happens to women, something that happens because of the way they’re dressed, because of something they did. We learn that rape is an equation that must always equal the sum of physical force, violent actions, and aggressive penetration. Women and girls learn that rape cannot happen to us if we follow a strict list of rules: never drink, never dress provocatively, never flirt, never walk alone at night, and never do anything that might encourage someone to take advantage of you. And what do boys and men learn? They learn that as long as they’re not holding you down, as long as you didn’t scream “no”, as long as you didn’t fight them back with a fear for your life, it must not be rape.* Boys learn the line; girls learn not to cross it.

When we remain silent about rape and other forms of sexual violence, we allow the culture of oppression to infect our communities, we allow violence to become simultaneously normalized and invisible, and most importantly, we allow the victims to be punished for the actions of the perpetrators.

We can no longer afford to be silent; we must speak out. We must shout loud over the incessant drumming of rape culture and push back against the lies we have let destroy our neighbors, our friends, our families, and ourselves.

Rape is a violent act; a violent act that does not require a violent response to be legitimate, only an absence of willing and enthusiastic consent. All other factors fall to the wayside and have no place in the judgments of someone else’s traumatic experience. Rape is rape, regardless of what you’re wearing, what you’re drinking, and who you’re with. Rape can happen to and be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of gender-identity or sexual orientation. Rape is not a women’s issue, it is a human issue; and we’re at a point of crisis. How long are we going to wait until we finally break the silence? We must speak out, and we must speak out now.

The discomfort that comes with talking about sexual violence may be one that is conditioned within us when we are young, but it follows us like a shadow as we age. It’s time we shake off that shadow, stand in the sun, and start speaking out.

So, tell me, how did you learn about rape?

* It is important to note that while many recognize these “clear” signs of resistance as an aspect of a stereotypical rape scenario, there are times when those who perpetrate will still not see their actions as a form of sexual violence, regardless of how hard the victim fights back.

Cassie Clemmer works for IMA World Health as the WeWillSpeakOut.US Intern in External Relations and Advocacy. She uses her background as a current Gender & Sexuality Studies major as well as her own personal experiences to raise awareness for sexual violence within our communities.