Talking About Rape

Trigger warning for discussion of rape, rape culture.

I have never been raped.

When I was in college I had faith in everything that I had learned about how to not get raped. I knew to walk in groups, to cover my revealing club clothing between my dorm room and the bar or house party, to not get too drunk if I wasn’t going to be in a group or a safe space, to carry pepper spray and a whistle, to not act trashy if I didn’t intend to follow through.

I knew that rapists wait in dark corners in masks, commit the heinous deed and then disappear into the night. I knew that rape is what happens when a man puts his dick into you even though you’ve clearly told him no and fought like hell to try to make him stop.

Over time I have come to understand that the fact that I have never been raped relied greatly on chance and happy circumstance. I have learned that while I was preparing myself to not get raped in college, many of my peers had already been victims of sexual violence. I have learned that men, women and people outside of the gender binary – of all shapes, sizes, ages, attitudes and backgrounds – get raped, and more often than not, raped by someone they know. Sometimes they raped repeatedly, and sometimes they don’t know that what they’re experiencing is rape. I’ve learned that rape doesn’t have to involve a penis or a vagina. I’ve learned that it’s not always possible to fight back or say no to a rapist.

It is terrifying to reflect on how deluded I was back then, how much chance played a part in my making it to this point in my life physically unscathed by rape. That even now there is nothing I can to do to guarantee that I will never be raped.

I’d like to think that if I had been raped, that I would have had the strength, courage and support to try to bring my attacker(s) to justice, but I wouldn’t place any bets on it. Too often getting raped is seen as a weakness, a moral failing because the victim didn’t prevent it from happening. The thought of having to go through the public scrutiny of a rape trial makes my stomach clench. My culture has shown me that when someone accuses a person of rape, society will do everything in its power to cast doubt on their credibility – lay bare their life, their past actions and sexual activity, their behavior, their character. As if anything in a person’s character could ever make them deserving of rape!

All of these thoughts are brought on, of course, by the ruling in Steubenville this morning. Two teenage boys were found guilty of raping a 16 year-old girl who was intoxicated. To paraphrase a witness, the victim  was “not moving, not talking, not participating” when she was carried around and her vagina violated by the rapists’ fingers in at least two locations at two different times that night, while others watched on, laughed, took pictures and video.

The defense tried to cast doubt on whether the victim was really as drunk as she appeared to be, implied that she wanted sex because her friends tried to talk her out of partying with the boys who ended up raping her. The defense tried to argue that there wasn’t incontrovertible proof that what happened that night was rape, while at the same time dismissing the overwhelming evidence as tainting the case. The victims two “past best friends” testified against her, said she “lies about things”. I have seen ignorant asshats in blog commentary wonder what the uproar is about since she “only got fingered”, not really raped.

These are big reasons why victims don’t speak up when they are attacked.

When we say that only a certain type of person gets raped, or that the actions a person takes makes them responsible for their rape, we cast a false sense of security over ourselves that we will never suffer rape because we aren’t, or would never x, y, or z. We’re good, worldly people who have taken the proper steps to protect ourselves, and so we aren’t at risk of rape. We’re not like those other people who were – at best! – ignorant of the dangers they brought upon themselves when they [insert damning circumstance here] or – at worst – lying degenerates who invited rape. And when we do this we tell rapists that rape is sometimes okay – that if they can find someone who didn’t follow the rules, then what they’re doing isn’t really rape because alcohol-makeup-slutty clothing-flirted-not a virgin-wrong part of town.

Even if “all of the proper precautions are taken”, we can still be raped. Even if we don’t take any precautions, getting raped is not our fault. Rape is only ever the rapist’s fault. EVER. I can name too many people who have suffered and who still live with trauma because of our reluctance to teach people not to rape, to teach that non-consensual contact of any kind is never okay, and that consent means an unequivocal and hearty yes, not a “they didn’t say no”.

A combination of victim-blaming and a reluctance to believe that someone we know would “do something like that” makes it seem like stories such as Steubenville are a rarity, when in fact, the only thing that was rare in this case was the amount of insurmountable recorded evidence of rape and a guilty verdict against the rapists.

I hope deeply that this verdict will send a message that rapists can be brought to justice, and that more victims will be encouraged to speak up. And I hope that the 16-year old girl who was raped will find support and love and healing. I hope that among all of this talk of ideals and rape culture and cheering for the guilty verdict that we remember that there are other victims like her who did not make the six o’clock news, whose stories are still untold and who haven’t yet had a chance to heal.


There are resources available for victims of sexual violence. RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network – might be a good place to start if you need help or advice.

Note to the potential commentariat: This thread will be moderated. Rape apologetics are not welcome here.

Talking About Rape