Author’s note: This article discusses sexual assault.
First, the facts. A few weeks ago, I saw Facebook friends share a link to a list of locations to avoid on February 6, and among them was one of the campuses of my school. Why did I need to avoid it? Because a group of men known as the Return of Kings, proponents of neomasculinity, were planning to meet up there. (I’m not going to describe their philosophy, because you can probably guess my position on it by the fact that I’m writing this article, but here is a link to the description of it on their website.)
The headlines–which were a little inaccurate–called these meetups pro-rape rallies, and not without reason, because the leader of this group penned this charming article about making rape legal. (There’s a disclaimer that calls the article satire, but the general sentiment it expresses–that women need to be more careful–rings pretty sincere, in my opinion. But back to the facts.) It’s important to note that the actual purpose of the meeting was for men with this philosophy to meet like-minded men. It’s also important to note that the meetups were cancelled a few days before, as the leader could no longer guarantee the safety of the men attending.
I just wanted to lay it all out as factually as possible, so we’re talking about a real issue. I don’t want to talk about how a pro-rape stance is wrong because, well, duh. I don’t think most members of the Return of Kings would call themselves pro-rape. I don’t want to exaggerate or distort facts, and I don’t want to paint villainous caricatures of human beings, because as a general rule, I don’t like to make arguments about ideas that nobody holds–not even the people purported to have them–because that’s pointless and doesn’t help anyone.
The problem isn’t that people are all for the legalization of rape, because I don’t think very many of them are. The problem is that there are men–well-intentioned, human men–who view themselves as victims of the feminist movement. The problem is that there are people who very sincerely believe that women aren’t scared enough of rape. The problem is that, while rape is not legal, it might as well be.
I’m not here to tell anyone how to feel, but as a woman in college, allow me to say that I am sufficiently terrified.
When I was in the fourth grade, a girl in a grade or two above me was raped by someone posing as a repairman. I grew up hearing about rapists at large in my hometown, and slept in my mom’s bed one night when I recognized the street names of the latest incident in the news story. I didn’t really know what rape was. I was like any kid–scared of big, bad wolves.
I learned when I was older that 80% of rapes are committed by someone known by the victim, and 47% of rapists were a friend or acquaintance of the victim (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network).
Still, when I walk through the city and a desperate man in his fifties tries to talk to me, I pretend I don’t hear him and walk as fast as I can to where I need to go. I look for witnesses. I ask myself how loudly I could scream if this person tries to grab me, how fast I could run if I needed to, and I don’t want to know the answer.
I don’t drink alcohol, and I don’t go to parties–for many reasons–but among them is that I don’t want to find out how hard it is to fight off unwanted advances while I am or the other party is under the influence.
Sometimes, when male acquaintances with whom I’m not particularly close try to hug me, or just invade my personal bubble in any way, I flinch, just a little–not because I actually think they’re going to assault me, but because boys who think they’re being “friendzoned” can be dangerous, as we saw in Santa Barbara.
I’m still a kid afraid of big bad wolves, now very aware that they might be dressed like my grandmother.
When I heard that there was a pro-rape rally happening on February 6 at the other campus, and when I heard rumors that the men there would rape any woman in the area, I was terrified. Yes, the rally didn’t happen, and it wasn’t a rally, and I think we can assume that they would have behaved peacefully for the most part if the meetings had transpired…but none of that matters.
What matters is that I–and my many female classmates and friends who shared the links and advised people to be cautious–aren’t afforded the luxury of immediately thinking, “Well, that’s ridiculous and illegal and would have serious consequences” because, like I said, sexual assault might as well be legal. According to RAINN, 2 out of 100 rapists will spend time in prison. (Note that it’s probably more accurate to say “alleged,” but the vast majority of rapes are not reported, so they’re not really “alleged,” either.)
Our first instinct has to be to stay away, because we can’t always depend on the justice system to work in our favor. The most current case in point? Ke$ha, who is now being forced to work with her accused rapist.
Men feel victimized by the system because they don’t want to have false accusations of rape leveled against them. This is fair, I guess, but do they carry that fear with them wherever they go? When a strange woman tries to talk to them, do they have to–for their own safety–assume that she’s going to accuse him of rape? Are they afraid that in courts–where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty and where it is notoriously difficult to supply evidence of rape–justice will not be carried out in their favor? It isn’t comparable, and to suggest that the system benefits women more than men is ignorant.
Luckily, ignorance is easy, because ignorance isn’t malicious. The idea that there are men who think women aren’t afraid enough, who think women need to be more careful instead of men needing to be less violent, who think they get the raw end of the bargain in society, is scary–at least for me–but I hold out hope that this just requires a little eye-opening to fix.
Note: I talk predominantly about women, but men can also be victims of rape and sexual assault. For more information about rape, from people who are actually qualified to talk about these things, go to RAINN.