No Means No: Rape Culture and social accountability


“You don’t know me. But you’ve been inside me. And that is why we are here today.” Those words sent a chill deep and very real chill into my soul. Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, or perhaps, in this day and age have simply decided to take ‘a break from social media’, there is a good chance you have heard the name Brock Turner. Or maybe you haven’t heard his name, but you have heard the story of a woman on a campus of a prestigious university in the United States who was raped, and her rapist was sentenced to 6 months in jail because the judge thought “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him… I think he will not be a danger to others”. Yeah. You read that right. The judge delivered a sentence of 18 months less than the legal minimum for a crime as heinous as rape because he was worried about the impact on young man, who made a decision to drink too much [the only thing he has currently admitted to despite the verdict] and have non-consensual sex with an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus. A judge who, by the way, was also a member of the alumni of the university in question.

I don’t want to sit here and review the intricacies of the case, a number of fabulous writers have already looked at the whole thing in excruciating details. I am also not going to talk directly about the emotionally destroying, raw and honest victim impact statement that has been shared around the world. I could, but I won’t. Because her words should be read and taken how she had said them, and not re-framed from my perspective. [Seriously, read this is you haven’t. And get everyone you know to read it too] What I really want to talk about one of the most horrific things that has come out of this whole public review of this case. And that is; that an underlying rape culture is so deeply permeating through our community and the wider society. Perpetuated of course by social media… because you know, keyboard warriors are out in arms guys.

Let’s start at the statement made by supporters of the convicted. Despicable rhetoric rooted in the privileged idea that the world owes Brock Turner something. That he won’t have the opportunities that he wants because of an indiscretion. [Rape to be precise] The idea that the violent sexual assault someone [irrespective of the fact that the victim in this scenario was a woman] was a simple mistake and people should just get over it and allow this upstanding, academic, athletic young man ‘get on with his life’. For me there are two things that have come out over the course of the media attention that have left me dumbfounded. The first is the assertion made by Brock's father that 6 months in prison is “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life". It's hard to even know where to start with this statement. I mean. Fuck. Just to be clear, he is referring to rape minutes of action. I can’t seem to get my head around this. Incarceration is simply put a steep price to pay for rape or sexual assault. A large focus of Brock's defence was on-campus drinking. But change the crime from rape to manslaughter whilst driving drunk. Intoxication is not an excuse… So why is it any different when the crime is rape? Two word answer to that: It's not.

The second is the statement made by a female childhood friend of the convicted. The statement is full of nearly every stereotyped justification for rape imaginable. It leans heavily on the tenant that alcohol negates rape [debunked above] but also goes deeper to suggest non-consenual sex is a misunderstanding, and that punishing rapists, especially white, middle class, athletics students is unfair. It also leans itself to the idea that ‘real rapists’ are strangers kidnapping girls in parking lots. Which you know, we know to be so far from the truth. But the clincher, the one that made me want to smash my head against a brick wall was when the statement asked when will we “see that rape on campuses isn't always because people are rapists. This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists." Breathe Tillie. Breathe. I am sorry, but by definition, rape on campuses is perpetrated by rapists. There isn’t another word for them. Just like if you go on a diet you are a dieter, if you put a girl behind a dumpster, and have sex with her without her consent, you are a rapist.

Clementine Ford, Writer and Feminist used 139 characters on her twitter feed to suggest that “Feminists who talk about rape culture & misogyny aren't trying to make life difficult for men. They're trying to make life safer for women.” What baffled me the most, was the responses. Men and women alike, suggesting that wearing ‘slutty clothes’ were an invitation for unwanted behaviours. Or that we were categorising all men by making such assumptions but lumping all woman together was certainly completely different. This idea permeated that we [the collective female] are asking for it when we drink so much we can’t say no. It all comes back to this idea that we, as woman, need to protect ourselves. An idea that has been spun time and time again, rather than re-framing the message and putting the onus back on our male counterparts. Instead of us having to watch out for rapists, how about we [as a community] teach our men not to rape, we hold people to account for their unlawful behaviour. The length of my skirt is not an invitation, and it is certainly not against the law to wear whatever the fuck I feel like. We are so positioned to accept rape culture, that some of us have trouble even identifying it. So let’s break it down shall we? Rape culture isn’t just about rape. Simply put it is permitting one gender to exert psychological or physical dominance over the other because there are little to no consequences for doing so. It is about cultural practices that excuse, ignore or tolerate sexual violence.

You know what I am talking about right? A culture that views a whistle on the street as a compliment. A culture that encourages persistence in a bar setting even after you have told them, sometimes multiple times, that you are not interested. A culture where the only way to be left alone is to tell them you are married to another man. But if you are a woman married to another woman, well you are obviously still up for it. A culture where someone tried to kiss you when you are drunk; judgement impaired but hopeful that you might go along with it. A culture where rape is under reported, under prosecuted and under convicted.

Dominique Mack wrote “We as a society have done men a disservice by letting them think that pursuing a woman sexually is always acceptable, whether the woman likes it or not. In his own twisted reality, Brock Turner may very well still think that what he did wasn't really that bad―as far as rapes go―because the victim had kissed him earlier in the night, and he wasn't holding a gun to her head as he assaulted her.” And therein lies the problem. If you do not have consent, you do not have the right to do anything, conscious, or otherwise. Brock Turner did not have his victims consent. His statement talks about her having a ‘positive response’ to his actions. That is not consent. That constitutes rape.

These underlying attitudes are shaping the way our communities talk about and look at rape. There is so much evidence that these positions aren’t harmless. They preserve the myths that contribute to the idea that women, in some way or another, are responsible for the things that happen to them, and that there is nothing we can do on a greater scale, because sometime men just want to rape women. That my friends is the real problem, and until we start addressing that dialogue and challenging those perceptions, 6 months in jail for raping a women, naked behind a dumpster, really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to anyone.

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