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The "R" Word (By Randi S.)

By Danielleb
This piece was written by Randi S., and also appears on her blog The Radical Idea. Randi is an activist, writer, and student of international women's issues.

Rape. Go ahead, say it. It’s not such a pleasant word, of course. We don’t like to delve too much into the issue of rape, or how widespread it is. We don’t like to look at the heartbreaking accounts of victims’ experiences. We don’t like to imagine it could happen to us.

But it is there, the dirty laundry we’ve somehow failed to clean up. And it’s not just "there." 17.6% of women in the United States are victims of an attempted or completed rape; and on college campuses, that proportion rises to 20-25%. On top of that, 64% of those crimes are perpetrated by current or former spouses, cohabitating partners, or boyfriends. And that’s just the crimes we know about: the FBI estimates that less than 40% of rapes are reported to the police.That’s a little uncomfortable to think about, no? Now, many colleges offer crash courses in defense against rape my own university offers a class called Rape Aggression Defense, or RAD. But that isn’t always enough. Among college women, about 47% of rapes were by dates or romantic acquaintances, and that applies to both male and female rape victims, mind you.Unfortunately, colleges do tend to downplay problems like sexual assault, according to Jennifer Dorsey, a RAD instructor at American University in Washington, DC. Dorsey, who instructs women in moves used for self defense, says that a lot of what RAD teaches deals with mindset — focusing on understanding those who have been raped to be survivors, not just victims.That’s an important point, because often victims of rape do suffer from psychological consequences, including anxiety, guilt, and depression. It can be a traumatic and redefining experience, but people shy away from talking about it, and the problems it cause make victims even more likely to be re-victimized. On top of that, 44% of women who have been date-raped say they’ve considered suicide, because they often feel they’ve lost who they previously were, or because of the shame/depression that accompanies this kind of situation.Now, it can’t be denied that some percentage of rape cases are false accusations — but that’s about the same rate as other violent crimes, and yet you don’t see victims of burglaries or assault painted the same way that rape victims often are. In fact, sexual violence is a real problem because of the stigma attached to it — and because of the sense of humiliation and hurt that most victims encounter, making them reluctant to come forward about their experiences. According to Dorsey, many women don’t come forward "because (a) they feel it’s their fault or (b) they fear they’ll be judged for admitting it happened." And those two reasons are linked back to an increasingly prominent problem: victim-blaming.
Cases of victim-blaming are becoming more common, or at least more publicized, as people become increasingly agitated about the phenomenon. An AOL news story in March of 2011 reported that following the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas, much of the outrage was in fact directed at the victim.In a remark that caused the controversy that would eventually inspire the SlutWalk campaign, a Canadian police officer commented that "if women want to avoid being raped, they should avoid dressing like sluts." This kind of victim-blaming is (a) not uncommon and (b) is probably part of why victims are reluctant to come forward. But the reality is, rape is not about sex: it’s about control. And people can try to point fingers at girls in short skirts and say they create temptation, they create opportunity, but that doesn’t make the rape any less of a crime. And odds are, if rape is about control, it’s more a matter of "when" than "if" — the victim was more likely just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So right here, right now, I just want to state very plainly what every crisis center and advocacy group and counselling resource has ever said: victims of rape and sexual assault are not at fault for the crimes perpetrated against them. 

As a character in Jodi Picoult’s The Tenth Circle states, "A rape victim and a fatal accident victim are both gone forever. The difference is that the rape victim still had to go through the motions of being alive." Blaming the victims only removes blame from the people who actually commit these crimes and violate other human beings. The job of friends, family, and communities is not to shove blame onto these victims, but to help them try to make sense of their lives in the aftermath of what has happened to them.
And on top of that, "no" always means "no". Even if you’re already making out, even if you’re past making out, even if clothes are coming off, no one is ever obligated to go through with a sexual act against their will. The other person may get angry, call them a tease, whatever, but the minute those words turn into action and consent is violated, it is rape. It is a crime. And it is always the fault of the person who actually commits that act.

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