After sexual assaults and rapes we often resort to the only sort of advice that we can think of.
“Always trust your instincts and get out of bad situations,” we say, or “Keep control of how much you’re drinking and what you’re drinking.”
Then we’ll ask questions when our curiosity brings out the worst in us. We’ll ask what women were wearing, if they were acting in a way that led a man on or if they’re even sure that it happened at all.
It seems in response to these incidents we get caught up with the victims. How they could have avoided being attacked and what they may have done to bring assault on themselves. We often sit in rooms with our friends, asking if anyone knows who it was, where they live or where it happened.
The thing we never say is the most obvious: If you really care about ending sexual assault, and you really care about making women (and men) feel safe, just don’t assault them.
This may sound dismissive, or overly simplified, as if you’re telling a murderer they could have just not murdered someone. But the difference is profound. America is not a country that perpetuates a culture tolerant of murder. We seldom defend the murderers as if their victims had asked for their fate, or that they shouldn’t be punished because they’d been drinking.
When an assailant says their victim was wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood, we don’t nod along and criticize the victim. He wasn’t “asking for it” and that seems to be something we perfectly understand.
But when it comes to sexual assault, we do all of these things. We let rapists caught in the act get slapped on the wrist with just a couple of weeks in jail. We argue over whether a woman invited the unwanted hands of another person onto her body. And we criticize and scrutinize every moment leading up to the crime, begging for a reason to paint the assailant as a guy who just misread the situation.
The problem for men is that some irrationally fear that one day they’ll be on the wrong end of one of these accusations. Some men sympathize with accused rapists because they worry that one day it could be them, but they demand penalties for murderers because they know it never could.
The solution is simple then. The same way you know you’d never murder someone, become confident that you’d never sexually assault someone. Pay attention when people talk about what it means to give consent. Pay attention when someone says no, or when they tell you they want to stop. And pay attention when someone is passed out unable to do or say anything.
If you don’t want to assault someone, then don’t, and stop feeling bad for the people who do.
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