I’ve been reading about Rehteah Parsons the last couple of days. I saw a quote somewhere that called it “Halifax’s own Steubenville.” And I just have to wonder . . . how many times is this going to happen? How many times before we stop talking about it and do something?
When did rape become funny? When did forcing someone who can’t or won’t consent to have sex become a prank? When did it become acceptable to spread pictures of it around? This isn’t saran-wrapping someone’s car or filling it with foam peanuts. This is someone’s life.
The script in the media after the Steubenville trial read, “She may have suffered for one night, but this will end these boys’ entire lives.” Rape is not something that lasts one night or a couple of days while you heal up or even a few weeks. Rape affects its survivors for the rest of their lives. On top of the initial, physical trauma, rape survivors suffer emotional trauma that leads to PTSD, sleep disturbances, and relationship problems for years. Rape survivors often have huge medical bills to pay from ER visits, follow-ups, and ongoing testing to make sure that they didn’t catch anything from the rapist. HIV testing continues for a year after a potential exposure, so the survivor is subjected to the emotionally draining process of getting tested multiple times over the course of a year, each time dreading and worrying about the results. Young rape survivors may have to drop out of school because of the complications they experience after being raped.
We have to change our understanding of what rape is. Rape is a serious crime that has long-lasting physical, emotional and financial effects on its survivors. Rape is generally not perpetrated by strangers or by poor men of color. Rape is not perpetrated by the monster in the closet or by Hannibal Lector. Rape is most often perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Rape is not something that anyone asks for. There is no continuum of “legitimacy” for rape.
We know these things. But the media still portrays rape as a crime committed by strangers, usually poor men of color. We still talk about women who are “asking for it” by being out late, dressing a certain way, or drinking too much. We still tell our daughters to be careful about a million tiny things. We still slut-shame and laugh at jokes that demean or dehumanize. We still refuse to talk to our kids about sex in meaningful, healthy ways. We still talk about women as if they are property, often public property. We still insist that a woman’s rightful place is under a man. (And yes, I meant that in all of its potentially disturbing double-entendre.) We still refuse to think about the culture that our words and actions create, a culture in which rape is apparently the equivalent of an April Fool’s joke.
We can do better than this. We have to do better than this.