When I was in elementary school, I learned how to behave if an earthquake happened, and how I could to protect myself from it. When I was in junior high I was, once again, taught the proper drill when it comes to earthquakes. When I was in high school, the process repeated itself at least once a year, sometimes more. But when I went away to college, I never once experienced the need to protect myself from an earthquake. Instead of earthquakes, it seemed as if people feared the quick rush back to the dorms, all to avoid dodgy hooded figures in the student parking lot, the ones staring you down as you shuffled to the door and slid your key card in. A natural disaster seemed like child’s play compared to the dangers of sexual assault.
We devote our time into repeatedly teaching ourselves the proper precautions to take when in an earthquake than we do in a rape situation. Statistics show that in the past year, in America alone, earthquakes occurred a total of 3,836 times (with no apparent deaths and mostly within 2.0 to 2.9 range). According to RAINN, during the same period of time, however, there have been an average of 293,000 reports of rape (ages 12 and older). And these are the just the ones that came reported. Yet not once was I ever taught about the gravity of the rape epidemic in America, never once did someone tell us: do not rape.
When I leave for work every night, my mother reminds me to park in the nearest lot to my store. I have my own canister of pepper spray, purchased for me in order to further protect myself. It’s sad to think that I have to carry a black cylinder attached to my keys as a small means to ward off shifty eyes and the echo of shoes on the pavement as i’m followed to my car. It seems even more sad that the question I am asked when describing such a scene, more often than not, is “Well, what were you wearing?” As if clothing alone could secure my safety.
Where is the logic in the fact that I had to hold a weapon close to my chest, slip my keys into the gaps in between my fingers, and glance around in fear as I walk down the parking lot to my car but when it comes down to it, it’s my own fault because of the way I chose to dress? We treat rape as if it is a natural disaster but, in reality, it's a crime that people chose to act on. It is an act of violence but it's often regarded as something that just "happens." Unlike a natural disaster, sexual assault is preventable and it starts with teaching our children that rape should never be allowed nor excused.
The situation of what one is wearing during their assault ultimately boils down to the years upon years of school where I was not allowed to wear tank tops if the straps were not thicker than my two fingers. It comes down to the shock and horror of my choice to wear shorts that end above my fingertips when the sun is boiling down at 95 degrees and my only focus is running around on the grass with my friends. We ingrain these ideas in our youth from such a young age that it has become the basis for the line, “She was asking for it.” We hold the victims responsible for their assault because from an early age, we've told them that their clothing will have consequences. Parallel that concept to a bigger degree and we have a system where that consequence is sexual assault.
These clothing rules from school slowly manifested this similarity between clothing choice and punishment in excuses such as, “She wore a spaghetti strap top and got a referral, therefore she was asking for it.” It allows for a wrongfully justified understanding that dressing a certain way means you’re a distraction for others, and therefore you should be punished and thereby applicable to getting assaulted. You are responsible for your assault, we are often told. These “rules” are so ingrained in society today that it has made rape permittable with a simple “Well, she was wearing shorts that barely covered her butt, so she was basically asking for sex.” It is more than enough time to stop this system of wrongful blame.
If we only discussed consent more, if it became something as regular as the earthquake drills in school, perhaps this idea of 'She was asking for it!” might disintegrate into thin air--as it should have years and years ago. Discussion on consent has the power to make others understand that there is no gray when it comes to agency. The line is there and it is prominent. We just have to start teaching it to our kids that a person's consent is far more important than their choice of dress. Like with earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes, it is more than time to open conversation on the reality of sexual assault and what we, as a society, can do to prevent it.
The first step? Teaching our children about the importance of consent.