The recent, high-profile Stanford rape case — in which an unconscious 22-year-old woman was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, a member of the University swim team — has brought to the forefront of the national dialogue many issues surrounding rape, consent, sexism, and privilege.
The survivor read a searing impact statement to the court, explaining how she will be affected by the assault for the rest of her life and the victim blaming that prevailed in her case. If you haven’t read it yet, do so here. It’s a must-read.
Despite the survivor’s eloquence and despite having been the victim of a violent criminal assault, the presiding judge sentenced her attacker, Brock Allen Turner, convicted of three counts of sexual assault, to a mere six months in county jail. There is a sense of betrayal felt in response to this ruling. By all counts, it abandons survivors, victims, and allies while increasing the threat of violence in society. What can we do to support the Stanford victim and other rape survivors? How do we, as members of this society, eliminate rape and sexual assault?
We at Project Consent are thrilled to suggest some proactive measures. It turns out, there’s plenty you can do — especially if you’re a man who wants to be an ally for change and support the culture of Consent. That is, to co-create a culture wherein we respect every individual’s human rights and ownership of their body.
Here are some steps you can take to end the cycle of violence and build the culture of Consent:
- Watch Your Words
Words matter. Slurs aimed at belittling women are designed to perpetuate violence against women and marginalized populations under the myth of masculinity. If you regularly use words meant to degrade women — think “bitch,” “slut,” “whore” or “hoe” — you’re adding to a culture in which it’s acceptable for women to be talked about as if they were somehow less than human, or only the sum of their sexual usefulness. Just as you — we hope — wouldn’t use racist language, it’s time to kick sexist language to the curb once and for all. This also means revising our dialogue regarding what constitutes healthy masculinity. Simple hand-rail: if it belittles someone else it isn’t “manly” it’s just bullying. Language, even if it’s a “joke” that is used to “body”, “sex”, “gender” talk about someone derisively or demeaningly is harassment. Joking about harassment is harassment.
- Speak Up
If you would never dream of using sexist language, bullying or harassing, that’s awesome, but you’re still not off the hook. When you hear it around you, say something. You don’t have to preach or make a scene, but letting it be known that you don’t condone sexist talk or behavior goes a long way to putting an end to it. You might not be able to change everyone’s mind, but you’ll at least be helping to create a world in which such behavior is no longer normalized or accepted.
- Find Out More
To learn more about how rape culture affects the survivors and likely victims in your life, ask them. You may be surprised to learn that your sister has been catcalled or your wife was slut-shamed so badly in middle school that she wanted to transfer or your best friend was harassed in the locker room. These things happen so frequently we have to choose to notice. Ask — and then listen carefully and without defensiveness to the response. Research the components of consent. We all need a refresher and society is evolving all the time.
- Talk With Other Men
Once you’ve heard some of the many stories women have to tell about sexism, harassment and sexual assault, share what you’ve learned with the men in your life. You can be a powerful advocate by opening up a dialogue about consent and what it really means. You can also remind your friends that they aren’t entitled to sex ever. Consent is active and honest and verbal it is not coerced or assumed.
- Become an Activist
Whether you donate your time or money to charities that help rape victims, getting involved is crucial. Your open involvement in these movements will show the world that rape isn’t just a women’s issue — it’s a human issue that we all have a responsibility to stop. Stand up for someone you love, with someone you love.
- Stand up for Others
Rape is not about sex — rather, it’s a use of one form of oppression to dominate another person using power and privilege. When someone is marginalized, and thereby systematically excluded from their ability to exercise their human rights, rape culture is in play. Marginalized populations are persistently more likely to be violated because they are marginalized. When you stand up for women, people of color, LGBTQ, disabled, undocumented, and other survivors of oppression, you’re working to end rape culture and the systems that perpetuate it.
- Get Consent
Don’t forget that open communication about sexual consent is an ongoing necessity in your life too. When you want to have sex with your partner, ask. It’s really that simple, but it’s crucial. If they say no, respect it without whining, cajoling, or otherwise trying to change their answer. Accepting the answer you’ve been given isn’t about being “nice” — it’s the only acceptable response.
If you’re a man seeking to be an ally for rape survivors and marginalized populations everywhere, it can feel awkward at first to know what to do. You may have made some errors along the way and are finding out you have been doing some things all wrong. But, if you ask questions and begin to employ Consent in your relationships you will be actively co-creating social change, you will become an ally. The women in your life will thank you, marginalized populations will thank you, and you’ll be working to create a world that’s a much better place for everyone. It doesn’t take much to take a step in the right direction.