I vividly remember the first time I was catcalled. There was a street that I would walk across to get to my home from middle school, and on the corner of that street were a group of guys that would usually “hang out.” I would clench my bag when I would pass them and walk briskly even though they never bothered me; I assume it was just an instinct or gut feeling that I should be particularly vigilant. That day as I was crossing, they started to honk the horn of their car, yell suggestive phrases, and whistle continuously as I walked by. I was 13 - petite, shy, and even looked several years younger than my age would indicate. I ran, and they laughed. I felt disgusted, fearful, and a tiny bit...guilty. In the midst of my confused state, I began to wonder, “Was it my fault? Did I give them any indication that I wanted that sort of attention?”
Why was my 13-year-old reaction to this type of violation one ridden with confusion and guilt? Why are we conditioned to feel that when people invade our physical and mental spaces with unwanted actions that we somehow encouraged that behavior?
Many years later, I left my somewhat sheltered home and attended college and graduate school where I heard male and female reactions to more severe types of violations: rape culture and sexual assault.
“Well if only she didn’t dress that way… she was asking for it.”
“Maybe I lead him on? I did flirt with him all night.”
“I was too drunk to remember, maybe I did consent to it…”
I bit my tongue every time, I stayed silent, and I didn’t voice my opinion that their misguided views did nothing to help the victim, and furthermore were a destructive way to handle this gross violation. Their reactions further perpetuated this idea that the victim is blamed—drunk or sober, minor or not--and that informed consent can be circumvented.
I came across an article one day that shattered me. It described a horrifying, brutal gang rape of a physiotherapy student in New Delhi, India.
I remember well the feelings of anger, deep sadness, and disbelief. The chief executive of the hospital that the victim was flown to reported the following:
“She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds, but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome” and she ultimately died “peacefully.”
Peacefully? How could she have died peacefully? Everything was taken from her: consent, her career, new experiences and adventures, moments of enlightenment, love, and her life.
The people of India were outraged.
It took a vicious, inhumane act such as that one to spark rage and protests throughout India, and to raise awareness about the reality of rape culture.
Isn’t that usually the case? We remain indifferent or slightly invested about events that take place across the world, but it isn’t until we hear about something unusually shocking or abominable that we decide to become involved or protest. Or if protesting is our initial response, do we remain faithful to its cause or does our will to fight gradually fade out until the next shocking, mind-blowing case?
That was certainly my response. Initially, I devoured every news article I could find on that case and it affected me, but after several weeks, my interest dwindled. I felt, both consciously and subconsciously, “This took place on the other side of the world, it couldn’t possibly penetrate my life bubble, could it?”
I came across another article* three years later. The author wrote about her experience living in a patriarchal, male-dominated culture and how her boyfriend physically took advantage of her. She didn’t live on the other side of the world, or even in a different state: She was from my hometown with the same ethnic background. This helped me realize that rape culture is all around us - even when it doesn’t go so far as rape. Consent is too often silenced. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed with conviction and instruction.
My direct and indirect dealings with rape culture taught me to become more aware of the significance of consent, and the pervasive nature of sexism in general. I have seen the terrible repercussions of rape culture at my undergraduate and graduate campuses, and it has taught me to advocate for its eradication, to educate others of its harmful nature, and to raise global awareness of this tragic phenomenon. I do not want to stand by idly while acquaintances crack jokes about rape or make excuses for perpetrators that destroy and ravage their victims. I want to do my part in promoting informative dialogue and Project Consent presents a solid platform and audience to do that. Above all, I want to show compassion and respect towards victims, and patience towards those who do not understand rape culture, or stay silent when it stares at them in the face – like I did for too many years.
*The blog itself has since been deleted.