For those of you that have been following my journey into being more body-positive, I have good news on my self-progress! As I prepared to give a presentation at Loyola University, I didn’t realize until right before class started that I never put make-up on.
I have finally reached a point where leaving my face au natural is more natural to me than waking up and putting on make-up immediately.
But that’s not really what this post is about.
Instead, I’d like to discuss my presentation for Porchlight Counseling Services. I’m a recent volunteer with them, after seeing a pamphlet at SlutWalk Chicago. Porchlight Counseling is amazing because not only do they provide counseling to survivors (25 free sessions at multiple off-campus locations in a private and confidential manner), but because they work to educate others and raise awareness about the cause and effects of sexual assault. It took me 6 years to talk about my rape,
1) not knowing it was rape, thinking it was “my fault” for drinking at a party
and 2) not telling anyone because I thought I would get in trouble for being at said party or shamed by other people and my community.
Needless to say, I really believe in creating a society that acknowledges that it is not the victim that must be blamed, but the perpetrator and that we live in a society currently that perpetuates victim-blaming and harmful rape myths.
Although, rape is a gendered crime, factors of race, class, and sexuality influence attacks. For the purpose of my presentation and limited time available, I didn’t discuss those factors and discussed predominantly the social expectations surround binaried gender and the stigmas involving sexual assault. There are many messages in society that tell women they should be the “good girl,” you know… virginal, conservative, pure, nurturing, monogamous, as well as white, heterosexual, and gender-assigned female at birth. On the flip side, there’s the idea that a “real man” must be unemotional, a protector, a provider, strong, masculine, as well as white, heterosexual and gender-assigned male at birth. These gender boxes are really strict socially. Anyone who doesn’t conform is called horribly offensive and derogatory names and furthermore is the victim of violence… even the social justification of violence because the individual harmed has been objectified and dehumanized. So, we hear these ideas over and over again, rooted in many messages from media and other institutions. A “real man” wants sex all the time and a “good girl” has to keep up the appearance of not wanting sex, but (as the false social narrative goes) no really means yes.
Thinking of those common social narratives, false and harmful, there are also many victim-blaming tendencies in the messages of our culture. Consider this analogy:
What are other ways that we blame the victim? Create unrealistic and horrifying dichotomies between deserving and undeserving victims?
Not only our these social ideologies pressuring survivors on an individual basis and in the overall message in the community, but they have permeated the justice and legal systems. It’s no wonder that survivors are scared to or concerned with reporting.
On average, it takes 5 years for a survivor to come out about their experience to another person. Usually to a friend and not an officer of the law. Considerably, statistics don’t favor survivors being protected or feeling safe. RAINN reports:
15 of 16 walk free.
Now that I’ve completely overwhelmed and depressed you, let me talk about ways you can help…
- Don’t contribute to rape culture. Jokes about rape are not funny. Rape is not about sex, but a violent crime. Reconsider comments that seem to blame the victim or criminalize individuals for seemingly natural behavior.
- Be supportive. When or if someone reaches out to you -and remember, 1 in 5 women on college campus experience an attempted or completed sexual assault- first and foremost believe what they are saying. (So often individuals worry they won’t be believed, yet FBI statistics report that only 2% of accusations are untrue.) Offer support and an open-mind. Listen to their needs and don’t take control of their survival process. Don’t judge and don’t ask questions that seem to judge. If you feel uncomfortable pursuing support, refer your friend or acquaintance to a counseling service like Porchlight Counseling, Rape Victim Advocates, or another service offered on your campus or in your community.
- Most importantly: Listen, believe, and be a friend.