Monday, October 21, 2013

"Rape is Not the Same as Next-Day-Regrets" Or Is It?

The other day I was on train on my way to work. I had a beautiful, blue beach cruiser with me, like most days, because my mother-in-law let me borrow it when my car started having problems. There was a sticker on the back of the bike. It had two little speech bubbles one said "Yes! Yes!" The other said "Oh yes!!" and underneath were the words "Always Get Enthusiastic Consent."

So, I was on the train, reading Cloud Atlas (which is a REALLY good book, btw) and I heard, "Excuse me," I looked to my right to see the man who'd spoken to me and he continued, "Will you explain what this sticker means to me?" He smiled and I could tell he was genuinely interested so I told him,
"It's exactly what it seems. It's about making sure you have enthusiastic consent before engaging in sexual activity." I smiled as he started laughing, obviously a bit embarrassed. I told him that I'd received the sticker from an advocate at the University of Utah and told him that I believe if everyone would gauge their partner's sexual readiness based on enthusiastic consent, or lack of the same, it would help change our culture into one that does not accept rape.
At this point another man sitting near us said something like,
"That's all fine and good, as long as they also have stickers that say 'Rape is Not the Same as Next-Day Regrets.'"
As common as I know they are, I'm still always a bit thrown off-guard when I'm confronted with a rape myth. I paused a few seconds and the man chuckled, taking my temporary silence as agreement. I ran through several things I could have said. In hindsight, I didn't say the simplest thing I could have said which would have been, "The concept of enthusiastic consent can help avoid situations where that could be an issue." Instead I went with, "You know, I can see why you might say that, but studies have shown that only about 2% of rapes are false reports." I explained one of the main reasons this myth is so prevalent when he confessed that he thought that number was inaccurately low.
My stop came up after that so I had to leave the conversation, but I didn't stop thinking about the exchange for most of the day. Firstly, because it was actually a pleasant conversation, which is kind of rare. But secondly because I couldn't stop thinking about that statement:

"Rape is not the same as next-day-regrets."

Because, well....yes it is.

If a person really consents they generally aren't going to regret it the next day. I mean, there are exceptions to most rules and I'm not saying that there are never legitimate cases of simple next-day-regrets, maybe a person sleeps with their best friend and then regrets it because of the fear of the relationship changing negatively. But a person isn't going to file a rape report in that situation.
It's estimated that over half of sexually violent crimes are never reported, part of the reason behind that is that you have to go through the hell of a code R exam (rape kit), interrogation by the police, the court process that is usually at least a year long, and the realization that your own society is largely against you. Why would someone go through that just for the sake of some petty revenge or guilt?

The reason this statement bothered me so much is that, like most rape myths, this isn't just about a simple case of misinformation. The widely accepted belief in this myth trickles down to survivors too. It took me almost a year to really start my healing process because the culture I live in told me that I was having "next-day regrets," that I was the one who had messed up. My culture didn't accept that I was raped so neither could I. And I'm not alone, this happens to thousands of women every year.

Coercive sex is rape
Sex with drunk person is rape

Rape. Not "next-day regrets."

The statement bothered me for another reason too. It's this implication that sex is something women often regret or feel dirty about. Our culture tells women that they should protect their "purity" (whatever that means). I remember hearing a metaphor in high school that compared a woman's "virtue" to an apple. Every time a woman does something impure, like have sex, it's as if a bite has been taken from the apple, so if she doesn't guard her virtue and keep it sacred she'll only have the yucky old apple core to offer the man she will eventually want to spend her life with. This kind of thinking is so insidious, not only to survivors of sexual violence, who often feel as if their entire "virtue apple" has just been stolen and gobbled up completely, but to all of our young women. This myth can only lead to a lack of self-esteem and a deep sense of shame as young women's bodies change, flooding them with hormones and bringing them to a point of sexual readiness and they begin to experience arousal.

This topic really deserves it's own post so I'll leave it there. But if you're interested, you should read The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. I haven't read it yet, but I've heard great things! I plan to pick it up in the next week, so maybe we'll be discussing it soon.

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