There’s been a lot of public discussion about rape lately. Both the Bill Cosby accusations and a current Rolling Stone article have the nation in an uproar. Instead of focusing on the perpetrators, there seems to be victim blaming, with an overwhelming amount of anger and suspicion directed towards them. Why is it that anytime a victim finds the courage to go public, she’s scrutinized, and often vilified, without cause? Why do complete strangers make scathing, borderline abusive comments, without knowing any of the facts?
It’s because there is a pervasive stigma that surrounds rape and anyone who “wonders” why rape is the most under-reported crime needs to start there…
As a society, we have made great strides forward, but not in regard to this issue. Men and women tend to view rape in a very different context. Age can also be a surprising factor. In my own family, I’ve seen this generation gap play out, with my father and uncle being perfect examples. Born in 1950 and 1945 respectively, I often heard both of them cling to opinions that were so outdated—and just plain wrong—that it blew my mind!
Neither believed it was possible to rape your own wife or girlfriend. They thought date rapes were so-called “seductions,” or a case of “hurt feelings.” I can clearly recall having a conversation with my dad about Mike Tyson’s conviction, 10 years after it happened. He believed the victim was lying because she willingly removed her own pantyhose and that “proved” consent. (Maybe in a man’s mind that makes sense?) Men truly don’t seem to comprehend that a woman may change her mind halfway through and she’s legally entitled to do so.
Another factor that contributes to rape is the epidemic use of drugs and alcohol. Let’s state the obvious, because it is so important: An intoxicated person can not consent. I’m not claiming every drunken one night stand is rape, but I know so many women that have been taken advantage of in this way. The majority of Bill Cosby’s accusers have stated that they were drugged against their will and have trouble remembering what happened. Because of this understandable confusion, certain individuals are calling them “liars, fame-hungry, gold diggers,” and far worse!
I find it hard to believe that 20+ women are in a multi-decade long conspiracy against Cosby. What I do believe, with all my heart, is that they were abused and they do deserve justice. Some of the allegations date back to the 1960’s, involving girls as young as 15! Janice Dickinson, who’s famous in her own right, stepped forward and was castigated viciously! I saw a male commentator claim that, “everyone knows Janice is a slut.” Really?! I don’t know that and neither does he. Regardless, even if a women is promiscuous, she can still be raped. And if she is raped, she has done nothing to “deserve” it.
The most devastating factor that silences victims is shame. Being told you’re a “bad girl” who “brought it upon yourself” is downright vicious and a slur against womanhood. Telling our brave female soldiers that “rape is an occupational hazard” is a slap in the face! We need to protect victims and prosecute the criminals, period! We need to offer sympathy, not doubt. (Yes, false allegations due occur, but it’s miniscule.)
All of these misconceptions and falsehoods only contribute to the stigma that surrounds rape. Until society as a whole starts giving victims the benefit of the doubt, the culture won’t change. Telling a victim their reaction to being brutalized was right or wrong is simply absurd. It doesn’t mean a victim is lying if she doesn’t inform the police or go to the hospital immediately after the crime occurs. In some cases, it legitimately takes years to process the trauma. Younger victims, in particular, often need additional time as the multiple clergy abuse lawsuits have demonstrated.
As women, we can’t stop the rape epidemic alone. Male cooperation is desperately needed. Together, we can offer our support to those who are hurting and prevent more innocent victims. I’m willing to stand up and tell these victims that I believe them, I support them, and I am truly sorry for their suffering. The stigma of rape belongs on the rapist, not the victim!
Because rape is such a sensitive topic, anyone who wishes to comment anonymously is welcome to do so.