An exhaustive government survey of rape and domestic violence released on Wednesday affirmed that sexual violence against women remains endemic in the United States and in some instances may be far more common than previously thought.
Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report.
This is extraordinarily upsetting to read. Frightening. Exhausting.
But not surprising.
Because every single woman lives with these facts in her skin, in her veins. They shape the arc of our lives and the contour of our days.
Some of us (probably a lot of us) still think that’s just the way things are, and all we can do is be smart (don’t wear that skirt, don’t let go of your drink, magically intuit that your fiance won’t care if you say no), but even that doesn’t change the simple fact that all of us order our lives — on some level, daily or occasionally — on the assumption of sexual violence.
This is not an “issue,” women’s or otherwise. When 50% of the humans around you are making decisions predicated on a potentially life-shattering threat, you’re dealing with a defining characteristic of your society. Rape is part of what makes us who we are.
Witness these studies:
- Are sex offenders and lads’ mags using the same language? It turns out that when talking about having sex with women, men’s magazines and convicted rapists use more or less the same vocabulary — that, indeed, the language is frequently indistinguishable.
- The undetected rapist: “Undetected rapists…adhere to ‘rape myths’ that both justify their aggressive acts and foster them…. Most of this violence emerges either directly or indirectly from what have been termed ‘sexually violent subcultures’…. For example, at certain college fraternities the use of violent pornography is a frequent form of ‘entertainment,’ providing explicit images of rape as being acceptable, noncriminal, and the sign of male virility.” Or, as we saw just the other day, a fraternity might literally ask men who they would rape, if only they could.
As blogger Organon put it: “Do you know who think all men are rapists? Rapists do.”
When mainstream publications talk about seduction in the same terms as rapists talk about their crimes; when college boys bond over violent rape fantasies; when the media consistently report the derision heaped upon women who would report assault; when rape is treated as a joke or a falsehood — we are all complicit in producing the statistics that the Times reported.
Because we make rapists think they’re normal.
If we don’t want the rape of women to be a defining characteristic of American society, we have to do something about it — and it’s not enough to teach girls self-defense, or fund rape crisis centers, as crucial as those things are.
We have to consciously remake our culture from within. We have to change our language and our jokes, and we have to risk speaking out when others continue to use the old tropes. We have to do this, not because women want to wear short skirts or because political correctness has shamed us into shutting up — but because we understand that in a culture that normalizes rape, rape will always remain a constant.
Those numbers are horrific, but they are not surprising. And they will not be surprising, until we recognize our systemic failure — down to and including the words we use — to address them honestly.