How can we fight rape?

The emerging movement against rape and sexual assault is a welcome sign that people are fed up with violence against women – and a society that produces it – Published on Socialist, March 21, 2013.

… “I don’t think that we should be telling women anything,” Maxwell told Hannity. “I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there.”

You wouldn’t think that statement would be controversial, would you? How could anyone disagree with telling men not to rape women? 

But the loathsome response Maxwell got after appearing on Fox News seems to be par for the course when it comes to these discussions.

Over and over again, the issue of sexual assault and rape is twisted inside out. On college campuses, women are told not to walk alone or wear the “wrong” clothing, or they are inviting a sexual attack. In the aftermath of rape, women are questioned about what they wore, what they drank and what they did to “provoke” their attacker. In the legal system, they’re questioned about whether they fought hard enough or whether they sent “mixed signals.”

Just such a noxious pattern was on display during the high-profile trial of two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, for the rape of a young woman.

That the two teens were found guilty this week doesn’t erase the vile abuse that was heaped on the young woman after she dared to go to police about the rape last year. The defense strategy was a familiar one: She didn’t say no – an argument lawyers made despite photos that surfaced on social media showing the victim was unconscious and unable to say anything.

The message in this and so many other cases and situations is that the burden is on women to prevent rape, rather than on men to not rape.

But there is a new conversation about rape and sexual assault happening in the U.S. A new generation of young women – often shoulder-to-shoulder with male allies – are refusing to be shamed or silenced about rape, whether it happens in Steubenville, Ohio, or on a college campus, or in the ranks of the U.S. military. These activists are pointing a finger at the disgusting aspects of our society that lead to rape – and the institutions that allow it to go unchallenged … //

… WHILE THE guilty verdict in Steubenville is an important outcome given the vicious atmosphere of victim-blaming, the conviction of two young men won’t stop rape and sexual assault, in Steubenville or anywhere else.

The two teens will be incarcerated in a “justice” system that offers little in the way of actual rehabilitation–and much in the way of further dehumanization.

Moreover, the guilty verdict doesn’t apply to those who enabled and even encouraged their behavior–the adults who treated a 16-year-old and 17-year-old like heroes with a free pass because they were football stars, and who blamed and even threatened the victim for daring to come forward.

Today, millions of people – men and women alike – are outraged and want to fight back against a society that produces sexual assault and victim-blaming.

We saw it in the SlutWalk protests–sparked when a Toronto police officer told women that in order to avoid rape, they should not “dress like a slut.” We’re seeing it in Steubenville, with the protests of those standing with Jane Doe. And at UNC, Amherst and Yale, where students are taking on administrations that have failed to take rape seriously. As the New York Times wrote:

In the past year, campaigns against sexual assault on college campuses have produced an informal national network of activists who, while sometimes turning for advice to established advocacy groups, have learned largely from one another. They see the beginnings of what they hope is a snowball effect, with each high-profile complaint, each assault survivor going public, prompting more people on more campuses to follow suit.
Some activists are conscious of speaking to the broadest of audiences…But more often, they are addressing just their campuses, and then are stunned to find that people far away are watching

People aren’t just watching. They want to be part of this growing movement to end sexual assault. We have to do everything in our power to build it.
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