Take Back the Night

The Chronicle has an interesting article today about a community patrol group in the Castro which is responding to several recent rapes in the neighborhood. I was interested to read it for several reasons: the first is that the Castro has traditionally been a very proactive neighborhood, and I am glad to see that tradition being carried on. The first step in reducing crime and making your community safer is being aware, and sending a message that citizens care about their neighbors. I think that the street patrols are a great thing, and I hope that the City supports them.

The second is that there is a great deal of stigma surrounding the rape of men. I remember once having a discussion with an otherwise very intelligent woman who said “but I don’t get it…how can men be raped?” I tried to explain to her that there were a variety of ways in which men could be forced into sexual activity against their will, including forcible anal penetration, which was presumably the case in the rapes in the Castro although forced oral copulation may have been involved as well. Let me break it down for you, in case you missed it: men are as capable of being victims of rape as women are, although it is statistically less likely.

There is also a great deal of social confusion around rape in general, kiddos, and since the season is getting cold I thought we would have a little chat about rape and consent.

The legal definition of rape varies from state to state. California, for example, has very stringent laws about forced sexuality. In general, though, rape refers to intercourse or penetration with another object without consent. This can be accomplished through coercion, threats, drugs, or simple force. Our culture is very strange about sexuality, and sometimes sends very mixed messages about appropriate sexual behaviour. Within the heterosexual sphere, for example, men are expected to be aggressive while women are supposed to be passive. This is not really ideal for ensuring that consent has been given, and in California sexual intercourse can still be considered rape if either partner decides halfway through that consent has been revoked and the activity does not cease. So be warned.

Sexuality is about communication, and it is difficult in a society where women are trained to say “no, stop,” when they mean “yes, continue.” We also live in an age when everyone refuses to take responsibility for their own actions, which is really rather maddening. It makes things confusing for well meaning individuals of any gender in any sort of sexual situation, I tell you what. Furthermore, we live in a society where no one seems to know what they want anymore. The fact that an alarming amount of people spend an amazing amount of time hooking up while intoxicated also complicates the issue. Is it rape if you decide later that it was a bad idea?

I think that for most of us, the idea of rape conjures up a dark alley, a stranger, a knife, trauma. But in fact most rapes are acquaintance rapes, committed by someone you know, often in a familiar environment. And many of these rapes are cases which walk a thin line, where consent may have not been clearly given, but assumed. Or both partners were drunk. Or one partner was pushy and the other partner went along with it, and began to have regrets halfway through.

I think the first step for sexually active adults of all genders is to establish more clear lines of communication, something which can be difficult in the modern world. In the case of the man in the Castro who was raped in a dark alley, there’s a clear issue of lack of consent going on. But in the case of that girl you kind of hooked up with at the party last week…

In a society where alcohol is used as a social crutch, it is difficult for most people to step back and reevaluate the role of alcohol in their sexuality, but I recommend that all my readers take my stance on humpies+alcohol, which is simple and finite: no. Granted, I don’t drink that much, so that eliminates most of my qualms about being personally intoxicated, but I still have to question the sobriety of any potential partners. While it may seem like a challenge to some of my more liquid readers, I really cannot recommend it enough. It makes situations much more clear cut and easy to understand, and reduces general embarassment.

I think also that we all need to be more clear about our needs and boundaries. Don’t say “no” unless you mean it, and when you are uncomfortable with a situation, any situation, don’t be afraid to say so. You owe it to yourself. If you feel unsure about a situation or the individuals involved, step back and assess before moving forward. Be clear about what you want, and be certain that you understand what other parties want. Speak! Do not remain silent.

I once caused a kerfuffle when I led a rape workshop at a local high school, when a well meaning football player asked me what I thought he should do when his girlfriend said “no, stop.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s pretty simple, you stop.”

“Yeah, but I feel like maybe she’s teasing, or I don’t know, it’s really confusing.”

“Trust me,” I said, “if she doesn’t mean to be saying no, she’ll break that habit really quickly if you stop every time she says it. Call her on it. Make sure that you have an open line of communication with her so that when she does say ‘stop,’ you know she’s serious.”

It’s also time to dismiss the myths about rape that involve physical violence. You can be raped without being apparently injured, and you do deserve care for it. Do not leave a crime unreported. Many rapists are multiple offenders, and will continue to offend unless their victims step forward.

If you have been raped, seek help immediately. Although you may long to do so, do not shower or discard your clothing. Report the crime to the police and seek medical attention, so that evidence can be properly collected in your case. The sooner you report the rape, the higher the quality of the evidence and the potential conviction. Also be certain that you seek psychological help. Most communities provide rape counselors to victims at the hospital, and be sure to ask if one is not provided. Do not be afraid to seek support from friends and family as well.

Above all, do not let others shame you for what has happened. Rape is not your fault, it is the fault of the rapist, who made a conscious choice which resulted in an unpleasant action. Whether you are male or female, strong or weak, stupid or smart, you have been wronged and you deserve justice.

Take back the night for yourself by being a better communicator, and more aware of the needs of others. Perhaps some day we will not need civilian patrols to prevent rape.