I don’t know how to talk about rape and sexual assault without getting emotional (or political). I’m proud of this. It’s taken me nine months since I was raped to be able to cry about it. It’s taken me 15 years to be able to cry about a sexual assault that occurred when I was in sixth grade. It’s taken me just as long to be able to talk about—to allow myself to acknowledge—the sexual harassment and unwanted touching I experienced in school, the awful feeling of being whistled at or catcalled, the feeling of not feeling like I deserve to live in my own body.
A key component of being able to work toward identifying as a survivor of rape and sexual assault (and growing up female in America) is due to the support of a friend who has made himself emotionally available any time I need to talk, and thanks to two zines he introduced me to: Support and Learning Good Consent. Reading these zines last week – and having my friend re-read them – gave us common ground to talk.
I talked about what triggered me in the zines and he had them on hand to reference. He asked if I felt like one of the writers in Support who expressed frustration with people who say some variation of “When you’re ready to talk, I’m here to listen.” Like the writer expressed, I never want to talk about these things. But, I need to talk about them.
In the interest of full disclosure: after I was raped, I went to Planned Parenthood and sought emergency contraceptive. Under the Sanctity of Human Life Act co-signed by Paul Ryan and other members of Congress would make this (and other forms of removing potential human life) illegal. Further, the proposed legislation could allow rapists to sue their victims for terminating the pregnancy.
Take a deep breath, because it gets better.
By better, I mean, horrifying.
Cathrynn N. Brown, a Republican state Representative in New Mexico proposed legislation that would make getting an abortion after a rape a felony because an abortion would be “tampering with the evidence.”
Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.
Brown, after public backlash, backpedaled saying she intended for the legislation to deter offenders, and that she would amend the bill to make that intention clearer. Perhaps. I won’t presume to know what’s going on inside Rep. Brown’s head. However, the bill had nine co-sponsors. Surely at least one of those co-sponsors thought making abortion—or emergency contraceptive, potentially—a felony was a brilliant idea. Now, Iowa is following suit. A new bill has been proposed by nine lawmakers that would make any termination of a pregnancy, including emergency contraceptive, an offense punishable by jail time – for the woman and for the person (a doctor or health care professional) helping her procure the abortive measure. This includes instancse of rape or when an abortion is necessary to save a woman’s life.
This comes after a summer—and an election cycle—filled with men discussing what constitutes a “legitimate” rape or a “forcible rape.” For me, this meant a summer of triggers. It meant I took long bike rides and listened to podcasts that talked about rape and the statements by these politicians, and that my rape flashed through my head in a series of stills. It meant that I again and again tried to figure out if I was to blame, and that friends who knew I had been raped needed to keep telling me “It’s not your fault.” It meant I wanted to escape my own skin. (There’s an entire *triggering* Wikipedia page dedicated to the rape statements of the 2012 election, in case you missed something.) This legislation comes just after the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This comes post the Stubenville rape video.
This comes in an America—no surprise—where movies and prime time television use rape as a trope. We learn to see it as drama. We learn to see it as a climax (pun not intended). Potentially, we learn to see it as a joke. These things normalize rape. These things reinforce rape culture.
This comes in an America where we’ve accepted that the victims are to blame–where we tell women (specifically) how not to get raped—including what not to wear, when not to go outside, how not to speak to people they’re attracted to as well as people they’re not because those people might be rapists. This comes in an America where women aren’t always sympathetic to women who are raped. I think this might be how some women choose to distance themselves. If they can blame the victim, they can pretend that they’ll be smart and lucky and it won’t happen to them.
When 1 in 6 women are the recipients of attempted or completed rape, no one is lucky.
To counter victim-blaming, a list has circulated on the Internet on how not to rape. The strategies on this list are part of a larger rhetoric that I find alarming. These things teach women (and men) that men are just natural born rapists. That men can barely walk down the street without raping someone. It’s offensive.
Instead, maybe we can work to educate one another on the language of consent. On checking every step of the way to make sure that someone is still okay with how things are progressing–that they’re still enjoying it and that they still want to continue. Consent means that both (or all) parties involved have power. Consent is opposite of rape and sexual assault. Rape and sexual assault are about violence. They’re about power. They’re about the ability to make even another individual’s body not their own.
I’m just beginning to learn the language of consent. This means I trip. A lot. I have a lot to learn about checking in and making sure–in all my relationships, not just sexual ones–that I’m not crossing boundaries. That I’m listening to what’s being said, as well as what isn’t. I’m not very good at this yet. I’m working to not assume that consent once or twice equals consent later. I’m working on how to ask for consent, and trying not to be frustrated as I realize how little consent exists in our culture.
And, at the same time, because this is part of consent, I’m trying to learn how to be okay with creating and vocalizing my own boundaries. How to take up space. How to ask for support and space I need. This is, perhaps, the hardest part for me. I’m so used to not having many boundaries, or for believing most of them don’t need to be recognized because in the past they haven’t been. I’m used to people, at the very least, testing those boundaries. Mostly, I’m used to people disregarding these boundaries. When people participating in consent culture accept and help me maintain my boundaries, I feel off-kilter. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with this feeling, because it’s so unfamiliar. But it makes me feel more whole, respected. It makes me want to participate in consent because even when I’m off-balance, consent culture makes me feel safe.