(with apologies for another angry post without mention of food. and with a warning for anyone triggered by sexual assault, in case it wasn't already obvious.)
I have been following the coverage of Brock Turner with my stomach tied in knots.
It makes me sick that he thought he could do this (or worse, that he didn't think it important enough to think at all); it makes me sick that the judge let him get away with it by handing down such a light sentence; it makes me sick that anyone would come to his defense after the fact, citing "political correctness" or "promiscuity" or alcohol as the culprit.
But perhaps it makes more visible than ever both the privilege of white male athletes (each of those words an additive in privilege), and the rape culture that is so pervasive we don't even see it any more.
I work at a university that, like most universities, requires all of its incoming freshmen and graduate students to complete an online mandatory sexual assault prevention program. During orientation, students participate in an hour and a half long performance and discussion focused on sexual assault, rape, and bystander intervention. That program is followed by small group discussions, and additional information later on in the week.
During which many of them, I know, are thinking: "this would never happen to me."
And yet, it does.
A recent survey on our campus (with a high response rate) revealed that in the past year, 20 percent of all students (with a higher proportion of women then men, and higher proportion of undergraduates than graduates) have experienced sexual assault (which includes everything from harassment to stalking to nonconsensual sexual contact). And that during the past year, four percent of all students (men, women and gender nonbinary) experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration: rape. Breaking that down by self-identified gender, eight percent of undergraduate women report that they were raped. Mostly by people they knew.
One rape is one rape too many. But 1 out of every 12 women?
We know that orientation isn't enough. So we try to start conversations that continue to loop students back in, remind them about how to have healthy relationships. But they have had so much programming by age 17; it's an uphill climb.
They learn that if someone doesn't want to be with you, you buy them another drink. They learn that no really means "not yet." They learn that red means stop, green means go, and yellow means floor it so you can get through before it turns red.
Eighty four percent of college men who were found guilty of sexual assault did not believe their behavior was illegal. Why? Because women are described as objects so often that it becomes easy to see them as objects. Because masculinity is described in terms of sexual conquest, and men--especially adolescent men, and they're trying to figure out who they're going to be--fall prey to those definitions. All of this makes rape culture normative, invisible, particularly, I'd argue, when it lives inside of white privilege, which is also invisible. (*I am very aware that sexual assault is not limited to male perpetrators and female victims/survivors; I've worked with gay students who have been assaulted by other gay students, men assaulted by women, trans people assaulted by cisgender students. That said: rape culture feels rooted, to me, in power dynamics that are attached to gender.)
Why is it that so many people are more concerned about what will happen when a trans person steps into the bathroom than they are about what will happen when a white cisgender male is trying to prove his masculinity to himself in a culture where he'll never measure up?
I was heartened to read Vice President Biden's moving open letter today. It was an important statement to make. But I also know that this river is deep. And that even Joe Biden doesn't go back to the place where rape culture begins. Because you have to go back pretty far in the development of our children to learn when we first start to talk about consent, and bodies, and limits, and respect.
In case you hadn't heard, it turns out that Brock Turner will only be serving three months of his six month sentence. Even college campus processes have more successful sanctioning than the prosecution record of rape cases. I don't have to ask you how you think this might have unfolded for a Black male, because we know.
Is it any surprise that survivors of rape don't want to report the crime to the police, knowing that this will be the outcome?
Is it any surprise that I didn't say anything to anyone about my own experience for more than ten years?
I know that many of you were silent, too.
What are we--you--me--doing to change this, not just at college orientation, but long before we ever have to have those conversations with our youth, before they ever find themselves bystanders?