Late night sex talk: Rape culture and consent

Today, I want to be able to talk about consent and the dark topic of rape that consent is connected with.
When you consent to something, you are actively agreeing for something to take place. In the case of sex, consent means to understand and agree to sexual activity, sexual intercourse, oral sex and everything else under that umbrella. When we talk about rape or sexual assault, we are talking about a situation in which someone has forced sexual acts onto another person without their consent.

Currently, in the U.S., we do not take consent seriously enough. Rape culture, which normalizes and even condones rape, is prevalent in our society. In fact, it is so ingrained into us that many times we don’t even notice its existence.

Rape jokes are still being told, both in our social circles and in popular media. Women are taught how not to be raped, instead of teaching our culture how not to rape. When a woman is a victim of sexual assault, her personal choices are criticized, and oftentimes she is blamed for her own assault.

This is rape culture.

It affects all of us. Living in rape culture means that rape is normalized to us, and that we are desensitized to the reality of rape. This leads to not taking actual cases of rape seriously, which then leads to less support for victims and, ultimately, more rapes.

Consider rape jokes, for instance. Rape is not funny, and it is not something to be taken lightly. It’s a terrible thing. We either do not realize or don’t care about the reality of rape when we make a joke out of it. But if you hear a rape joke and actually think of a woman being in that position, it takes all the humor out of it. Because what’s funny about real rape? Nothing.

Does anyone remember the Steubenville scandal? If you don’t, let me remind you. About a year and a half ago, a girl in Ohio was gang-raped by members of a popular football team. The girl was drunk and unconscious, photographed while unconscious, and the rapists then made videos and social media updates about the crime. The girl’s credibility and entire life was shredded apart by the media, and a huge cover-up was attempted by the boys’ school administration, football coach and even legal representatives involved in the case.

The entire situation was disturbing, to say the least. But I want to highlight something very subtle that was said during the video recorded by the rapists. During this video, in which a boy is delivering a steady stream of jokes about the victim (who is still lying unconscious in another room by the way), one boy interrupts his friend’s jokes and says, “What if that was your sister?”

I wish I could say that I respect the person who said this, because he seems to understand that they were doing something wrong. But I cannot. This person did not stop the rape and did not call for help. Only afterwards, and after five minutes of his friend making jokes and using the word “rape” repeatedly, does he say anything. And even then, he says something that shows exactly what is at the root of this whole rape culture thing.

In order to make others understand why raping a girl and then mocking her was wrong, he had to make her human.

He had to say, “What if that was your sister?”

He had to put a woman into a context that his friend could understand; his sister, a person that he knows, a human being deserving of respect.

Only then could his friend possibly understand why rape is not funny, and not OK.

We do not teach our children how to respect women. Our culture perpetuates sexism shamelessly and makes it seem normal, which makes it so that if someone calls out sexism, they are the ones with the problem—not society.

If we taught our children that every woman was a human being who deserved respect, there wouldn’t be an issue with consent. There wouldn’t be any “accidental rapes.” We wouldn’t tell a woman that her choice of clothing or activity was why she was raped.

If we taught our children that, there would be fewer rapes.

This needs to change.

First of all, we need to value consent as the most important part of sex. If someone doesn’t want to have sex, his or her decision should be respected. If someone is incapable of consenting to sex, if he or she is passed out drunk, for example, there should be no question as to whether or not they will be taken advantage of.

Sex with a partner who is incoherent or unconscious is not sex. It’s rape.

We also need to reevaluate our definition of rape. Rape is not just a stranger in a dark alley; rape happens in relationships, it happens with people we know, and it happens in settings where there are plenty of witnesses or bystanders. Any type of non-consensual sex is rape.

Lastly, we need to stop de-personalizing rape and rape victims. We need to remember the harsh reality of rape when we hear a joke about it. And we especially need to understand that every woman, regardless of who she is, is an actual person and does not deserved to be raped.

It’s not an accident, by the way, that I’ve overused the word “rape” in this context. It’s harsh, it’s painful and it’s jarring. It makes me feel uncomfortable just to write it out. And that’s the way it should be.

This word, and all that it means, is not ever something that we should be comfortable with. If we get used to using the word in a way that doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable, we are in danger of erasing what the word means entirely.

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