I DID NOTHING; How I Contributed to Rape Culture
A girl in my relatively small-town high school class accused an older classmate of rape. I wasn't really friends with either of them, but knew them both. I heard the rumors, I listened, raised my eyebrows.
The accuser suffered the wrath of the popular accused's many friends and likely saw eyes cut her way by those who didn't say what the others did, but thought it. She was the topic of jokes, ones I *may* have smirked at. The case was eventually dismissed. One rumor said the accused passed a lie detector test, and that she failed. I have no idea if that's true, but it sealed her fate and she laid low a long time. He flourished.
I DID NOTHING.
After graduation, I heard whispers, knowing shrugs and even open discussion of this same accused boy doing the same thing to several other girls, WHICH WAS RAPE. They spoke of it like a rite of passage, or a group they now belonged to. They all said, I shouldn't have been there, I was drunk, etc. By this time, we were all adults and the accuser had moved, but I felt vindicated for her somehow by this reception-hall-bathroom-conversation, even if she didn't know it occurred.
She and I became better friends over the years, over Facebook. I never told her what I had heard, and we have never spoken of her ordeal, or the fact that I didn't do as I should have, was not a friend to a classmate who probably could have really used one. For that I am ashamed. I still see the accused around town, and as much as I don't want to, when he smiles and says hi, I do the same. And I cringe.
In the same time period, another friend said she was date raped by a older boy we hardly knew. One of our friends wondered if she had made it up; after all, she had gone on a drive with him willingly, and was flirting with him like mad. I should have DEFENDED her, should have probably told. I DID believe it happened, but I was afraid to tell my parents because I didn't want her to get in trouble for going off with a clean-cut but much older boy with out-of-town plates and a charming smile, who turned out to be anything but. That sounds ridiculous to my 'parent ears' now. Even worse, I didn't talk to her about it, although we were as close as sisters.
I DID NOTHING.
While we are still close, I STILL haven't talked to her about it at any length, except once when she told me that he raped her in the hard, cold bed of his truck and told her "it can be the easy way, or the hard way". He berated her the entire drive back to town, before offering her another chance to 'learn a little something and do it better next time.'
She was barely 15.
Over summer break, a friend told me her long time boyfriend "pretty much made her do it", after tiring of waiting on her to go all the way. They broke up right after and both were mum as to why it was over, odd in our usually gossipy 'popular clique'. It was the period of time when we were all deciding whether or not to abandon our virginity and I am pretty sure I remember suggesting she should go ahead and do it. To her, that may have felt like pressure, and I am sorry for that.
After she told me, I was horrified that he didn't stop when she said she was at her limit, but again, I didn't handle it well. I was scared of what I knew, and freaked out that the boy who had
done it RAPED HER was at the same party I was later that night, acting like... not-a-monster. I shudder as I remember quietly sharing the *idea* (without saying RAPE) that 'maybe he had pushed my friend to 'do it' and that maybe that was why they had broken up?,' with a small group of our mutual male friends. I remember the boys saying to each other "well, what did she expect; that he would wait forever?" I gave up. WHy did I give up? I should have marched over and kicked him in the nuts for my friend. I even asked him what the hell happened, why they had broken up, hoping he would confirm what she said, admit it to me so I could react appropriately, but he mumbled something incoherent about her being dramatic and I shamefully accepted that. I spent the entire summer inside the same social group with him, the rapist of my good friend.
I DID NOTHING.
My friend and I have rarely spoken of that night, at her urging. I fear that by not being a good friend then, I have made it more difficult for her now.
Today I wrote to each of my three friends and apologized. I do a lot of writing about women's issues, support of women by women, and suddenly feel like a hypocrite. I wrote that I had not supported them, I judged or did not defend them, I failed them as a friend, as a woman. I feel that each of them carries a scar from the incident, but also in part because of my inability to know what to do. I am just now realizing that I knew of 3 rapes before I was 18. THREE RAPES OF TEENAGE GIRLS, and I DID NOTHING. I am sure there are many more I don't know about. The ones that my other girlfriends knew about our other friends, have kept secret for years and the ones they didn't handle as well as they could, either.
As we talk about rape culture, I think there is a chance that the boys in these rapes felt somehow justified, or thought that pushing a girl beyond her initial NO's was 'usual', and that what they did wasn't a scary word like RAPE, since it wasn't like they were 'violent'. Or because she was drunk, or because she had obviously let herself be alone with him for a reason. Maybe they look back now and realize it was wrong. (I'd like to ask them.) Hopefully they didn't continue to behave the same way with others because I DID NOTHING.
Hopefully those who knew about and belittled the claims of our first friend in the 90's look back now as I did and think how we reacted poorly, blamed and shamed a possible victim, and said all those things people are saying now like:
- Why was she so drunk?
- Why did she go with them then?
- She just regretted it the next day..
And then I hope they talk to their teenagers about those events and how we were so, so wrong. Being young is hard, and we have to acknowledge that DOING THE RIGHT THING ISN'T ALWAYS EASY. I was aghast at the actions of the kids at the parties, until i took a long fucking look in the mirror today.
We need to talk about the difficulty of doing the right thing among peers with our young people, instead of stamping the kids in Stuebenville immoral. We need to understand WHY no one reacted, and why some felt the young girl had created this situation to be violated and were comfortable enough to tweet about it. We need to have all the hard discussions and ask all the uncomfortable questions.
I had to force myself to write the word RAPE in this post, made myself capitalize it as I went back and changed it. Even now, I was tempted to minimize the word, make it less horrible. We need to say the word RAPE, identify what it means and label it when it happens without minimization or justification. Or blame.
I want my daughter and son to feel different, to be different and to have the courage to do the things I didn't do to support friends and classmates, even when it isn't easy. I want them to understand the awkward nuances of sex, and where the limits lie, without debate. But without acknowledging my own failings, it will sound hollow to my own ears.
My penance for my failure will be to share this post with them when the time comes, share the stories above and the role I played in rape culture. There are many to blame, including myself.
I AM DOING SOMETHING.
My gratitude to the women who accepted my apology today and agreed to allow me to share their stories in this blog. Their courage and forgiveness overwhelm me.