Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Men, Rape and the disbelievers

Recently, I had the privilege to interview White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on the task force to protect students from sexual assault in colleges. With the recent mass shooting in California, this brings sexual assault on campuses across the country in plain view.  So it personally irks me when men still don't believe that rape occurs at the rate that it does or what defines a rape.  Case in point:

The other day, a colleague of mine wanted to show me a video.  Now, politically, we are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Total opposites.  But professionally and personally I consider him a friend.  Looking at the relationships in Congress and the Senate, we are an anomaly, but, nevertheless it works.  The other day, he ushered me over to see this video of Glenn Beck's producer trying to debunk the notion, and say that the White House is ridiculous in stating that 1 out of every 5 girls in college is sexually assaulted.  I would have linked you to the full video, but you have to pay, and I don't want to put you through that.  I cringed as I stood in shock and awe as he laughed through this clip.  He thought it was a hilarious and ridiculous statistic.  

I was of course disheartened.  Not that he thought sexual assault was okay, (because he didn't) but that he thought the statistic is flawed.  He didn't believe the White House's assertion that 1 in 5 women were sexually assaulted in college. These numbers come from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  The White House didn't make them up.  If you don't believe an organization who's 
 main goal is to protect public health and safety  then I don't know what to tell you.  But something happened to me while I sat there, wanting to curse at the computer.  While watching this clip, while taking note of my colleagues sheer ignorance, I remembered my own sexual assault and rape.  Parts of my life that I had chosen to completely block out, as if they never happened.  I suspect this might be true for a lot of women.  I don't know if it was just a repressed memory or dissociative amnesia.  I would rather not relive traumatic events in my life over and over again.  But at that moment, it all came back to me in full color.  So let me tell you my story.  

Right now, in Washington, DC women wear dresses when they go out all the time.  But there was a time when that wasn't the case. 

In 1999, I was a junior in college.  I remember the sayings back when I was a student "Don't wear a dress when you go out, you might get raped" and I used to think, "come on, no one can rape you in an open club that's ridiculous, people are all around you someone would notice".  But I also remember back then, everyone heeded that anonymous advice and no girls would ever wear dresses out.  

I went to a party off campus one time, pants on, and as the party became packed mid-way through the night, a guy who I couldn't see or identify, grabbed my crotch and started fondling it.  It was too packed for me to move.  I tried to fight whoever was nearest to me, but I couldn't identify a specific person.  I never reported it.  The incident happened off campus and who could I have reported it to with no suspect?  Does that mean that because I didn't report it, it didn't happen?

Shortly after I graduated from college, I started talking to a guy who I'd met at a conference.  He eventually persuaded me to meet-up with him and I obliged.  I thought he was nice and we had been talking for a few weeks and established a connection, so I was fine with meeting up with him at a neutral location.  Plus I didn't want him to know where I lived.  So we met up, and he asked if I wanted to take a ride with him.   I said sure, even though I thought the meet-up was suppose to be the date.  The spontaneous spirit I was at the time said, "Go with it Andrea, just have fun."  His "ride" ended up being a ride back to his house.  He cooked dinner so I thought "what a sweet person" even though it was a cheap first date.  After we talked for awhile, I tell him that I'm glad that we finally connected and couldn't wait to do it again and if he could take me back to my car, I would greatly appreciate it.  He refuses.  I then realize the situation I am in.   Now, let me just set the stage.  This is before the age of wide cell-phone use, so at the time I had no cell phone.  I was a broke, fresh out of college student who had all of 3 dollars in her bank account.   I didn't know where I was,  I am alone and none of my immediate family knows where I am.  Every thought about girls going missing, women getting killed, raped was now going through my mind.  Panicked, I try to coerce him to take me back to my car.  That doesn't work.  He "suggests" that we just go to sleep.  I am 5,4 120 pounds on a good day.  With no way to get out of the situation, I oblige, but insist that I will sleep on the couch.  He refuses that too.  We talk ad nauseum about the sleeping arrangements until the early morning.  I finally relent to sleeping in the bed, because i'm tired, because I have to get up in the morning and go to work, and because underneath it all, I thought Andrea you still have a little bit of control in this situation,  you may not be able to leave, but you know you aren't going to have sex with him, so it's okay if you just lay down in the same bed, you'll still have all your clothes on.  

But I wasn't in control.  I said no several times that night.  I'm not going to replay them for you all, but suffice to say, did he rip my clothes and beat me? No.  But was it consensual sex? No.  I did not physically fight him, but I clearly said no several times.   I made it very clear that I did not want to have sex with him at any point in the evening.  

From Republican Rep. Todd Akin's legitimate rape comments to GOP Rep. Richard Mourdock saying "
even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen"  People think that you have to be a certain "type" of girl to get assaulted or raped.  Or that it often involves alcohol or some type of drug.  I was completely sober both times that I was assaulted.    I've had very few relationships.  I've often heard men discuss women getting raped in terms of "well what was she doing?" I can tell you right now, she didn't have to be doing anything.

The next morning, getting what he wanted, he thought we were starting a relationship.  I never wanted to see his face again.  I remember the next day, my sister, who was my roommate at the time, yelling at me for not telling her where I had gone.  I didn't know how I could have gotten myself in the situation I was in the night before.

I never reported any of these incidents of assault.  I never wanted to.  Like I said earlier, I had really blocked them out of my mind.  I remember tackling this subject on the radio program that I produce, and a colleague of mine asked me had I ever been raped.  I said no.  Selective amnesia I guess.

Wikipedia would classify my incidence as acquaintance rape.  I say rape is rape, no matter if the instance is forceful or not, no matter if it includes drugs, alcohol, or none at all.  Forced, date, acquaintance, or non-consensual rape. They are all the same.  In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease control In a nationally representative survey of adults, 37.4% of female rape victims were first raped between ages 18-24. In a study of undergraduate women, 19% experienced attempted  or completed sexual assault since entering college.   1 in 5. 

This isn't about the victims.  Let me repeat.  THIS ISN'T ABOUT THE VICTIMS.  This is about a person exerting their power and control over another.  It's not right and we need to change the mindset behind it in order to change the behavior.   I will admit I never knew what it was until it happened to me.  I, like my co-worker, didn't believe that women could get assaulted by going on a date with a guy that you liked, especially if you liked the person.  In my mind, how could it really be classified as assault if you had feelings for the person?

So to my co-worker who thinks that the statistic for sexual assault and rape is ridiculous, I implore him to challenge his ignorance.  No one walks around saying, i've been raped, I've been sexually assaulted.  Women don't carry a badge on their clothing that says "victim".  But believe me, it happens at more alarming rates than men want to believe. 

I am glad the White House is tackling sexual assault in colleges, and yes, the statistic is correct.  1 in 5 females will get sexually assaulted in college.  Is that alarming? I hope so.  Because we need to eradicate the mindset of dominance and control over women's bodies.