I can’t count the number of times I’ve been given advice on how to avoid being sexually harassed or assaulted or raped. Whether it’s wearing conservative, unrevealing clothing, not drinking, not speaking to strangers, not leading people on, or not being flirtatious (among other methods), I’ve heard so many ways to modify my behavior so as not to provoke sexual violence against myself.
But, let’s make one thing very clear: sexual violence is almost never about sex. It’s about power and dominance. If sexual violence was about sex, all of those avoidance techniques above would work — and if a woman followed all of them, she would be able to avoid assault or abuse. As we’ve seen over and over again in news stories, they don’t work. A woman can be raped when she’s completely covered or when she’s rejecting a man’s advances or when she’s sober, so clearly none of those things are the causes of rape. All of these situational factors are just that: situational. Short hem-lines don’t cause rape. Talking to strangers doesn’t cause rape. Flirting doesn’t cause rape. Refusing to acknowledge and respect a lack of willingly given and enthusiastic consent causes rape.
Yes, women commit rape, too. Yes, this is absolutely a problem that needs to be addressed. However, the vast majority of rapes are committed by men, including the instances in which men are raped. Unarguably, any occurrence of rape is too many occurrences of rape, so what can we do to lower these occurrences? To modify a famous Salt-N-Pepa song, “Let’s talk about consent, baby.” Consent, to be considered consent, must be willingly given (i.e. not coerced, enthusiastic, and continuous agreement to having sex or to performing sexual acts).
This means that it isn’t consent if one person has to be convinced to have sex. It isn’t consent if someone stops giving consent during sex. It isn’t consent if someone is unenthusiastic about it. It isn’t consent if a person is too intoxicated to give consent or isn’t in their right mind. If someone is unable to coherently give consent and know what they’re consenting to do, it isn’t consent. There are far too many people who don’t understand the concept of consent or don’t care enough about the other person to make sure they consent.
From a very young age, girls are taught that their bodies are inappropriate in a way that boys’ aren’t. Limitations on what girls are allowed to wear to school aren’t based on the girls’ abilities to concentrate in school, but on the possibility that the boys will be distracted by the girls’ bodies. As young as kindergarten, girls learn that their bodies are too distracting for boys to see in school. Never have I heard a case of a boy getting sent home from school for revealing too much shoulder, chest, midriff, or leg. In a related vein, never have I heard of a boy getting sent home from school for ogling a girl’s body. Adults police girls’ bodies to ensure that boys’ behavior remains appropriate, while they say nothing to the boys about not ogling those girls. This type of treatment puts the onus on the girls to behave and dress in a certain way to not provoke behaviors from other people, which is an unfair burden to place on someone.
Rather than sending girls home for wearing shorts in hot weather, how about we teach boys that staring at their classmates is wrong? How about we teach boys to respect girls? Why are we interrupting girls’ educations and punishing them by sending them home from school when it’s the boys’ behavior that’s wrong? Putting the responsibility on girls to prevent a guys’ behavior is something that starts at an incredibly young age, and it continues to escalate until people are telling them how to act and dress and live in order to avoid being raped.
Which is why I suggest we teach boys to respect girls’ bodies, so that men will respect women’s.
That’s how to stop rape. You stop rape by teaching people not to rape, not by policing women’s behavior, clothing, and habits. Since, as I said earlier, most of the rapes that occur are committed by men and are acts of power and dominance, we need to teach boys to learn to respect girls when they’re young so that respect will transfer into teenage years and adulthood. If they learn that they aren’t responsible for what they do when girls are dressed a certain way or act a certain way, they’ll continue to believe that and the power dynamic will continue to exist that dictates that men should be more powerful than women.
This has nothing to do with saying that all men are rapists or even that most men are rapists. It has to do with the fact that, to stop rape from occurring, we need to teach kids about consent. We need to hold kids accountable for their own behavior, rather than punishing them for someone else’s. It’s never too early to learn to respect your peers and their boundaries. It’s time we teach kids this lesson if we actually want to end rape.
See more about our open submissions if you’d like to share your own story.