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RAINN Day: Changing the Conversation

I write this in the middle of RAINN Day- a day dedicated to empowering college students to discuss sexual assault and violence through the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. And in honor of this day of awareness and conversation, I have decided to continue the conversation.

Two weeks ago, our Her Campus editor Kait Provost shared an incredibly personal story with us via blog. In case you did not have a chance to read her post (which you should, because it’s important) Kait discussed how her and a few friends had been inappropriately approached and harassed by a group men at Fastrac in town. Among other inappropriate and unwarranted comments, one of the men made a snide remark about one of the ladies’ outfits. Sadly, situations like this (and worse) happen every two minutes, according to the statistics on RAINN’s website. And the only thing I can ask is – why? Though I may not know how to solve the problem, I do have a suggestion to you all: Let’s change the conversation, not the topic.

The first problem we have here in the United States is that we don’t like to talk about sensitive issues. Rape, incest, and sexual assault are all topics that sort of go under the radar because they are all incredibly sensitive topics. Yeah, sure, we can all probably go back to that health class in 11th grade where we were taught “party etiquette” and shown some statistics- but what about personal stories? Ladies and gentlemen who are brave enough to come forward as sexual assault survivors and choose to share their stories should be encouraged. Numbers are only numbers, but when a face and a story are affiliated with said numbers, things become real. Numbers take the form of people. People begin to take the form of our classmates, and friends. In order to truly address the issue that is sexual assault, we must listen to the stories of our neighbors. Otherwise, statistics will remain statistics.

Our second issue is how we teach adolescents and emerging young adults to prevent rape. Let’s go back to that 11th grade health class I mentioned earlier. Okay, so your teacher tells you all to, you know, cover your cup at parties, to never walk home alone or even to the BATHROOM alone. They taught you to always use the buddy system, or even in some cases to watch what you wear. They taught the ladies not to drink too much. They taught the ladies to stay in large groups. In some instances they taught the ladies not to dress too provocatively. And maybe, somewhere in that lecture the teacher peppered in “no means no” and then you moved on to how to use condoms correctly or something.

This is the problem, my friends. Women are told how to not get raped. Men, instead, are given a quick note at the bottom of the page: “no means no.” Men are not told to not rape.

Surprisingly, I had never even considered this. Up until my sophomore year in college I sort of just followed all the rules that were put in place in order to keep me safe. And then one day, a good friend of mine brought to my attention the problem we are facing. The topic of rape had come up one day in conversation and we were talking. And he said to me “That’s the problem with rape culture in America. Women are taught to not get raped, when men should be being taught not to rape.”

Talk about an ah-ha moment.

From that point forward I realized that we really do have a problem here. The fact is that I could take all of the precautions necessary against sexual assault, but I could still end up getting raped. And this applies to anyone, man or woman. Despite everything we have been taught, at the end of the day it does not matter- because men are not told to not rape women.

An argument to this point could be that it is a parent’s responsibility to discuss rape with their sons and daughters. Which is relevant, yes. But then why did I spend half of my freshman orientation learning about rape statistics and how to prevent and report sexual assault on campus? What about that health class from high school we discussed earlier? Why did I spend half of my freshman year with another girl attached to my hip? Why do my male friends get nervous when I say I’m going to walk home alone at 1am? Because this conversation is not happening, and if it is, the parents aren’t talking loud enough.

The solution to nearly any problem is to educate. We need to educate men and women on how to handle and abolish sexual assault all together.

I received a t-shirt today from an organization on campus. On the back were all the rules we have been taught throughout our lives, and written next to them are what they should be. Instead of “don’t drink” the rule is “don’t take advantage of her/him if they’ve been drinking” among many other wonderful ideas to abide by.But it can all be boiled down to three words.

Don’t. Take. Advantage.

So let’s change the conversation, but not the topic. Let’s stop talking about how to not get raped because that hasn’t been working. One in four women are victims of sexual assault. So let’s start talking about how to end rape in the United States. And in order to end rape, we have to stop raping one another. And now that I re-read that sentence it seems crude and unusual- but isn’t that what rape is anyway?

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