The Consent of Ignorance

Lindsay was a guest at a wedding.  The couple’s reception followed the ceremony and the festivities continued.  Lindsay, an attractive, energetic, friendly woman, began talking to a fellow wedding guest.  She had never met the man before, but he seemed nice enough.  She had a casual drink with him. Things slowly progressed throughout the evening and conversation was followed by a kiss or two.  Lindsay had no intentions of moving any further with a man she just met and she told him that.  The man offered her another drink and she accepted.  Soon an unnatural paralysis traveled through her body.  Away from the rest of the wedding guests, Lindsay could feel the man removing her clothing.  Everything went blank.  Minutes later, Lindsay woke up and the man was on top of her and inside of her.  She was being rapped.

Lindsay left the wedding a changed woman. At home she scribbled any intelligible thoughts down in her journal and she cried.  No amount of scrubbing in the shower removed the filth. She felt powerless and unclean.  Lindsay, like many other survivors of sexual assault, did not go to the hospital to get medically cleared.  And like many survivors, she did not report the assault to the police. Lindsay hid away her secret from many of the friends and family members she trusted most. 

While in college, Lindsay and I became friends.  We lived in the same residence hall, had a few classes together, and shared similar values.  I didn’t know about Lindsay’s past assault history until one afternoon she admitted to having questions about the event.  I’m not sure what led her to ask me, but she described a conversation she had with a mutual friend.  This friend stated Lindsay was responsible for the rape.  This friend, an educated woman, believed that Lindsay’s choice to drink and socialize with the man passed the blame to Lindsay, not the man who assaulted her.  Lindsay asked for my thoughts. Infuriated and with more conviction than I expected, I reassured her that she was not the cause of another person’s violent choice.

Your opinion of me may change after you read this post.  You’ll likely believe you’re not a part of the problem.  With that said, I rarely write on hot topics.  For the most part it’s because I’m not enough of an expert on any of them to spout off opinions based on mirrored facts.  Today’s exception has been made after years of observations that both anger and embarrass me.  Today I’m writing about rape.
Tony Campolo, a sociologist and pastor once wrote, “The United Nations reports that over ten thousand people starve to death each day, and most of you don’t give a shit.  However, what is even more tragic is that most of you are more concerned about the fact that I said a bad word than you are about the fact that ten thousand people are going to die today.”   For the sake of my argument, that quote could easily refer instead to the roughly 600 women who are assaulted every day in the US.  Like everything else, unless we are personally affected, the vast majority of US citizens won’t touch the topic unless a celebrity or a politician is somehow attached to the debate.
Lindsay’s story isn’t unique, and Lindsay’s friend’s reaction isn’t either.   Therein lies the problem.  The US fosters a rape culture. Survivors of sexual assault, both male and female, have not only been forced into a violent sexual act, but as survivors, they are being forced to defend their status as a victim. 
She drank too much. It’s not rape.
She was dressed to impress.  Clearly not rape.
She knew the guy.  He couldn’t have raped her. 
She was just looking for attention. There’s no way he raped her.
She eventually liked it. It wasn’t rape.
She kissed him first. That can’t be rape.
She didn’t fight back. Not rape.
She was walking alone. Of course she was raped.
She wasn’t carrying pepper spray.  That’s why she was raped.
The point is, in a country that honors the constitutional right to be viewed as innocent until proven guilty, the victims are often put on trial by society instead of the perpetrators. 
You can argue the facts and argue against my opinion, but that only proves one thing; you’re missing my point. Sexual assault, on a global scale, is an immensely harmful problem.  If we can justify rape in the US, a country built on civil liberties, how are we in a position to respond when countries like Yemen justify the rape of child brides or when Congolese soldiers justify the gang rape of fifty women?
In the political season of 2012, sexual assault has become a political issue.  Rape is not a political issue; it’s a human one.  Too often politics are used as a platform to talk about issues that people are otherwise uncomfortable discussing. This is a good thing you might think. Yes, there are certainly positive things about making certain issues public, but Western culture (a rape culture, mind you) convinces us that only with political intervention can we solve the problem. Politicians can establish stronger laws and harsher punishments, after all.
I am telling you, the problem will not be solved at a podium, or on a platform hung with banners, or behind Senate walls; it will be solved around the kitchen table, in the classroom, on our own personal soap box. We have to teach our peers and our children what it means to respect each other, a lesson not learned in politics.  We need to teach our children about sex and healthy relationships even when it’s uncomfortable.  We need to teach our men and women about accountability and consequences.  We can’t wait for additional bills to be passed and we cannot wait to take our cues from the President.
Lindsay shared her story with me and she gave me permission to share it with you.  She explained that she rarely provides details because people often blame her for the assault.  Lindsay believes people are more comfortable labeling the assault as a mistake on her part rather than a mistake the perpetrator made.   She told me, in doing so, these people feel like they have more control and are, for that reason, less likely to make the same “mistakes” Lindsay did. 
Lindsay was not misguided when she attended the wedding. She didn’t wear a dress designed to attract perpetrators. Lindsay was not being unreasonable when she decided to socialize with other wedding guests.  Lindsay did not ask for her drink to be topped off with a drug. She didn’t mistakenly give permission to be stripped naked.  Lindsay didn’t accidentally consent to being assaulted.  She was not at fault. I stand with Lindsay.  
Information was sourced from both the Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010 and the FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010
I intentionally did not tackle the issue of abortion in rape cases. There’s little about that topic I’d personally want to put a political stamp on.  It’s an issue with two very determined viewpoints.  There’s no better way to make enemies than by declaring a political opinion, and I don’t want my political opinions to stop someone from hearing my very human opinions on sexual assault.