This was the week of high-profile rape accusations. By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the sexual assault allegation against Al Gore (as if his divorce wasn’t shock enough, or the rumor of an affair with Larry David’s ex-wife). Of the charge, Feministing reminds us that liberal, progressive men can assault women too: “Now, there’s no way for us to know what’s true and what’s not, but I would really hate to see folks automatically come to Gore’s defense because of his reputation in the progressive and liberal spheres. In fact, the woman accusing Gore seems to know all too well that this kind of defense (and victim-blaming) is a distinct possibility.”
An icon of another sort, the Mets’ Johan Santana (and, let’s be honest, the only reason that team has a chance) was accused of sexual assault last year in documents recently released by TMZ. Nothing came of the case as “there was not enough evidence to prove lack of consent” according to the prosecutor (though as we know in some cases, “lack of evidence” can really mean intimidation). Santana admits to having sex with her, but says she never said “no” (leaving it the woman’s responsibility to not get raped). From the story, it seems that the pair had a history, and Santana perhaps misread cues and took it too far. He never saw the woman after that incident (which would lead me to believe that this in fact was not consensual), and she had completed a rape kit shortly after the event (which makes me think that she wasn’t after money). This story sparked an interesting conversation between me and my boyfriend (a Mets fan), who argued that, unlike Ben Roethlisberger or Lawrence Taylor (who was just indicted, btw), Santana doesn’t have a history of aggression, sexual or otherwise, or is a known asshole like this guy, who warns athletes to treat their mistresses right if they don’t want to be accused of rape. Which is why it’s important to note that, like Feministing’s point with Al Gore, nice guys can rape too – especially if we live in a society where rape culture is so prominent that men (and even women) can’t distinguish between consent and sexual playfulness – especially when force is so often depicted as playfulness. I’m currently in the middle of reading The Beauty Myth and the chapter on sex is spot on about how our cultural portrays rape as sex and tricks us into believing that’s a desirable situation (see: high end fashion ads, mainstream porn, etc).
This type of culture also leaves plenty of room for victim-blaming, like The Examiner did in reporting a sexual assault (oh but don’t worry, they apologized later by saying their intern did it). And Jezebel writes: “there’s only one proven cause of all rapes: rapists. Rather than arguing over the motivation for a crime committed by so many different people in so many different circumstances, maybe we should simply concentrate on lifting the blame from those upon which it all too often falls: the victims.”
And how about harassment in the workplace? Rape culture certainly allows for that (because you see, women in public spaces = open to commentary, touching, and the like). Take for instance this parks employee being groped by her supervisor on her first day of work, or this restaurant owner who groped his teen worker, or this doctor who set up a video camera to spy on women in the bathroom. These are assaults that happen everyday to women’s bodies, confidences, and sense of security.
As the discussion with my boyfriend concluded, he remarked how the entire culture has to change in order to fix this problem. We’re getting there, a bit at a time, but we must be that change we wish to see. That means speaking up, sharing our stories, and calling out friends when they’ve crossed a line. What’s one thing you can do this week to help prevent sexual assault?
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Amanda is the author of the blog The Undomestic Goddess.