From a very young age we are taught to fear strangers. Parent, teachers and loved ones warn children of stranger danger instructing them not to speak or go anywhere with someone they don’t know.
As we grow up this message is reinforced, particularly for women. We are told to be aware of our surroundings when walking alone late at night for fear of the stranger lurking in the bushes ready to attack. This story of the stranger hiding in the bushes or a dark alley is also often used when warning women about sexual assault. We are told we shouldn’t go out late at night alone, especially in parks, and that we should carry pepper spray in our purses to be ready to fend off violent attackers. So we grow up thinking we can pinpoint potential perpetrators — the creepy guy in the park, the man in the hoodie walking closely behind you.
It is this type of thinking that has skewed many of our perceptions about what rape really looks like. Take for example a recent trial where a man was unanimously found guilty of rape and sentenced to five years in jail. At his sentencing Judge Michael Mettyear had the following to say about the convicted man:
“I do not regard you as a classic rapist. I do not think you are a general danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape.”
I bet if you asked Judge Mettyear what he meant by “classic rapist” we’d get some iteration of a creepy man who attacks women in dark alleys or behind bushes.
What’s worse in this case is that the judge continued his assessment of the case by saying things like:
“This was a case where you just lost control of normal restraint.”
“The victim was the worst for drink out of the two of them. She was completely out of it.”
“She was a pretty girl who you fancied. You simply could not resist. You had sex with her.”
I mean I could write a whole other blog post about these remarks but I digress. The point is that Judge Mettyear is clearly misinformed about what rape is. There is no such thing as a “classic rapist.” Men don’t just lose control and rape women. Being drunk doesn’t mean a woman can’t be raped. This man didn’t have sex with his victim, he raped her.
Messages like this are not only incredibly insensitive to victims, but dangerous for everyone. When we believe that these types of myths are reality, victims start to question what happened to them and are reluctant to report, people don’t understand what consent really look likes, attackers might not know they are raping women, rapists go free, rapists rape again, rape cases aren’t investigated, the list goes on and on.
The results are devastating. Consider the rape crisis on college campuses. Women in college are highly susceptible to rape, yet a new report reveals that nearly half of colleges and universities haven’t looked at a single case of rape and 20 percent don’t investigate all the incidents they report to the feds. Perhaps one of the reasons this is happening is because even administrators aren’t sure what qualifies as rape.
It’s high time we dispel myths about rape and start creating real understanding of what sexual assault looks like in all it’s forms. First, and foremost, rape isn’t a crime that is predominately committed by strangers. In fact, 73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by a non-stranger and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim. Perhaps we’ve held tight to the myth of stranger danger because we don’t want to live in a world where we think people we know can commit rape, but unfortunately the majority of perpetrators are the people who are closest to the victims. We can also lay the dark alley and bushes myth to rest because more than 50 percent of sexual assaults actually occur within 1 mile of the victim’s home.
Beyond statistics, I have found that one of the most effective ways to dispel myths about rape is to hear women’s stories. No two rapes are the same which is part of what makes it so difficult to define and so easy to instead rely on myths. This powerful story called “Breakfast” is an incredible example of the kinds of rape stories we don’t often hear about. Here is an excerpt:
The morning after I was rape I made my rapist breakfast…The night before he hovered over me and said ‘So pretty.’ When I said no, he said ‘Why not?’ When I asked him why he was doing this, he said ‘You are just so beautiful.” So, the morning after, I made him breakfast. There is another story that I like better. I fight. I spit. I struggle. In this story, I am brave. But this is not my story, and it is not true, because I am not brave and I did not fight.
Another powerful story, “My Rapist Doesn’t Know He’s A Rapist (Because My Culture Hasn’t Taught Him He Is One),” is another great example that points out some of the reasons people don’t know what rape is:
I convinced myself that if it was rape, I would have been injured. If it was rape, I would have been aware of that in the moment, and fought him off. If it was rape, I would have told on him.
My rapist doesn’t know he’s a rapist because in his mind, he was drunk too, so we were on the same page, right?
He doesn’t know he’s a rapist because society has taught him that drunk girls like me who come on to you are asking for it.
He doesn’t know he’s a rapist because, like I did at first, he believes that if he doesn’t physically hurt someone, it’s not considered rape.
He believes that since he ‘knew me’ for one night and didn’t attack me on the street, it’s not considered rape.
I applaud these brave women for sharing their stories so candidly. It is these kinds of stories that will help dispel myths about rape once and for all and prove that the idea of a “classic rapist” really does not exist.
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Photo Credit: OUCHcharley
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