It’s time to interrupt our regularly scheduled lineup of illness rants, writing news, and wacky Shakespeare happenings to bring you yet another infuriating installment of how rape culture is still alive and well in our supposedly civilized world. Three days ago, Rolling Stone published the findings of an investigation conducted by the Columbia School of Journalism on what went wrong in the exposé “A Rape on Campus,” in which a UVA student describes being gang-raped in a fraternity house. Once the account was discovered to have major inconsistencies (although it’s important to remember that the article’s subject, Jackie, gave an initial description of her assault–that she was forced to perform oral sex on several men in a frat house–that is still, by any legal definition, rape), the collective media response was to get swept up in whether or not Jackie’s experience as reported in Rolling Stone was true. What’s been lost as a result of this free-for-all of faultfinding and finger-pointing (and Rolling Stone’s decision to scrub the original article from its web site) is the fact that many, many rapes and attempted rapes have happened at UVA.
In fact, as anyone with an internet connection and the ability to type “rape” into a search engine could tell you, rape and sexual assault happen everywhere, all over the world.
You know what else you can find out if you look hard enough? Everyone gets raped.
And at the moment, by “everyone,” I mean men.
One thing that struck me after reading the Jezebel article ” ‘Law and Justice Aren’t the Same’: Interview with a UVA Rape Survivor” (see the first “many” in the above sentence for the link) is the fact that the reporter and the rape survivor, both young women, seem to have an incredibly low threshold for what counts as rape. Here’s one exchange between the two that raised my middle-aged, somewhat prudish eyebrows:
Let me ask you another question, which I want to preface by saying I understand, personally and well, that there’s a massive difference between drunk or even blackout sex and rape. But, some people really fear the potential gray area—they fear that some girls will think “regrettable” and cry assault.
I find that idea very out of step with reality, but it’s worth asking: how did you know the difference? How did you know when you woke up that you hadn’t consented? That it wasn’t just, you got drunk and had sex?
Because I couldn’t take a breath without hearing those guys joke about fucking my dead body. I knew very deep down that something horrific had happened. I knew I had not had the chance to make the choice. I did not want to fuck that guy. I did not in any way want to give him access to my body.
I know, when I’ve had drunk sex—vague memories, unclear situations—that I was an active participant. People would tell me the morning after, “You said this, you did this,” and I’d be like, “Sure, that sounds like me.”
There is a difference between having drunk sex and having someone penetrate you when you are lying there, basically unconscious.
Now, I could go into some extended analysis about the sexual mores of these two women and self-protection and all that. But I’m not going to–one, because it’s not my place to judge their mores, and two, because we’re Considering the Rapist here, and their comments give me a wee bit of insight into what college campus rapists might particularly be getting off on: bodies that are warm and limp and completely defenseless. In the Jezebel article, the interviewee said when she woke up and discovered where she was the morning after the rape, a man outside the room marveled that the man who’d raped her “is a necrophiliac, he likes to fuck dead girls.”
Hopefully, I don’t have to explain to any readers of this blog how vaginas and other female body cavities are always in use and not open to the sexual pleasure of others whether the body’s owner is awake, asleep, or incapacitated. I also don’t think I need to explain how the fantasy of a woman drunk or passed out in the vicinity of a male virgin/nerd/guy who’s hit a dry spell in his sex life is considered funny or even a dream come true in popular culture. (Just think back to the movie “Sixteen Candles” if you want a taste of how the fantasy works.) What I would suggest, however, is that men who like to fuck “dead” bodies may not stop with female ones.
So many men who patrol the comment boards of various media outlets are quick to pounce on articles that don’t consider how men who are falsely accused of rape have their lives turned upside down for no reason. I’m certainly not saying this doesn’t happen, but what I am saying is that this rhetorical stance (while being patently offensive to rape victims) seems to buy into the idea that a man can have sex with a semi- or fully unconscious woman “accidentally” or because he’s fulfilling his dream of getting laid for the first time, or getting laid with a beautiful body, or getting laid with a particular beautiful body he’s been worshiping from afar. The commenter implicitly sympathizes with the man accused: this is the dream, the commenter says, and I could just as easily be caught up in it as the next man.
What the commenter doesn’t tend to see is that people who are into raping others will rape anyone if the opportunity arises. In 2009, male prisoners-of-war in Uganda were gang-raped repeatedly by their captors over the course of days or weeks. In 2012, the National Crime Victimization Survey studied 40,000 households in the U.S. and revealed that 38% of the rapes reported had male victims. Further, over 46 percent of those rapes with male victims involved female attackers. Yes, that’s right: men can get raped by women. And according to a recent article on Cracked, the experience isn’t funny or a dream come true.
So if people who rape will rape anyone, and rapes are happening on college campuses–particularly in frat houses–what makes the men who are so skeptical of female survivors and so eager to exonerate potential rapists think that they’d be safe in a frat house after a stint of binge drinking? What makes them think that some passing fraternity brother (or group of brothers) wouldn’t find a vulnerable first-year or nerd an easy target for a reaming with an empty bottle? Or worse? Sure, guys in frats don’t want to be seen as gay, but rape isn’t about sexual orientation. It’s about power. And if a guy or an assortment of guys thinks it would be fun to fuck up your genitalia while you’re sleeping, they’re going to. Count on it.
How much money do you want to bet that there are men out there who have been sexually assaulted on college campuses, men keeping their trauma a secret because they don’t want to face the backlash if they speak up? Or because they know they’ll have to explain why they were underage and lied their way into a boozefest and got so drunk they couldn’t defend themselves? Or because they’ve rationalized the whole thing as just a harmless prank, and they were probably asking for it anyway?
We do everyone a disservice when we ignore the fact that everyone gets raped by rapists. We should find the men who get raped on college campuses and encourage them to tell their stories, just as we encourage women to do so. It shouldn’t be the case that we have to include men in an issue to get society to listen to women. But as a civilized society, we also have to face the fact that everyone gets raped and stop laughing (or, even worse, cheering) at the idea that men get raped and make a greater effort to include everyone in the healing process.