Well here we are again, and it’s always such a pleasure, as the song goes. Maybe one day I will write when I’m not feeling sick and angry, but so far, I suppose I will be grateful I haven’t already forgotten that I have this blog.
Just about everyone in Sweden will know what this is about, I think, but for the sake of those who might not know what almighty fuckery is going down here right now, I will explain. A 15-year-old girl was raped by six boys around her own age. They took her clothes and hid her phone, they locked the door to the room. And they are now freed because the law at the time of the crime was formulated in such a way that it was decided that according to it… she wasn’t helpless enough. Because she wasn’t drunk out of her mind, or asleep, or injured, or mentally ill, or underage according to Swedish law, it wasn’t rape. Because being one person against six, in a locked room, without her phone or her clothes, is practically the same as wanting it.
Even though she said no. Even though four of the attackers have admitted to having sex with her. Even though the court has ruled her story to be believable, and even though her attackers changed their stories in the beginning, and there were things that didn’t match there… it’s not rape.
It’s not rape. Why? Because it’s ‘understandable’ that the attackers changed their stories in the beginning, because they were frightened. Because it’s not clear beyond any doubt that she had reason to be afraid of retribution if she said no (even though she did, and was ignored). Because the room was dark, so that means she probably couldn’t tell properly if she really was raped, I guess.
This reminds me of something. It reminds me of the Bible. You know, the part that says that if a married/betrothed woman is raped out in the country, she is free from guilt, because no one could hear her scream. But if she’s raped in the city, she should be judged in the same way as the rapist, because she didn’t scream loud enough. That’s Deutoronomy 22:23-27, right before the part that says that a man who rapes an unbetrothed virgin should marry her and pay her father, and that makes it all alright. One of those parts of the Bible that all sane Christians agree are antiquated and, not to put too fine a point to it, full of bullshit.
Have we really come no further than that? The answer appears to be, not much.
(As a by the way, this is why I always grit my teeth every time I hear that Sweden is such a great country, that there are barely any injustices left here, that we’re so much better than this or that country. This is a great country, and there are things that are better here. But if we just sit on our asses and pat ourselves on our backs and pretend that there is nothing more to be done… then 15-year-old girls will continue to get raped while their attackers go free.)
I’m so angry right now that if the text medium was adequate to express incoherent screaming and crying, it’s possible I would just leave it at that. But all in all that is not very constructive, so I will attempt reason instead. Again, these are things that have been said before, and by people far more eloquent than I could ever hope to be, but since it seems that so many still aren’t listening, it can’t hurt that one more person raises their voice.
As the relatively old (but still relevant) Swedish feminist song says: Vi måste höja våra röster för att höras. We must raise our voices to be heard.
So I will say this: This is yet another reason upon thousands and tens of thousands more to why we must teach young men not to rape. Not just to be generally nice and respectful of women; we must explicitly teach them to not commit sexual assault.
People say, but we don’t explicitly teach people not to murder, so why this?
Why? Because this argument would only be relevant if people seriously started questioning murder victims. If it was taken into consideration whether the murder victim was drunk, or if they said no or not, or if they’d tried to kill themselves before, or if they had been wearing or saying or doing something that might have provoked the murderer. Not just in some freak cases, but in all cases.
If murders were freed on a regular basis because it wasn’t clear beyond any doubt that the murder victim didn’t want to die, I would say this argument was relevant. But it’s not. This kid of rhetoric is almost never used when you talk about other crimes. No one frees a bank robber because the person at checkout didn’t say no or stop, or a burglar because the person who owns the house was drunk or asleep when it happened. Unless someone explicitly says “Yes, please take all of my money, I want you to have it” while clearly not intoxicated or mentally ill, and then preferably actively participates in the giving of said money, taking it is theft. And we all know that if you kill someone, then a person is dead and it can never be taken back, and it doesn’t matter what the person did or said or if they had a history of repeated suicide, or even if they have killed someone, because murder is murder.
Society teaches us this. We all know that no matter the circumstances, hurting someone or stealing something is indisputably a crime.
But when it comes to women’s right to their own bodies, suddenly all these things that seem so obvious suddenly fall into a hole.
And that is why the argument doesn’t work, and why we need to teach boys and men not to rape. This isn’t the same as assuming that all boys and men are rapists. This is acknowledging the fact that today, society is not actively teaching them not to do this, and that this needs to change. To assume that all men are rapists is to assume that if a girl says the wrong thing, or does the wrong thing, or wears the wrong thing, she will automatically get raped, and this is the kind of thinking that teaching men not to rape will prevent.
I’m not saying it would do away with rape completely, because as with every crime, it is entirely possible for the perpetrator to know that what they’re doing is a crime and simply not care. Murder still happens, and so will rape. But what it will do, with time, is change the way we view rape as a society. It will teach us not to blame the victim for the crime committed against them. It will stop us from assuming that rape happens because the attacker thinks that the victim actually wants it; that unless she is attacked by a stranger in the park, it’s just a sad misunderstanding and no one is to blame (and even if she is, it’s her fault for being alone in the park). It will teach us that rape isn’t about the attacker getting carried away because boys only have one thing on their mind, and all about control. We teach boys being in control of everything and everyone around them is what being a man is all about. All we really have to do is stop.
It’s so simple. If you’re a parent, tell your son this: Ask her if she wants to have sex. If she says no, don’t. If she can’t answer, don’t. If she seems afraid or upset, don’t. If she doesn’t seem to understand the question for some reason, don’t. If she says yes, go ahead. If she says yes and then changes her mind later, stop. If she says yes and then passes out, or seems scared/upset, or in a lot of pain, stop. Don’t start again unless you have her explicit consent.
I promise you it won’t hurt your son to hear this. Explain that you’re not accusing or attacking, just informing. Answer his questions. Be as kind and open as every parent should be, but be firm. Explain this like you would explain why you don’t leave a burning candle unattended, or why you should always stop teasing someone if they get upset, even if you were only joking. You don’t say things like that because you think your son wants to burn your flat down, or because you think he’s a bully. You’re saying it because it’s your duty as a parent to educate him.
Your son will not suffer because you told him. But I will tell you what does cause suffering:
Being told not to go out when it’s dark. Being told not to walk through the park, or close to the park, or walking at all without a friend, or while drunk. Not to wear headphones at night. Not to get drunk, not to leave your drink unattended, not to take drinks from strangers, not to drink from an opened beverage. Not to wear short skirts, not to wear a dress, not to show too much cleavage, not to let your bra show, not to wear high heels. Not to dance in a certain way, not to dance with strangers, not to ever get away from your friends, not to laugh too much, not to flirt too much, not to kiss if you don’t want to do more than kissing. Not to accept when someone offers to buy you a drink, not to accept if someone offers you a place to crash, not to let a stranger walk you home. To always wear shoes you can run in, to hold your keys in your hand so you can use them as a weapon, to go for the crotch, to not go for the crotch but for the eyes instead, to always carry mace or a rape alarm, to scream as loud as you can.
To be told to always expect rape, always be afraid of rape, and that if rape happens to you, your life might as well be over.
I know all of these things are said because you care about your daughter, because you love her and you don’t want her to come to harm. But what you actually do is build her a cage. A cage of constant fear of anxiety, a cage of endless fear of rape, of never feeling really safe. She will curl up this cage and cry when she gets home at night because a man walked behind her on the way there and she was scared the entire time. She will carry this cage with her on her way to work early in the morning, jumping at shadows. When that guy she’s met once and is really interested in asks her to dance, the cage will close around her and tell her she shouldn’t, that maybe he’ll want more and if she doesn’t it’ll be her fault for leading him on.
And even worse, if she actually is raped, it’s a cage that will keep her from telling anyone about it. Because she shouldn’t have been so drunk, because she shouldn’t have smiled at him, because she shouldn’t have worn that skirt, because she should’ve fought back more. And even if she does tell, even if she breaks free, society will tell her to get back in her cage. The police and the law and the press and the youtube comments and the facebook updates and the tweets and the blogs will tell her she’s a liar, and that even if she’s not, she it was probably her fault anyway. And because she’s been trained to think that way, it’ll be so very easy to believe that they’re right. That she deserved it, and that she now is worth nothing because she let it happen.
Telling your daughter all these things doesn’t make her safe from rape. If it did, I imagine there are very few girls who ever would be raped. It doesn’t just happen to bad women, or careless women, or ‘slutty’ women. It can happen in your daughter’s own home, or at her boyfriend’s house. It can happen when she’s hanging out with the neighbour’s boy, the boy you can remember when he was two and ran around without pants on. It can happen in the bed she shares with her husband every night.
Don’t tell your daughter that she’s responsible for being assaulted. Tell your children, male or female, to be careful. Tell them not to get so drunk they don’t know where they are, because it’s not good for them, because they can get hurt. Tell them to not walk around alone in unsafe neighborhoods. Tell them to keep an eye on their buddies at parties. Be sensible. But don’t add the threat of rape.
Don’t tell your daughter not to be raped. She doesn’t want to be, that’s the whole point. If she wants it to happen, it’s not rape.
Tell your son not to rape.
Lastly, I am perfectly aware that it happens that women rape men too. That it’s been hard to get women convicted for this for pretty much the same reason. If he can get it up, he must want it, right? Besides, men always want sex, right? But this happens because we still believe that women don’t have autonomy of their own bodies, and that everything that happens to them is on the terms of the man involved. It’s the same way of thinking, the same sickness, and the cure is still the same.
Trying to teach your daughter not to be raped by caging her, by blaming her, is not the same thing as talking to her about consent. Talk to her about it too! No matter their sex and/or gender identity, teach your children how important it is, and that unless they have given it, no matter the circumstance, no one has any right to do anything with their bodies – and that in turn, if they haven’t received it, they have no right to anyone else’s. Teach them that this is always true, no matter who they end up loving and/or living together with. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman living with a woman, or a man living with a man, or a woman living with several men. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for years, or if you just met. Clear consent and participation in’t only a necessity, it’s sexy too. I personally would prefer a sexual partner to be screaming “Yes! YES!” rather than saying “No!” or “Don’t!” or nothing at all.