World against rape! Everything starts with awkward conversations with teens

World against rape! Everything starts with awkward conversations with teens
Enthusiastic consent: the best way to make sure you’re a respectful lover? Photograph: John Minihan/Getty

It should be a given: not a lot of us endorse the idea that a drunk woman is at least partly responsible for her own rape – but in Australia, one in five do.

The national survey, which targeted a large sample of population (17,500 respondents), brought scarcely surprising results. As the report explains, researchers have long pointed to a widely believed cultural script of what constitutes a “real” rape – the trope of the lone lady being attacked at night as she made her way home through dark alleys. Such a fantasy makes, one suspects, the idea of rape slightly easier to digest than the truth. But these are the facts:
The great majority of rapists were known to their victims
Approximately half of reported sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption (on the victim’s part, the perpetrator’s part, or both)
Gendered violence is a learned behaviour upheld and reinforced by a broader social context (our family, community, a country’s cultural expectations and popular culture)
Men are less likely to intervene and try to stop gendered violence when they perceive their peers to find such abuse acceptable
Social censure (that is, public repudiation of violent behaviours and/or perpetrators) is among the most effective means of preventing violence
Slut walk protest against rape
The Slut Walk protests were designed to raise awareness about social behaviours normalising sexual assaults. Photograph: Raoul Dixon/NNP
So what next? Two pointers
With these items in mind, how can we implement a society-wide behavioural shift? It is a Sisyphean task, but our best options may look like this:

Better sex education. We need an educational shift which would teach boys and girls about mutual respect and boundaries, as well as the concept of affirmative/enthusiastic consent, where “yes means yes” would replace “no means no”. (California is the first US state to support the shift as a bill in order to curb sexual assaults on campuses). If you’re wondering what mutual enthusiastic consent looks like, it could be a vocalised “yes”, a vigorous head nod, or active unambiguous engagement in the sexual activity.
A community-wide effort to shun and censure men who perpetrate, brag about or support violence against women (judging by the shrugs which followed the leaked stolen pictures scandal and the downplaying of Ray Rice’s assault on his partner, we still have a way to go).
All well and good, I hear you say. But how does it look in practice?
‘Rape results from men not able to control their need for sex’
It’s worth repeating that rape is rape – and plenty has been written about the fallacy of describing a rape as “grey”, “murky”, or “not rape-rape” (as if a rape could be anything but non-consensual).

Nevertheless, when talking about how enthusiastic consent could put a stop to sexual assaults, there’s an important caveat. I agree with Melissa McEwan who is keen to underline the fact that “yes means yes” will not end rape for one simple reason: not all would-be rapists can be persuaded to reconsider their intent. McEwan writes:
There are two types of rapists: opportunistic rapists, who are primarily sex-seeking rapists that take advantage of a lack of clear consent via coercion or by virtue of their victims having borderline or overtly impaired states of consciousness; and sadistic rapists, for whom using rape as a deliberate weapon is central to the act, for whom the lack of a woman’s pleasure isn’t a bug, but a feature.

It is opportunistic rapists at whom ideas about enthusiastic consent are directed. Sadistic rapists are a whole different kettle of fuckneckery, and so I have a problem with the suggestion that there could be a “world without rape” as the direct result of empowered female sexuality. A world without opportunistic rape, yes. But sadistic rape calls for an additional set of solutions.
So the promotion of affirmative consent as a way to make sure sexual acts are wanted will not get rid of sadistic rapes. Leaving those aside, let’s come back to today’s survey and its most troubling finding:

43% agree that rape results from men not able to control their need for sex.
It’s an astonishing statistic, right? It brings to mind the image of a werewolf not being able to stop his transformation at full moon, but do we really believe this? And if we collectively do (I don’t), can we educate teenage boys to regulate this animal-like urge, especially when inebriated and already making out with a partner?

I believe we can, but to educate we need to be explicit and insist on the fact that all men are capable to control their desire for sex. Those are the scenarios which could be put, bluntly, to students (in heterosexual and gay relationships alike):

You meet a girl at a party. You’re both drunk and hit it off, and go to her place. She initiates the kissing and makes out with you, but after a few minutes tells you she doesn’t want to go any further. Do you ignore her concerns and pressure her to have intercourse? Do you stop immediately and talk it out?

You know a girl has a crush on you and hinted at wanting to have sex with you in the past. You find her lying down in a room at a party, asleep. Would you touch her in the hope to have intercourse?

You’re sober, and your partner is really drunk. He seems to want to have sex, but doesn’t make much sense. Do you have sex, or send him to bed?

Your girlfriend says she wants to have sex, but acts like she seems unsure. All her friends have had sex before, she hasn’t. Do you make out hoping it will go further, or talk about it?

So what do we teach kids?
The bottom line: if you initiate sex, you must take responsibility for your partner’s wellbeing. If you move on from kissing to fondling to oral sex to vaginal intercourse, make sure you’re both comfortable at each stages. Granted, it’s a tricky concept to impart to teenagers – male and female – who largely rely on porn movies capitalising on male-centered orgasms for their sexual education (when really, they should all be directed to sites like Scarleteen instead).

But there’s a hopeful angle to it: being “good in bed” is high on everyone’s list. If we can redefine it to emphasise pleasure and a willingness to listen to a partner’s cues, as opposed to behaving like porn stars, we can win half of this battle. After all, who would boast about being a selfish lover?



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