I’ve seen variations of this question come up in the wake of Steubenville. I’ve said several times lately that it’s important to educate boys and men about rape, because we do a piss-poor job of it. We do teach girls and women, but we present a very slanted, one-sided, and often harmful picture of what rape is and who’s responsible. We need to do better.
So how old should your child be for you to start teaching them about rape?
I don’t understand the question. How old should they be before you start teaching them language? Before you teach them about love and respect?
How long should I wait to start teaching my son that women are people?
I haven’t sat down with my eight-year-old son to discuss the horrifying details of what Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond did to their victim and why it was wrong, nor have we talked about the witnesses and everyone who tried to ignore or cover up the crime.
On the other hand, my son struggles with awareness of personal space. For years, we’ve been working to teach him that he can’t touch other people without their permission. That lesson can begin as soon as they’re old enough to comprehend it.
I’ve tried to teach both of my children that they have the right to control their own bodies. As my daughter approaches her teenage years, she doesn’t always want hugs from me, and that stings. But I’ve tried not to push the issue. I want both of my children to understand that not even their parents have the right to hug or kiss them without their consent.
How old does my son need to be to learn about bullying, and that when he sees someone being hurt, he can go and get help?
How old do kids need to be to learn that the word “No” means no, and that whining and wheedling and arguing with Mom and Dad isn’t a good way to get what you want?
There are twisted people out there who will molest children of all ages. How long should we wait before teaching our kids that they can say no, that it’s not okay for anyone to do this to them, and they should tell us if something happens? That if they see a grown-up or another kid doing something that seems wrong, they should tell.
How long should I wait to start modeling a loving, respectful relationship with my partner?
I think a lot of us underestimate how much our kids pick up. I certainly wasn’t expecting my son to ask about sex as early as he did, but I did my best to answer honestly. (I’ll admit to being both entertained and pleased when he made a face and said, “Gross!”) I suspect there are an awful lot of conversations that, if we wait until we’re comfortable and think our kids are ready, we’ll have missed the boat.
Rape is one of the most common violent crimes out there. It comes up in the news and in movies and TV and video games and books… There are countless opportunities to start that conversation with your children. To find out what they understand and what they’re confused about. To clarify misunderstandings and provide facts to dispel the various myths.
In my opinion, it’s never too early to start teaching your child about rape. It’s a conversation that will evolve over time as their understanding develops and their social life becomes more complex and confusing, but it’s a conversation that needs to begin early, and to continue. It’s a conversation we have to have with our sons, not just with our daughters. It’s a conversation both parents should be involved with, when possible.
It’s not a conversation most of us particularly want to have. But we’re parents. This is our job.
Related links (standard warning about not reading the comments applies here):
Earlier this week, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl. The media coverage of this case has been…honestly, it’s been pretty much what you’d expect, given the way we treat rape in this country. That coverage is being justifiably condemned for the pathetic, victim-blaming, rape-apologetic bullshit it is.
Trigger warning for rape and lots of Jim swearing after the cut…
Today’s rant began with a quote I saw on linked from Facebook.
If you’re promoting changes to women’s behavior to “prevent” rape, you’re really saying “make sure he rapes the other girl.” -@itsmotherswork
Personally, I think that’s a pretty powerful message. And then I read the comments…
SERIOUS TRIGGER WARNING FOR RAPE
ETA: It’s almost midnight, and there are now close to 400 comments on this post. I’ve read them all, and I want to thank those of you who contributed to the conversation, on both sides. A decade ago, I would have been good for at least three more hours, but as one commenter pointed out, I’m old. I’m therefore going to declare this party over, thank you for coming, and kick you out of my house so I can go to bed. (I.e., I’m turning off the comments now.)
I know some people will take this as further proof that I’m a grandstanding, hypocritical, pro-censorship, freedom-hating, puppy-kicking, fascist poopyhead. That’s fine. But with this many comments, I think most of the arguments have been made, and most of the insults hurled.
Have a good night, all.
One of the events I had lined up for the launch of my new book was a Q&A with Reddit’s fantasy community. I did an “Ask Me Anything” session with them earlier this year and had a great time, so I was looking forward to another round. And then Twitter pointed me to an active Reddit discussion which starts with, “Reddit’s had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?”
Numerous rapists jumped in to tell their stories. I’m not going to link to them.
The comments and reactions were mixed. Some people were horrified. Others tried to reassure the rapists, to minimize what they had done, or to praise people’s courage in anonymously talking about how they committed rape. There’s plenty of victim blaming, and comments from the “Women lie about rape to attack men!!!” contingent.
Earlier today I emailed the person who was coordinating my Reddit event to tell him I will not be doing it unless that thread is removed. Given the nature of Reddit as an open, relatively unmoderated community, I don’t expect this to happen.
An announcement was already posted that I would be giving away a copy of Libriomancer on Reddit. I don’t think it’s fair to back out of that, so I’m planning to post an additional giveaway on my site and ask my contact to update that announcement with a link to the giveaway. (He has been incredibly cool and supportive of my decision, and agrees that the rape posts are offensive and should be dealt with by the moderators.)
There are aspects of this decision I need to talk about. A Jezebel post called Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit and We Should Listen talks about the way this thread provides insight into the minds of rapists, and how it’s important to have this conversation in unprotected spaces like Reddit:
“Nothing will change if we discuss rape culture in a vacuum. Taking the discussion beyond that vacuum, however, means opening it up to a wider audience that isn’t necessarily sympathetic. Reddit may not be the best place for that, but it’s certainly a start — and that’s important. It’s in these less-protected, less-sacred spaces where the conversation is needed the most.”
Others have argued that it’s important to understand evil, to see where it comes from and recognize that these are seemingly-normal people who’ve committed horrible acts. One person said that reading the posts helped her to realize that there are men deliberately targeting women, and that her rape wasn’t an accident or a “misunderstanding,” but a deliberate choice by the rapist. In other words, it helped her see that it wasn’t her fault.
That really stuck with me. But for me personally, the harm far outweighs the good.
It is important that we understand why people rape. But there are other ways to find that insight. Books, essays, research, and more. I’ve spoken with rapists and batterers, and it did give me a better understanding as to how this crime happens. But the circumstances of those conversations were very different. They were controlled, with people who had been convicted and held accountable for their actions. People who, as far as I could tell, appeared to genuinely regret what they had done. In situations where excuses were not tolerated.
Some of my problems with the Reddit discussion are as follows.
-Who are these people? My guess is that most of these stories are true, but I have no way of knowing who is telling the truth and who is trolling for attention. In the overall scheme of things though, this is a minor complaint.
-No accountability or responsibility. In none of the stories I read were the rapists held accountable for their actions. Nor did they take responsibility. The pattern tended to be, “Here’s the story of how I raped this girl, and here are all of my excuses. I got away with it, but I feel really bad now of course, so give me cookies!”
-Some of the posts are essentially How-To guides for rapists. Rape is not an accident. It’s not a misunderstanding. Predators practice their technique. They learn how best to target and overpower their victims. And now we have a thread from experienced rapists sharing their successful techniques.
-Rape is a crime of sex and power. I read some of these stories, and I see rapists getting off on the chance to relive their crime. The sexual aspect comes from the graphic descriptions of what they did, and the power comes from the reactions of the commenters. The dynamic I’m seeing here is one that allows a number of rapists to recapture the rush of their crimes.
-The Hurt Outweighs the Good. I won’t deny that some people have taken positive things from all this, but I believe the harm far outweighs that good.
I know Reddit is not a single unified group, any more than Twitter or LiveJournal or Facebook. My guess is that very few members of the Reddit Fantasy group have any idea what’s happening in the rapist thread, and that many or most of them would be horrified. I feel like I’m punishing innocent people for actions they had nothing to do with, and I don’t like that.
I’m also a big believer in freedom of speech. These people have the right to tell their stories. But that right to speech doesn’t obligate one of the largest sites on the Internet to provide a platform for their speech. Reddit, as I understand it, prides itself on a relative lack of moderation and an “anything goes” approach. To quote one member, “It allows any voice to be heard no matter how uneducated, insensitive or outright wrong.”
I don’t think people should be silenced for lack of education, for tone, or for having a different opinion than me. And I’m not going to tell Reddit how to run their sites or communities. Nor am I going to try to say everyone who chooses to stay with Reddit is a bad person.
But I’ve made the choice to walk away, both for myself, and for the hope that it sends a message to those with the ability to make a change at Reddit.
According to the Global Terrorism Database, 3029 people were killed by terrorists in the United States between 2000 and 2010. That’s an average of 275 people per year.
According to the U. S. Department of Justice, there were a total of 52,470 rapes in 2008 (the most recent year for which I could find posted data). Women are victimized approximately four times as frequently as men. Even if you disregard issues of underreporting, that’s about 10,000 men and 40,000 women raped in a single year.
A 2011 Congressional Research Study estimates the ten-year cost of the war on terror at $1.28 trillion, or $128 billion per year.
I couldn’t find an estimate on how much (or how little) the U.S. spends fighting rape and sexual violence each year. However, the Office on Violence Against Women is requesting a total of $412.5 million for their 2013 operating budget. For comparison, the Department of Homeland Security is requesting $59 billion.
These numbers aren’t perfect. But they do help give us an idea about our priorities. Here they are in graph form.
I’m not trying to argue that the budget for fighting sexual assault should necessarily be 190 times the budget for fighting terrorism. But imagine the difference if even a fraction of the money we spent on color-coded terror charts or airport security theater went into preventing sexual violence.
I debated for a long time before writing this post. Both rape and terrorism are important, powerful, and emotional issues, and I don’t want to trivialize either one. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me to discuss rape in the context of terrorism. The goal of terrorism is to create fear in a population. 9/11 succeeded in creating that fear.
So does rape.
The difference is that in the United States, the terror created by rape is a far more realistic day-to-day fear, especially for women. You have less than a one in a million chance of being killed by terrorists this year in the U.S., but according to a 2007 study by the Medical University of South Carolina, roughly 1 in 20 of college women were raped in a single year. (The study notes that only about 12% of these rapes were reported to police.) A National Institute of Justice study found that 18% of women–almost 1 in 5–experienced a completed or attempted rape at some point in their lives.
The prevalence of rape and violence against women creates an atmosphere of terror and the awareness that strangers, friends, even family members could be potential attackers. Phaedra Starling wrote about this in a 2009 essay titled Schrödinger’s Rapist:
“Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these? … When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist.”
Not every woman follows these rules. But many follow at least some, and most of the women I’ve talked to live their lives with this kind of awareness. With the knowledge that rape and assault are a real danger. They make choices based on a risk assessment and constant, underlying kind of fear that’s utterly alien to most men. Not slaves to that fear, but always aware.
How then is sexual violence not a form of terrorism, at least in its effects? But because this kind of violence is seen as a “women’s issue,” we deem it unimportant. We shift our resources to other problems. We play political games with laws like the Violence Against Women Act.
You want to fight a war against terror? Try putting money and resources into the backlog of rape kits. Try funding sexual assault counseling and women’s shelters and SANE nurse programs. Try teaching people at a young age what rape really is. Try teaching men to hold themselves and each other accountable, and to intervene when they see signs of sexual coercion and abuse. Try providing training to prosecutors and judges and police departments.
In other words, try taking the problem seriously.
In less than a week, the Fundraiser for Rape Crisis Centers has raised more than $2000 dollars. This is the third year I’ve done this, and we’ve already exceeded the amount raised in 2010 or 2011, which is wonderful.
To celebrate, I’ve added some new prizes, including:
Click here for the full list of goals and rewards.
My thanks to everyone who’s offered prizes. At the moment, I’ve got more authors offering books than I know what to do with, so we’re all set there for now. (It’s a great problem to have )
And of course, tremendous thanks to everyone who has donated and spread the word so far. It really does make a difference.
April is sexual assault awareness month.
This is something that’s very important to me. I’ve written a fair amount about rape over the years, but a lot of it comes down to:
For several years, I’ve run a fundraiser and given out signed books to encourage people to donate to rape crisis centers. In the past, I’ve given out autographed books to people who donate, but this year I wanted to go even bigger. So I’ve talked to some author friends, and the net result is that you could win a lot more books this year, depending on how much money we raise.
I’ll post a running total here throughout the month. The more money we raise, the more prizes I’ll throw into the pot. Right now, we’re covered through $3000 $4000. If we raise more money, then I’ll just have to round up more authors and prizes.
TOTAL RAISED: $3573
The prizes so far and the amount we have to raise to add them to the giveaway are as follows.
Goals Met So Far:
Thanks so much to all of the authors who offered books!
You can donate to your local rape crisis center, or if you prefer, to an organization like RAINN. Most places will take donations online.
Note: As of 4/17/2012, all donations to RAINN will be matched, effectively doubling your donation.
To enter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Now, Michigan law prohibits unlicensed raffles, meaning I can’t require donations to enter. Therefore, if you can’t donate anything at all, you can still e-mail me to enter the giveaway. But for those who can, please try to give at least a few bucks.
Winners will be selected at random on May 1. If there are particular books you’d like, please mention them in your e-mail, in order of priority. But I can’t guarantee anything. I’m planning to pick winners and prizes like so:
I hope that’s clear. If anyone has questions, please let me know.
Finally, I’d very much appreciate it if people could spread the word about the fundraiser and giveaway.
Bristol proceeds to down wine cooler after wine cooler, as she “slowly surrendered to their woozy charms.” (Pg. 3) Levi keeps replacing her finished wine coolers with new ones, and soon Bristol hits “that awful wall” that takes her from a “happy buzz” into “the dark abyss of drunkenness.” (Pg. 3) The last thing she remembers is sitting by the fire and laughing with friends, and doesn’t remember waking up in her tent the next morning “with something obviously askew.”
Bristol awakens in her tent, with no recollection of the night before. She looks over and sees Levi’s empty sleeping bag right beside hers, and hears Levi and his friends “outside the tent laughing.” (Pg. 3) Bristol quickly texts her friend to get over to the tent, and she immediately pops over and tells her, “You definitely had sex with Levi.” (Pg. 4)
Coates asks the question, “Isn’t that rape?” In a follow-up post, Coates adds that the implication of nonconsent comes from another quote:
“Suddenly, I wondered why it was called ‘losing your virginity,’” Bristol writes. “Because it felt more like it had been stolen.”
Um … from my reading, the “implication” of nonconsent comes from the fact that she describes being intoxicated to the point where she couldn’t even remember the events of the previous night.
Naturally, the very first comment to Coates’ article accuses Palin of lying. So damn predictable.
I don’t know what happened between Palin and Johnston. But I do know the scenario described here is a common one. Using alcohol to lower a woman’s inhibitions is a frequently-used tactic. It was a freaking punchline in Friends. “Hey, let’s get you another cocktail!”
Let me put this as clearly as I can. If consent is not given freely, then it’s not consent. If you need to get her drunk, it’s not consent. If you need to threaten her, it’s not consent. If you need to slip something into her drink, it’s not consent.
If the other person doesn’t consent? That’s rape.
The situation Bristol Palin describes? That is not consent. And unfortunately, it’s very common.
So if you’re planning to get someone drunk in the hopes of “getting lucky,” you’re not planning to get laid. You’re planning to commit rape.
Bill Deresiewicz wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about Pride & Prejudice: Hidden Lusts [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Mitzi Szereto, described as a pornographic edition of Jane Austen’s work and another entry in the ever-growing list of mashups that began with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Pop quiz: what’s wrong with the following sentence, from the very first paragraph of Deresiewicz’s article?
If Bob beats Joe to death with a baseball bat, that’s a crime. We call it murder or homicide. We don’t call it a sport just because Bob happened to use a bat. So why the hell do people have such a hard time understanding that rape =/= sex?
It seems like a little thing, I know. A careless word choice, either because Deresiewicz doesn’t know any better or he just wasn’t paying attention. It’s not like he’s actually committing or advocating rape in any way, right?
But the little things matter. The more often we suggest that rape is just “kinky sex,” the easier it becomes to blur that line. We end up with phrases like “gray rape.” We make it easier to excuse rapists, and to question and challenge whether someone was really raped.
Repeat a lie often enough, and many people will begin to believe it. Could we please stop repeating this one?
While at Penguicon, whenever I used my phone in the lobby, it would try to connect to the local wireless networks, which means I was routinely greeted with this screen:
I don’t know the story behind the network names. I overheard one rumor that “rape rape rape rape rape” was an official Penguicon network. When I e-mailed someone on Penguicon staff, I was told it probably wasn’t, but they weren’t 100% certain. I haven’t yet gotten confirmation one way or another.
My guess is that someone was trying to be edgy and provocative. As sometimes happens, they overshot “edgy” and landed squarely in the “asshole” category.
There will always be people who try to be shocking and fail. I suspect this wasn’t an official Penguicon network, and was instead just a random cry for attention. (Though if it turns out that it was an official Penguicon network, I think that may be the last time I attend this con.)
ETA: Randy Bradakis, who is on the Penguicon ConCom and Board left the following comment (with the disclaimer that he’s not speaking for Penguicon as a whole here):
I can state firmly that this was not created at the request of the Penguicon ConCom, and that there will be discussions about both the reasons that this is unacceptable and how we can be certain that it is not repeated. While it might, in some specific in-joke sort of way, have been amusing to the creators at whatever other location it was created for, it is not the sort of “joke” that should be part of the Penguicon environment.
There are plans for more specific network requests for next year, and I will make it my recommendation that we at least have someone at the ConCom level give specific instructions to the networking staff about the image we wish to present.
I want you to know that I am deeply sorry for any offense that this caused. At any and all levels of future convention running that I am involved, I will strive to keep the idea of a safe and comfortable environment foremost in everyone’s mind, and encourage this behavior in my fellow Con-runners as well.
On a similarly annoying note, I’ve been reading The Becoming by Jeanne Stein. Within the first chapter, our heroine Anna Strong is attacked and raped by the bad guy, who turns out to be a vampire. I almost stopped reading right there, due to the “Let’s use rape to get this story started!” approach, but I’m trying to read more urban fantasy as context for my own work-in-progress.
I’m now more than halfway through the book. The word rape has vanished, and Strong’s character has now begun to refer to the incident as when a vampire had sex with her. (In addition, while our heroine is female, so far every other significant character has been male … but that’s a different rant.)
Writing about rape is difficult, in no small part because everyone’s reaction is different. But when an author uses rape as a plot device to get the story moving, pulls out the “rape = sex” fallacy, and doesn’t seem to indicate any physical or emotional effects on the character (save becoming a vampire, naturally) … well, for me it puts the book squarely into the “Doing it Wrong” category.
Comments and discussion welcome, as always.