I was inspired to write this post after a presentation was given in one of my classes. A young woman in my class stood up at the front and spoke for ten minutes about rape and sexual assault in literature. What struck me wasn’t the fact that people cringed at the word “rape” when it was first said – I expected that, but that after the ten minutes, the entire class was comfortable using the word, hearing the word, and engaging in debates about what she was presenting on.
Society has an issue with using the word “rape” because it does make us uncomfortable. If we don’t hear it, we can pretend that it doesn’t really go on around us. I’m a third-year university student and I recognise that sexual assault and harassment goes on a hell of a lot in these kinds of environments. I’m certain that most everyone else understands that too. What we need to do now is talk about it, use these words that make us uncomfortable and unsettled so we can start a dialogue on the topic between everyone. It wasn’t until my final year in sixth form at the age of 18 that we were given a talk on rape and sexual assault. I believe it is the responsibility of education institutions to get people to learn about these issues so we can begin to discuss them reasonably. I don’t understand why we can’t start the dialogue sooner so prevention can begin sooner.
According to RapeCrisis.org, around 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year. It’s a hard-hitting statistic that roughly eleven adults are raped every hour alone. How can it be that this epidemic is so profound, yet so uncomfortable to talk about? Because it’s taboo. In 2014, the NSPCC reported that 22,654 sexual offences against under-18s were reported to police in England and Wales between 2012 and 2013. Four out of five cases involved girls. We detach the reality of the situation to create a more comfortable scenario. For example, we teach kids about stranger danger, when over 90% of the perpetrators were known to the victim prior to the event.
Let’s get it straight, everybody – rape culture is very, very real and it impacts our society heavily. This recent influx of cases and allegations bought against high-profile celebrities has created the perfect opportunity to highlight these issues and start to discuss them. It has given people a chance to debate what sexual assault is and gives people a voice to come forward with their own stories. However, there shouldn’t have to be a pattern of cases and harassment claims to give people the confidence to speak up. The solution is really quite simple – talk about it, ensure people understand that rape and sexual abuse aren’t ok, teach people what to look out for and how to be safe, and then the taboo will increasingly diminish.
Unfortunately, the execution of this isn’t as simple as we’d like. Our education system is undergoing a lack of transformation in the areas that count. Having a conservative and restrained system of education means that taboo topics stay taboo. Rape and sexual assault can impact a victim’s life so heavily that it can harm their wellbeing and mental health. Part of this is due to a victim-blaming and slut-shaming dynamic in our society. The Office for National Statistics published figures of victim-blaming. 34% of 16-19 year olds believed that the victim’s drunkenness made them “completely”, “mostly” or “a little” responsible. 46% gave the same responses if the victim was flirting with the attacker beforehand.
Rape is NEVER the fault of the victim. They are never to blame. Drunkenness and flirting are never excuses. Consent can be removed at any time. “No” doesn’t translate to “Convince me”. Once consent is removed or if it is not given, then the action of sex becomes rape. Stigma creates bigotry. By removing the taboo and stigma surrounding the word and the issue, society can begin to remove close-mindedness and sympathetic feelings for the attacker. But this has to be done through education. It’s going to be a long time yet before society is free of a dominant rape culture, but we can start the process by simply talking.