March 16, 2018

Have You Done Enough to End Rape?

Reaching outIn case you don’t know how to end rape, a quick online search brings forward dozens of three-point steps to ending rape culture, stopping rape on campuses, and empowering women. “Make it a man’s problem,” “Promote Enthusiastic Consent,” or “don’t raise your boys to be ‘tough. ‘ ” My sarcastic self wondered, “How about ‘Don’t do it’?”

The best answer is, “tell your story.” Look, stories are how we convince people. We aren’t convinced by statistics. When someone hears, “1 in 4 women get raped,” they automatically think “good thing I’m in that 75% who aren’t,” or, “Whew, my family dodged a bullet on that.” What’s worse, survivors think “I’m unlucky, how did I get the bad draw??” Statistics push us away from precisely what we’re trying to achieve.

If numbers don’t work, what should we do?

Tell your story. That’s you-specific, the reader; not you-general, and not only you-survivor. I’m addressing all of you, us. We all have been affected, even if you haven’t actually been raped. Please don’t misinterpret me. I’m not equating a survivor’s story with a lay person’s story. Instead, what I’m proposing is that if we all share our own experiences, our own real, palpable stories, then everyone will realize that this is a big deal.

Most importantly, it’ll encourage more survivors to come forward and share their experience. Those stories definitely have the most power. We need more of them. And those are the stories we must encourage. We encourage those stories by sharing our own.The answer to my original question is straightforward: If you haven’t told anyone your story about rape, then the answer is “No, you have not done enough to end rape.”

April is right around the corner. If ever there was a time to challenge yourself, it’s now. Make it your goal to tell one stranger your story about rape. I want to hear about it. Tell me about what it was like to share your story. Was it awkward? How did that person respond? Would you do it again?

We have two goals this year: No 1. Break isolation, through No 2. Storytelling. Do you have what it takes?

Breaking isolation is crucial, which is why I’m excited about the new bill to promote peer support. We are social. Without socialization, we die. How many studies must we read about how “fitting in” directly affects outcomes, whether it’s better high school grades, completing college, or decreasing mental health issues (and shouldn’t those studies include more stories?).

Why are we still lauding “increases in sexual assault reports”? Faith in the institution is great, but isn’t there a better way to measure whether people believe that they will be protected if they come forward? At some point, we need to do something. You tell me, are the military academies doing enough to address the issue?

The institution had better do a good job protecting survivors. Anecdotally, we’ve been saying this for years: the military’s not believing a survivor is nearly as, if not more, damaging to the survivor. A new report explains how we can address “institutional betrayal.”

Likewise, sexual assaults have far-reaching, secondary effects on a survivor. One survivor told me that her cholesterol and intestines were directly screwed up by her getting constantly cat-called. Turns out she was right, as a new study proves that there are many long-term effects of sexual harassment.

Since the beginning of time, social movements powered by word of mouth have altered the course of history; as April 1 approaches we have this opportunity once more. Share your stories about peer support, about whether military academies and colleges are protecting students, about how we can stop institutional behavior, and about how harassment causes medical issues. Whatever it is, share your story.

Author Madeleine L’Engle once stated, “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” This truth and your bravery will shift our society’s culture from that of rape to that of protection, advocacy, and care.

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