Most people oppose rape, and recoil from it in horror. The disturbing thing is, that the horror, terror, and visceral disgust we feel at the idea of rape actually causes us to inadvertently promote it. As a result, 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 33 men will be raped in their lifetime. The situation is not hopeless, however, as there are very real steps you can take to prevent rapes from occurring in your community.
Most people know rape is wrong. Most rapists know rape is wrong. The way rapists can justify their assaults is by redefining their own idea of rape to exclude their own behaviors(1). They rely on semantic contortions, cultural myths and outright lies to absolve their abuse. These lies, however, need support, and so rapists look to society to reinforce these rape myths. As a result, when we accept and pass on these myths, each one of us becomes an unwitting accomplice to their rapes. And though this gives us some degree of culpability, this also gives us power to stop many rapists from committing their assaults.
The first place you can act to prevent rape is to take on the myths that challenge whether or not rape exists. People know that such a thing as rape exists, at least hypothetically, but rape is such a horrific subject, there is a need to deny its reality. As a result, people defensively try to make rape not rape. Creating restrictive and unrealistic definitions allows for semantic denial. Victim blaming and victim shaming serves this purpose of denial well, because if you can shift the responsibility onto the victim, then it is no longer rape. Victim blaming ignores the reality that rape is a premeditated attack, and reaches for any reason to shift the blame onto the victim and make the rape not rape. Rape is also denied through myths of false accusation. In truth, false accusations occur only in very rare occasions (2), but the myth of the false accusation is too often levied against victims, because it again serves to deny the reality of rape. These strategies are far too effective, as 54% of rapes end up going unreported (the good news is that because of education, this rate down from the 90% unreported in 1990 (3))
Coming to terms with the reality of rape is the first real thing you can do to stop it. This is, perhaps, the most frightening task, but important tasks all require great courage. And once you have the courage to acknowledge this reality, you can then being to change it.
The second thing you can do is to challenge myths about consent. Rapists assume consent. What this means is that they believe that as long as they can get around the “no,” they have consent. Rapists have a large arsenal to use against their victims to get around the “no,” including use of drugs and alcohol, sex while the victim is asleep, intimidation, causing the victim to freeze in fear, etc. And if the victim does say “no” the rapist finds ways to redefine the “no” as consent: “she was just playing hard to get,” “she really wanted it,” “she really didn’t mean it,” “she was asking for it,” “sometimes ‘no’ means ‘yes,” etc. This belief in assumed consent is also used by rapists to find support within society. When the rapist looks to society for support, it is found not only in society repeating these myths, but by people not stepping up and explicitly pointing our how wrong the assaults are. One of the most damaging things society does to promote rape is it refuses to actively oppose the abuse, and it becomes a bystander, allowing the abuse. This is because, since the rapist assumes consent, your lack of saying “no” is interpreted as you saying “yes.”
Finally, we have to admit how fundamentally biased our views on rape are. As a man, I can walk into a bar wearing whatever I want and drink whatever I want and I don’t have to worry about waking up in a strange place with my underwear off. In modern society, not only are women denied this safety, but they are also blamed when the worst happens. You have to admit there is something seriously one sided and unfair about that situation. After you accept that, you can get others to accept it, and change the environments to make them safer.
To counter this, we need to do 3 things:
1) Create a culture of explicit consent. This doesn’t mean we kill romance. This just means we find ways to get our partners to say “yes” (or “take me,” “Let’s get busy,” or “will you F@#%ing F@#$ me already?!?!”). This isn’t a bad thing, you’ll actually have better sex because of this (4).
2) Commit to explicitly challenging rape myths, and explicitly call out rapists on their assaults. Make sure your dissent is known, otherwise you end up supporting the abuse. This is an issue you can’t refuse to be involved with, because saying nothing becomes the same as saying “yes.” Don’t accept the myths, redefinitions, or justifications.
Finally, learn to identify the other rape myths that exist. Since rape myths are one of the biggest contributing factors that allows a rapist to justify his abuse (5), taking those myths away takes away their power. This task of recognizing and speaking out to counter the myths may seem trivial and insignificant, but it has a huge effect on taking power away from the rapists.
Resources for challenging rape myths:
1. Loh, et al. (2007)Socialization and Sexual Aggression in College Men: The Role of Observational Influence in Detecting Risk Cues. Psychology of Men & Masculinity Vol. 8, No. 3, 129–144
2. Lisak, et. al. (2010) False Allegations of Sexual Assualt: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases. Violence against Women. vol. 16 no. 12 1318-1334
3. Lisak and Roth. (1990). Motives and Psychodynamics of Unincarcerated Rapists. American Journal of OrthopsychiatryVolume 60, Issue 2, pages 268–280.
4. Purnine, D. (1997). Sexual satisfaction and the coorientation of preferred sexual
practices in couples. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. Vol 58(6-B),
5. Anderson (2004). Gender, Age, and Rape-Supportive Rules. Sex Roles, Vol. 50, Nos. 1/2, January 2004