warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Stop Silencing Women, Before They Become Rape Victims

Allison Selick |
March 24, 2014 | 5:40 p.m. PDT

Style Editor

Victim blaming is rampant in society. Arguably, rape is the crime that most often is met with this type of response. Instead of telling victims that they can prevent rapes by dressing differently or by avoiding situations that involve alcohol, we should be encouraging them to speak out. But the silence surrounding rape begins even before the crime. As such, the only way to give a voice to victims is to change the code of silence that falls onto all women.

At the procedural level - Police Work

Rape facts (Pinterest @Dylan Taylor)
Rape facts (Pinterest @Dylan Taylor)

To combat silence, we can work from the procedural level, focusing on the way that universities and police respond to rape. To combat crimes, law enforcement provides solutions to both the victim AND the perpetrator. After two international students were murdered at USC, the University sent out an email providing safety tips to students, including an instruction to turn over all possessions at the criminal’s request. With crimes such as this, law enforcement provides solutions for the perpetrators as well, i.e. gun control. With rape, the solutions are too often one-sided: we are wary of accusations of rape. We blame the victims, and let the perpetrators off easy

But this distrust of rape victims is unwarranted. The rate for false reports of rape is 5.9 percent -- the same amount as for all crimes. Victims go from being assaulted by someone that they probably know and trust, to being accused of lying, whether implicitly or outright, by law enforcement. These officers who are hired to protect victims’ rights are instead teaching them silence.

SEE ALSO: 11 Ways America Was Still Backwards In 2013

At the institutional level - Media & Universities 

Thankfully, there has been an increase in media coverage of rape. But this coverage poses rapists as mythical unicorns that only the unlucky (or underdressed) woman encounters. But rapes aren’t committed by dark demons. They don’t take place in Narnia. And by framing rapes as dark, rare, unfortunate and seemingly unpreventable events, we do a disservice to college-aged men and women. 

President Obama promotes a practice throughout universities called bystander intervention, which posits that community members have the power to identify and prevent a rape before it occurs. But these programs simplify rape to a level that obscures its reality. Telling students to watch out for the friends who they think might rape is an eerily casual instruction, similar to a warning to “watch out for Johnny, he tends to vomit when he has one too many shots of Jäger.” This sends the message that bystanders will be able to easily identify a rapist, and that a rapist doesn’t just look like any old college student.

SEE ALSO: Steubenville Rape Crew Puts Focus On Gang-Rape Outside Of India

The media needs to stop portraying rapists as men who jump out of bushes and drag women into dark alleys. We pose rapists as non-human monsters, and then when we see a normal teenage boy on the witness stand we disassociate him from the act. If we frame rapists as what they are (real human beings that we see in everyday situations and may not be able to identify outright) we can see rapes for what they really are: real human crimes that occur in everyday situations. 

Victim blaming (Pinterest @Rachel Davis)
Victim blaming (Pinterest @Rachel Davis)
At the social level - What can you do? 

To be sure, you are only one person. You can’t control the police or the media. But you can change yourself, your friends, and the way that you talk. Rape culture is just that—a culture. And culture is created, enforced, and changed through the actions of everyday people. To ensure that women (and men) who are raped do not remain silent, we can make sure that women are not silenced in other aspects of their lives. 

Women are taught that they should not express their sexuality candidly. They learn to convey desire in coquettish fashion. They learn that they will be called sluts and liars when they do not say “no” with enough clarity to suit our desires, but they will also be called sluts when they say “yes”. Men are taught that women will not be forthright with their desires—it is the man’s duty to chase, and the woman’s duty to playfully skip away. 

We teach women to be confused and suppressive about their desires, and then expect them to express perfect clarity when confronted by a potential predator. We teach men that they are hunters, and then we are confused when the hunters use this role as an excuse to act as predators.

SEE ALSO: Banning 'Blurred Lines' Won't Kill Rape Culture

I am not letting rapists off the hook. I’m not saying that they are confused, that they just figure a woman is too shy to utter a forthright “yes.” Rape is about power; if a rapist thought that a woman truly “wanted it”, then he would not need to exercise power to obtain sex, and would have no reason to rape. But when we teach women that they are not allowed to ask for sex, we give rapists an easy way out. They can lie and say that there was a miscommunication, because society tells him that women are hard to read. 

If women are told that it is unbecoming to express their sexual desire, then people with harmful intentions will find a way to interpret desire for them. So in order to make changes in the current rape culture, we need to teach women to ask for what they want, and stop calling them names that we would never call a man for doing the same thing. 


Reach Style Editor Allison Selick here



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.