In Durango, we all agree that rape is wrong. We just cannot agree what rape is.
We treat as normal behavior many forms of sexual assault. We only recognize as rape the kinds of sexualized traumas that are depicted in popular entertainment.
We do this because we exist in a rape culture, which promotes the objectification of women, the sexualization of children, the notion that a man cannot control his sex drive. Rape culture tells us that having sex is “winning” and not having sex is “losing.” We are awash in harassing jokes and comments, ads, catcalling, gender inequality, homophobia, colonization, racism, poverty, etc. None of these is rape. They just support it, and in some cases, rely on it.
Our community consensus for what constitutes rape floats like a rubber duckie within a much bigger pool of all of the acts that really constitute rape. If the victim seems “innocent,” if there was an obvious threat of violence, if the victim is emotional and reports immediately – that was rape. And rape is all of that, but it is much more.
Consent culture represents a respectful and nonviolent alternative to rape culture. It is based in the premise that we can and should control our own bodies, and that we must not attempt to control or police the bodies of others. If we interact (especially physically) with another person, it should be with their enthusiastic consent.
Rape culture teaches only stranger danger. Consent culture knows that most rape is perpetrated by people we know, friends and family.
Rape culture says victims should fight back, or that they were asking for it. Consent culture places the burden on the person seeking sex to get enthusiastic sexual consent, instead.
Rape culture says it is rape if the victim was clearly threatened, preferably with a weapon. But threats of violence are often implied, rather than stated or reinforced with weapons.
Rape culture says a person can use alcohol to “encourage” another to have sex. Alcohol is the No. 1 date rape drug, not special pills.
Rape culture blames victims if they do not say “no.” Consent culture teaches that “no” can be communicated with nonverbal cues, including freezing up.
Rape culture asks for sex over and over again, and counts the weary assent as consent. Consent culture knows that coerced or manipulated consent is not consent.
Rape culture says males do not get raped – they always want sex. Consent culture does not require that masculinity parade as invulnerability.
Rape culture says: “You got me so hot, baby, you have to get me off.” Consent culture knows making out is not a yes to intercourse.
Rape culture says: “Why did they wait to report it.” Consent culture says, “How do I become a safer person for others to tell when something terrible happens to them?”
Rape culture says: “We are dating so, of course, sex.” Consent culture says consent is mandatory, every time.
Rape culture says the victim should seem distraught. But victims do not perform on cue. They are experiencing a range of emotions over time.
Rape culture says we can buy security (whistles, apps, nail polish, pepper spray). Rape culture tries to advise our way into protecting victims (Don’t drink! Don’t wear that! Stay home! Buddy system!). These strategies can work for an individual, but they do not stop a predator from simply switching their attention to a more unwary victim. And they create a set of behavioral expectations, primarily for women, that are a kind of cultural chastity belt, placing the burden on the female to keep mostly male desire away from her body.
Rape culture teaches that every two minutes, someone is raped. Passive voice. Consent culture shifts the narrative, stating that every two minutes, a rapist rapes. The people who need to behave differently, be upset, questioned, advised, sober are rapists.
Let’s admit that culture informs our choices. Let’s embrace consent culture and unlearn rape culture. Can we agree on that?
Molly Wieser is Title IX coordinator for Fort Lewis College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.