I met Amber while campaigning for same-sex marriage in my home state of New Jersey before she started the #StopRapeEducate project. During the campaign she was always upbeat and smiling. She really lifted everyone's spirits, especially mine, and truly made the work so much better. She is an absolutely amazing person and I have nothing but love and respect for her. You can imagine, perhaps, how startled I felt as my friend’s tear filled face started filling up my news feeds. It wasn't because I hadn't seen the picture (I'd seen it weeks earlier) but because it meant that Amber’s story was going viral.
Amber had been in South Africa working on her project when she was raped. Unlike many victims, Amber went straight to social media for support - putting into practice her activism, looking for support and human compassion - and she continued to "live-blog" her whole experience with the ordeal. I've been following her updates from the beginning offering my love and support to the choir of voices on her pages.
I first saw the story on HuffPo, but now the Examiner, the Independent, the Daily Mail and many others have all jumped onto the story. Of course, the curse of getting mass media attention is that not all of that attention is positive. However, there are some lessons we need to learn from Amber's experience:
1. Being a feminist doesn't magically make anybody immune to being raped.
I've seen so many people mention how if Amber is such a feminist, she wouldn't have been raped or allowed herself to be in a position to be raped. But feminists are not some special breed of people who don't get raped (oh if only). Rapists don't see feminists, they see prey. And no-matter how much you fight for and believe in gender equality that isn't going to stop a rapist.
And let's be clear, there is no 'allowing' in rape. Nobody allows themselves to be raped. Victims are violated and forced to endure rape. They don't want it to happen. They aren't letting it happen. It is forced upon them. They have no choice in the matter. Saying that somebody allowed themselves to be raped is blatant victim blaming.
2. Speaking of victim blaming, can we just stop with it already?
Victims of rape are not responsible for their own rape. I know it's said everywhere on the internet, but seriously, what a girl wears, or what she does before a rape occurs in no way makes her a contributor to her own rape.
We as a society really need to start getting this. When dealing with rape there is nothing to consider except consent. That should be our only real question. Was there consent? Unless there was real, active, enthusiastic consent; then there is at the very least sexual assault. Why is this so hard for people to understand?
It doesn't matter that Amber decided to take a shower, naked (or not) with the man who raped her. Not that she actually ended up taking a shower with him at all, but even if she had that shower is not what led to her being raped. The only thing that contributed to Amber being raped was that man's decision to rape her. Her kissing him or giving 'mixed signals' doesn't matter. Those didn't 'make him' rape her. He made a choice to rape her and only he is responsible for that.
3. Being drunk is not an excuse to commit a crime.
So many people have been saying that because the man was drunk that a) he was raped or b) he isn't responsible for his actions. Neither of these are true. The 'equality' argument put forward by anti-feminists is that if women are raped when drunk and having sex then men are also raped when drunk and having sex. Of course the people putting forward this argument don't understand how drunkenness and rape work. In law, to have been unable to consent due to being drunk a person needs to be in such a state that they weren't capable of giving consent - basically blackout drunk and incoherent. If both parties are incoherent, I doubt they'll be even attempting sex unless there is a third party involved - and then that person is likely the one guilty. Clearly the man who raped Amber was in control of his actions and able to consent.
It is ridiculous beyond words to suggest that a rapist was raped because they've forced themselves onto another person. There is not a single situation that I can imagine where a rapist is somehow raped by their victim while raping them. Especially when the crime is so clearly pre-meditated as was the case here. It is even more ridiculous to claim that because someone has had alcohol that they are no longer responsible for their actions. While I wouldn't deny that people do stupid things they might not otherwise do because of alcohol, the alcohol doesn't change the decisions made while under the influence. We don't as a society put less responsibility for theft or pre-meditated murder when committed while drunk, so why should we do so in cases of rape? To say drunk rapists aren't responsible would be a huge injustice to rape victims.
4. Rape is not an accident.
Rape is an intentional crime. Maybe he didn't think what he was doing was rape but he definitely meant to do what he did. So let's stop comparing rapes to accidents. Too many people offer an analogy like this one: "Next time she'll try to run across a trafficked street, the people driving under the speed limit will stop, and a reckless driver will hit her because he's going twice the speed limit. His fault again? Yes. Lack of common sense? Yes. It's the same thing."
This analogy doesn't work for many reasons, but especially because rape is not an accidental crime and we need to stop allowing people to think it is. It's not something that happens because someone was "reckless" or because anybody lacked common sense. Its not like a man can trip and fall into a woman’s vagina, no matter what lawsuits may say about it. Rape happens only because someone decided to rape someone else. Someone chose to ignore the words "no" "stop" "I don't want that" and/or other words, phrases, and signals. That decision is the sole cause of rape.
Bringing up a victim's supposed lack of common sense serves no purpose other than to take the focus away from the actual rape and take blame away from the rapist. If we all agree that a rapist is solely responsible for raping in any circumstance, then how could that possibly matter? She took a risk but we all take risks everyday. The only time that we question these risks is when assigning blame and responsibility. So if all you can talk about when talking about rape is the victim's qualities or circumstances, then you are inevitably taking some of the blame and responsibility from the rapist and shifting it to the victim(s).
It's not like this is how we as a society act when we learn about other crimes. This is a conditioned response to rape, especially when the victims are women. This probably has to do with society's general idea that if she was 'too sexual' or 'led him on' or 'shouldn't have done that' that the rape was inevitable from her failing, rather than the man's decision to rape.
5. Saying that men can't help themselves is not only inaccurate but extremely degrading and dehumanizing to men.
This idea that men are supposed to always be in the mood for sex and that if given the chance will always take advantage of any situation that might lead to sex has harmed men in multiple ways. It makes young boys feel obligated to have sex early, it encourages the idea that it's acceptable for men to sexualize women in any context, and it contributes to why men are not taken seriously as rape victims.
Men are not wild beasts. We are not walking sex drives. Believe it or not, when someone we are physically attracted to is naked in front of us we are capable of not having sex with them. You see we have this thing...call it what you want: super-ego, rationality, self-awareness, but this thing thing allows us to exercise a different thing called self-control. Just because some men choose not to exercise their self-control doesn't mean we don't have it. So rather than trying to let this rapist off the hook by implying he couldn't help himself, do us all a favor and condemn him for not bothering to keep his dick in his pants.
6. We need to stop doubting rape victims.
With everything that these people are going through, when they finally have the courage to come forward and seek our (read: society’s) help, our first response shouldn't be "OMG is this even for reals?!?" You think it couldn't be real? Imagine the shock that rape victims must feel. I know I would want to just think I wasn't raped and not say anything, but clearly something is driving them to not do that. It might be the fact that they aren't lying to get your (or anyone else’s) attention. Sure, some people do make false accusations but, those account for all of 2-8% of reported rapes,* meaning we don't need to doubt every accusation by default.
For example, just because someone runs an anti-rape campaign, or the fact that a victim didn't report right away, or that they went to social media just after the fact for support doesn’t mean they are making false accusations to get media attention. Unless there is some concrete reason to doubt the story, then why think it likely that someone is lying about it? Have we not learned from the Bill Cosby scandal? If there is a reason to doubt something, we'd hear about it from some official source. Maybe start realizing that the constant doubting on top of everything else probably has a strong correlation to why so many rapes go unreported (a far more important number than how many allegations are false). In reality, doubting every rape accusation because of a fear of false accusation is nothing more than a derailing tactic that prioritizes a hypothetical situation over the victim's reality.
If there is anything that this can teach us its that we need to learn more about consent. Consent may seem super complicated but it isn't some tricky thing to figure out. In all reality, getting consent for sex is a rather simple thing. “Do you want to have sex?” is six words. If your partner responds with anything other than “yes,” do not have sex. Its not some difficult, complicated language of “mixed messages.” If you don’t know whether or not someone is okay with having sex with you at that moment, ASK. If they say “no”, accept it and move on. If they say “I don’t know” or “maybe later?” or even “not right now” accept those statements as an immediate no and move on. If you’re afraid to ask, or think it might ruin the “moment,” don’t have sex. If you can't take the time to clarify that everyone is on board with having sex, you shouldn't be having sex in the first place. The tea consent analogy comes to mind.
Taking the time to ask for consent shows that you value your partner’s opinions and respect their limits, and also protects you from any kind of “false rape accusation” fears you might have. And you can manage all that with six words. There is no real reason why you shouldn't ask every time, because consent to one sex act does not imply consent to any others. This is hugely important for people to start to understand. And it starts with our basic sex education. Consent should be the very base of sex education along with teaching about condoms and other forms of protection. Sadly, sex education in the US - and really all around the world - is lacking. We need to learn to be open and honest with each other when talking about sex. Only then will we see a real change in rape and sexual assault statistics. Then we will have a true consent culture rather than one that, even unintentionally, perpetuates rape and sexual violence.
* - the statistics on “false” rape accusations can only account for cases of reported rapes in which a thorough investigation could prove that a sexual assault did not occur. Due to the number of unreported rapes (roughly 60%), the percentage of truly false rape accusations is frankly unknowable. Yet its still worth noting that men are far more likely to be raped than be falsely accused of it.