Thursday, July 09, 2015

A Pop Quiz For American Men, In The First Person

You're going to need a pen, some paper, and 10 minutes.

Question #1: What women do I know?

By "women," I simply mean females 18 years old and up.

To answer, make a list. Start with family - wife, daughters, mom, sisters, aunts, cousins. Then add friends - coworkers, fellow church/mosque/synagogue/temple members, neighbors, relatives of your male friends. Oh, and throw in the woman you're dating, if you are, and ones you have dated before. Then add casual acquaintances - professional colleagues, classmates - women you don't really know well, but you know their names. We just need names.

Give yourself five minutes for this.

Done? Okay, next question.

Question #2: How many women do I know?

Count the names. If the total is less than 30, you probably need to think some more, because women are half the population, and you know more than 60 adults, right?

Take your time. Consult your phone's contact list or your Rolodex (AHEM) if you need to.

When you feel like you have a good, honest list - and therefore, a good, honest number to answer this question - go to the next question.

Question #3: When I divide the answer to Question #2 by 6, what number do I get?

Integers only, so if your answer to #2 is 47, don't say 7.83...say 8. Likewise, if your answer to #2 is 32, don't say 5.333...say 5.

Now, use that number to fill in the blank for the next question.

Question #4: Which ____ women whom I know by name are rape victims?

Weren't expecting that one, were ya? Sorry. But here's the deal, as reported by RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

Let this sink in: one out of six of the women on your list, women whom you know by name, are likely to be rape victims. So, look at that list again and riddle me this: which ones are they? Which acquaintances? Which co-workers? Which family members?

Ah - you don't know? You don't know which women in your family have been raped, or nearly so?

Question #5: Why don't I know that?

*************

Because they don't talk about it, that's why. Women who have been sexually assaulted zip it. They stifle themselves.

Let's lay aside the too-huge-to-imagine emotional and psychological impact of rape for a moment, and think simply in terms of legal action by a citizen whose rights have been violated. The obvious, rational, and legally justifiable thing to do is to report such a thing immediately, right?

Now let this sink in: More than two-thirds - 68% - of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Ever.

Why is that? Well, at its most basic level, human behavior is motivated by fear and desire, by pain and pleasure. If women do not report sexual assaults, the most basic explanation is that they fear that the pain of telling the truth would be worse than the pain of keeping the secret; perhaps even worse than the pain of the assault itself.

Victims' lack of reporting strengthens and expands the wall of silence that we have built around the subject of sexual assault: Mum's the word, ma'am, and when you come out of shock, pretend it didn't happen. If that means you have to self-medicate with alcohol (victims are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol) or drugs (victims are 26 times more likely to abuse drugs), then go right ahead. But what you must not do, is talk about it. It is more important for us to maintain our comfort than for you to be healed of your pain.

There's a name for the whole set of beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that make it easier to commit rape than to report rape. It's called "rape culture." Rape culture produces this result:

(Source: RAINN)

The reality of rape culture is why the question, "Why didn't women who say that they were sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby come forth sooner?" is a bad question: it is based on a false assumption. It assumes that women who have been sexually assaulted usually do come forth sooner to say so; that reporting sexual assault before the statute of limitations runs out is the norm.

It's not. It's just not.

So for those who have been asking that question, I'd like to suggest a better one: "How can we men make it less difficult for women who have been sexually assaulted to say so?"

That's not for us to answer on our own; that's for us to ask women that we care about. But here are a few questions that we can answer among ourselves:

  1. "What would we do if one of our bros was accused of rape?"
  2. "What would we do if we learned that a woman in our family was sexually assaulted?" 
  3. "You know that 'No' means 'No,' right?"  

A sexual assault happens every 107 seconds in America. If you've spent 10 minutes doing the quiz and reading this post, there were likely 5 assaults while you did it.

Let that sink in. And if you have found this post useful, please share it with every man you know.
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