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Today is Denim Day, an annual event dedicated to raising awareness about all forms of sexual violence. I love Denim Day’s “No Excuses” campaign [PDF], which illustrates a dozen ways that people manage to excuse sexual assault, blame victims, and ignore that the crimes even happen. The effectiveness of the campaign lies in its relentlessness—-it details exactly how we excuse rapes against girlfriends, wives, women who drink, men, prisoners, the elderly, flirts, military personnel, sex workers, women who wear “sexy” clothing, and the disabled.
It’s extremely important to unpack all the myths and excuses provided around sexual assault together. When we detail every way that rape apologists shift their justifications to fit the circumstances of each crime, we reveal that these excuses really aren’t about what assault victims are wearing, or who they’re dating, or what crimes they’ve committed in the past—-it’s about the people in our society who just don’t care to stop sexual assault. When you add up all the excuses, you’d be hard pressed to find an instance of sexual violence that can’t be explained away through the cultural script:
Here are Denim Day’s 12 examples of ways we discount sexual assaults:
#1 SHE WAS WEARING TIGHT JEANS:
In 1999, the Italian High Court overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing tight jeans at the time of the assault. The justices stated that the victim must have helped her attacker remove her jeans, from which they inferred consent. People all around the world were outraged. Wearing jeans on this anniversary became an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes abotu sexual violence.
#2 SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT:
It is often believed that sexy or suggestive clothing invites wanted male attention, positive or negative. Regardless, wearing revealing clothing does not invite sexual assault. In fact, women and girls have been raped in everything from jeans to business suits to pajamas. This belief reinforces the myth that women and girls invite assault by their clothing choices and shifts the blame for the crime to the victim and away from the perpetrator, where it belongs.
#3 SHE WAS FLIRTING ONLINE:
Teenagers and children have increasingly become targets for predators both online and via mobile devices. Predators today will use social networking sites to contact youth and convince them that the “stranger” is a “friend.”This connection increases the child / teen’s trust in them and interest in sexual relations. Learning about the dangers of internet use and speaking about them openly can help minimize the risks from those who wish to abuse.
#4 SHE WAS HIS STEADY GIRLFRIEND:
One of the most common misconceptions is that most rapes are committed by strangers. In reality, more than 75% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knew and trusted—-such as a teacher, co-worker, relative, friend, or even their steady girlfriend or boyfriend. Just because someone has consented to a sexual act in the past does not give someone the right to assume consent and force or coerce sexual contact.
#5 SHE WAS DRUNK AND PARTYING:
It is commonly believed that because a woman is drinking she somehow invites rape. In most states, it is against the law to have sex with someone who is unable to give legal consent. Coercing or forcing sex without consent is considered rape/sexual violence. If convicted of this crime, a perpetrator would likely have to register as a sex offender.
#6 HE HAD IT COMING:
Male anger and violence is afflicted upon other men and not just women. Rape is a violent act of power and control that damages the victim—-male or female. The socialization of men creates immense challenges for them to disclose any type of sexual victimization.
#7 SHE WAS HIS WIFE:
Spousal rape or marital rape is often unreported and overlooked.There is a widely held view that a woman surrenders consent at the time of marriage, and is responsible for satisfying all her husband’s needs and desires in order to be a good wife. The law has been slow to criminalize marital rape, but it is now recognized as a crime in all 50 states.
#8 I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING FOR HER:
Sexual assault is a function of power and control. Frail older persons are often dependent on others for care and can be extremely vulnerable to sexual mistreatment. 96% of sexual abuse of elder persons is committed by a family member or a caretaker. 86% of elder sexual assault victims are women.
#9 THE INTENSITY GOT TO HIM:
Today, there are more women serving in the military than ever before. However, women soldiers who signed up to defend their countries have instead had to defend themselves from assault and rape by their own fellow soldiers and in some cases their commanding officers. The phenomena is not only unique to women, but inclusive of men as well. Military sexual violence has occurred during training, times of peace, and times of war.
#10 SHE HAS SEX FOR MONEY:
Because a sex worker exchanges a sex act for money does not mean that they cannot be raped or deserve to be sexually violated. Someone’s choices in profession, lifestyle, and appearance do not give anyone the right to rape, assault, or otherwise hurt them.
#11 SHE CANNOT HEAR, TALK, OR REPORT:
According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, rates of rape and sexual assault among persons who are deaf or disabled are more than twice that of the general population. Persons who are deaf or have a disibility are also more likely to experience repeated sexual assaults throughout their lifetimes. The perception of vulnerability or inability to report does not give someone the right to force or coerce sexual contact.
#12 RAPE IS NOT PART OF THE SENTENCE:
Every year, more than 100,000 U.S. male and female inmates are sexually abused by other inmates or correctional staff. More often than not, the perpetrators are correctional staff, whose very job it is to keep prisoners safe. When the government removes someone’s liberty, it takes on an absolute responsibility to protect that person’s safety. Rape is not part of the penalty. In the aftermath, most prisoner rape survivors are forced to suffer in silence, too fearful of retaliation and further abuse ever to file a formal report. Rape is an abomination, whether it occurs in jail or in the community.
See a pattern emerging here? No, me neither. We excuse rape if she’s a “bad girl.” We excuse rape if she’s a “good wife.” We excuse rape if her clothes are too difficult to remove. We excuse rape if her clothes are too easy to remove. We excuse rape if he’s a man. We excuse rape if the victim is serving time. We excuse rape if the victim is serving our country. In short, we excuse rape. And Denim Day’s 12 excuses are hardly an exhaustive list: Off the top of my head, I’d also add “She was transgender” and “We must protect the reputation of the Catholic Church.” I imagine a list of all the sexual assault scenarios that are never discounted, disbelieved, or brushed under the rug would be much, much shorter.