The pain we cause

Gang rape, pulling a train, gang bang, serial sex.  These painful words that hurt, following or preceding or completely apart and separate from the acts they describe.

And then that one word that looms so large: SLUT.

And the smaller ones words that follow: she wanted it, she asked for it, dresses like a whore, I knew a girl once and she totally wanted it with all those guys in one night and I can prove it to you because her name is…

And this one: If a prostitute is made to have sex, is that rape or is it shop lifting?

I have heard all of these statements in my classes, and so I stand up in front of my students and read first person accounts from rape victims and prostitutes and girls who were called a slut in high school.  I tell these stories, occasionally tearing up during my readings, often seeing tears in my students’ eyes, so that my students will learn on a deep and integral level that women and men are hurt by these words and actions.  I have had many students ranging in age from twelve to thirty tell me that they had never really, thoroughly realized what pain is caused through rape and rumor until my classes.

It has been a painful week in the news for adolescent sexuality.  On Monday the New York Times published this top-notch piece about teen runaways, who often turn to prostitution to keep a roof over their heads and are then treated as criminals by the justice system that should be trying to help them. When this happens, a reputable criminal defense lawyer should be hired. And then last Friday a fifteen year old girl was brutally assaulted and gang raped outside her homecoming dance.

That link back there is to the AOL story.  Two of today’s recent comments are: “Is she hot?” and “Anyone want to bet this 15 year old girl knew some of these guys and hung around with this low life crowd by choice prior to this rape.”  I am so deeply horrified by this response.  I hadn’t written on these particular events because I assumed that it would be all over the news – which it is – and that the actions of the rapists would be roundly vilified.  I clearly have too high a standard for the general American public.  I read a post today from the Yes Means Yes blog called Bracing For The Rape Apology, and I thought it was an extreme post.  Clearly I was devastatingly wrong.

I live in a society where victims are blamed for being assaulted.  I challenge rape jokes constantly, reminding people that rape is not a joke and it is not funny.  The constancy of this pain in our lives is overwhelming, and we cause it, each and every one of us.  Clear sexual boundaries are not optional, both in actual actions and in our words and opinions.  We each carry this responsibility with us everywhere we go, to hold our fellow people to clear sexual boundaries in their words and jokes so that their actions are not thrown around as lightly either.


I had planned to write today on my morning college class, which was truly a delightful, soul-empowering, sexually-supportive class.  These extreme highs and lows that are possible in this field of sexual education are astonishing.  But the education has such extremes because sex inherently has the same extremes in our society.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Dr. Rayne, I wanted so badly to be wrong. But I know better.

    I remember too clearly Haidl: what defense could they possibly have? She was unconscious or nearly unconscious the whole time, and her assailants videotaped it! And they concocted a story of consent that was the worst kind of slut-baiting, and it worked! The jury hung the first time. To get a conviction, the prosecutor had to take the last jury to school, and teach them that whatever a woman’s sexual behavior, and even if she’s a sex worker, she still has a right not to be raped.

    The comments at AOL are a cesspool; there is a new and worse one along precisely the lines that I described after the one you cited. The comments that are not victim blaming are outright racism.

    My only hope is that at least this is so horrible that the victim blaming will remain in the realm of the anonymous commenter. But that’s not what I expect. I expect that soon enough, we’ll see mainstream media outlets putting forth earnest “how not to get yourself gangraped” advice.

  2. I suppose I never really considered that anyone would honestly think a woman deserved these things or genuinely had that much disrespect for females. I always thought these types of comments were flippant and thoughtless, but deep down, the people who made them knew better. I’m appalled to learn that I’m incorrect in this. Thank you for your incredible educational services to those you’re able to reach. This knowledge is clearly well needed, and I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you should do what you can to make a difference. Well done, Dr. Rayne.

  3. It is so disheartening, isn’t it Raquel? Many of the young people who come through my classes have life-changing experiences – and while I am sure I cannot reach each and every one of them at a deep level, I am so blessed to have the opportunity to reach the ones I can. Comprehensive sex education needs to be universal. Our young people need it, our society needs it, and our future needs it!

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