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.