At this time 10 years ago I was almost finished with my first semester of my freshman year of college. During the first week we were there, all freshman were required to attend a sexual assault orientation. The first portion was a lot of statistics about rape and college students and information about where to turn and what resources were available if you’d been assaulted. During the second half the men and women were split up and sent into their own groups. The focus of this time, at least for us ladies, was discussing how to avoid being raped. We were told to not accept open drinks from strangers, not to run alone at night, and that if we were caught in a desperate situation, one of the best ways to extricate yourself is by grossing out your attacker by peeing or vomiting on yourself.
The thing is, I was a 17-year-old college freshman. By the time the semester had ended I had probably done every single thing I was told not to do in that seminar. I was reckless and foolish and young. And I know I was probably incredibly lucky, but never once when I let someone buy me a drink or walked home alone to my extremely distant dorm room did I feel pressured, and I didn’t wake up feeling manipulated. The pangs of hurt and betrayal I feel from my college days can be traced back to going to a friend’s apartment to talk and hang out and things taking a turn I didn’t expect, or when I ran into a friend at a bar and was offered a lift home only to have to answer the question, “Your place or mine?” when I got into the car.
Looking back I have always felt bad because I let things happen. I have friends who have had much worse experiences and the emotion they feel the most is disappointment…in themselves. As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to know how extremely backwards this thinking is. So many times women who are manipulated or pressured or inebriated and taken advantage of blame themselves. They won’t even admit they’ve been raped.
The word rape has been reserved for back alley assaults by men wielding knives and wearing masks. It’s reserved for women who are beaten and bloody and scream NO. And while those women have most certainly been raped, so have the thousands of others who were walked home by a friend and were then forced to repay the kindness. But those women are told they sent the wrong signals, they got too drunk, or they didn’t actually say no. They weren’t raped; they just made a mistake. It is such an unfortunate attitude because it blurs the lines between right and wrong. It allows men who assault women to walk away with a clean conscience and leaves women holding the emotional baggage.
It’s time to change the conversation. The city of Edmonton, Canada has decided the same thing. Instead of placing the onus of preventing rape on women, they are speaking out and telling men to, quite simply, not rape. The campaign puts aside the notion that rape requires force and resistance and reminds men that anything other than an enthusiastic—and sober—yes, is assault.
I, for one, am really excited to see ideas shifting and who knows, maybe one day at college orientation the men and women won’t have to break apart for separate sexual assault talks. Maybe there will only be one talk and it will say something along the lines of: Always respect one another; always ask before acting; and only have sex with people who want to have sex with you, too.
Brandi is a lawyer in Denver who spends very little time actually lawyering. She can usually be found working for free at a non-profit, hiking up mountains, or bossing her husband around because he made the mistake of asking her for help with his business one time. She’s horribly technologically inept (unless people still use AIM in which case she’s a genius) and takes one bite out of every donut instead of finishing a single donut in its entirety, which is probably a metaphor for something but she hasn’t figured out what it is yet. You can read more from Brandi on her blog, Randi Nickle.