In an Op-Ed published by the Seattle Times this past January, 'Personal Responsibility and the Rape Debate,' author Froma Harrop regurgitates the argument that to the victim, "true stranger rapes" are worse than those perpetrated by a non-stranger. This a mere week before a self-proclaimed pussy grabber assumed the highest office in the country, and it contains all the core tenets of rape apologism:
"...rapes by total strangers are the most horrendous. They should be more troubling to the police — and the public, as well."
Never mind that, according to the National Institute of Justice, "85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim" and "the most common locations are the man's or woman's home in the context of a party or a date."
"A woman of sound mind has a right to hook up with however many men she wants to and engage in whatever sexual activity she and the partner agree on. But there are risks involved."
One of those risks being, apparently, forced sexual contact. Harrop's not judging you for online dating or having multiple sexual partners—really. She just wants you to know that these behaviors sometimes have dire, life-altering consequences. Consequences that will also be your fault, because, she writes:
"Skydivers don’t have armies of helpers running along the ground with safety nets."
Somehow, Harrop conflates normal behavior—like going on a date or having a friend walk you home—with extreme sports. (I guess just being a woman in the world these days is kind of an extreme sport, though.)
I am a survivor of rape perpetrated by someone I knew, and the experience turned me from a relatively happy college student into a shriveled ball of emotional pulp barely able to finish my last quarter of school. In the five years since that attack, I've suffered from PTSD, ongoing nightmares, and depression. My sense of self-worth and confidence have suffered substantially, and the trauma is something I will cope with for the rest of my life.
It happened on my 21st birthday. As our culture practically demands, I consumed a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time to celebrate my legal drinking age. At the end of the night, my group and I ended up at a friend's apartment, where I soon became physically ill, too sick to move or to take a cab home. The friend offered to let me stay the night on his couch.
I still have one of his pubic hairs in a ziplock bag, the dress I wore that night (once my favorite) tucked far in the back corner of my closet, in a paper bag.
According to Harrop, because I took part in "risky" behavior that night (drinking with friends), my attack should be of lower priority for law enforcement and considered a lesser crime by my community. Because apparently, as a woman, I'm responsible for expecting to be sexually assaulted at any moment.
That morning, I woke up naked from the waist down, immediately hellbent on achieving justice. I knew exactly what had happened and I expected to be taken seriously, but was totally unprepared for the backlash. Some of my friends were angels, delivering me burritos and records and driving me to the hospital. But, to my intense horror, many responded in blind defense of my rapist:
"But the ___ I knew would never do that."
"Is that really rape?"
The police had the same sentiment: They made it clear from the beginning that my case would go nowhere because I’d been intoxicated. If it hasn't been destroyed or lost by now, my rape kit still sits untouched with thousands of others representing stories similar and dissimilar to mine. They asked me what I was wearing, and how my rape made me feel. They asked me if I'd ever had a crush on my rapist.
In a political climate that insists sexism is over-reported and rape culture is a "fantasy" perpetuated by soft, Jezebel.com-reading liberals, Harrop's dismissive ranking of sex crimes is dangerous. By painting survivors of date rape as irresponsible, negligent, or at fault for the trauma inflicted on them, Harrop exemplifies the pervasiveness of victim-blaming, which undermines our attempts to seek justice for ourselves. According to Harrop, because I wasn't attacked in an alley by a stranger—and instead betrayed by someone I knew and trusted while in a vulnerable state—I had it coming.
"This discussion clearly makes a distinction between victims who took precautions and those who didn’t. Such distinctions make some feminists uncomfortable, but they shouldn't... no one does women a favor by treating them like children bearing no responsibility for their own safety."
This toxic attitude sustains community protections for those who rape by shrugging off the bulk of these crimes as "preventable" by their victims, unsubtly blaming the victim for not anticipating the assault. In truth, whether drunk or sober, friend or stranger (or family member), rape is about power and control. It's never about what we wear, where we go, or what we do beyond freely giving consent. Every precaution in the world won't save a victim from the systemic and deeply rooted ownership our society claims over women's bodies. And every victim has the right to a prioritized investigation and to the support of their community, regardless of the crime's circumstances.
There is no "rape debate." Yes means yes, and no means no. A physically violent rape committed by a stranger in an alley is horrible. A rape committed under any other circumstance is also horrible. Either way, the crime is encouraged, excused, and accepted by a culture—and by articles like Harrop's—that blame victims of rape for the actions of their rapists, and rationalize a violent assault on body, psyche, and soul with responses like, "Is that really rape?"