“If we’re serious about rape prevention, we need to educate students beyond the simple idea that yes means yes and no means no. Preventing sexual assault requires understanding that affirmative consent can’t be meaningfully taught to students who don’t have a comprehensive framework of human sexuality…colleges that are serious about preventing rape need to seriously consider offering holistic sex education to their students, and including a discussion of power dynamics and socialization in their workshops on consent. If we’re willing to go beyond ‘don’t rape,’ I believe colleges will find that a healthier view of sex leads to less assault, as well as happier students.” -Rachel Alexander, from Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus
If you’re a user of Twitter and you’ve had a chance to notice the trends in America over the last 24 hours [February 2013], you may have seen the increasingly popular hashtag #LiberalTips2AvoidRape. Liberal Tips to Avoid Rape…the Twittersphere is full of them now. Feel free to search out the nitty-gritty details behind this less-than-amusing attempt at political humor but I will not be expounding on hashtag history here. Suffice it to say, something extremely serious (sexual assault) has been turned into a Twitter game.
The offensive hashtag itself aside. Twitter is not the only place buzzing with rape-related posts in light of the comments made by Representative Joe Salazar. During a discussion about concealed weapons on Colorado college campuses (for the purpose of self-defense and safety), Salazar used rape victims as a sort of crutch to defend his reasons for the disarmament of college students. It’s not the first time a politicians has created disbelief and disgust by comments made about rape (i.e. Representative Akon’s scientifically inaccurate “shut that whole thing down” conversation comes to many minds). Nevertheless, Salazar’s comments need to be addressed. The words spoken during that legislative meeting cannot be unsaid, regardless of what Salazar or others say to attempt a clean-up.
I have no desire to write a lengthy discourse on the failures of the American government, gun laws, or campus security flaws. I do, however, want to address three things which I feel are underlying issues to the current “Liberal Tips” epidemic:
1. Salazar’s comments reveal the commonplace, societal view of women at risk of rape. First, he has perpetuated the idea that woman = victim and man = rapist. (Those stereotypes did not need an extra boost.) Second, he has perpetuated the idea that women/potential victims share in the responsibility of preventing rape. They don’t. Rapists carry the entirety of the responsibility. A victim cannot prevent the actions of a rapist. They can only protect against those actions (as evidenced by the argument that women should be able to defend themselves). Salazar equates prevention with protection. Thirdly, his comments were outright sexist. The intelligence and emotional stability of the female gender took a pounding.
2. Salazar’s comments and (more specifically) the cyber rage to follow are evidence that jokes have become our society’s solution to real issues. Rape jokes are the norm in a rape culture. “Liberal Tips” has become a venue for turning rape into a hilarious avenue by which everyone can blame the government. “Get raped and then just blame” Bush. Obama. This party or that legislation. Satirical criticism is one thing. But there is a fine line between sarcastic reactions to the offensive comment and comical reactions to the offensive, real-life action. The hashtag itself is a mockery of rape survivors, not just political parties.
Along with Salazar, it perpetuates the rape myths which increase victim blaming. Rape deeply affects its victims, their families, their friends, their communities. It’s not a joke and it cannot be removed from its traumatizing reality. Even in a tweet. Rapists ruin lives, with or without political sensibilities in tact. If the world desires to judge the United States based upon the “Liberal Tips” Twitter feed, Americans have a right to be embarrassed.
The reaction to Salazar-esque comments should be 1) an intelligent attack against ignorance and 2) increased awareness for those affected by sexual assault.
3. Salazar’s comments reveal that universities, communities, etc. need to rethink how they react to the threat of rape. Salazar mentions rape whistles, safe zones, and call boxes. He essentially states that these precautions are enough for rape to be prevented; potential victims need no other protection. As many Twitter comments have noted, the audience is left to imagine that rape whistles are deadly weapons, that rapists are unable to get beyond the Star Trek battle shield which surrounds all safe zones, that the use of a call box will deter an assailant (in the event that one can reach the phone before the attack starts).
The United States, and people around the world, need an increased education in sexual assault: its warning signs, its effects, its trends. The Twitter war will fade. Video coverage of Salazar’s remarks will become buried on YouTube. Yet these attitudes about rape and its victims will continue, and strengthen, without continued, purposeful action.