What More Can We Do To Stop Rape?
There is a lot more all of us can do to help disengage our rape culture beyond not raping someone else. Since again, most men won’t rape, these “extras” are the things most of us need to work on.
This article is not meant exclusively for men; women too should read it and help propagate it.
For instance, people will often report that they know or have known that someone else — even people very close to them — are or have been raping or abusing another and that they have never said anything, to that person or to anyone else. Plenty of people have had an experience where they strongly suspected someone or known someone was raping someone else and they had remained silent and passive. Silence on anyone’s part when it comes to rape never helps and always does harm.
It’s one thing when people avoid doing anything in those situations out of a real concern for their own personal safety, but in nearly any situation like this, there is always a way to help. If you find yourself in this situation and are fearful for your own safety when it comes to saying or doing something, call the police anonymously, a hotline, or go get someone else to come help with you. Some people feel like it’s disloyal to report a friend, partner or family member who is raping or abusing, but your loyalty is never more important than someone else’s life or keeping another person from incredible trauma. Even if you can’t see it that way, at the very least recognize that rapists and abusers are troubled and are often unlikely to stop, and far more unlikely if they are never held responsible. Helping a friend stay disturbed and aiding them in doing harm through your inaction isn’t helping your friend.
We can also all get better at calling out acceptance or even applause for any kind of rape when we see it. For instance, a friend joking about rape or sexual violence isn’t being funny: he’s perpetuating rape culture. If you laugh right along with him – rather than calling him out, or even just making a point of not laughing — so are you. If you trash-talk women, their bodies, or talk about sex as if it wasn’t about two people’s mutual benefit, make a promise to yourself to stop doing that right now. Just like with racism, when anyone talks about hatred or disdain of any given group all the time, it tells other people around them that the hatred is acceptable.
I know how hard it can be for men to learn to call one another out, (you know that already). It’s often not easy for women, either: those of them who call men out often get harassed, name-called, slandered, and sometimes abused. But again, if you want to earnestly be strong – not the fake kind of strong that’s about harming other people and falling in line like a lemming – it’s one great way to be so. When a person’s community and peers don’t support rape and sexual or gender-based violence, it takes away the cheering section those kinds of people tend to rely on to support their hate, and can help prevent that person or others around them from raping or enabling rape.
Another thing you can do is to try not to take it too personally when women around you are fearful or wary of men – or speak critically about abusive men — including you. But with millions of women and girls raped every year, women and girls really do have good reason to worry about being assaulted by the men around them. Women can’t help but worry about rape and sexual violence given how common it is, and because rape happens more often by men known to women, they also can’t help but be wary of even the men which they know and call friends or partners. Getting angry at women for being worried about something so scary and so valid is neither fair nor helpful: it’s better to simply listen, be trustworthy and patient, and ask what you can do to help them feel more safe.
One of the most important things you can do is not to deny rape happens, that it happens to many women and girls, and that it is overwhelmingly something young adult and adult men are largely responsible for singly and as a group. You can be sure never to excuse rape or behavior that encourages or enables rape. It’s about the ways that society dismisses and diminishes rape. It’s about the ways that victims of rape are constantly accused of lying, or how they’re told that the crime is, in any way, their own fault. If you can always come to the proverbial table with the unwavering conviction that rape happens and that it is never, ever okay, that alone, is a powerful thing.
Here is a great roundup of what men can do to prevent rape:
- Be aware of language. Words are very powerful, especially when spoken by people with power over others. We live in a society in which words are often used to put women down, where calling a girl or woman a “bitch,” “freak,” “whore,” or “slut” is common. Such language sends a message that females are less than fully human. When we see women as inferior, it becomes easier to treat them with less respect, disregard their rights, and ignore their well-being.
- Communicate. Sexual violence often goes hand in hand with poor communication. Our discomfort with talking honestly and openly about sex dramatically raises the risk of rape. It gives rise to a lot of undue curiosity which later motivates people to rape.
- Speak up. You will probably never see a rape in progress, but you will see and hear attitudes and behaviors that degrade women and promote rape. When your best friend tells a joke about rape, say you don’t find it funny. When you read an article that blames a rape survivor for being assaulted, write a letter to the editor. When laws are proposed that limit women’s rights, let politicians know that you won’t support them. Do anything but remain silent.
- Support survivors of rape. Rape will not be taken seriously until everyone knows how common it is. By learning to sensitively support survivors in their lives, men can help women feel safer to speak out about being raped and let the world know how serious a problem rape is.
- Contribute your time and money. Join or donate to an organization working to prevent violence against women. Rape crisis centers, domestic violence agencies, and men’s anti-rape groups count on donations for their survival and always need volunteers to share the workload.
- Talk with women… about how the risk of being raped affects their daily lives; about how they want to be supported if it has happened to them; about what they think men can do to prevent sexual violence. If you’re willing to listen, you can learn a lot from women about the impact of rape and how to stop it.
- Talk with men… about how it feels to be seen as a potential rapist; about whether they know someone who’s been raped. Learn about how sexual violence touches the lives of men and what we can do to stop it.
- Organize. Form your own organization of men focused on stopping sexual violence. Men’s anti-rape groups should be more common around the country, especially on college campuses. If you have the time and the drive, it is a wonderful way to make a difference in your community.
- Work against other oppressions. Rape feeds off many other forms of prejudice — including racism, homophobia, and religious discrimination. By speaking out against any beliefs and behaviors, including rape, that promote one group of people as superior to another and deny other groups their full humanity, you support everyone’s equality.
- Don’t ever have sex with anyone against their will! No matter what. Although statistics show most men never rape, the overwhelming majority of rapists are male. Make a promise to yourself to be a different kind of man — one who values equality and whose strength is not used for hurting.
I know this is a lengthy piece (even though I’ve only scratched the surface), and for those of you who have read to this point, thank you. Again, no one deserves a medal for caring about harm to others or for caring about rape, but many people do not even invest the amount of time you’ve invested in reading this, so you’ve already stepped it up today more than most. Caring to inform yourself about a topic so difficult is no small deal, and it makes a big difference when it comes to rape prevention.
I want to leave you with what I think is a powerful and meaningful challenge for yourself, one I very deeply am sure you’re all up to. Like many people, I have faith in men, and truly feel that we right now are capable of making changes for ourselves and others which many haven’t been strong enough to make before.
We’ve talked here about the idea of a “false” strength and a “false” masculinity, or machismo, that are about or incorporate things like domination, abuses of power, obedience to other men, violence or hate. With feminist movements, women realized that the feminine, ideas about and roles for women, needed a profound makeover and takeover, and tirelessly dedicated themselves to doing so which brought about massive positive changes in many women’s (as well as men’s) lives over a relatively short period of time. Those changes also allowed more women to design their own femininity, rather than having someone else assign it to them. Given, women didn’t come up with most of those ideas and constructs about themselves, men did, but all of the men didn’t come up with the ideas and constructs many men have about masculinity, women and male sexuality, either. It were men before you who defined roles and ideas about your gender, too, just like they did with women’s.
I dare you to be the compassionate, courageous author of your own masculinity, and a better one than whatever you’ve been shown or told was ideal; a better one than is so often celebrated in most of our cultures while it’s doing men and women alike harm. In that self-design, identify strength and masculinity not as what you or another man does that shows male power over someone else, but as what you do to truly empower yourself and others: identify those qualities with the very best parts of yourself. Meet, face and come through challenges to your male identity by standing up for what you know is right and refusing to participate, in any way. Even if doing so means you are less easily accepted by other men around you or results in you having to change habits or ways of thinking which aren’t easy to change or supported as well as they should be, do it.
One of the strongest men in history, Martin Luther King, Jr., said “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” Real strength — something we all are capable of having, and not something someone else can give us — isn’t about force; it’s about resiliency, dignity, humanity and character, and about the power not to fall in line or to dominate, but to resist anything that causes you to be less than who you really are, or takes that personhood away from someone else. Real strength is never violent, and protects others, rather than doing harm. It is not a strong person who rapes or supports any part of rape: it is a weak one.
You can be – and maybe you already are – that strong, and so can other men. If and when we all are, everything we know about rape points to the strong possibility that we guys – that’s right, we guys – can make a huge change for ourselves, others and the world at large that could stop rape for good.