Society’s stance on sexual violence makes me a bit sad

Tonight is the annual Take Back the Night (TBTN) march and rally at my alma mater, Ohio University. The march is the culmination of a week of events and activities meant to raise awareness about violence against women, and it typically is women-only, with men encouraged to support from the sidelines. Unfortunately though, I’ve had a pessimistic outlook on the fight against violence against women lately.

First, Charlie Sheen. Ugh. That people want to be “TeamSheen” and that Sheen has such a colorful, vast history of violence against women is extremely disheartening. His history involves gunshots, knives, death threats, and other forms of physical and verbal abuse. To this day he still threatens both his ex-wives publicly, and yet most people remain unfazed. I’ve heard he makes $200,000 per show — just five shows where he freely calls female audience members sluts and he’s banked $1,000,000. Is the price of seeing Sheen’s trainwreck in person worth the price of supporting an abuser?

Justin Bieber recently said Sheen was the most influential person in the world right now. This is scary for two reasons: (1) because young girls take Bieber’s word as the gospel, so if Bieber is saying Sheen is “winning” in a positive light then that’s worrisome because young girls might think Bieber is condoning that behavior and might then think it’s OK if guys treat them that way; and (2) because Bieber himself is a young teenage guy, being influenced by the douchebag that is Charlie Sheen, does he laugh off Sheen’s violence, too? Does he think it’s cool to act like Sheen?

That someone can have such a public, violent history of attacking women yet still get support from the general public is … ridiculous? Unbelievable? Depressing?

Second, at my alma mater this weekend, there were three sexual assaults reported. Of the alleged sexual assaults, one was at knifepoint in a church parking lot, one was in a fraternity house, and one was in an off-campus apartment complex. Police don’t think the sexual assaults are related, but it’s nonetheless terrible to hear of just one sexual assault, let along a string of three sexual assaults.

But I’m preparing to hear outcries that the two non-knife-related assaults are just cases of women getting too drunk and choosing to have sex, but then regretting it in the morning and calling it rape. Or that they were wearing clothing that showed a millimeter of skin so they were inviting it. Or that the women were drinking so this means it’s not really sexual assault. People don’t even need evidence that alcohol was involved — merely hearing that it was a Friday or Saturday night on a college campus is enough evidence for the court of public opinion to assume this scenario.

This goes with my third reason for disillusionment, courtesy of The New York Times. A police officer was accused of raping a woman that he was supposed to see get home safely after she had been drinking during the night, but the Times article doesn’t hesitate to illustrate for the reader why her story might not be credible:

Still, the prosecution’s case may rely heavily on the credibility of a woman who was admittedly drunk at the time she says she was sexually assaulted, and cannot recall large portions of the evening.

As Ms. Magazine points out, alcohol doesn’t make you hallucinate or create false memories. And the officer admitted to her on tape that he had sex with her that night. The line of consent here is crystal clear — the on-duty officer was perfectly sober and aware that (1) she was too drunk to consent and (2) his job was merely to make sure she got home safely, not to try to have sex with her.

I’m so sick of hearing “… but she was drinking …” as an excuse for sexual violence, because it implies that if women don’t want to be sexually assaulted, then they shouldn’t drink alcohol (blaming the victim instead of the assailant). OK, so what else should women to do avoid sexual assault? Not wear skirts? Not go outside? Not talk to anyone of the opposite sex ever again? It’s like if you weren’t attacked with a deadly weapon by a stranger in an alley, then the public doesn’t think your story holds water. About one-quarter of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a stranger — the vast majority are by non-strangers, yet we still are more skeptical when the suspect is a non-stranger. The statistics don’t lie, but we’re far too easily convinced that the victims do.

I’m not sure this ramble was very cohesive, but society’s attitude toward sexual violence frustrates me. Charlie Sheen made $2 million per episode on Two and a Half Men, $1 million per five shows on his current “tour,” and his violent nature toward women has never stopped his success. The line of consent between drunken people is blurry, but society still errs on the side of “she probably just regretted it in the morning” when it comes to women reporting sexual assaults.

But it’s not healthy to just dwell on the negatives, which is why the TBTN march and rally are so great. Women can gather together, march together, shout together, and really have a loud, collective voice that is otherwise often unheard. So if you’re at Ohio University’s main campus today (April 21), go to the Scripps amphitheater at 7:30 p.m. for a rally and then a march to raise awareness about sexual violence. We’ve got a long way to go to change the social stigma around sexual violence, but it’ll never change if we stay silent about it.

P.S. Check out this informative article about the stigma around reporting sexual assault, via The Post, Ohio University’s independently run student newspaper.

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