When I was 19 my then-boyfriend raped me. It took over 5 years before I was able to call it rape to myself and another year or so after that when I could call it rape to other people. Even now it is sometimes hard for me to refer to it as rape. Why? Because it was "gray."
He was my boyfriend. I went with him back to his room. I drank with him. I made out with him before. I kept on dating him afterwards. I kept on telling myself this and never told anyone else the details because it was just so... gray. Except, it wasn't. What I didn't constantly remind myself, although I never forgot, was how many times I told him no. And how many times I pushed, or tried to push, him off my body. Or how he took off the condom instead of stopping when I told him it hurt.
That five years of not being able to call a rape a rape fucked me up more than the original encounter. People I slept with after him suffered for it. People who actually did care about my consent and couldn't understand why I was suddenly crying uncontrollably when just moments before I was seemingly enjoying sex with them. I couldn't understand it either. I had done this before, after all, so why now was every part of my being screaming no?
Why did it take me more than 5 years to call what happened to me rape? Because I followed the fucking rules. Yes I went with him back to his place and drank with him, but this wasn't a stranger, this was my boyfriend. We had been dating for awhile before this and had been friends for even longer previously. He was one of a group of friends who would walk me back to my dorm at night so I wouldn't have to go alone. No where in those rape prevention rules did it tell me some guys would game those very same rules.
Last week on Fox News, Zerlina Maxwell basically told people to stop telling women what to do to prevent rape and to tell men not to rape instead. For this she was inundated with rape and death threats. How fucked is that? She's right though, the current rules don't work. People can follow the rules and some asshole can still rape them anyway. And what if you don't follow the rules? It's drilled into us throughout life that if you don't follow the rules you need to be prepared to suffer the consequences. But rape is the action of the rapist. Why are we giving (potential) victims rules to not have someone else rape them? The only thing that rules to prevent being a rape victim accomplish is to let society wash its hands of people who didn't follow those rules and had someone else do something horrible to them. It's just an added bonus that it also shuts up some people who did follow those rules and were still raped by someone else because well, I followed the rules so that couldn't have really been rape, right?
We don't lay the blame on sober people who are hit by a drunk driver even if it's on New Years Eve or St. Patrick's Day. Instead there are national campaigns to tell people that buzzed driving is drunk driving, programs are implemented in high schools to warn the dangers of drunk driving, programs like Tipsy Tow exist, cab numbers are plastered in every bar, and even public transport sometimes runs later than usual on holidays associated with drinking. Everyone realizes that the decision to drink and drive lays solely with the drunk driver, but when someone tries to apply the same reasoning to rapists.... butbutbut not all men are rapists and that won't work and you deserved to be raped anyway.
"If you see something, say something."
I've heard this saying in various incantations throughout my life. It's been used by companies I've worked for in regards to safety issues. It's part of the reasoning behind whistle blower laws. It's said specifically by police in my neighborhood in order to reduce the number of car break-ins they've seen recently. The reasoning is that as a society we can help reduce (if not eliminate) some of the shitty things that happen to us just by paying attention and speaking up when other people are doing something that can cause harm. I bring this up because that's what I've always seen the "teach people not to rape" message as. Accountability.
"Teach people not to rape" doesn't assume all men are rapists anymore than MADD assumes everyone is a drunk driver or "No Smoking" signs assume everyone smokes.
Not everyone needs to be told, but you tell everyone because there's no way of knowing before hand who does need to be told.Instead, it clearly lets people know (at least some of) the boundaries and gives other people a voice to call out others they see breaking the social contract. Moving from "here's how not to get raped" to "here's how not to rape" not only shifts the blame rightly from the victim to the perpetrator but also encourages other people to step up and say to a (potential) rapist, "hey what you are doing isn't cool and you need to stop." Yet somehow suggesting this shift warrants rape and death threats.
I don't know if that shift in rules and blame would have stopped my college boyfriend from raping me. Like I said, he knew the rules and gamed them to his advantage. But it would have saved me more than five years of hell. And a shift will save future rape victims from the same torment because the blame will be squarely where it belongs, on the shoulders of the person who chose to rape.
Related watching: Patrick Stewart on how violence against women is learned. I know Jezebel is a problematic site for a variety of reasons but this is where I first saw it posted and highlights one of the more pertinent quotes. The way rape prevention rules are now sets up a culture of silence that protects rapists, not rape victims/survivors.