Have you ever meandered through the streets of Isla Vista and felt the compelling need to check the bushes for the possible creepy guy with the knife waiting for the helpless target to walk by? If so, then you are one of the countless products of rape culture socialization.
Don’t feel bad or get offended. We all have been taught to believe inaccurate information founded upon stereotypes. Anyone who has seen sexual assault portrayed in movies, television or newspapers is probably under the common misconception that rape is usually committed by psychotic men of color who lurk in the dark wielding a weapon. This is a lie.
The majority of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances – people you know and probably trust. In Isla Vista, about 98 percent of sexual assaults are of this kind. This means that bushes are safe and sound.
We are not saying that stranger assault does not happen, and we are definitely not saying that it is less traumatic than acquaintance assault. However, rapes committed by strangers occur less frequently in I.V. than those by someone you know and trust.
This figure is not specific to I.V. Nationally, acquaintance rape represents over 80 percent of all sexual assault cases. Now, why does this sound like new information? Well, if you live in our society, you are taught that crazy bush-lurkers commit rape, so society tells women not to walk alone at night and often suggests having a man they know – a friend of a friend, perhaps? – walk them to their door.
Doesn’t this seem counterproductive to anyone else? If the vast majority of sexual assaults occur between acquaintances, then wouldn’t a woman be safer to walk home by herself?
We still operate under the assumption that women need to be protected from that creepy guy, and so we have a “nice” strong man accompany her home, even though her “hero” is more likely to be a perpetrator.
What does this mean for women? If they can trust neither men they pass on the street nor the guy who so responsibly offers to accompany her home after the party, it seems as if women can’t trust anyone. This is unacceptable.
We suggest that women, like all people, should trust others. Fear of others will never allow us to live together.
First and foremost, women need to trust themselves: Women need to know the truth, and the truth is that they are more likely to be taken advantage of by someone they know than by someone they have never met or cannot see. Knowing this prepares women to use their judgment and protect themselves in a way they have never before considered. This not only will serve to promote their well-being, but it could also prove to be an empowering act.
Believing sexual assault only includes the stranger with the weapon also functions to paint an incomplete picture that has two detrimental effects. Survivors of sexual assault whose attacks did not fit the stereotypical definition do not feel as though what happened to them was rape. This confusion prohibits survivors from telling people and can discourage them from seeking help. The other problem occurs when people who commit rape don’t feel they did anything wrong because what they did does not fit our society’s narrow definition.
Our society’s inability to deal with reality has resulted in an uneducated, unprepared population in which fear runs rampant. It is hard for some people to understand why women do not report being assaulted because they tend to think the assailant is the dude in the bush. But what if it was your best friend or the person down the hall from you? A lot changes with this new information, and believe us, it gets a lot more confusing. But knowing the truth paves the way to a better world.
Max Anders is the Men Against Rape co-coordinator, Susan Landgraff is a media intern for the Rape Prevention Education Program and Carl Barnes is a graduate student in philosophy.