Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to be an ally

So there's been some drama at Dartmouth, my alma mater, recently. I've been trying to stay out of it because thinking about campus in conjunction with sexual assault brings back a lot of frustration and sadness. The Dartmouth administration was actually very good to me-- it's the behavior of my fraternity brothers that I am still bitter about.

That being said, it's been impossible to completely avoid conversations about this on Facebook and mailing lists, so I've reluctantly chimed in when the conversation got irritating enough. The first time I got involved, it was to put the kibosh on "but false rape accusations!" bullshit. I wrote a post on this a while ago. False rape accusations are exceedingly rare and almost never targeted at a specific person, because seriously, victims of acquaintance rape aren't exactly treated kindly or sympathetically in society, so if someone wants attention or sympathy and somehow thinks crying rape is a good way to do it, they're not going to name a specific person-- they're going to pick the scenario they wouldn't receive any blame in, and talk about a stranger in a dark alley with a weapon. Crying rape for revenge runs into the exact same issues. Perpetuating the idea that false rape accusations are common really hurts victims, and seriously needs to stop.

The second time I've chimed in has been in response to the notion that rape victims need to testify in court because otherwise they're perpetuating rape culture. The person who brought this up said that testifying is a service to society that rape victims should do "if they're strong enough," but that it's totally ok if they can't, and there's no judgment involved. I called shenanigans on that too, for multiple reasons. First, you can't say there's no judgment involved if you frame it as a "service to society" that a victim can choose not to do if they're not strong enough. That means that someone who chooses not to testify is weak or selfish because they're unable or unwilling to go through the hell that is the legal system. (Did I mention how going through the legal system means having to relive your experience over and over while people try to discredit you and drag your name through the mud? And that the process generally takes at least a year? Yeah.)

Secondly, stop putting the onus on victims. Why are we the ones perpetuating rape culture if we don't testify? Why is it mainly our responsibility to stop perpetrators? Saying that any change in rape culture depends on the victims is an easy way for people to absolve themselves of responsibility. You don't get a cookie for not being a rapist yourself and sitting around telling rape victims what they need to do to stop rape. It's not just our responsibility. Stop looking at what others can do and start looking at what you can do.

Stop telling people how to not get raped, and start telling people how not to rape. Stop ignoring when someone does something unacceptable-- say something. Tell people that rape jokes are harmful. (I know I've written about it a lot, but I feel like this post says it better than I have: your silence condones and normalizes rape, particularly in the minds of rapists.) Stop perpetuating the myth that women cry rape for attention or revenge. Stop pressuring victims into testifying; there are many reasons why someone might not want to testify, and they are all legitimate. Also recognize that it's exceedingly hard to procure a guilty verdict, and that doesn't mean the victim was lying.

Listen when someone comes to you and tells you it happened to them. Don't assume they're lying. Don't ask them if they were drunk, or if they were wearing something provocative. Don't ask them to hide what happened. Don't make them feel ashamed of it. Be respectful and supportive. If you don't know how to be supportive, say so, instead of just becoming distant or pretending nothing happened. Be an ally, that's all we ask.