Monday, March 18, 2013

Conversation can change the world

The Steubenville boys were athletes. They were average high school students. The kids who were live tweeting the rape had good grades. They had great resumes. These are your kids. This is my baby brother. The victim is not at fault, so once we start really looking at the perpetrators, what led these perfectly average kids, your son, my piercing client from Saturday, whoever they were, to believe that this is good? This is hilarious? What messages have you taught the young people in YOUR life about sex? It's never too late for a good conversation.

If you're afraid to talk to your very young children, or your teenagers, about sex and consent and themes like that, find someone who can talk to them. I will. I'm not licensed, certified, whatever, but I'm friendly.  Talk to a friend or family member that can talk about sex calmly, rationally, and without stuttering or blushing, and see if they can have an age appropriate conversation with your 4 year old, your 10 year old, your 16 year old, if you can't do it.  
 Look over the messages you're sending in the movies you're watching, the games you're playing, the things you say. What are you teaching your loved ones about sexual assault? Are you sure that no one you know would ever consider video taping a questionable situation? Talk about how much you respect them for that decision.

The grades, the resumes, and the athleticism of the Steubenville rapists is relevant, it should be reported on, because they weren't sneaky predators in an alley. They were kids, who weren't ever taught better.

My mother and I have talked to my 17 year old brother about sex, about consent, about sexual assault.  You might have, too, he's been at Slutwalk 2011 and 2012.  I'm pretty sure he'd take a black eye or worse to defend someone's right to choose when they have sexual contact.  Even if there was beer and peer pressure involved.  

Two Years of Slutwalk

In April of 2011, information about the Toronto Slutwalk went viral. And the internet went "What the fuck is a Slutwalk?".  When a Toronto police officer said "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized".  This group of women were righteously outraged, and started an international firestorm that still exists today.  They gathered en masse to protest rape culture and victim blaming.  When the videos got my attention in late April, I posted that we should do this here.  Geoff Krum told me if I did it, he would help. After 30 days of mad planning and 3am coffee fueled conferences, discussions with total strangers at bars and grocery stores, 300 people marched in 103 degree weather.  We gathered, listened to speeches. I yelled into a megaphone a lot. It was fun. It was emotional. We after partied. Bands played.

In the month that we planned for Slutwalk, I listened to some of the most heartbreaking stories of my life.  Very beloved friends of mine pulled me into corners and out onto porches to tell me about their most horrifying moments. Complete strangers hugged me just for handing them a flyer that said it wasn't their fault. Months later, I would be at a party, or in the middle of a piercing at work, and someone would recognize me, the girl with the megaphone, the loud mouth behind Slutwalk Des Moines. And the stories would happen.

The part that was hardest for me was the outrage that no one else was listening.  There is no circumstance in which one of my friends or family members could walk up to me and say "This happened to me. This hurt me", and my response would be condemnation.  (Barring a few drunken incidents and some strangely shaped bruises where the stories start with "You have to hear this dumb shit I did last night", in which case I will probably laugh so hard I cry.) It's brutal when someone--  friend, lover, grocery store clerk, guy in the skinny jeans from that bar I go to sometimes--starts a story with "you're the first person I have ever told this to".
It's not that I think that everyone you know wouldn't absolutely love you if you told them what you went through. But we live in a culture where that's a possible reaction.  Rape culture teaches us, as a society, that rape is the victim's fault.   We are outraged when the people we love and trust are hurt. Unless that person was drunk. Not man enough to fight off his attacker. Had been flirting. Wearing short shorts. Had a previous (or current) relationship with your attacker.  It's your fault because other humans are out of control beasts who can't control themselves when confronted with an unconscious woman, a small child, or a teenager who can't fight back.  Because the way you dress, the way you walk, and how much you drink invalidate your right to choose.  Because if you're not strong enough to fight off your attacker, because if you trusted the people you were with not to drug you, because you were alone in the room with a man, you wanted it, you just didn't want to say it.

We've been running Slutwalk Des Moines for two years, and at least once a month, I come across some horrifying news debacle in which the response from the community and the media is "That slut deserved it". An 11 year old girl in Texas, gang raped over the course of months. That slut, wearing make up. She was asking for it. The reaction to the Steubensville rape, the tweets joking about sleeping through a 'wang in the butthole', the videos, the media reporting on the tragedy of two athletes lives being destroyed by a guilty verdict. Rape in the military. A mentally ill girl being raped in a classroom with a teacher present.  Politicians and "legitimate rape".  These are the cases that hit the news.  The list is painfully long.  We have a facebook page where you can read more, back a few years.

There are the stories that the media hasn't reported, the stories I've listened to. The stories that didn't make me love you less.  The girl who was raped by her boyfriend. The party girl who woke up to someone having sex with her. The gay guy who got jumped so several men could attempt to "rape him straight".  The stripper who sold a dance, not sex, and the client took it anyway.  Bikers. Sex workers. Nice girls.  Tough guys.  I can't list all the situations I have been told about, from the amazing person that was hurt.

These things happen. They are not your fault. After two years of running Slutwalk, I have seen and heard so many cases of victim blaming, and so many times, I am the first person a survivor has ever told their personal story to, because they felt they didn't have anyone safe to talk to.  Be safe. Be awesome. We can change rape culture. Don't be a rapist. Don't be a jerk to people who tell you they've been assaulted.  When someone does make a joke about victims deserving things, tell them to shut the fuck up. You could change someone's world.

If you need someone to talk to, but you're not comfortable going to a large, public event, say hi to anyone from Slutwalk Des Moines, organizers or allies.  We love you. We have free hugs.

Or you can check out:
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault 
Rape Abuse and Incest National Network

These photos are from Slutwalk 2012. Thank you to everyone who came, or wanted to. You're amazing.