To women, rape is not distant. It’s not something sad that comes up in the news sometimes, like natural disasters or suicide bombers in other countries. Rape is an ever present reality for victims and those who have never been victimized.
Remember when you were a child, and when the sun would go down your parents would call you inside? Remember when they would tell you not to run off on your own? Remember the “don’t talk to strangers” conversation in which they informed you that bad people might take you away and do bad things to you if you weren’t careful? Remember thinking that someday you would be an adult and would be able to go anywhere at whatever time you wanted, and how cool that would be? Remember becoming an adult and moving out of your parents’ house and realizing with delight that your dream had come true – that you could now play wherever and whenever you wanted?
I remember all of that except the last bit. A woman grows up and goes “Aw, crap. I still can’t do what I want.” Because going out at night alone could get you abducted. Because wandering away from the group in the city could get you raped. You can’t walk a dark parking lot without glancing over your shoulder, keys out and poised to fight. You can’t get drunk at a party without a comprehensive plan about how you will get home safely. You can’t have an open drink leave your sight for a second.
Not just because you might get raped. But because if it does happen, people will wonder why you were so reckless. Why did you go out alone? Don’t you know it’s not safe for you?
Women are expected to live their lives as scared children – and we do, because we must. The threat of rape is a constant companion, the knowledge of its possibility constantly tapping us on the shoulder. It’s not even just the knowledge that it could happen. It’s knowing that it can happen. That so many people are capable of doing this to us. We walk the world every day knowing in some part of our minds that there are a significant number of men out there who think of us as little more than a hole to fuck.
To them, we are not human. Not people. Not minds and emotions and pain and joy and psyches that can break. Holes. Holes to satisfy their wants. Can you imagine someone treating you as less than a human being? Someone taking you and humiliating you, shaming you, lording their power over you to tell you that no matter what you do, you can’t stop them from hurting you in the worst way imaginable? Can you imagine if someone came up to you and demonstrated that they don’t give a single fuck about the fact that your psyche will be shattered by their actions and that you will live in pain and uncertainty and dysfunction for the rest of your life?
Then can you imagine that nearly 5% of the male population consists of people who would do that to you, and you can never really know who is who? Can you imagine that people would shame you if this did happen to you, tell you that you shouldn’t have acted as you did, as though someone else’s violent actions against you were somehow your fault? Then, as a final insult, can you imagine people who will almost certainly never experience or even have to worry about experiencing what happened to you, talking about it as though it were no big deal, and telling you that you shouldn’t be so uptight about the worst thing that’s ever happened or could ever happen to you? Can you imagine how infuriating it would be to know that said people walk through life without ever for a second worrying about being raped, and that they cannot possibly understand what it’s like for you?
If you can manage to imagine all of these things, you might begin to understand why women take the topic of rape so seriously. Because for us, it’s everywhere. It’s real. It’s part of every woman’s life whether she’s sexually assaulted or not. When it comes to women who have been sexually assaulted, I know I could never understand what they’ve been through. But just for the fact that I am female, rape is and will always be a shadowed reality for me, lurking around every corner. And the world will forever be a place containing not only people morally capable of rape, but full of people who want to tell me to lighten up about it. Try my life out for a day, and then you can speak.