by Audrey Denis
1 in 4 college-aged women and 1 in 33 men experience sexual assault. At Georgetown, our rates match the national average.
It’s Friday evening and a bunch of people on my freshmen floor are congregated in the common room after dinner, before going out, just chatting and catching up on the week. Somehow the topic of sexual assault comes up, but more specifically the rape of a particular girl, although I can no longer remember if she was a Georgetown student. To be honest, I was involved in another conversation. I overheard one of the boys ask, “Yea, but was it real rape, or just like date rape or something?” and felt quickly sickened and disenchanted with my peers for a moment.
I return to this moment often when I think about the culture surrounding sexual assault. We may have scoffed at Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment, but in our own community we hear people throwing around the concept of “real rape” all too often. We may like to think we are so much more sensitive, so much more aware, and twenty first century thinkers, but unfortunately, I’m not so convinced.
When we see the statistic 1 in 4 college-aged women and 1 in 33 college-aged men experience sexual assault, I wonder how many ask themselves “Yea, but was it real rape?” I’m afraid we all too comfortably do not internalize the unacceptable frequency of sexual assault because we cling to the crutch of disbelief. It wasn’t really rape.
We make survivors out to seem like petty, vindictive, spiteful girlfriends who report sexual assault to get back at their ex-boyfriends. Or, they are overreacting to some friendly well-intended conduct, hey that’s just college. Between alcohol and attire, we have come up with almost every excuse in the book to skirt responsibility; not just responsibility of the perpetrators, but the responsibility that we have to creating a safe community for all who live in it.
The truth is that the excuses we hind behind, the narratives of vindictive girlfriends and spiteful prudes, are anomalies if not just myths. We should never find ourselves asking, “Yea, but was it real rape?”
All rape is real. All sexual assault is serious. It doesn’t have to happen in a back alley at gunpoint perpetrated by a stranger for it to be rape. The fact that we comfort ourselves with the idea of date rape being less severe reflects an enormous deficiency in our culture. It shows a lack of respect for people’s bodies and choices. Just because you know someone, does not make you any more entitled to their body.
The statistic is much higher for women than it is for men. I believe it makes it harder for women to live in this community and speak about the reality of sexual assault. Not only are women threatened by the much higher likelihood that they will be sexually assaulted, but also by the unfortunate cultural circumstance that their experience will not be taken seriously.
Look around in the library, in class, in Leo’s, and think about the fact that statistically one in four of those women around you will probably be sexually assaulted before graduating college. Then tell them it’s not real.
If you find this post in any way triggering, please know that a wide range of resources are available.