by Kat Kelley
Glenn Beck, a conservative television and radio host, revealed his family history of rape and abuse today, on his network, The Blaze. This revelation, however, was not intended to demonstrate solidarity with or validate the experiences of survivors. Rather, it comes in response to criticism he has received after Stu Burguiere claimed that college sexual assault statistics are inflated and mocked scenarios representing sexual coercion and assault, on Wonderful World of Stu, a show on Beck’s own network.
Beck told the “Left-Wing Sites” who demonstrated outrage at the clip “Don’t you ever preach to me about what I can say and cannot say about rape,” and defends the segment by saying that the supposed inflation of sexual assault statistics “cheapens the horror of real rape.”
Yes, “real rape” – we can add that to the list with Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) “forcible rape” or former Congressman Todd Akin’s (R- MO) “legitimate rape.”
Beck continued on to say that the inflation was intended to make “every college-age male into Genghis Khan.” And while I’m not sure whether we’re referring to Khan as violent or sexually prolific, regardless, I’m unimpressed by another person more concerned about the rare men who are falsely accused of perpetrating sexual assault, rather than the inordinate and wholly unacceptable number of survivors.
The skit is absolutely deplorable and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the reality of sexual assault. In light of the Isla Vista shooting and the proliferation of literature on the effect of misogyny, and the Pick Up Artist (PUA) and Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) movements on the perpetrator, Elliot Rodgers, I can’t help but wonder how this video would be perceived by PUAs and MRAs alike. The invalidation of survivors’ experiences, the complete denial of evidence, the notion that the feminist movement is a threat to men- a video like this is exactly the type of ‘proof’ PUAs and MRAs use to justify their beliefs and behaviors.
My first issue with the video is the intended ‘debunking’ of sexual assault statistics; my second, is the mockery made of sexual coercion and assault ‘scenarios.’
A range of studies have been done on sexual assault, and while I haven’t scoured the methodology sections of the two surveys with which Burguiere takes umbrage, the data consistently shows that at least 15% of college-aged women experience completed or attempted sexual assault. The most comprehensive survey of 3,187 women on 32 college campuses indicated that the rate is 25%, with 84% being assaulted by someone known to the survivor, or what we call “acquaintance sexual assault.”
It is easy to get caught up in the numbers. As a Sexual Assault Peer Educator at Georgetown University, I was often asked how our statistics compare to the national average, assessing the severity of the issue on the basis of whether we were doing ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than other schools. However, as Nora West, feminist activist and a fellow Peer Educator says:
“Those numbers are huge and they are scary, but quite frankly I don’t care about those numbers, and you shouldn’t either. What I see in those numbers is that assault happens on Georgetown’s campus. It happens here.”
One is too many, however, people love to dissect the numbers, it is a defense mechanism, it is a way deny the reality of our rape culture and the epidemic of sexual assault in America and on our college campuses.
Burguiere takes issue with the wording of the questions on these surveys- he believes it is too inclusive. One question states “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had sex with you,” which Burguiere finds misleading because drunk sex happens all the time (!?!) and haven’t you ever seen a beer commercial that includes drinking and the “strong insinuation” of an impending hookup?!? Yes, Burguiere, drunk sex happens, and is not necessarily rape, that’s why the question explicitly asks the respondent if they were unable to consent.
Burguiere then challenges six phrases used in these surveys to ascertain if the respondent has been sexually assaulted, intending to ‘prove’ how inflated the stats are, intending to show how these scenarios are totally not sexual assault. He finds it absurd that “pressuring someone to have sex with you by telling them lies,” “making promises about the future you know are untrue to get sex,” “threatening to end your relationship to get sex,” “threatening to spread rumors to get sex,” “repeatedly asking for sex to get sex,” and “acting sad to get sex” are all considered to be forms of sexual assault.
First and foremost, Burguiere didn’t do his research. The study included these questions but did not count the affirmative responses as cases of rape but rather sexual coercion.
What Burguiere also doesn’t understand is that these scenarios don’t just involve a disappointed man and a traumatized woman [my use of “man” and “woman” are merely intended to reflect his use of a man and a woman as characters in these scenarios]. Burguiere does not recognize that these tactics involve coercion and often explicit threats. Survivors often recount being told “no one will believe you.” In other cases, when either the perpetrator or victim is in a committed, monogamous relationship, the perpetrator will threaten to tell everyone that they had sex, that it was consensual, and that the victim is a slut, whore, or home wrecker. Burguiere also clearly does not understand consent. Consent isn’t a lack of “no,” but rather an affirmative “yes.” “Maybe” isn’t consent. If you have to convince someone to have sex with you, it isn’t consensual. And consent is definitely not coercive.
The questions on these surveys may seem complicated, but that is because survivors may not classify their experiences as “sexual assault.” Burguiere finds this preposterous, claiming “the President is saying these women were raped, and these women are saying they weren’t.” However, if we actually used the definition of sexual assault – unwanted sexual touching – then nearly one hundred percent of women would be survivors.
There are a multitude of reasons survivors may not consider their experience(s) “sexual assault.” For some, it is a defense mechanism- it is easier to believe that everything is okay, that it was consensual. Calling it sexual assault means acknowledging the reality of our sexual assault epidemic, recognizing that it can happen to me. Many survivors go into what we call “survivor mode.” Survivor mode is a defense mechanism as well- doing and believing whatever you have to in order to survivor or cope with the incident. Survivors may ask the perpetrator to use a condom, they may not fight back, they may continue or start to date the perpetrator after the incident. It is not our place to judge how survivors cope.
Many female survivors don’t classify the incident(s) as sexual assault because they don’t feel entitled to the term. We are taught that sexual assault is committed by a deranged stranger who corners an innocent woman in a dark alley. We aren’t taught that sexual assault can be perpetrated by a classmate, a friend, or a partner. We aren’t taught that it can happen when we previously consented to making out with the perpetrator, or when we consented to returning to the perpetrator’s residence. We are taught that if we dress or behave a certain way, we are “asking for it,” and that by wearing that sequined mini skirt, we have no right to call it sexual assault. We are taught that our bodies are not our own, that men and the media are entitled to examine, comment on, even touch our bodies.
While I recognize the validity of Beck’s experiences, his experience does not entitle him to define the experiences of others. Having experienced sexual assault either first hand, as a witness, bystander, or ally does not give one the authority to tell survivors what is and isn’t “real rape.”