Op/ed: Reframing the Conversation
You are a survivor, not a victim. That’s what the therapists tell you, that’s what your friends tell you. Hell, that’s what the signs in every bathroom stall on campus tell you. Yet, for some odd reason, I feel like a victim now more than I ever have.
Recently leaked documents at AU from a banished fraternity containing references to rape caused a firestorm both on campus and across the web. Upon reading these documents I felt disgusted. However, as I read responses on Facebook and overheard discussions regarding the self-dubbed “Fratergate,” I became even more disgusted. Somehow, the outcry against heinous and vile rape comments had upset me more than the comments themselves. How was that even possible?
As a survivor, I should have felt uplifted. I should have been able to stand side-by-side with them and voice my outrage. I simply could not wrap my head around it. Though, the more statuses and articles I read on Facebook and the more I talked to friends, the more pieces started to fall into place, and I had a clearer picture as to what troubled me.
A few days after the leak, students organized a rally. The description for the Facebook event began with, “We want to spread awareness of the rape culture that is across campus.” Across campus, as if “rape culture” was some invisible virus that found its way into every crevice of campus and infected every student. Somehow, the entire campus was guilty of perpetuating “rape culture” because of the interactions of a couple of ignorant, dimwitted guys on campus. They are not representative of anywhere near a majority of students I have encountered. As far as I have seen, AU students are upstanding and compassionate and certainly not rape supporters.
As I approached the rally and looked over the crowd, I felt even more distraught. The first two signs I saw read “Your silence is complacency” and “Silence is violence.” According to these signs, somehow if you chose to say nothing, you supported rape. Another logical fallacy rearing its ugly head through a conclusion based on no evidence. How could you just assume that because I am silent that I support everything in the messages? It is downright wrong and has no place in a legitimate discussion of rape issues.
One of the worst moments I experienced was when I actually tried to voice my opinion on the matter. I tried to tell someone that this was a couple of dumb guys making jokes over lines of communication they thought were secure. I explained that this kind of response trivializes the real issues of rape. This person then told me that I was completely ignorant on the topic of rape and that I had no business speaking about it. As someone who survived multiple attacks and still deals with trauma stemming from these attacks on a daily basis, how could I possibly be part of the problem? Then I realized the real reason she assumed that I had no prior experience with sexual assault (at least on the side of the victim), and that was because I am a man.
Yes, believe it or not, men can be raped and/or sexually assaulted, and I am a testament to that. I have been assaulted by both men and women, and on certain occasions, I have attempted to share my stories. In one instance, a female acquaintance told me not to make jokes like that, as if somehow what I was saying could not be the truth. This occurred in front of my closest friends, and I have never been more embarrassed in my entire life. Rape is not committed solely by men on women, and that should never be someone’s first assumption when discussing it. When people read articles about rape that discuss “teaching your sons not to rape” or “protecting your daughters from men,” it makes it infinitely more difficult for many people to share their experiences and leaves many people out from a larger discussion of rape issues.
If we really want to cut down on rape and sexual assault, we need to work past the logical fallacies and look for the real issues. We need to recognize that sexual assault perpetrators and supporters are the minority not the majority and that rape is not a gender issue but a human issue. Until we reframe the conversation, my campus and society in general will never have a lasting and positive impact on rape and sexual assault issues.
James Walsh is a senior in the School of International Service.