Trigger Warning for discussion of Rape
To the five young men who were walking across campus, yelling “rape squad” this evening:
You didn’t see me. Thank God. I saw you, and then when I heard what you were yelling, I was able to duck into a building unseen and watch you pass. I cannot express how thankful I am that you never saw me, because I honestly don’t know what would have happened.
“It was a joke,” you say. “You’re taking it too seriously,” you add. Well, I hate to inform you it isn’t funny. It was dark. There was no one around but me and the group of you. I don’t know you. I don’t know if you are a group of young men who have extremely poor taste in jokes or a group of young men who, seeing the opportunity, make it more than a joke. I do know that I have a 1 in 6 chance of being sexually assaulted some time in my life. I know that there were five of you and only one of me. I know that I am not physically strong.
I also know that if you go up north about a hour or so, you’ll arrive in Steubenville, a town where a young woman was gang raped and the perpetrators tweeted about it like it was a joke. So you’ll forgive me when I say that this was not at all funny.
A lot of men don’t like the whole idea of Schrödinger’s rapist, and I will grant that it has some flaws. I mean, I don’t instantly ask myself if every man I ever meet poses a threat of raping me, but you do need to understand that as a young woman, I have been taught to be vigilant, especially when walking back to my car at that dusky time of day. It’s not a conscious response, it’s a conditioned instinct. I’m not saying I’ve been taught to fear men, but I’ve been taught to be constantly aware of my surroundings and assess any potential threats. This is because I live in a society where, if I were to be assaulted and I were to come forward and the story sounds like I was less than vigilant, someone is bound to say “Why were you walking alone after dark anyway?” When you add to that the fact that you were yelling about rape and not in a Take Back the Night rally kind of way, you can see why I might perceive you to be a threat. I’m informing you of this so that you can think critically about what passes for humor in the future.
But, you counter, you have the right to free speech, and free speech includes jokes, right? I’m not going to get into the semantics of whether yelling “rape squad” is a threat and therefore not protected, so let’s say it is protected under your right to free speech (though I’m pretty sure it isn’t). You may have the right to free speech, but that doesn’t stop me from drawing the logical conclusion, which, in this case was that you may or may not be serious, but I didn’t want to find out.
Look, I know you think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. I’m not going to tell anyone about the incident by saying “I was almost gang raped by five young men while walking across campus last night.” Because I wasn’t. But I did see and hear you, and while it’s likely you just have an awful sense of humor, I wasn’t about to take the risk of letting you see me. Likewise, I know you weren’t threatening me, because you never saw me, but your words have an impact. Think about the time and place. Think about what you are saying.
I don’t know you, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you aren’t awful people. You are just young and stupid. If you learn anything from this, you’ll be slightly less stupid, and that’s part of the process called growing up. Words have meanings, and those meanings differ from person to person. Consider what a woman walking across campus alone would think before you make this mistake again.