The realities of rape culture

Danielle Zukowski

“Be careful” and “stay safe” seem to be the only protection accompanying me home. On and off-campus safety is presented as if a sexual assault occurs because a victim was not careful enough. I’m told to be cautious, to watch my back, as if my inattentiveness would be responsible for a potential sexual assault.

I wonder if being careful will ever be enough as I clutch pepper spray in one hand and my phone in the other. I dial through my contacts and try to get an answer from anyone who I can talk to on the walk from the bus stop. Looking behind me and paying attention to the shadows in the trees, I wonder how much I could do against a surprise attack.

Even people with good intentions continue to victim-blame. It doesn’t matter where the victim is going to or from: a party or work. It doesn’t matter if it’s noon or midnight. It doesn’t matter if we’re wearing shorts or sweatpants. We go where we want or have to go at the time we want or have to go. We dress according to the weather. We live our lives because we are people.

We’re people that feel increasingly unsafe at Grand Valley State University. Instead of telling students to be safe and careful, why don’t we work on prevention? Why don’t we work on making students feel safe? Why don’t we start taking sexual harassment seriously?

My freshman year of college, we were reading an Ernest Hemingway poem about rape in class. The professor insisted the woman wanted sex because she had a crush and the characters were somewhat friends. He ignored all of the times the women said no because of this. He ignored too that she was not in the position to consent. He ignored her tears. When the class disagreed and argued that the rape was in fact rape, he responded in words I will never forget. “If women don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t go to parties. They should go to nunneries.”

Despite numerous complaints, I still pass this professor on campus. I wonder if he ever received any mandatory education or training regarding rape culture. I wonder if anything was done about the bias reports. I wonder if anyone cared about the students in that class or if it didn’t matter because it was just a comment.

But was it really just a comment? Comments are statements that reflect thoughts and create, negotiate and reform social meaning. These statements have the power to perpetuate victim-blaming and rape culture. These beliefs can turn into actions.

As I look around GVSU this year, I see these comments within each incident. Now, victims are being encouraged to report, which is important, but the people urging this need to be understanding of why victims would be reluctant. We need to stop blaming the victim and start blaming the rapist. Rape occurs because of rapists. It doesn’t matter what the victim was doing or how safe they were being, rape is not negotiable. Rape doesn’t become OK through rationalization.