Let’s talk about sex
Since the beginning of time, sexual violence against women (and men) has been a dominant force of the culture in the United States. While April is official sexual assault awareness month, there is no restrictions on being open to awareness discussions in the months prior to and after April. So, we have this blog post!
Now, in my hometown there have been more and more brave individuals who are now sharing their sexual assault and rape stories with the world. These individuals are the bravest, kindest, and most deserving souls who have taken the important step of releasing the shame many survivors feel and putting it back on their aggressors where it belongs. The sad truth is that many of us will know more victims than we think. As such, knowing where sexual violence education fails, and the needs of survivors is critical to our culture.
Below is a timeline of every major sexual assault event and prevention method used in the United States. In this timeline, take a careful note as to the wins, and ask yourself, are these wins enough? The common thread throughout all of these events is the way women are removed from their humanhood and instead objectified, commodified, and treated like property. Has this changed over time? Have we done all we can? Are you satisfied?
Timeline of sexual assault events
Around 1100, the world became introduced to the code of Hammurabi. This code essentially treated women as the property of their fathers. As such, any rape against a woman was seen as a violation of property, and fathers were able to sue perpetrators for “damaging” the “value” of their virgin daughters.
Much of the sexual assault/rape awareness that we see today, we owe to enslaved black voices. In the 1660s, it was extremely common for women slaves to be raped, assaulted, or forced to perform sexual acts on their masters. This was based on the belief that all slaves were the property of the master that owned them, and as such, masters could force slaves to do whatever they wanted. Moreover, because of a lack of successful contraceptives in this time, women would often become pregnant by their masters. However, because the mother of the child was a slave, the government at this time held that the child would be born a slave as well despite their white father.
The first legal failure in terms of victim rights occurred in the Missouri v. Celia decision of 1855. Celia was a fourteen year old slave who was purchased by a white man, Robert Newsom. She was enslaved by him for over five years, during which she was raped countless times and bore two of his children with another on the way. On June 23, she asked Newsom to avoid sexually touching her, to which he denied and said he would be, “coming to her cabin that night.” When he entered her room and tried to force himself on her, she hit him with a heavy stick twice, eventually killing him.
The state of Missouri sought murder charges against her for killing her rapist. Celia said that, under Missouri law which made it illegal, “to take any woman unlawfully against her will and by force, menace or duress, compel her to be defiled,” she had every right to kill her rapist to protect herself. However, the judge ruled that slaves were not included in the definition of “any woman”.
1861 saw major advancements as it marked the first time that a black woman could file rape charges against a white man. This, however, did not guarantee that any punishments would come out of these charges.
Following the Memphis riots, five black women testified in a Congressional hearing that they had been raped during these riots, some by several men. This was monumental as it was the first time there was an outspokenness about sexual violence.
1895 marked the year when our Founding Mothers had convinced legislators to raise the legal age of consent from only 10 years old to 14-18 depending on certain states. While this was done, many men still believed that a girl as young as twelve could fully consent to sex acts with a sound mind.
Recy Taylor was raped on September 3, 1944. She was walking home from church when she was kidnapped and gang-raped by six white men. All of her rapists confessed, but still, the judge of her case refused to charge any of them. The outrage of this decision jump started the Civil Rights Movement of the time.
The United States introduced rape shield laws.These laws ensured that victims past sexual behavior could not be used as evidence in a trial for the assault. This also ensures that no opinion based or reputation based evidence be admissible in court.
Nebraska became the first state to make marital rape a crime.
The first federal grant funding for rape crisis centers given through Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant. This was significant as it showed federal assistance in making America anti-assault.
Marital rape became a crime in all 50 states!
In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was passed. This provided $1.6 billion towards the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It also imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted of these crimes, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave un-prosecuted. The Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice was established at this time.
2017 marked the spark of the #MeToo Movement on social media. This movement allowed women and men to tell their stories of sexual assault without judgement. This movement is still continuously bringing to light the issues of sexual violence still dominant in the United States.
What do we do with This information?
It is easy to see that from a wide-scope point of view, we have helped to slow, stop, and prevent, sexual assaults. However, even small victories do not mean we have won the ultimate war. As long as women and men are touched without their consent there is still work to be done. Take a look at some disturbing statistics regarding sexual violence here in the United States, despite the advancements mentioned above.
- 1.5 Million women and 834,700 men are raped and/or sexually assaulted annually by an intimate partner.
- An American is sexually assaulted every 93 seconds. For reference, that is around three people in the time it would take you to read this article.
- 1 out of every 6 females in America is a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault along with 1 out of every 33 men.
- 51% of women are raped by an intimate partner.
- Approximately 1 in 6 women (16.1% or an estimated 19.2 million women) and approximately 1 in 10 men (9.6% or an estimated 10.6 million men) experienced sexual coercion.
- 13% of assaults go reported.
So what do we have to do better? A lot.
First, we need to make survivors feel more comfortable telling their stories. How? We actively listen, and avoid asking questions that place the blame of a sexual assault on anyone who is not the assaulter. This means that we shouldn’t ask what the survivor was wearing, how much they had to drink, if they had consented to the activity another time, how many partners they’ve had, or anything in this nature.
Let’s get this straight- sexual assault is NEVER the survivors fault. Never.
Instead? Well, we should educate people on what consent is NOT. Here’s a quick chart about situational consent:
|Situation||Was Consent Given?|
|You threaten your partner to have sex with you by garnishing a weapon. They agree to sex.||NO. Consent is not valid if given in fear.|
|You ask your partner to have sex and they say no. You continue to ask until they give in.||NO. Consent is not valid if done under coercion.|
|Your partner is unconscious but you want to have sex.||NO. Consent cannot be given if unconscious.|
|Your partner is under the influence or otherwise mentally handicapped and you still want to have sex.||NO. Consent is not valid if not given in a valid state of mind.|
|The person you want to have sex with is below 17 years of age.||NO. A minor is unable to legally consent.|
|You had consensual sex with your partner before, and want to have sex now.||NO. Consent is not a one and done deal. Each time you have sex with someone you should ensure you still have consent.|
|You ask your partner if they want to have sex and they are actively excited, engaged, and say yes.||YES! Consent is given when both parties are happy to engage in sex and continue to feel this way as sex continues.|
Now, the chart above is exemplary, not exhaustive, but the point of it remains valid regardless.
What else should we do? We should teach women and men that just because you are in a relationship with someone, doesn’t mean that consent is given in all situations. Additionally, saying “no” can take various forms. Personally, saying no, to me, took the shape of saying:
- “Not right now.”
- “We can’t.”
- “Maybe later.”
- “I don’t feel comfy.”
- “There’s plenty of other times.”
- “I don’t want to.”
For other women and men denying sexual advances will not always be done by saying “You do not have my consent!” But, that does not mean that our no should be taken any less seriously.
Moreover, many individuals feel scared to come forward about their sexual assaults because it was done by someone they were in a relationship with. To this, we need to comet to the understanding as a country that being in a relationship with someone does NOT mean that healthy boundaries are not present and should not be respected.
It may take individuals in relationships longer to recognizer their sexual assault because they feel responsible for bringing their assaulter into their lives, or will take the assault as a natural part of relationships. It is not. You are not to blame. And your story deserves to be heard.
Consent is not a tricky businesses. A good rule of thumb is that if you feel your partner is uncomfortable, all activity should stop. Furthermore, if your partner says no once in a situation, that should be the last time they need to say it. Honor a no as it is- a denial of consent.
To the brave individuals who have shared their stories, I want you to know that you are amazing and heard. Keep sharing your stories, holding people accountable, and launching the movement forward. Talk leads to change friends, so scream it out for justice. I’m so proud of you.
You are loved,