As I sat silently listening to Colleen, the Director of Rape Crisis Intervention in Chico, CA. I could feel what was about to happen. The air was heavy with unasked questions. There were seven female staff members, one female intern, 40 female volunteers, and me. I had been offered a choice of internships for my criminal justice major. My advisor and I thought this would be the best, most important one I could take. Colleen Jarvis, the Program Director completely agreed after meeting with me. But we both knew that was only step one. Finally, the moment came.
“What is HE doing here?”
It was a question that I knew was probably on the minds of just about everyone there. As all eyes locked on me, Colleen started to explain about my internship. How the gap needed to be bridged between social advocates and law enforcement. How I was going to go through the exact same crisis line and program training as everyone else (even though men could not work the 24 hour crisis line as a matter of policy). She also explained that I would be helping to organize a city-wide safety and escort service during a key week in the semester and that I would be going out to fraternities and sororities and talking about Rape Crisis Awareness.
I knew that none of this would matter to many of the women in this room. A large number of them were sexual assault survivors themselves and they had scarring experiences that went far beyond that day their lives changed forever. Even trusting men that they knew was a challenge, let alone a complete stranger. I knew I would have to make a statement and explain my presence in such a way that they would know I was there to help in order to be given the slightest chance for acceptance. And I knew that even one second of insincerity would forever turn them against me. I motioned to Colleen that I would like to speak and the already silent room grew even quieter. As best as I can remember, I said the following.
“My name is Kevin and I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today. I know that many of you may have concerns as to why I am here, why and how a man would be involved with a rape crisis organization. I know that there is a lot for me to learn, but concern about this issue is something that myself and many men already have. Sexual assault is not an issue that only women should have to fight against. It is an issue for society to be concerned about. I have a girlfriend, a mother, a sister, a niece, and a number of female friends and co-workers. As Hall Director of the dorms, I have hundreds of students whose well being I am always concerned about. I know this may seem like a different level of concern but it is still very real and very personal. All men should know as much as possible about issues regarding sexual assault and be in a position to educate, support, and one day even help eliminate it from ever happening.”
The silence remained, but the words created a level of acceptance. Over the next few months I came to know some incredible women and I heard many amazing and heartbreaking stories of courage, survival, injustice, and strength. I learned so many things that I will carry with me forever. The tragedy is that many of those things seemed to have never extended into the consciousness of society the way that they should have. That needs to change!
There is a myth about sexual assault that needs to be cleared up. It is not due to some overwhelming, uncontrollable desire that some poor guy wasn’t able to keep himself from acting upon. It is an ASSAULT! It is a physical and usually violent assault on another human being. It is often done to degrade and humiliate. It is done due to a lack of respect and consideration for someone else. It is as romantic as shoving someone’s head into a toilet and making them drink the water. There is nothing about it that is excusable or understandable or acceptable. It is a violation of a most personal nature.
There is nothing about a sexual assault that is the responsibility of the victim. It does not matter where she was, what she wore, what time it was, what her prior actions were, what her occupation is, or if she initially said yes then had a second thought. There is no scenario where it is Ok to force someone into a sexual act or to perform a sexual act upon them without their permission and knowledge!
We need to have a mind shift regarding this crime. The “rape victim” is a sexual assault survivor! They have been through an ordeal that will remain with them. They need understanding and support, not judgment and doubt. Their character is too often put to question to a greater degree than is their attacker’s. That needs to stop.
It is not just enough for laws against sexual assault to exist. They also must be properly enforced. The final stage of that enforcement is sentencing. Convicted rapist Brock Turner being sentenced to six months in jail and only serving three is the commission of another crime! There in no reason of privilege, merit, or consideration that should have allowed him to serve less than 15-25 years in prison, the same number of years other criminals of his type serve.
Men need to learn how to properly conduct themselves. While not all men are potential rapists, they can put themselves in positions that they never had to be in. Do not look at women as conquests. Do not look at women as somehow less important or valuable than you. Do not approach an interactive situation with the goal of seeing how far you can get, especially if you’re trying to get someone to go farther than they want to. Anything less than a 100 percent yes, is a no! Anything that is in doubt is a no. What happened last week, or yesterday, or even an hour ago, has nothing to do with right now! Alcohol is not an excuse. If alcohol impairs your judgement then don’t drink! If you think it was consensual and she says it was not, it was not!
The solution to most of the problems society has starts with awareness. The media is regularly flooded with stories of sexual assault. Yes, there are those rare situations where someone is falsely accused. But many of these could have been avoided as well. There should be no grey line as to what a sexual assault is, or who’s responsibility it is, and the importance of the community to dispense appropriate punishment for the convicted and support for the survivor. Most communities have great support and service centers just like the Rape Crisis Intervention I interned with in Chico. There are trained professionals who will staff the crises hotline and assist sexual assault survivors throughout the entire process including initial police interviews, doctor examinations, and legal procedures. These centers deserve our recognition and support.
Men, you have the responsibility of policing yourself and your actions, and even a degree of responsibility in educating your friends, siblings, and children as to the rights and wrongs of personal behavior and responsibility. If you see or know of someone acting inappropriately, do something about it! Any problem experienced by any member of our society should be the concern of everyone within the society as a whole, whether they think it directly affects them or not. Women should never be made to feel that men are more of a threat to them than in support of them. Men should do whatever it takes to help improve women’s safety and show support in combating an issue that should have never been seen as only a women’s problem.