Recently, while wearing one of my HAVEN t-shirts, I was stopped by a man wanting to know what the message on my tee was referencing. The message on the shirt was our tagline “Live without Fear”. He asked me what fear I was hoping to live without. When I stated, “rape and assault”, he looked a bit stunned. He replied “Wow I wouldn’t have thought of that, I assumed you meant war”. He then walked away.
I wasn’t at all surprised by his reaction. One of the exercises that we sometimes do in our presentations is to ask the men and women in the audience to list out what fears come to mind when they are about to go out for an evening. Regardless of age and any other factors, women will nearly always include a fear of rape or being attacked. Men rarely list these as fears. They are more likely to list drinking too much, drunk driving, getting in a fight or possibly being mugged.
The fear of rape is something that I believe nearly all women have in the back of their mind, if not front of mind. We learn it young. We are first taught, typically by a woman in our life, about stranger danger and then we learn about potential dates, acquaintances and even how to protect ourselves against a spouse or partner. I can clearly recall conversations with my mom warning me about rape as I entered my teen years. Statistically they were correct to warn me, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be victims of rape or attempted rape in the United States.
I might not purposely think about being raped each time I go out, or go someplace alone, but I know that it is there. I know that it is a possibility due to my gender. I know that there are a few things that I can do to help reduce or minimize my risk but I also know that the responsibility for stopping a rape is not mine.
So what do we do? Talk with the youth in our lives about rape, gender stereotype and the role of males and their responsibilities in ending rape. Educate our young men about consent and the objectification of women. Speak out against pornography, advertising that objectifies women and portrays violence towards women. Hold each other accountable for victim blaming.
And work for the day when we can all live without fear.