“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke
Earlier this year, my phone rang, and when I answered, my little sister said “Brother, I have something to tell you.”
I was silent. I knew whatever was coming was going to be hard to talk about. I am fifteen years older than she is, and we have been best friends for her whole life. As a small child, she would walk across the hall and wake me up to take her downstairs to the bathroom, because, after our ritual pinky promise, she knew I wouldn’t let the terrors in the night get her.
When she spoke again, I realized I had broken that promise…
I called my brother and I said I had something to tell him. I sat there for a long time just thinking in silence. I couldn’t find the words to explain to my older brother that I had been raped. Having to tell someone that has watched over me for years that I had been raped was hard, but it was even more difficult to explain that I was too drunk to remember.
On my 18th birthday, I went out with one of my best friends and we met up with a couple of guys, one of them happened to be an ex-boyfriend. I thought nothing of it because I was too focused on trying to get drunk and celebrate my legal adulthood. I drank too much and started to black out. I have very few memories of what was supposed to be a great night. I woke up to my friend very hesitantly asking me what all I remembered. She calmly explained to me what had happened and apologized profusely.
The next couple of days I was completely emotionless trying to process what went on. After almost two weeks of bottling every emotion I had, I finally told my brother. He stayed on the phone with me while I texted my ex and gathered the truth about what happened. The screenshots of which eventually ended up on social media, slut shaming me.
To this day, I still get little glimpses of what my drunk mind interpreted, whether it be the car window or his face-what was supposed to be one of the best nights of my life turned to one of the worst and I’m forever stuck with that.
Sexual assault and harassment have become commonplace in American culture. One has to look no further than the allegations against prominent figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Ben Affleck, President Donald Trump, and others to see that there is a culture surrounding sexual assault and that it is not merely isolated incidents. This isn’t a case of a “few bad apples”, but rather, only a few good apples placed on top of the bushel to disguise the rot hiding beneath.
Disgustingly, adults are not the only group at risk for sexual violence. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn eighteen years old. 12.3% of women were age ten or younger at the time of their first sexual victimization.
Next, in looking at the prevalence of rape accusations among college campuses, another disturbing trend is discovered: not only has rape culture been prominent, but it has mostly been swept under the rug. In recent years college campuses have begun to take allegations of rape and assault much more seriously, in part because of the following instances: the brutal gang rape of a woman in 2013, in which two Vanderbilt football players, Brandon Vandenburg and Corey Batey, taunted and assaulted the victim on video. These men weren’t convicted until 2015. The case of Emma Sulkowicz and when, in 2014, she carried the mattress she claims she was sexually assaulted on around Columbia University. The publishing of Jon Krakauer’s book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, in 2015, highlighting the rape of five women at the University of Montana between 2012 and 2014; and also noting that almost one in five women are sexually assaulted throughout the course of their lives (and one in seventy-one men according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center). In 2014, the Department of Education announced it was launching a civil rights investigation of more than fifty colleges and universities for their alleged mismanagement of sexual violence cases. And, of course, the case of Brock Turner, the former Stanford swimmer, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and only sentenced to six months in jail, of which he served three. Even though awareness of sexual assault on college campuses is at an all-time high, misconduct is not at an all-time low, and punishment for these actions is slow-coming, if it comes at all.
The workplace is experiencing its share of sexual assault and harassment cases as well. In 2016, The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission reports that it received 12,860 complaints of sex-based harassment. This is the highest number on record since before 2010. And it only includes those instances which were reported. Thanks to the empowering movement of “me too” last month on social media, it is easier visualize the devastating reality of how many sexual assault and harassment cases go unreported, which, thanks to the documentation of the Department of Justice, is known to be around 80%
Even the United States military, the world’s premier fighting force, isn’t immune to sexual assault. The Department of Defense reported that for the Fiscal Year of 2016, 4.3% of women in service experienced sexual assault, and 0.6% of men experienced the same. This report estimates that one in every three victims is reporting the assault, up from one in fourteen from the year prior.
These numbers are terrifying. Sexual violence is an epidemic in today’s society. Women are safe at no point in their lifetime from sexual assault, and America’s youth is staggeringly at risk for sexual violence.
Men, we have a responsibility here. And before you get defensive and comment that it isn’t you committing sexual assault, you would never do that, I know. I know it isn’t all of us.
In fact, a Department of Justice official, Bea Hanson, who works in the office of Violence Against Women, states “We know that the majority of rapes are committed by serial rapists, and those folks are unlikely to be reached by any prevention messages that we’re going to be sending out, or education about rape.”. The DOJ also reports that 6% of men commit rape, and of that 6%, 63% report committing rape more than once. The average number of rapes per offender is SIX.
This is where our responsibility comes in, men, and up until this point we’ve done a terrible job at performing our responsibility. Think back to when you were on the golf course, or at the bar, or just hanging out with your buddies watching the game, and another man made a lewd comment, what did you do? Did you immediately interject? Did you educate him on the inappropriateness of his comment? Did you call him an asshole? Or did you just sit there silently, and perhaps uncomfortably while the conversation continued? Or even worse, did you laugh along? While comments might not be as detrimental to someone as sexual assault, it can certainly act as a gateway. Your silence acts as an affirmation that the individual did nothing wrong and it is OK to demean a class of people. That sort of thinking is what can lead to instances of sexual assault and harassment. The offending individual becomes emboldened by our silence.
Think back to when you were in college, or if you are in college now, what did you do when you watched your buddy take a girl, who was obviously drunk, upstairs? Earlier on at that same party when he said “he was going to fuck the shit out of so and so”, how did you respond? This latter behavior is what I am addressing in this article. Because the progression from mere comments to sexual assault is an all too common sequence of events in our society, we have to start calling each other out, men. We have to participate in what is known as bystander intervention, and we have to hold each other accountable.
In his research, Alan Berkowitz asserts that eighty percent of men are uncomfortable when witnessing other men making insulting or belittling comments or actions toward women. This means that while you were on the golf course, at the bar, or at that party, and that comment was made, you weren’t the only one who felt the way you did. In fact, in your Sunday foursome at the local golf course, 3.2 of you were uncomfortable. It seems like even the guy who made the joke was on the fence.
But here’s the catch, here’s where we go wrong, none of us spoke up. We, as men, often think that we are alone in our uncomfortableness, and that by speaking up we won’t be considered “manly” enough. Take it from someone who used to jump out of perfectly good airplanes to race toward the enemy at twenty-two feet per second, there is nothing manlier than speaking up for integrity.
What is apparent from the articles circulating about the Hollywood sexual assault scandals is that many people knew about the behavior, but didn’t do enough (or anything) to stop it from happening. We can longer stand idly by while this behavior runs rampant, otherwise we are just as guilty as the perpetrator. When men call each other out, something amazing happens, we tend to listen, we become accountable for the comment or action that was just made. Let’s band together to shape the conversation to be more inclusive to all gender, to all people, and is doing so, I think you will find that you aren’t alone.
So, how do we intervene? First, you must be situationally aware. You cannot prevent or stop anything if you don’t know it is going on. Be observant.
Second, pay attention to detail. Identify the behavior you are witnessing as a problem. By understanding how devastating sexual assault can be to a victim’s life, we are more likely and willing to intervene. And it is this very willingness that we are striving to achieve.
Third, decide your course of action for intervention. Are you going to step in, yourself? Are you going to contact authorities? Are you going to find the individual’s friends and have them assist? Make a plan.
Fourth, act. Do it. Whatever course of intervention you have decided to pursue, make it happen. Now.
Finally, after it is over, conduct an AAR, or After-Action Review. Note what you did well, what you did poorly, and how you will improve for next time.
So, when you find yourself in a situation where someone else is at risk, speak up, speak out, act, and help avoid a scenario that could change someone’s life forever. Because, trust me, no one wants to have that conversation with their sister.
Special thanks to my little sister, Elly Price, for collaborating with me on this, and sharing her experience in her own words. You are a strong woman; Elly and I love you.
Photo provided by the author.