We Have a Rape Problem. First Step: We Have to Admit It.


We have a rape problem in our society. And they say the first step to getting past a problem is to admit you have one. So anyone who has been reluctant to admit our problem should read the fabulous reporting by the Kansas City Star about what happened to Daisy Coleman and her family last year. Daisy was 14 years old when she relocated to the town of Maryville, Missouri, with her mother and three brothers in an effort to move on after a tragic car accident claimed the life of her father. Things seemed to be going alright for Daisy, especially after she caught the attention of a popular senior football player. Then, one night in January, she and an unnamed friend drank alcohol at Daisy’s house, snuck out to meet up with the football player, and got more drunk as they were plied with alcohol by classmates at a party. Both girls were raped at that party. Daisy’s rape was caught on iPhone video. The football player then drove to the girl’s home, leaving Daisy passed out on her front porch in 30-degree weather.

In the days following the incident, law enforcement officials and community members seemed to believe and support the girls, according to the Star‘s reporting. In fact, charges were quickly filed against the boys. Then something happened: Political favors were called in in favor of the boys, and public opinion began to shift. Daisy and her family became a target. Nasty comments were made on the Internet and in person. Her mother was abruptly fired from her job in the town. When this all got to be too much, they moved away. But before they were able to sell their house in Maryville, it burnt to the ground for unknown reasons. Most notably, all the charges against the boys were dropped.

This story is as heartbreaking as it is familiar. Think about what happened in Steubenville, Ohio, when two football players raped an intoxicated young woman while friends cheered them on and videotaped the incident. The victim apparently did not remember what had happened until she saw it on social media. As word got out, the town rallied around the football players, so much so that last week a grand jury was called to investigate whether adults in the community—including school administrators, coaches, and parents—tried to cover up the incident to protect the boys. The general sentiment of the case was summed up by CNN reporter Poppy Harlow, who showed a great deal of sympathy for the perpetrators on the day they were found guilty of rape. “These two young men who had such promising futures—star football players, very good students—literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart,” she said. She did not express similar sympathy for the rape survivor in the case.

We could also think about Rehtaeh Parsons, the Canadian teen who survived an alleged gang rape and committed suicide after pictures of the incident were posted online, leading to at least a year of intense bullying. As her mother said, “Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun.”

There are more examples, so many more, but we don’t even need to review them to come to the conclusion that we have a rape problem in our society. Too many boys think it is OK to have sex with girls who have not consented. They think it is OK to have sex with girls who are so drunk they could not possibly consent. They think it is OK to have sex with girls who are completely unconscious. They are so convinced that this behavior is OK that they record the behavior and release it for all the world to see. Instead of reacting with horror and punishment, their peers applaud and call the victim a slut. And the adults in their lives tut-tut, say boys will be boys, sweep it under the rug, and somehow, inevitably, turn around and blame the victim, especially if she was too drunk to say yes or too unconscious to say no.

In Slate on Wednesday, Emily Yoffe (the publication’s “Dear Prudence” advice columnist) suggested that one way to break the cycle of drunken non-consensual sex is to teach young girls about the dangers of drinking. She suggests that without blaming the victim, we should tell girls that by trying to match men drink-for-drink they are rendering themselves defenseless and putting themselves in harm’s way. Reaction to her column was swift and harsh, with commenters saying that girls have already been told this for decades, that Yoffe acts as though rape just “happens,” that she absolves men of responsibility, and that she is, in fact, victim-blaming.

I believe that telling girls to be careful does not automatically translate into blaming the victim; no matter how well we educate the next generation of boys, not everyone will end up being a good guy. The problem is that we tend to start and stop with telling girls to be vigilant: Don’t walk in unpopulated areas. Never go to a boy’s room alone. Never go anywhere alone. Don’t drink. Don’t wear short skirts. The list goes on. It may be decent advice, and it may help to a point, but it does not deal with the heart or the source of the problem: the boys who rape.

Earlier this year, rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell was practically pilloried for saying on Fox News, “I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. … I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there with prevention.”

In fact, rape prevention programs targeting boys have been shown to be successful. One class for freshmen guys started with a video on male-to-male rape in an effort to get the boys to empathize with victims. It went on to have men visualize a typical rape scene with a girl who has been drinking at a party and imagine that the drunk girl was their mother, sister, girlfriend, or grandmother. The course then helped them recognize consent, understand the role of alcohol, and consider how to intervene if they were a witness to unwanted sex. As RH Reality Check’s Tara Murtha noted, boys can’t stop rape if they don’t understand what it is. Though the course lasted only an hour, the research found that its impact stayed with the guys who took it for years. Programs like this are important, and I would love to see them be part of every freshman orientation week, not to mention every high school health class, because clearly the problem starts before college. (Though, as RH Reality Check noted earlier this year, sexual assault is a persistent problem on campuses across the country.)

Of course, programs like this can’t work without support. They can’t work if young men continue to brag about rape without being punished. They can’t work if those who look on and do nothing, or worse, document the incident, are not also called out for their role. And they can’t work if adults continue to put blame on the victim for what she did wrong or didn’t do right. In short, they can’t work until we as a society agree that it is never OK for boys to have sex with girls who don’t consent, for boys to have sex with girls who are so drunk they could not possibly consent, or for boys to have sex with girls who are completely unconscious.

Programs like this are a good start, but they can’t work until we acknowledge that we have a rape problem in the first place.

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  • John Stuart

    Men, man up! Respect and teach respect for women and nothing less.

  • colleen2

    ah, I see Anonymous has those of you who have no intention of manning up scared. That’s excellent.

    • Arekushieru

      Um, I haven’t seen anything to suggest that Scallywag is actually supporting these views? It looks to me as if he/she is actually trying to underline the reasons as to why rape culture exists?

  • Kris Gowen

    I’m currently looking at focus group transcripts where a scenario about a drunk girl feeling as though she was raped is reacted to. HS students of all genders debate whether what happened was rape. Shocking to read, makes it understandable how Maryville can happen.

  • Cher Nobelle

    As your story points out, the problem is so embedded in our culture–from teen boys to parents. It’s not wonder conviction rates for rape are so low (3% of all rapes, according to RAINN). I’ve read that UK and Sweden have a similar low conviction rate and are considering placing the burden of proof on the alleged rapist, making him/her prove that they had consent, instead of forcing young women to prove they said ‘no.’ Good article.

    • Arekushieru

      THAT is AWESOME. Being part Swedish, I always love hearing positive news stories from Sweden!

    • Arekushieru

      Also, I do believe that satisfies the question of where the burden of proof should REALLY lie without abrogating the right of the accused to be innocent until proven guilty.

  • expect_resistance

    I’m so sick of hearing stories like this being repeated over and over again. It doesn’t surprise me to hear that the rapists have escaped being punished. Society MUST stop blaming the victims and place blame where it belongs, on the abusers and rapists. The phrase “boys will be boys” is one of the most pathetic excuses I’ve heard to dismiss their abusive and illegal behavior. When I was in junior-high, a girl in my school was raped by three boys. When the case went to trial the judge said the same thing to excuse the boys’ behavior, “boys will be boys.” The girl later killed herself. This was more than 20 years ago, I thought things would have changed by now. Sadly no.

    Yes, we have a rape problem, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. I think finding a solution to end rape is wide and complex. Rape prevention can be a part of it but until women are treated equally with men it won’t stop. Until we stop blaming the victims it won’t stop. Until we stop letting perpetrators get away with rape it won’t stop. Until we stop letting sexual violence against women be the norm it won’t stop.

    This reminds me I need to re-read “Transforming a Rape Culture” again.

  • cj99.willingness99@gmail.com

    I’m disgusted that things like this keep happening & those who are supposed to uphold the law instead pile on further victimization of the victims.

    I dunno whats more embarrasing, being human or being a guy after reading this. Stop the planet I want off.

  • cj99.willingness99@gmail.com

    If anything its MEN who are the sluts & I’m a guy saying it.

  • Arekushieru

    Um, but I do have to say that I do believe what Ms. Yoffe was teaching WAS victim-blaming. It places the responsibility on the VICTIM, treats men and women by different standards (which is sexist) AND focuses the conversation on the VICTIM, as per usual. If that’s not victim-blaming, I don’t know what is….

    • expect_resistance

      Yes! Ms. Yoffe is victim blaming and she should be called on it. Absolving men of responsibility when they are the perpetrators is clearing victim blaming. Excellent point.

      • Arekushieru

        Exactly. Because by NOT talking about men, you do, implicitly, absolve them of responsibility, especially in a culture of rape such as the one in which we currently live.

      • cj99.willingness99@gmail.com

        I’m 1 guy who takes responsibility for my own actions. So no, my “junk” doesn’t make me do it. If I’m not invited then I’m not going there.

  • labman57

    To social conservatives, if a woman is sexually assaulted:
    1) she was probably dressed scantily and therefore had it coming.
    2) it was God’s will, so give thanks for the blessed event.
    3) s**t happens, so suck it up and deal with it.
    4) her body’s defenses will prevent her from becoming pregnant.
    5) There’s no need for “Plan B”-type contraception, because that’s what rape kits are for.
    6) what’s “rape”?

  • FerFucksSake

    The only risk factor for rape:
    Proximity to someone who rapes.

    How to prevent rape:
    Don’t participate in sexual activity without consent.

    • Arekushieru

      You mean, don’t participate in sexual activity without the other person’s consent, right?

      • FerFucksSake

        It’s impossible for me to imagine who else could give consent.

        • Arekushieru

          Um, the perpetrator has the capacity to consent, too. That’s kinda the point of what makes rape rape, because the other person doesn’t HAVE the ability to consent. Which is why I was trying to point out the reason it’s so important to distinguish between the two…?

    • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

      I think you need to read some rape statistics. How do children refuse to participate?

      15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.3

      29% are age 12-17.

      44% are under age 18.3

      80% are under age 30.3

      12-34 are the highest risk years.

      Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

      • FerFucksSake

        Children can NOT give consent for sex.

        • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

          That is what I said.

    • cj99.willingness99@gmail.com

      Durp, hard to believe any1 could be so willingly stupid. if a victim gives no consent yet it happens anyways its forced, thats the definition of rape dumkoff.

      Time you stopped being some1 who rapes.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Why in rape articles is there never a mention of male rape of other males?

    About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

    How do we counsel male victims? Do we ask them what they were wearing? Do male victims even report rapes? We do not know.