There was a bumper sticker that my sister took a picture of the other day. It said, “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be sexually molested.” It appeared that an image of an oil well was on the sticker with this statement written underneath it.
Once I got beyond the shock and horror, choked back tears and took a deep breath, I start to wonder whether I live on the same planet that allows for this. In other words, who thought that would be OK enough to print this on a bumper sticker, who made the bumper sticker and who bought it? Where did someone think, “I know how to get someone’s attention—tell them you’ll sexually molest him/her.” Perhaps it goes without saying, but I think people would rather be shot than sexually molested. I think people would rather have all their life’s work lost in a fire than be sexually violated.
You see, I live in a world where I see a seismic break in the soul of a human being who downloads their sexual violation experience. The survivors of this atrocity are characteristically disorganized and broken into a hundred pieces. I spend hours nearly every week gluing the broken pieces back together with the embattled survivor who wonders whether life will ever return to normal, if there ever was a normal. You see, some people I work with have molested since they were infants so they never had a normal—just a series of traumas.
Another attention-getter came to mind when I saw this. It was a Rape Manifesto written by fraternity brothers talking about how to get a girl drunk enough to sexually violate her. It appeared that it got some comments but none of them were what I thought they would be. What I found is that we have a desensitized culture. Instead of shock and horror, people’s comments appeared rooted in a mindset of toughness: “Nothing shocks me anymore. Bring it on.” People barely balked at the terminology. If someone made a statement that showed revulsion in any way, others commented on their sensitivity and prudishness.
It has become rote for my college age clients to hear comments such as, “that team raped the other team tonight,” meaning defeated the other team. We have diluted the concept of rape, a criminal and life-altering act, by incorporating it as lingo.
As a community of believers, we need to take a stand. Just like the word, “nig—“ is never spoken without demonstrating a soulless disregard of a person’s race, we need to eliminate this language. The barriers are breaking down, have been broken down. Now sex violence is no biggie. Yet it is catastrophic as any individual who has survived it can tell you. It is the second most expensive crime in terms of its impact on society and the expense of investigation, litigation and personal recovery.
If women have decided that this rape culture should persist, I haven’t heard about it. After speaking with thousands of women on this topic, let’s be clear about the disparity made regarding sexual activity among men and women.
Women have one of several unpalatable options: if they agree to have sex, they are whores. If they kiss someone fervently, they’re “no” means “yes.” If they flirt, they are teases. If they hold to strong boundaries regarding physical intimacy, they’re prudes.
Men, on the other hand, hear that they are sowing their oats, studs, or “achieved” if they have had sex, which is almost always consensual. If they consent to sex, they are normal men, because normal men want sex. If men sexualize women unremittingly via running commentary, unclothing women with their eyes, viewing pornography, “men will be men” or “boys will be boys.” If they flirt, they’re charming. If they have sexual boundaries, they’re men of integrity.
We need to have an ongoing dialogue about the injustices present in our language, our assumptions and our expectations. Years ago the bumper sticker mentioned earlier would have created outrage. The assumptions that the language was aggressive would have been a no brainer. When people are learning that this is permissible or even funny, there is a loss of conscience we are accepting. The way degradation starts is in how we think, then it’s in how we talk and then it’s in how we behave. And our acceptance turns into agreement before we know it.
Collectively, we can make a difference by being appalled, disagreeing openly and behaving protectively of those who stand most vulnerable—women and the children who watch and learn what we don’t disagree with. Acts of omission are as egregious as acts of commission in nearly every circumstance. Are you going to stand by or are you going to do something about this?
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.