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March 21, 2013

Sue Kerr and Ian Finkenbinder on why sexual assault and rape culture are LGBTQ issues

Posted in: Activism

It seems almost ridiculous that this essay has to be written, but sadly it does. Rape affects every community, and there is not enough discussion about its intersection with LGBTQ issues. Many kudos to essayists Sue Kerr (@PghLesbian24) of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and Ian Finkenbinder (@oneangryqueer), Seattle-based activist of OneAngryQueer, for their courage as rape survivors to bring this topic to the fore, discussing the misogyny — the rape culture — that tries to keep matters compartmentalized and about the behavior of women, and the victim seen first as someone who “asked for it” and not the perp. (HuffPo):

“We are both survivors of sexual assault. In the light of media responses to and other narratives established around the Steubenville rape scandal, we were prompted to discuss our experiences openly and honestly in order to give context to a complicated and uncomfortable topic. This is our first public discussion, a discussion that we agreed is necessary to illustrate the pervasive nature of the “culture of rape” and the need for the entire LGBTQ community to be allies to all survivors…Rape is a human issue. A society that tolerates the atrocities that took place in Steubenville is a society that embraces a “culture of rape,” and that threatens everyone. The survivor deserves compassion and support because she endured a brutal assault and is a sister human bring, not because she “impresses” us.”

Some CDC stats:

* Approximately one in eight lesbians (13.1 percent), nearly half of bisexual women (46.1 percent) and one in six heterosexual women (17.4 percent) have been raped in their lifetime. This translates to an estimated 214,000 lesbians, 1.5 million bisexual women and 19 million heterosexual women.

* Almost half of bisexual women (48.2 percent) and more than a quarter of heterosexual women (28.3 percent) were first raped between the ages of 11 and 17.

* Nearly half of bisexual men (47.4 percent), four in 10 gay men (40.2 percent) and one in five heterosexual men (20.8 percent) have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime. This translates to nearly 1.1 million gay men, 903,000 bisexual men, and 21.6 million heterosexual men.

And 50 percent of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.

They make a strong case that the blinders of the culture we are bathed in affects our perceptions (in their case, discussing how one blogger addressed this case) of what is involved in a heinous crime — the use of alcohol as some mitigating factor for both parties “acting badly” and thus the rape is minimized, justified, written off. As we’ve seen in the Steubenville case by the reactions of the media, people on social media, and in everyday conversations, it’s pretty clear a lot of us don’t know about the issue, and it illustrates just how pervasive rape culture has polluted our culture. Everyone has an obligation to one another to start re-educating ourselves about the complexities of this topic. I know that I surely can and I am more than willing to learn more. But we do see a lot of minds closed to it, and that’s part of the ongoing tragedy.

The problem is that a rapist decides that they can take liberties with another human being’s body without permission, that they feel there is justification because  in their mind they’ve properly assessed the cultural conditions to proceed — and they do not require asking for consent.  The fact that our culture allows 11 different ways from Sunday to try to rationalize how “otherwise good boys” could do this when we all know full well these things don’t “just happen.” Somehow, and in some way, these perps have learned that 1) it’s OK to violate someone, 2) that the act itself is desirable (why would anyone who has a balanced view of the world and respect for individual humans want to engage in non-consensual violent sex acts?), 3) that there is a community of people who will make excuses for them under the guise of “a mistake.” Come on, a rape involves multiple stages of decision-making, at any point one can decide it’s a bad idea to proceed. Rapists mentally walk through all of those stages of predatory behavior and give themselves the OK to proceed. It’s not a “mistake.” (And don’t get me started on the bystanders and enablers, who also have ample time and ability to make a moral decision to intervene passively — such as go call 911).

If human beings want to place themselves above the rest of the animal kingdom with the ability to reason with moral conviction, we need to start acting like it.

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