Note: This post talks about rape and victim blaming.
Usually, I let these things go, but this is the second time in about a week I’ve read about a terrible Dear Prudence column on rape. It’s tough for me to find the words to engage with other people about it, but I still want to say something, even if I’m just talking to myself here on my blog.
Every once in a while, I get a response to my post here telling me variations of there were steps I could have taken to keep myself safer or — one of my favorites — that I am “wallowing in my victimhood.”
The second one is up there with the commenter who told me that being fat meant Jesus didn’t love me anymore.
The first, I guess, is potentially somewhat true. Maybe. If I had superpowers.
For example, if I had Super Psychic ESP, then I could have predicted that someone I’d known for over a decade — and who’d never raised any red flags for me before — would rape me that night. (Okay, here, I am going to stipulate that there likely were behavior signs that I missed somewhere in the years we’d known one another — based on the assumption that I think most people don’t attempt and commit rape out of nowhere. But I’m at least moderately good at interpreting human behavior, so if I missed some things, they may well have been subtle or ambiguous signs that a lot of other people would have missed — and in fact, did miss or refused to believe — as well.)
But lacking the ability to see the future is — unsurprisingly — not the same as actually consenting to sex.
Similarly, if I’d possessed Superhuman Strength, I might have been able to fight off someone half a foot taller than me. Or who packed an extra maybe sixty pounds of muscle mass. Even if I didn’t realize the full extent of what he meant to do until I was on my back in the dirt. (Assuming the ESP didn’t render that last point moot.)
Lacking Superhuman Strength, however — or its real-world counterpart, not fighting back “hard enough” — is not consent.
But the superpower I’d have wanted most some sort of Truth Projection, veratiserum in reverse — something not to make people speak the truth but to understand it. That way, the nurses and police officers who saw me post-assault would not have demanded to know why I’d showered, would not have pronounced the tears and bruises on my body “consistent with consensual sex.” I would have been able to make them see the struggles to kick and hit, the “No!” screaming through my brain, the blankness for hours afterward. That way, the mutual friends of my rapist and me wouldn’t have dismissed my confession with a “but he’s the nicest guy” or a “stop trying to make me believe a lie.” They might have seen those warning signs, if they existed, even if only after the fact. They would at least have seen the truth.
People calling me a liar, whether implying it or accusing outright, is not consent. Nor does it replace the truth.
I’m lucky, at least, to be able to parse all of this and to call bullshit where it stinks.
But as long as humans rape other humans, validation and support for victims and survivors should not hinge on superhuman qualities they do not possess. After all, no one’s holding rapists to a higher standard: Respecting consent is basic decency, not a superpower.