In my acting class this week I did a scene that rocked me. Titled, “Rape Victim Doesn’t Have a Case,” it touched something deep within me: anger and sadness, bordering on despair, at the reality of rape in American society. In the scene I play a sexual violence specialist in a prosecutor’s office. As I listen to the young victim (probably the 5th I’ve seen this week) tell her story, it dawns on me that we have none of the necessary elements to make a case against her coworker/rapist. Even though she happens to be intelligent, employed, Caucasian, by all standards of the justice system a “good victim” (which infuriates any person that wants equality- that there is a standard for a “good victim” when it pertains to women who experience violent crime); since there were no other witnesses to his violent behavior, since she didn’t take photographs of bruises, or collect DNA evidence, since it was only her word, there was no way this crime would ever be prosecuted. And it was up to me, a fellow woman (I decided my character had also been raped in the past), to be the gatekeeper. To tell this woman that she has no case, that unless she quits her job, she will likely have to see this guy day in, day out at work instead of seeing him behind bars.
Most women never report their rapes: and there is good reason. Unless you have overwhelming evidence of an assault, you will likely not be believed, and even if you are believed, you are not likely to see justice. Only 2 percent of rapists ever serve jail time. The burden of proof is high, and in the initial shock of the trauma women often do the “wrong thing” when it comes to making a case against an “alleged” rapist, furthermore their personal “character” and “morality” are almost certain to be called into question. Add in the many “grey” areas around intoxication, a culture increasingly influenced by violent pornography, and the male/female dynamic where many men feel entitled to women’s bodies, you end up with a world increasingly dangerous to young, independent women. Sexual violence has increasingly become a “normal” threat during young-womanhood.
Rape culture is real. Chances are you, or someone very close to you, is a woman who’s been raped. For many of us it happened in our younger years, it happened around consumption of alcohol, and many never reported it. For those who did, many were not believed, many where told they did not have a case, and many were left traumatized by their attempt to come forward with their assault. The massive problem of rape on college campuses has been brought to light, and then questioned, this year, after decades of being an unspoken part of student and Greek culture. Rape is no longer a silent issue, and it is not a “woman’s issue” it is a human issue.
So what can we, as women in media, do to end rape culture? We can make art that confronts the dominant culture. We can call out the elements of society that contribute to a culture of entitlement to women’s bodies, we can call out elements that promote violent and derogatory treatment of women (the first example that comes to mind is the prevalence of violent pornography). We can call out advertisers that use violent imagery to promote their products, we can call out everyday violence that women experience such as cat-calling. We can be empowered women, who show our sexuality on our own terms; and we can play characters who are empowered. We can share our stories, and we can point out the grey areas in the discussion, and listen with compassion. We can believe victims. We can speak out via social media, and help bring the discussion out of the shadows and into the mainstream. We can choose to make art that celebrates our whole female identity, not just our sexuality, our beauty, our sexual value to men. We can choose to celebrate our intelligence, our compassion, our generosity, and our value to society, rather than focusing on each other’s looks. We can choose to stand up to the gatekeepers that keep the status quo in check and we can begin to share our stories to protect each other from dangerous men.
Recently in a woman’s forum I belong to, a woman shared the name and image of a man who assaulted her. He frequents dating apps in Los Angeles, and several other women came forward to share their stories of assault by this predator. By speaking up, this woman has saved other potential victims. Frighteningly, several other women came forward with examples of disturbing encounters over their dating apps with this individual. Why can’t men be “flagged” and removed from dating services, which have become havens for predators to find new women to assault? If these apps aren’t willing to offer basic protections, should we be using them at all? I am reminded of Lysistrata, and the power of women to create change by standing together. We can stop using products that are advertised in demeaning ways. We can refuse to be on apps that promote sexual debasement. We can create art that portrays women differently. We can be the first to stand up against a violent culture, and we can raise the standards of how women are seen in our industry, in our country, and across the globe.
*photo courtesy of Dollar Photo Club