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Exposing the myths of rape

I have a chance in which to tell you something about sexual assault that will hopefully enlighten you, challenge you, and if I have done my job well, then perhaps inspire you. Let me begin by saying that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Across the country, rallies are staged, Take Back the Night events occur and education efforts are undertaken to bring some much needed awareness to this very misunderstood issue.

In my nine years of working with survivors of sexual assault in the Boulder area as well as the Roaring Fork Valley, I have found that society as a whole has a very conflicted and often ill-informed view of both the crime and the nature of the victim. Ask the average individual to describe the mental picture that they have of what a “rape” looks like and you will invariably be painted the picture of an unknown male assailant hiding behind a Dumpster in a dark alley that attacks a female victim. The sexual acts are then forcibly attained through physical violence possibly including the use of a weapon. This is what I refer to as one of the myths of rape.

The truth however, is that most woman are sexually assaulted by someone that they know: a boyfriend, a date, a husband, a parent or family member, a friend, a teacher or coach. The sobering statistic is that 80 percent of sexual assault victims know their assailant. In addition, most sexual assaults include no physical force. Instead the perpetrator utilizes threats, intimidation, manipulation, verbal and emotional pressure, an imbalance of power and control, and of course substances that can affect a victim’s ability to give consent, the most pervasive and accessible being alcohol.



Unfortunately, much of the education and prevention techniques that young women are taught play into this stereotype of rape. I am not suggesting that there is no value in women taking self-defense classes, carrying a rape whistle or mace, not walking home alone at night, guarding their drinks at a bar and the myriad of other safety tips that woman are advised to follow. I am, however, suggesting that these approaches are only part of the prevention solution, and their unintended consequence is to allow society to perpetuate this myth of rape.

Rather than hold the perpetrator accountable, these myths usually blame the victim for the crime. It is common practice in response to a claim of rape for naysayers to scrutinize what a woman was wearing, how much she had to drink, what her previous sexual history has been, what her mental health history is and even what her ulterior motives for “crying rape” might be. And while it is important for all women to examine and evaluate their judgment and potentially dangerous choices, it is important to remember that none of this makes her responsible for being raped. As a rape crisis counselor has said, “Bad judgment is not a rapeable offense.”




Why is it that we cling so strongly to both the ill-informed image of the violent stranger rape and the damaging tendency to victim-blame? I would suggest that there is a level of comfort and safety that we convince ourselves of by buying into these myths. It is a very frightening proposition to think that we are potentially at risk in our most trusted relationships. Ironically, I can more easily convince myself that the world is a safer place if I only have to fear the violent stranger, than if I admit that my most sacred and intimate relationships hold the potential for violence and abuse. In addition, it is easier to blame a victim for the fact that they were raped, than to believe that rape could and does happen to any one of us.

The point of this article is not to make you feel a greater sense of danger or vulnerability. It is simply to raise the level of awareness in our community. Because once you know the statistic that one out of four women (and one out of 11 men) are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, it is impossible to think that you are not affected by this issue. Even if you have not been a victim yourself, it is likely that at least one woman in your immediate circle has: your mother, your sister, your wife or girlfriend, your daughter, or your friend. Sadly, sexual assault and domestic violence look much the same in the paradise that we call Aspen as they do everywhere else in the country. Fortunately, Aspen and the surrounding area has a resource for survivors of these crimes to get the support and direct services they need.

Response, a nonprofit organization, provides 24-hour crisis assistance through a team of trained volunteer advocates and staff. Please consider joining Response’s upcoming 30-hour advocate training beginning on Monday, April 21, so that you can make a difference in the life of a victim by providing an effective and compassionate voice of support. For more information about Response’s volunteer training please call our office at 920-5357. If you are the victim of sexual assault or domestic violence and wish to speak with an advocate please call our confidential 24-hour hotline at 925-SAFE (7233).


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