April 24, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Tight Jeans Do Not Cause Rape - Denim Day 2013

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Think about the women in your life—in the office next to you, in a school teaching your child, your mother, the teen checking you out at the grocery store, the woman sitting next to you in church, the bus driver who took you to work this morning, your daughter. One of these women will be raped at least once in their lifetime.

Chances are, they’ll know the person who rapes them. And chances are, they won’t tell anyone.

My heart is overwhelmed when I think about the toll that rape takes on survivors, and on our community as whole. Most just try to return to normal—in their homes, workplaces, buses, churches. They see their attackers. They act as though everything is fine, even as their world is collapsing around them. They blame themselves for what happened.

But what hurts me the most is that we, as a society, tell these victims that they are to blame.

When a teen girl was raped in Italy by her driving instructor, a judge decided it was consensual because she was wearing tight jeans. Now, it is easy to say that this was a onetime thing, and, moreover, it was in Italy. But this happens right here in our State of Wisconsin. We tell women to travel in groups, carry rape whistles, not to dress provocatively—but not too conservatively— and take a self-defense class.

Our media portrays women as objects, splashed across magazines with headlines drawing attention to one part of their body, and that’s probably not her face or intelligence. We fill our songs, movies, TV shows, and books with sex, but tell women they’re not allowed to say that they have sexual desires.

Rape, and rape culture, do not just hurt women. Rates of victimization among the LGBT community are even greater than those among straight women, and more of those rapes go unreported. Individuals with mental disabilities are victimized at alarming rates, as are the elderly—our great aunts, grandfathers, retired mentors. We tell men they cannot control themselves, that any one of them would rape if they just saw someone dressed a particular way.

Most men would never rape anyone. Some men will be raped. We cannot keep telling women that they are to blame for being assaulted, the LGBT community that they do not deserve protection, or men that they cannot admit to being victims.

Tight jeans do not cause rape. People are raped because an individual person makes the decision to rape someone. That decision is inexcusable. And it is unconscionable that we do not recognize rape is only ever a decision on the part of the perpetrator.

Denim Day is about fighting back against the rape culture that leads only 39% of victims to report their assault. It is about telling survivors they are not to blame for what happened to them. It is about moving forward, collectively healing from the trauma of rape and dismantling the rape culture that victimizes us all.