Yet another case in the media proving just how far we as a society have to go in our attitudes to sexual assault. A judge here in NSW overturned the conviction of a man accused of raping his nine year old stepdaughter after a video was produced showing her being "affectionate" towards him at a wedding twenty years later. Good grief. How does one begin to unpack the extremely complicated feelings a person may have towards a parental figure who violated them? How can anyone assume that unless open hostility is displayed, no abuse could have taken place? Yet again, we've society setting rules on how victims of sexual assault should act, if they're legitimate; not too slutty, or butch, or friendly, or uptight, or drunk, or in this case patting the arm of a parental figure two decades on.
At least we're talking about rape lately, which is a good thing, if it brings truth to light. In the aftermath of the Stubenville verdict and the death of Jill Meagher, I've been thinking a lot about rape prevention. How does one avoid it? How can we prevent it?
How can I prevent my son from ever raping anyone?
I was outraged by the fawningly sympathetic coverage of the two young men convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman at a party in Ohio. Those poor boys, their promising futures ruined, ran the media line - maybe they should have thought of that, you know, before they raped her. But I did get to wondering about the boys' parents. How were they feeling? Were they devastated, soul-searching as to where it all went wrong? Or were they angry at the slutty drunk girl who'd ruined their boys' lives?
Is the there an answer in there to how we can teach our sons it is not okay to rape people?
For in blaming the victim - for all the "but she was..." and "what do you expect..." we're setting up circumstances where rape is okay. Things could get complicated. A teenage girl passes out drunk at a party. "What did she expect?" To be raped? If it's okay to rape a woman you know at party, what about a woman you don't know passed out drunk at a bus stop? Passed out in a coma? Just where do we draw the line?
If we're going to start with any victim blaming - at all - we need to ask these questions. If on the other hand we know victim blaming is not okay, then we need to stop using terms that lead down the slippery slope to dividing women's behaviour into "safe" and "asking for it". I'll try to always use appropriate language around BabyG (I have my opinions on booty shorts, but I'll keep them to myself; I still think they look ridiculous, but confer no judgement upon the wearer). I'll teach him that only he is responsible for his behaviour. That no girl is "good" or "bad". That if he sees a friend passed out at a party he should call her parents, or a taxi, as appropriate; that no amount of peer pressure on him can compare with ruining someone else's life. These are all the things I can do, and I still don't know if it will be enough. I don't know what culture he'll find himself in as a young man. Maybe in 15 year's time we'll have protective behaviour for young men taught at school. Maybe we'll have regressed in our views. I wait and worry. And I ask myself, what would I do if he was actually accused of sexual assault - withdraw in disgust, tell him we love him but hate what he did, or would parental instinct force us into denial and victim blaming of our own? I hope not. I really hope not.