Join the movement to end sexual violence

Kyle Kleisinger is prevention coordinator at Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.
Kyle Kleisinger is prevention coordinator at Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.

The op-ed by Larry Webster, entitled "Can boys still be boys when yes means yes?" sparked a discussion amongst my colleagues at a rape crisis center in Lexington.

After many hours writing, rewriting and discussing appropriate responses to this column, we learned that the piece was intended to be satire.

We aren't art critics. We aren't experts in creative writing. And we certainly don't want to get in the business of telling people that their contributions to the cause are unwelcome.

That being said, we still felt we needed to have a conversation about this specific piece and the danger of making light of rape culture.

We live in a culture where sexual violence is the norm. According to a 2010 study from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women and one in 21 men experience completed or attempted rape in their lifetime.

Research tells us that the vast majority of the millions of men, women and children who experience sexual assault each year will develop chronic and debilitating health consequences as a result of their trauma.

We also live in a culture where we are taught that "boys will be boys," "guys can't be raped," and "girls really mean 'yes' when they say 'no.'" We tell survivors they shouldn't have been drinking so much, they shouldn't have been wearing that, that's what they get for flirting, that's what they get for having lots of sex, that's what they get for staying with him, and that's what they get for being gay, being trans, being black, or not speaking the English language.

This was the tone of Webster's satirical piece.

The problem with this is not just that it is hurtful and dismissive of the experiences of survivors of sexual violence, but it also creates a climate in which perpetrators of sexual violence are absolved of their actions and bystanders simply tolerate the presence of this gigantic problem.

The overall effect is that less than 13 percent of survivors ever report their assault, less than one in 16 perpetrators will ever see the inside of a jail cell, and less than 10 percent of bystanders, who see something happening that they know is wrong, will actually intervene.

This is how less than five percent of the population is responsible for more than 90 percent of sexual assaults. Because our culture tolerates and normalizes violence; because we make excuses and in some cases glorify perpetrators; and because we continue to believe this is not our problem and there is nothing we can do about it anyway, we have collectively created a monster in our midst.

We have come to understand that it is our collective moments to challenge this monster that will bring it back down to size.

The problem with Webster's essay is not that he wasn't challenging the monster. From his perspective, he certainly was. The problem is that nobody could tell that was what he was doing. The danger is that for many people, he was actually validating, rather than mocking, a position that they actually believe in.

As a movement that seeks to eradicate sexual violence, we need to be sending messages that invite people to the movement without ridicule, without shame, and without feeding into the very cultural ideas we are trying to change.

We wanted to thank the many people who spoke out about this issue, and even Webster for being an impetus for this response. And lastly, we'd like to extend an invitation to the many people who were not outraged and did not speak out against the column.

The baseline for joining our movement is "violence is bad." If that is something you believe, we welcome you to the movement and into our agency. We need to make violence nothing more than a page in our history books. We need you, so that anyone in your life who you love can live in a safer world tomorrow than they woke up to today.

If you hate violence, then welcome to the movement.

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