Sex, Rape, and College, Part One: Then and Now

KatieKTime

More than anything I’ve written, this and my next post stand at the intersection of the maternal and the sexual.  These are words I write from my memories of youth, and from an awareness of my daughter’s growing body.  I have told her (she is nearly ten) that she may read this blog—all of it, every word—when she is a teenager.  (I will tell my son the same, when he is old enough to ask.)  Now, I write as a woman who knows how to carpe the hell out of some diem, and as the mother of a pre-teen in a world gone mad about sex.

Then:  Date Rape Controversy

In 1990, when I was a sophomore at the College of William and Mary, a fellow student, Katie Koestner, was raped while on a date with another William and Mary student.  Although Katie was not physically forced to have sex, she said no to sex 12 times, and then finally acquiesced to emotional pressure, which she described as “menacing.”

At that time, “date rape” wasn’t considered “real rape,” and when Katie spoke out, she created a heated controversy.  She was on the cover of Time magazine, and HBO made a documentary about her story.  Heather Hall, a student who was dating Katie’s rapist at the time Katie spoke out, started a petition on campus to ask HBO to include the point of view of the accused.

I regret to say that I signed that petition.  And when a reporter from the Washington Post stopped me one day on my way to class and asked for my opinion about the controversy, here is what I said:  “Instead of saying, ‘I did some stupid things and it was emotional pressure,’ she gets on national television and says it was rape.  Emotional pressure is a problem, but you can’t call it rape.”

It is entirely likely that, that very night, I did some “stupid things” myself, including running amok on campus whilst drinking very bad beer in the company of young men I didn’t know very well.  Then, a sense of irony about my own words escaped me.  Now, it does not.

Katie wasn’t drinking when she was raped.  I just assumed she had been.

At the time, I held the following unexamined beliefs:

  1. Rape as an absolute:  I wanted rape to be a black and white thing that was easily solved by a woman’s power of choice.  I wanted Katie to be able to say “No!” once—or you know, 13 times, whatever—and walk out of the room.  I wanted it to be that simple.  As Anne Fullencamp, another student who was quoted in the article for the Post, said, “During the light of day, people are very well educated and have well thought-out opinions.  But you get to the frats and things change.”  I didn’t want to examine the gray areas.
  2. Victim blaming:  I believed that it was entirely up to a woman to prevent rape through the choices she makes.  I didn’t think in terms of the choices men make, or female vs. male sexuality and desire, or the ways we define masculinity and femininity.  I thought in terms of good girls and bad girls and drinking and what you wear and where you go and no means no so say it and mean it.

Now:  What a Mama Thinks

I no longer believe that rape is a black and white thing, and I no longer believe it is entirely up to a woman to prevent it.  I believe that emotional pressure applied ruthlessly and repeatedly until a “yes” is coerced is rape, as surely as physical coercion is. I believe we need to hold rapists accountable for their behavior, we need to remove the stigma of guilt from rape victims, and we need to get men involved in this effort—the ones who would never rape but know those who would (there are more of them than there are rapists, you know).

If a woman is raped— even if she didn’t watch her back and make safe choices—the responsibility for that crime lies with the rapist, not with the woman.  The victim should speak out, so that the perpetrator can be brought to justice, and so that she does not spend her life blaming herself rather than her assailant.

Still, I believe women need to watch their backs and make safe choices.

You bet your bottom dollar that I’m gonna tell my girl not to go off in the dark, or be alone in a room, with a man she doesn’t know very well—even if she’s attracted to him and would like to have sex with him at some point and he is quite charming and probably wouldn’t hurt a fly— especially after she’s had a bit to drink.  Why?  For the same reason I’ll tell her not to drink and drive.  She might get hurt, and it is my imperative as her guide in this world to help her stay whole.

If that’s what I’d tell my girl, then that’s what I’m gonna tell the world.

You won’t find a bigger advocate for female sexual empowerment than me—I want women, including my daughter, to claim their bodies and their choices as their own and rock on out with their bad selves.  I want them to feel sexually empowered, and I want their desire to be a part of every conversation about sex.

My message, in the voice of motherhood, isn’t:  “Don’t be a bad girl—say no and mean it, and ignore your own sexuality and desire.”  It isn’t even, “Do as I say, regardless of what my own choices were, because I’m old and wise and you’re young and naive.”

No, my loves—here is the message of motherhood:

Don’t give a rapist the chance to change who you are. 

Just. Don’t. Give. Him. The chance. 

He’s probably not some stranger in the bushes:  approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.

Please.  In the name of all that is holy, and all that I love.  Listen to me now.

Now:  In Katie’s Words

Katie’s is not the voice of motherhood—hers is the voice of experience. She has dedicated her life to helping college students understand, report, and prevent rape. Her appearance and press conference on Capitol Hill with Congressman Jim Ramstad helped to encourage Congress, and later President Bush, to pass the Campus Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights into law in 1992.  She holds degrees in Public Policy and Women’s Studies, and she is the executive director of Campus Outreach Services, a national organization dedicated to developing research-supported curricula, model policies, and outstanding educational programs for schools on student risk issues.

In other words, she is one hell of a role model—a victim who not only refused to blame herself, but has helped spread the message of respect and safety to thousands of college students.

She speaks with an awareness of what life was like then, and how it has changed now.  Here is her story, in her own words, and with the support of other experts:

5 thoughts on “Sex, Rape, and College, Part One: Then and Now

  1. sara says:

    Thank you so much for this. I have always struggled with terming my own first sexual experience as rape. I was in a relationship and after having said NO dozens of times, when I woke up and found him inside of me, I still thought it was my fault. Because in that particular instance I never verbally said NO, I never really let myself call a spade a spade – or in this case, a rape a rape. Also, he told me it was my fault because I had been “cuddling him” in my sleep. To this day, I think of it in terms of “technical rape” or “traumatizing first-time sex”. This qualification allowed me to separate myself from people I termed “victims”, who had suffered violent rapes. I didn’t want to diminish their experience by calling my experience by the same name, and I didn’t want to admit that I had let myself fall into that situation. I feel much differently after reading your post.

    I like your message of motherhood. Your daughter and your son are lucky to have a mother like you who will speak openly with them. I wish I had had a mother who felt like you did. It is damaging to a developing psyche to simply pretend that things like rape don’t happen, or only happen to “bad girls”.

    Again, thank you.

    Like

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