Editor's Note: Trigger warning: There is content related to sexual assault.
I have something that I need to get off my chest. For anyone that reads my articles, they know that I like to poke fun at some of the ridiculous things that are happening in our world. I like to take issues and present them with outlandish stories or explanations, make ridiculous connections and present our dim world in a way that may cause you to chuckle a bit. But some things you can’t poke fun at and you can’t take a lighthearted comedic stance on.
A number of my friends have been sexually assaulted and/or raped while at Iowa State.
Putting that into written words causes me to pause. And it does every time I read it back to myself.
We all know the statistics on collegiate sexual assault in the U.S. We ought to. They are told to every incoming student at orientation. In just two hours, we are told the unnerving numbers on assault as well as how to be safe at parties, how to watch out for friends, how to report an incident and so many other measures that we all remember, right? And we all took that seriously and to heart, right? At least before the Q&A section came and all was forgotten and replaced with a few jokes that garnered laughs - some hearty and some obligatory - and were made at the expense of the presenter. And most likely, to some extent, our fellow students.
In case you don’t remember, around 1 in every 4 women will experience a sexual harassment and/or assault incident in college. If you ask any woman, they all have a story of an unwanted sexual encounter. And almost all were committed by a man.
A 2018 study released by the nonprofit Stop Street Violence, in partnership with Reliance, found that 72 percent of women and 35 percent of men reported experiencing sexual harassment and/or assault perpetrated by a single male offender. 9 out of every 10 rape victims are women, with men making up the other 1 out of 10. According to RAINN, an anti-sexual assault nonprofit, 17.7 million American women and 2.78 million American men have been sexually assaulted since 1998. And out of every 1,000 assaults, only around 3 percent will ever see prison time.
With this information, we can come to one horrifying, inescapable conclusion.
If every woman has a story like this, and a good number of men do as well, that means that every man at least knows of one incident that is connected to them personally, most likely more. And that is a scary, sickening thought.
There has been a lot of effort throughout the years to deflect attention away from men. They are the most common phrases:
You were asking for it.
You shouldn’t have dressed like that.
You shouldn’t have gotten that drunk.
You should have just left.
There have also been an increasing number of women’s self-defense tools and tips to help women prevent a rape. But this is the equivalent of cutting small dead branches off of an infected tree instead of addressing the root of the disease. The way we treat the subject as a whole.
This may seem like an attack on men, but it is simply a re-evaluation of the culture surrounding it. And unfortunately, we as men are the biggest enablers and perpetrators of it. And this is where the title of this article comes in.
As men, we have to start having these uncomfortable conversations with our friends. We have to start holding our own friends and relatives accountable. Because as all men know, you will discover more about someone through locker room talk than you will ever find out anywhere else. Any man in the world who knows of an incident like this and if they think hard enough, saw the signs of this behavior and did nothing. For most, it haunts them. It should.
I think of the letter written by Dan Turner, father of Stanford rapist Brock Turner that asked for leniency because the price was steep for “20 minutes of action out of his over 20 years of life.”
In a way, he’s right. It took 20 minutes for Turner to commit the act. It took 20 minutes to commit an act that forever changed the person it was performed on. It took only 20 minutes for one drunk 20-year-old to forever alter a 22-year-old woman’s life. A young life that will be forever scarred by 20 simple and terrifying minutes. Even with three felony convictions, he only served three months for committing this monstrous act.
And we must acknowledge the monstrosity of this act. Though it may not always be committed by a “monster,” it is a monstrous act.
This is a problem that has been going on for centuries and will not stop unless we as men, as members of human society, add our voices to the conversation. That we don’t simply sit back and write a friend’s or a relative’s or an acquaintance’s behavior off as an “off night” or a “slip of the tongue” because it is uncomfortable to confront them. It’s not an off night or a slip of the tongue. More often than not, it’s foreshadowing.
I will leave you with one final thought: What if it was someone you knew? What if it was your friend, your sister, your cousin or someone you know you care about? What if you saw the signs and let them go, only for it to impact someone close to you. Because that is something you can’t change. It isn’t something that will never go away and will always nag at you in your mind. I should know.
I have failed more times than I want to admit to. And I live with it every single day. I implore all of you: grow a pair and check your God damn bro.