On Rape Culture

Today I found out that a distant family friend was raped last month in Atlantic City. I found this out in the form of my father warning me not to celebrate my 21st birthday there.

If I shouldn’t celebrate my 21st birthday in Atlantic City, maybe I shouldn’t sit on benches either. Afterall, that’s what Jessica was doing when some man decided he was entitled to invade her body.

She was sitting on a bench. Waiting for her mother. At 8:00 in the morning- broad daylight. No scandalous clothes. No drugs or alcohol. No interest in this man. And certainly no interest in a lifetime of picking up broken pieces left with her after this nightmare of a morning in September.

Though I’ve never met Jessica personally, this news hit me hard. My heart broke for her and every single person in the world who has ever been through something similar. It forced me to wake up to the sickening reality that something like that can happen to me too. None of us are safe. We live in a society that allows rape to happen. Being a 20-year-old female college student, I am surrounded by stories like Jessica’s everyday. The harsh reality is that sexual assault is an ever present plague.

Here are some disturbing statistics from RAINN, the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the United States:

Every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted.

1 out of every 6 American women has been a victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.

21% of transgender/queer college students have been sexually assaulted.

Out of 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators walk free.

I am overwhelmed by these statistics. Sexual assault in our country is happening at an alarming rate. So what do we do about it? I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure this out and so far this is what I’ve come up with:

VOTE.

We’ve all heard the story of Brock Turner at this point- a monster who walked away from a horrific rape and molestation with only six months of jail time. An open letter from his victim blew up the internet and people all over the world announced their disgust toward him. Turner received consequence from the public since his story went viral, but sadly most other rapists walk away free of  aftermath.

The 2016 presidential election is monumental for many reasons, one of the most overlooked being the fact that the next president will appoint four new Supreme Court justices. As citizens of  the United States, this decision will affect each and every one of us. If we want to eradicate the issue of sexual assault, we need to start by voting.

STOP BEING A BYSTANDER.

The most appalling detail about Jessica’s story is that out of everyone on the Atlantic City boardwalk that dreaded morning, not a single person stopped to help her. The bystander effect is a dangerous phenomenon. It promotes an unsafe environment. Step in and help your neighbor. Wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you?

This concept trickles into how we treat sexual assault on a more personal scale. If your friends are joking about rape, intervene. If a friend of yours has been raped, help them. Be there. Encourage them to report it. When you turn a blind eye to sexual assault, you become one one of the biggest parts of the problem.

Lastly,

DON’T RAPE PEOPLE.

Here’s a simple concept: Be a good person. Treat others with respect. This is nothing more than a matter of human decency. Think about how your own words and actions leave an impact on the people around you.  Under no circumstance are you entitled to another person’s body without consent. Understand this concept and spread it like wildfire.

Next weekend I’ll celebrate my 21st birthday in a place that is not Atlantic City and hope that’s enough to save me from a fate like Jessica’s. I’ll hope I leave the weekend with a heart full of memories and not debilitating trauma. But most of all I’ll hope that when the time comes for my child to turn 21, we’ll live in a better world.