It's 2017, This should be obsolete

This was originally published on Hannah's blog and has been republished here with her permission. 

This is a response to an article written by Froma Harrop. The piece was posted in the News & Observer on January 15, 2017. I cannot begin to describe my emotions about this article, but I hope this piece helps explain why it is so problematic. Here is the link to her original article :

On Jan. 15, Froma Harrop’s article titled “Is ‘stranger rape’ more troubling than ‘date rape’?” was published. We would like to call attention to why this piece is problematic.

Harrop begins with “Portraying date rapes as ‘not total abomination rapes where strangers are being dragged off the street’ in no way implies that sexual assaults involving acquaintances are not abominable.” The piece has only just begun and the author is already undermining date rape by refusing to call it what it is: rape.

She then uses our own statistic against us. Reports show 80 percent of rapes are committed by someone the survivor knows. This statistic demonstrates the severity and pervasiveness of date rape. But to Harrop, it means the vast majority of women identifying as rape survivors are “unwise” and “children bearing no responsibility for their own safety.”

She claims abhorrence factors should be taken into consideration with circumstantial evidence. She takes no care to mention the mental health effects such as drug use, PTSD or suicide contemplation associated with date rape.

Harrop mentions survivors of date rape and rape committed by a spouse are still able to pursue justice. She ignores the circumstances that make a spouse or partner afraid to leave or fight back. She doesn’t mention that most state laws’ definition of rape doesn’t protect individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, who are more vulnerable to this sexual violence.

Harrop wrote this piece seemingly assuming every rape is the same, with the only difference between date and stranger rape being whether the survivor knew his/her attacker. Every rape is different. Every survivor has their own story. Survivors cannot be split into two categories of those who didn’t know their rapist and those who did, because each individual survivor faces a different battle everyday after their rape.  

But all these claims pale in comparison to Harrop’s most vicious sentence; “This discussion clearly makes a distinction between victims who took precautions and those who didn’t.”

With one sentence this piece places the blame of every date, acquaintance or spousal rape on the survivor. With one sentence she furthers the culture of silence amongst survivors by stating their stories are not valid. With one sentence she reminds every survivor of their worst fear; perhaps they could have done something to stop their attack – perhaps this was their fault.

Eighty percent of rapes are committed by someone the survivor knows. On college campuses, over 63 percent of men who admitted to a rape, admitted to committing repeat rapes. Over a third of women who were raped as minors are raped again as adults. Sixty-three percent of rapes nationally and ninety percent of rapes on college campuses do not get reported to the police, because survivors fear repercussions from their attacker or because they are scared they won’t be believed.

These statistics paint a picture Froma Harrop refuses to see – we live in a society that fosters date rape.

We are told to accept a walk home at night because going alone is dangerous. We are told to find someone we know at a party because a stranger could slip drugs into our drink. We are told to trust those we go to class or live with. It is embedded deep within us that we must only trust the people we know. And then these precautions we take, that our culture has normalized, create a power dynamic that puts us at the mercy of our attackers.

This is what the police and public should find concerning.

We live in a culture that blames victims while encouraging behaviors that foster rape. We live in a culture that barely tells men they shouldn’t rape in the first place. We live in a culture where people write articles like this one suggesting that women should be more careful, should always be on alert in case of the inevitable attack and should accept the responsibility for our rape.

Let’s end with clarity. There is a larger picture Harrop refuses to see. It features a society that supports and furthers rape culture, but it also features individuals who refuse to be silent. We will fight until the day where thinking like this author has is no longer the norm, but the exception.

– Hannah Petersen and Emma Johnson, UNC-Chapel Hill