Not Rape

The Not Rape Epidemic. (2008) An original essay written by Latoya Peterson, the personal narrative surrounds the stigma around the definition of Rape.

In the essay, Peterson introduces her personal experiences with rape as well as experiences of her close friends and acquaintances as well. Most often brought up situation was the twelve-year-old females being courted, or raped,  by nineteen year old males. On incident even involved an 11-year-old girl having to get an abortion.

Is it cruel that I feel extremely lucky? Does it make me appear heartless when my initial reaction wasn’t, “you poor girls.” Instead I had wondered, “what the hell were you girls doing hanging out with nineteen year olds at that age?”

Oh. Right. I’m not allowed to point the finger at the victims, or the victims families. After all, public shaming and fear of judgement were what put the fear of god in these girls to not speak up in the first place.

While the rapists, or “not rapists” as Peterson calls them, are definitely at fault for their actions, I don’t agree that any of the other parties, including the victim, are completely innocent. There are the community, the school, the parents, and finally, the victims. The community should have prepared these girls better, the school should have monitored these girls better, the parents should have educated these girls better.

When I was eight, my mother bought my brother and I a book. It was in Chinese, but the title of the book in English would be roughly How to Avoid Rape. The book, geared towards children, didn’t get into the physical details of what rape was, but I learned everything I needed to know from that book. So at the age of eight, I already knew what most of Peterson’s friends didn’t know at twelve.

  1. Don’t go anywhere with strangers.
  2. 8/10 incidents of rape occur with someone you know (family, teacher, familiar convenience store clerk, your friends).
  3. Never go alone into a secluded area.
  4. Always call for help if you feel threatened, regardless of who the aggressor is (your father, your brother).
  5. Do NOT trust ANYONE.

Those are just a few details I still remember from the list of things this book warned against. My brother and I never discussed any of the issues the books raised, neither did we bring it up with our parents. An awkward discussion was never had. Besides, at that age, it was most likely that we would ignore anything our parents tried to tell us anyway.

Sure, the book had its repercussions. From then on, I shouted loudly every time my father bear hugged me until he eventually stopped trying. But that was my fault. I took the book’s warning a little too far. Regardless, the result was that I have never been raped, or “not raped”. I’ll never have to look back into any blurry teenage encounters and wonder, “was that rape?” Before the age of seventeen, before I took it upon myself that I would FINALLY touch a boy, I had shunned physical contact. I didn’t slow dance with boys at school dances. I didn’t kiss boys. I couldn’t even bring myself to hold hands with a “boyfriend” in grade eight. The relationship lasted for a half a day; it ended with him telling me that to date meant to touch each other, and with me saying, “let’s not date.”

If there was ONE instance from my childhood that could have come close to rape, or “not-rape”, it was when I attended an all-boys sleep over at a close friend’s house. I never actually slept over, as the boy’s mother had more than enough sense (thank you, Mrs.____). The four (or five?) of us spent the early evening there playing video games, Soul Calibur II, to be exact. We were all having a good time, until I jokingly sat on one of the boy’s lap. He promptly asked me to get off and when I did, he hurriedly rushed off to the bathroom.

The next day at school, the same boy attempted to ask me out. He explained that when I sat on him, he had a physical reaction (BONAR), and somehow that meant he liked me and that we should start dating. We were thirteen. I refused, and he respected my decision. I remember being effectively “grossed out” by his confession and I completely stopped talking to him. As well, his confession served as a huge lesson for me–that my own actions, whatever my intention, can be grossly misinterpreted. I never invited myself over to an all boys sleep over again, nor did I ever initiate physical contact, jokingly or otherwise, until I was seventeen.

Reading Peterson’s essay, I can’t help but compare my own childhood to hers. The community I grew up in was not much different from hers. Topics like sex and rape were not discussed with children. The teachers were the same. They taught what they were comfortable teaching, and nothing more. The parents gave the same warnings–do not talk to strangers and do not open doors for boys when home alone. Sure, my mother went the extra step and got us a book, but that can be equated to the amount of discussion Peterson’s mother, (or her friends mothers) would have had with these girls.

The point is… the only difference between Peterson et al. and me? I listened to my mother. I heeded the warnings. I took the extra precautions. I learned to recognize what would potentially be a dangerous situation and what wouldn’t.

Peterson asks the society to take responsibility for our children’s well-being. “But above all, we must give girls the tools they need to defend themselves against sexual predators.” What she fails to recognize is that it is not enough for society alone to make these tools available to girls (and boys). Teachers should be reinforcing the knowledge of these tools. Parents should be holding their children accountable for making use of these tools. And ultimately, children themselves should learn the consequences of their own actions. 

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