Editorial: It takes everyone at MU to stop rape culture

We like to think we attend a school that is conscious, empathetic and welcoming to all. We like to imagine ourselves in the company of students who see the world in true color, who stand up when they see injustice and who, above all, seek never to cause injustice to others. We like to say we are One Mizzou — one proud, diverse, crazy family working together to make a better and brighter future.

But, sometimes, there are indications to the contrary. Sometimes, we see and hear words and actions on this campus that aim to hurt, to judge, to belittle and to dishearten. Sometimes, we get the sickening feeling that maybe our community is not as respectful and supportive as we think. This week, we have seen and felt plenty of this.

The dialogue about rape and sexual assault at MU has occasionally turned revolting and vile. In spite of all those on campus who tirelessly and bravely stand up each day and work to change students’ attitudes toward sexual violence, recent events have shown there are still plenty of misconceptions about what constitutes rape and sexual assault. We feel it’s now necessary to, once again, directly address these misconceptions.

Rape is not a single kind of act in a single kind of situation. It doesn’t always fit a stereotype. The only thing that makes it rape is the lack of consent from each person involved. Nothing else can change that. Our state defines it as a person having “sexual intercourse with another person by the use of forcible compulsion.”

“Forcible rape" is the legal term in Missouri, but that does not mean that nonconsensual sex without violence or the victim fighting back is exempt. No extraneous factor in the situation makes it rape, except for the lack of consent.

If one involved person says no, that’s rape.

If it takes coercion or force to receive a “yes,” that’s rape.

Even if the survivor communicates with the rapist afterward or appears friendly or even apologetic, that’s still rape. Nothing that occurs after the act can change that.

It’s the responsibility of the survivor to tell the truth, but only he or she can say if consent was given. What matters is not the rapist's judgment, or the judgment of those who hear about it — it's the survivor’s judgment.

More generally, it’s everyone’s responsibility to act with sensitivity and empathy toward people who might be survivors of rape or sexual assault. It’s important to understand that rape is not the fault of the survivor — it has nothing to do with what he or she said to the attacker, their history or how the survivor acted before or after the act.

It doesn’t matter what the survivor was wearing, how long they waited before going to the police or even if they go to the police at all. It doesn’t matter if the survivor was intoxicated. And when we act as though these things — the actions of the survivor — do matter, we misplace blame. The only people who can prevent rape are the potential rapists, and when we forget that, we make it harder to right the wrongs that have been done.

When individuals blame survivors and trivialize their experiences, two things happen. It makes the survivor’s life even more of a hell, exacerbating their pain, constantly and publicly reminding them of what may have been one of the most traumatic experiences of their life. And it contributes to a culture of suppression and judgment where other sexual violence survivors, in both the present and in the future, feel pressured to keep their own injustices to themselves, in order to avoid ostracism and protect their reputation and well-being.

Reporting rape in this culture, it seems, is more trouble than it's worth. It is absolutely crucial that this changes.

Such a change will take action: the collective action of inspired individuals. But it’s so easy here, when there are so many people working so hard to help. The Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center offers resources to sexual violence survivors and friends and family members of survivors. The Sexual Health Advocate Peer Educators program, through the Student Health Center, aims to educate students about their sexual rights. RSVP’s White Ribbon campaign encourages men to speak out against rape. The Counseling Center can offer support to survivors of sexual violence as they heal. Student Life’s Green Dot initiative helps promote positive sexuality and the importance of consent.

We are sick of writing about the rape culture on this campus. We are tired of being disappointed in members of the MU community who, despite frequent instances of sexual assault and constant degradation of the sense of security here, refuse to acknowledge sexual violence as a serious problem with a broad definition. It is the duty of each student who takes pride in being a Missouri Tiger to treat each and every other fellow student with respect and understanding.

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