Leaving my 11 a.m. class on Friday left me feeling comparatively more reflective than I was tired — a rare occurrence on a Friday afternoon. My large class was assigned a reading pertaining to instances of sexual assault against women in fraternity houses. When the study was brought up in my discussion on Friday, an intellectual conversation was spurred, composed of a range of comments and opinions. What caught my attention in particular was when a boy who had yet to participate in class dialogue this semester volunteered his opinion, disagreeing with the general consensus of the study and warning women that they should be more worried about getting raped in downtown Detroit than they should be in Ann Arbor.
The class, made up mostly of female students, had no specifically articulated response to this. There seemed to be an agreement that women should have a heightened fear of sexual assault in Detroit as opposed to our campus, and then the class turned the subject away from the newest participant’s comment. Later, I received an e-mail from my GSI clarifying a pretty important concept that wasn’t discussed in class, citing statistics from the article we were assigned to read: “Women are more likely to be raped by acquaintances … places like college parties and bars are far more dangerous for women.” So no, women do not have to be more afraid of Detroit or any other city more than Ann Arbor just because of comparative crime rates.
Obviously not everybody does his or her reading, but I was surprised that this e-mail needed to be sent. I was under the impression that most educated people know that rape/sexual assault is most common among men and women who already know each other. I shared this view with my close male friend. After the conversation I had with him, I could guess that he, along with most males, didn’t enjoy discussing the heightened chance for female sexual assault when with their male friends.
Oftentimes, males are overly defensive in regard to rape and sexual assault statistics that portray them in a negative light.
And for a long time, I thought this was because of the way these statistics were being discussed in the media and in academic spaces. After a consideration of the in-class discussion, though, I think that logic gets back at the victim blame game. A woman should not be blamed for her experience of sexual assault because she wore less clothing than she normally does or because she drank too much alcohol. Similarly, women should not be blamed for men’s over-defensive tactics when they portray information about rape and sexual assault. Simply stating that instances of rape and sexual assault are more likely to occur amongst friends and not strangers is in no way an attack on a male, unless he raped or assaulted somebody.
As is to be expected, there aren’t any statistics that support this opinion, but any time I have ever engaged in discourse about the prominence of sexual assault amongst acquaintances and friends with a self-identified heterosexual man, it turns into a one-sided debate. The one-sided part is the male defending himself against these statistics, acting as though facts are some sort of personal attack.
No, these conversations aren’t intended to portray you as a terrible person or potential rapist. But these conversations are created to prevent future instances of sexual assault from happening. Emotional undertones are inevitable in the presentation of the facts in a discussion-type conversation about an emotionally loaded topic. Women shouldn’t be ashamed of expressing feelings when they discuss instances of rape and assault. Men, in turn, shouldn’t be offended by facts that sound emotionally charged.
I’m not saying yelling facts about rape and other forms of sexual violence in a heated and accusatory tone is the best way to get one’s point across. Actually, that is definitely an ineffective way of getting any point across. The difference between having civilized discourse about important issues like sexual assault and yelling about them is pretty clear and not necessary to explain.
So, if these types of conversations are important to any women out there (which they should be), it should be easy to decide what is the best path to pursue to maintain an educated and non-aggressive conversation with a man. At the same time, don’t be afraid to correct anyone with incorrect and offensive “facts” about statistics and examples of sexual abuse. It’s important to have conversations about these topics. Not to single out a particular man, or an entire sex, but to educate.
Rennie Pasquinelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.