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Talking about rape and sexual violence is difficult. It is an emotional topic and people quickly become wrapped up in their own biases and pain related to it. This is perfectly fair and normal; anyone who has been a victim of sexual violence is going to have their own emotional connection to the issue that leads to how they approach it.

The current issue surrounds victim blaming. This is a terrible phenomenon which leads to situations like this one in which an 11 year old was gang raped and then blamed for the attack, saying she was seducing the men. There are multiple accounts of women being told a rape was their fault because they had been drinking or were wearing provocative clothing. All of this is wrong. If a woman says no then consent is not given and it is rape. That is how it is and how it should be, no more questions.

But it is obviously not that easy. I recently watched a video in which a man compared the current argument of “don’t tell us what to wear, tell men not to rape” to other crimes. He related the argument to a person who does not lock his/her door and says that we shouldn’t tell him/her not to lock his door; rather, we should tell people not to break into other people’s homes. He had a long video and I can’t find it right now (if I can I will post it). I did not agree with all that he said but he made some interesting points. In discussing this with a friend who has a lot of strong and good views (that I often argue with, sorry!) she brought up the point that while we lock doors we do also teach people not to steal. As kids we are frequently reminded of how it is wrong to steal, and how other things are also wrong (lying, hurting others, etc) but rape isn’t brought up. It is taboo.

My friend mentioned studies in which very few men admit to raping a woman when the word rape is used but when asked about other behaviors (such as coercion and sex when a woman is passed out) they have admitting to doing so. Personally i think the problem is a type of blurred line (please excuse the reference,  but it works so well here). Think about coercion for a second. When is it rape? Not always. It is a difficult situation. Often in this situation the guy thinks he has changed your mind. It’s that simple, you didn’t want sex he suggested reasons you should and you changed your mind. Is this rape?

There is a blurred line on both sides as to what rape is. I am not talking about rape in the sense of a man dragging an unwilling woman of the street and forcing her to have sex, I am talking about situations in which the people know each other and signals become mixed and confused.

There are two main issues that I am talking about here:

1. Situations in which women say they’ve been raped because they regret the sex the next day. This does happen. I watched it occur a couple of times in high school. A girl made a choice to have sex with someone (while slightly drunk) and then after the sex regretted the fact she had had sex with that guy. She then claimed he had raped her. In the situation I observed within an hour she turned around and admitted that it had been consensual but she just regretted it afterwards. Situations like this are a reason that so many rape cases are ignored. It is a bit like the boy who cried wolf.

2. What is consent when a person is drunk? Many women have been raped while drunk, often times they don’t remember it happened. In some situations the guy honestly thinks she is consenting. How many times have you had the conversation before sex of “Do you consent?” “Yes”. It is about body language. If someone makes a move and you reciprocate and things keep going in that way it leads to sex. Can you blame a guy for thinking you consenting if you were awake, and apparently coherent, and not saying no or acting in anyway like you didn’t want to continue?

This is a really difficult situation and frankly I feel really bad for men here. How do you know if someone is too drunk to consent?Sometimes it’s easy to tell. If a woman is passed out she cannot give consent. This is simple. If a woman is completely sober and leads you to her bedroom and says she wants sex then we know she is giving consent. But what about the alcohol-filled variations? I know of situations in which friends (and let’s be honest – a couple times it was me) drank enough to black out. The frightening thing is when you or a friend blacked out the night before and no one realized that you were that far gone. I have had a situation like this and it is pretty scary. People say you were acting fine and normal, just a little tipsy and you remember nothing. I am lucky to have been in situations where I have been taken care of by friends, but what about someone whose out at a bar? She acts a little tipsy but seems otherwise fine. She hooks up with a guy and the next morning wakes up in his apartment with no recollection of what happened. In her mind it would be fair to say she had been raped. But in the man’s mind he was having sex with a perfectly consenting, coherent adult. What do we do in situations like this?

I am not saying that we should blame the victim in any situation, but I am suggesting that the lines between consent and rape are a lot more blurry than we like to think. We should definitely teach consent in schools at the same time we teach sex ed, etc, but we really need to find some way to deal with the blurry areas. If we ignore them then we are leading to situations of confusion and victim-blaming.

No one deserves to be raped, just as no one deserves to be accused of rape if they were having consensual sex. Let’s talk about the blurred lines without blaming or shaming anyone so that as any person can say they’ve been raped and receive fair, non-judgmental treatment, and any person can have sex with a consenting party without fear of being accused of rape due to confusion or regret.