Monday, November 12, 2007

Volunteering: It's not just for rich housewives anymore.

I have had the very, very good fortune to think of something constructive and, dare I say, meaningful, to do with my time. Salt Lake City hosts a fabulous organization called the Rape Recovery Center and, thankfully, they have opportunities for volunteers. The only requirement for volunteers is participating in a 40 hour training which sounds onerous, but doesn't feel it. The center offers counseling services to sexual assault victims which probably, when defined generously, includes just about all of us. The first half of the training has been highly informative; the staff is impressive. Volunteers are able to answer calls on the crisis line, advocate for victims as part of a hospital response team, and assist with community outreach programs. I would be delighted to do any of these, but the hospital response team is really calling my name. I'll let you know.

Being back in a classroom has been sublime. I forgot how much I love sitting around and listening to experts fill me in on the meat of a subject without having to sift through all the chaff myself. I am engaged by the material, enamored of the speakers, and there are no grades, so, really, it's better than most school.

One topic of unique interest to me is the myths that circulate about rape. While nobody with a soul would say rape is an appropriate punishment for a crime (at least, I don't think anyone with a soul would say that...) it is common to think that victims bear some responsibility when they are assaulted. Whether they were in the wrong place, with the wrong people, or wearing the wrong outfit, the culpability is never the victim's. Of course it isn't: who would assert such harsh repercussions for wearing a miniskirt and drinking a beer? Having fraternized heavily with a culture that promotes good clean fun and has been known to judge harshly those whose fun is less clean, I have heard many express assignment of blame to victims with undertones ranging from confused sadness, presumably about the poor victim's poor choices that landed her in a mess, to genuinely malignant. Let us be clear about one thing: it takes a rapist for a rape to happen.

A second myth I find perhaps even more disturbing is the conflation of sexual violence and just plain sex. Let us be clear about another thing: sex and violence have not one thing to do with one another. I recall one uniquely distressing occasion when in a predominantly male gathering, I heard one fellow spout that he thought is was "messed up that some guys just don't control themselves", insinuating that the drive to rape is in any way connected with the innate and delightful drive for sex. I felt outraged; violated by his insinuation. How terrible to think that men who find you appealing are disinclined to rape you because they are exercising their self-control, rather than resting assured that your disinterest would, however disappointedly, inevitably result in theirs. I take issue with this myth particularly with regard to marital rape, or pressure for sex. I have heard women remark all too often that they acquiesce rather than participate; in other words her disinterest in sex (for whatever reason) does not curb his interest. How tragic for these women to live with the knowledge that his desire is for something quite different from her happiness. What lonely hell.

I am pleased for the education I have received at the Rape Recovery Center and elsewhere that empowers me beyond such degrading suppositions.


Jen said...

You go girl.

Julie said...


I like the two false assumptions about rape you bring up. In a class I was teaching here in Indiana, I start off with "questions of the day" - this particular day an article in the student newspaper talked about the way binge drinking and the party culture of college increase the numbers of rape. So I asked the class if they thought rape was affiliated with that in anyway. A girl responded by saying "we've all seen way too many girls at parties who don't know what's going on around them. Watch out girls - don't let that be you. Make sure you take a girlfriend who isn't drinking if you want to get drunk like that so you don't get raped." I was amazed that there was no blame or causal response to the fact that rapist just might have more responsibility than the drunk girl. And it's amazing how internalized that view of the woman being at fault is. We had a discussion about that - but so many students are resistant to debunking those two myths you bring up it's alarming.