Sunday, May 6, 2012

Consent: For the Rape Apologists


It's time for this country to create a conversation about a bizarrely controversial topic.

I'm talking about consent.

For whatever reason, we're still stuck in this backwards culture of victim-blaming. Then, when I have the “gall” to point out how fucked up victim-blaming is, rape apologists proceed to act offended.

But in this series on consent, I will do my very best to give my readers the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes very legitimate questions about consent are asked. Because we don't talk about it, consent can be confusing.

As is almost always the case in my blog, I will use examples from my own life of when I have given or received consent in sexual activities.

Before I proceed, let me anticipate a few possible reactions by rape apologists. I don't mean to ruffle any feathers, but these are reactions I've heard in similar conversations with my friends, some of whom read this blog. Reactions that are inappropriate and piss me off.

What about teh menz?!

This comes up in two ways, neither of which are appropriate for this conversation.

“What about false accusations?”

Seriously, this comes up Every. Single. Fucking. Time. I discuss rape with Any. Male. Ever.

I'm going to skip the sensitivity I usually use when responding to this. I get it. Being falsely accused of rape is wrong. It ruins men's lives. I know this already. But how about y'all get over your fear of being falsely accused of rape (which, by the way, is statistically a very low likelihood) long enough to try and sympathize with rape victims? Actually, it would be really great if y'all could shut up about false accusations long enough to realize that the women in your life are much more likely to be victims of sexual assault, attempted rape, or rape than you are ever likely to be falsely accused. I'm just sick and tired of every conversation I have with a man about rape or sexual assault sidetracking into false accusations.

“Men can be victims too. Women can be rapists too.”

No fucking duh. I've never heard that one before. Thank you so much for enlightening me. Oh, God, I've been so insensitive. I've been sexually assaulted four times since I was 12, all by men, and who knows how many times men have sexually harassed since I lost count by my 17th birthday, but you're right. Let's curtail this entire discussion of how to teach men not to rape so we can focus on the problem that's in the minority, a problem that none of us have personally experienced, while ignoring the one that has already damaged ME, one of my sorority sisters, and God only knows how many of my girlfriends.

I'm not trying to diminish the plight of male victims. I know that it's even harder for them to come forward because there's an even greater stigma attached to it. But. The majority of male victims are children or in prison. A conversation about consent and teaching men not to rape isn't going to help those victims. Child molesters are evil, sick people. Preventing them from hurting children requires completely different tactics than eradicating rape culture. Prison rape is part of prison violence, which, again, requires a different strategy.

Conversations I've had in-person with my friends, and this blog post, are not about trying to prevent every single horrible thing from ever happening. They're about changes we can make in our lives. Responding with “What about teh menz?” does not help.


This primarily happens in two different ways.

“You wear sexy clothes to attract men. You can't get mad when they give you unwanted attention.”

This is problematic for a few reasons.

One, I have big boobs that are almost impossible to hide. I get attention no matter what I wear. It shouldn't be my responsibility to avoid sexual harassment/assault or rape.

Two, there is a huge difference between a guy checking me out and a guy leering at me; between a guy starting a conversation with me and a guy making a comment about my body; between a guy kissing me on the dance floor after several songs and a guy grabbing my ass or tits the second we start dancing.

Three, I often choose to wear sexy clothes for the benefit of a very specific man. (Currently, the boyfriend, but even before we started dating, I usually had a few potential guys in mind). I realize I'm opening myself up to the attention of other men. I don't get upset when a guy hits on me; I get upset when he won't leave me alone.

“Girls should take certain precautions to avoid getting raped.”

For whatever reason, when people hear the word “rape,” they think of some crazy guy cornering a silly naïve girl in a dark alley.

But ever heard of acquaintance rape? When the victim knows the rapist?

Yeah, that's the majority of rape cases.

So what sort of precautions should I take? Stop wearing provocative clothing? Except, oh, wait. When the guy on the metro grabbed my ass, I was wearing a knee-length, heavy winter coat. Huh.

Oh, I know! I shouldn't go out at night! Except, remember that guy who forced me to kiss him in broad daylight?


Never leave home! Stay in my house. I'm definitely safe there. Except, damn it. I was 12 the first time a boy violated my body, and I was in the kitchen of my own home.

Join a convent? Because, you know, the Catholic Church doesn't have any sexual scandal attached to it.

How about we stop telling girls “Don't get raped,” and we start telling guys “Don't rape”?
Victim-blaming your own daughter, via

Edit 01/31/2013: This has gotten long, so I'm going to break this post into two four parts. The next one will focus on what consent looks like, and how it's worked in my own life. The next one will be examples of how consent has looked in my own life. The third will probably be how to obtain consent and why it's so important to err on the side of caution. The fourth will be an overview of everything else important about consent.

And, yes, it will probably take me a few months to do all this because I have two jobs, and writing ain't one of them.

Edit 04/11/2013: My second post on consent is up! But it's not about how consent has looked in my own life. Instead, I define consent in as many ways as possible. 

Edit 05/03/2013: My third post on consent is up! It's a how-to guide on asking for consent and giving consent, with a few sexy examples from my own life.


  1. I'm a woman and I would just like to say that you are hypocritical and sexist yourself. You are the type of "feminists" that give us a bad name.

    1. Would you like to clarify on exactly how I am both hypocritical and sexist? I see nothing in this post that is hypocritical or sexist, but perhaps I've missed something.

    2. Yes, I would like to know also. Considering I have experienced the same things.

    3. It's been a day and Anonymous1 has got nothin'. You were spot on, Belle.

    4. you, (ANONYMOUS) are definitely not really a woman, and if you are, you must be some young girl still under parental brainwashing. or extremely deluded.

      there is nothing hypocritical or inappropriately sexist about this article. i, for one, am also sick of all the rape/consent conversations being centered around YET AGAIN men. i know ONE MAN who was raped by his girlfriend, (and, for the record, the majority of my friends are male) but i know maybe a HANDFUL OF WOMEN (and of course, no names come to mind but i'm sure i know some) that HAVEN'T been raped. soooo... statistically, from my own life (having met and spoken to at least 500 people about this topic) we're looking at 0.005% men get raped, where 99.9% of the women i've met have been sexually assaulted or harassed in one way or another.

      as for falsely accused? i've heard 100 legimate rape stories for every 1 falsely accused story (and most of the falsely accused stories i've heard of were on the news)

      i'm really sick of the BS surrounding the criminalization of rape. i lost my virginity to date rape, and lost my case because the NURSES at the hospital forgot ONE SMALL STEP in the rape-kit. so, years later, when my ex videotaped himself raping me, i thought FOR SURE i can get him behind bars. NOPE. the police say they can prove the rape happened, but they cannot prove he was AWARE it was rape.
      how fu*king bullshit is that?

      the law is on the man's side. the government is still on the man's side. rapists and pedophiles get a slap on the wrist. it's f*cking DISGUSTING.

    5. So it is not only in India that Rape Law needs to be changed but in other parts of the world too. It's time women in other parts of the world too stand up for themselves and demand changes not just in the law but also in the mindsets of people.

    6. First, I want to thank all of your for commenting and engaging in this discussion. I wish more people would do this. A lot needs to change worldwide, but as they say "Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery."

      Teresa & Anon 2- Looks like Anon 1 can't back up the allegations of sexism/hypocrisy. I'm always open to constructive criticism in my writing, and in the past week, I've edited two old posts to reflect new constructive criticism. But I think Anon 1 is just a troll!

      Peach- Thank you for opening up with your own story. I'm so saddened to hear that. Yes, it is COMPLETE BULLSHIT that your rapist is not behind bars. I'm both saddened and pissed as hell to read about you experiences. THIS is why we need to talk about this, ESPECIALLY to the otherwise good men who are legitimately anti-rape, but who are sadly blinded by their privilege of having not been sexually assaulted/raped.

      Sheena- Yes, sexual violence against women is a worldwide problem. You are 100% correct that changing laws are only part of the solution. Changing mindsets is very necessary, and probably even more difficult.

  2. I'm a woman and I think you're awesome and so is this piece. I also think that anyone who uses the word feminist in quotation marks probably isn't a feminist.

    I want to add onto the false accusations point: There's a reason this never happens. That reason is victim blaming. Who wants to accuse a guy of raping you when people are just going to say you're a slut who was asking for it?

    1. Thank you so much! It can be disheartening to get the (thus far, rare) hateful comment, but having seen how the internet treats Soraya Chemaly (my current favorite modern feminist writer) and other women writers, I see it as a depressing rite of passage. I wrote something that someone doesn't like--that's good!

      Unfortunately, the extremely rare false accusations (see: Duke Lacrosse team) become so high profile that men everywhere* clutch their pearls and gasp about how they're going to be falsely accused of rape next.

      I also think--and thus my need to actually write the follow-up post--that because we don't talk about consent, some guys are confused as to why they're accused of rape. It doesn't let them off the hook AT ALL, but when pop culture tells men to get women drunk so the women will sleep with them, what do you think some men will do? And then when those women accuse them of rape, they tell anyone who will listen that it's a false accusation (and she's a slut).

      *Broad generalization for comedic effect

  3. Your assumption on male rape is entirely and utterly incorrect stating they mainly happen to young boys and in prison. I suggest you get into contact with LGBTI organisations to get the true statistics of male on male rape - then re-blog. Don't diminish the issue of male rape as opposed to that of us women

    1. I apologize that most of my blog is heteronormative, particularly before I came out as bisexual. It is written from my personal perspective, which has largely been female-male relationships.

      I did a few hours of research before writing this last year, but google search results only get one so far. That research indicated the majority (not all) of male rape happened to minors & prisoners. Doing a very very fast (during breakfast) google search this morning, looking specifically for "gay" or "LGBTQ" before "male rape victims statistics," thus far the results indicate that the other prevalent form of male rape falls under "stranger rape."

      ALL sexual assault is wrong, but as I wrote above, my blog is not to prevent every horrible thing from happening. The follow-up post to this (that I have yet to write because life happened) will be about how consent looks in relationships and why it's better to err on the side of caution in obtaining consent. Although consent should be obvious, since our (mine, American) culture doesn't talk about it enough, some nuances can be confusing, and I want to help the genuine good folks out there who really really really don't want to sexually assault someone. (I also want to criticize women who play mind games, because they are not helping).

      If you have some resources you could share with me to help me better understand male rape within the LGBTQ community, particularly when the victim & rapist know each other, I would be very grateful and better equipped to write the next part of this series.

      Thanks for commenting!

    2. Presumably the reason she didn't mention male-on-male rape within the context of the GBTQI community, is that the specific derail she was addressing was allegations that WOMEN rape MEN. Saying "men also rape men in addition to raping women" doesn't in any way undermine Belle's point, which is that men need to be taught to not commit rape.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree that victim-blaming is wrong and with most of the sentiments you raise in your post. I just had a point that I wanted to bring up. In regards to your pedophile comment, I was wondering... do you know the difference between a pedophile and a child molester? I agree that child molestation is a terrible crime, but not all pedophiles are child molesters. A pedophile is merely someone who may be sexually attracted to a child and the disease itself is considered a mental disorder in the DSM-IV. Many pedophiles do actually try to get counseled to help control their desires, but quite a few of them are scared to because society has a witch-hunt mentality towards anybody who openly expresses a sexual attraction towards children. I feel like if we want to help decrease child sexual abuse in the future, we need to stop stigmatizing pedophiles as "evil, sick people," as you put it, and focus on getting them help. Otherwise, their frustrations will just remain pent up and will eventually boil over into actually harming children. Just my two cents.

    1. I did not realize there was a medical distinction. I will edit the language in my post to reflect that. Thanks for informing me!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story- well put! :)

  6. "the women in your life are much more likely to be victims of sexual assault, attempted rape, or rape than you are ever likely to be falsely accused."

    Not only that, men are more likely to be raped by other men, than they are to be falsely accused of rape by a woman.

    Great piece.

    1. That's a perspective I hadn't even considered, but you're right. Statistically speaking, the odds of being falsely accused of rape are almost nonexistent.

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Great article, questions and issues I have too. I have a question, do you think we are edging closer to these questions and issues and perceptions of 'gender blaming're rape, meaning I've wondered if on a global level people's sense of humanity and justice, rationality and level of awareness of a patriarchial system that tries to continue victim blaming, onus upon women, (and girls for that matter), has reached somekind of tipping point?

    Australia had several marches of protest of recent for two young women that were raped and killed, hundreds and thousands of people taking to the streets to say this must stop, (gender violence), and even amid the atrocities within India of males treating women and girls as sub-human protests have escalated, and perhaps the College rape (Ohio?) has burst onto front and centre about cover-up and trying to silence it, dismiss it, (thankyou anon)-so is there a shift happening? Even within social media and attacks upon women and girls is, and are we as a society, culture responding once and for all? I get a fragile sense of a spotlight being forced onto gender sexual (and relationship) violence increasingly so. I find I am giving voice to injustices and misogyny, victim blaming and atrocities more and more, as if even within myself an increasing sense sense of urgency and determination. You too? Or not so much? (I signed in as anon, couldn't get my wordpress to work? it is Iheariseeilearn).

    1. It's hard for me to be objective in my analysis of our culture in regards to rape, if only because I seek out these stories. I read almost everything Soraya Chemaly writes, I read Jezebel daily, I follow many feminists on twitter, and a small chunk of my facebook IRL friends are feminists who actively post to their TLs. I'm thus very aware of what is happening, and who is reacting, but I can't decipher if it's still just a vocal minority or a larger cultural awakening.

      I think one of the problems was summarized very succinctly by a commentator on Jezebel recently. To paraphrase, we are aware that athletes/frat boys/other young men can be rapists, but OUR group of men are certainly not such.

      Thus the problem perpetuates. Rape happens to other people, not to our people. It can't happen here. And I think victim-blaming partly stems from a fear that rape could happen to me. So we make up these rules to abide by, and that keeps us "safe."

      The Steubenville case is absolutely despicable, but I can't be optimistic that it alone will change the culture in our country. The absolute level of evil, quite frankly, involved with this case (and the town's vile reaction), is why it garnered national attention. People calling for justice in this situation, however, won't necessarily understand the need for justice when a boyfriend rapes, or a husband rapes, or a cousin's best friend rapes.

      As far as myself giving more voice to it, yes, I am. This started about a year ago when I finally broke down emotionally and realized that as "minor" as the situations were, I'd been sexually assaulted four times. I don't even remember what the catalyst was, but before then, I'd just shoved the feelings of shame and hurt and disgust deep inside, ignoring their cause, ignoring how they affected my views of sexuality and my interactions with men.

      Since I came to terms with it, though, I've been very vocal in both my anon and my personal social media outlets. Because men are only taught "Don't jump out from behind the bushes to rape a woman." They're not taught sexual boundaries AT ALL, or the importance of consent even for non-PIV sex, or respect for women's bodily autonomy.

  8. I agree with a lot that you said and I am a male. I think the bad language distracts from what you are trying to say, but no matter, let me get to the main point. I was raped as a boy but did not know what was going on except that it hurt and I started to cry which drew attention and the two men involved got scared. Strangely, I feel no anger towards them, nor has it warped my personality in any way that I can tell. I do feel though that this is something that I would never want to share with my wife even though I consider her my soul mate, because I think it would diminish me in her eyes. Also there is another thing that want to say. It's wonderful that the injustices faced by women are getting addressed. I fully support that. However, I can tell you, and many, many men would agree -- there are incredible, incredible injustices inflicted on boys and men. In that, women are equally guilty as men. The bottom line is that both men and women are victims.

    1. "However, I can tell you, and many, many men would agree -- there are incredible, incredible injustices inflicted on boys and men. In that, women are equally guilty as men."

      The injustices inflicted on boys and men are (almost entirely) committed by other men. The sexual assault you suffered was done by men. Why do you therefore say that "women are equally guilty as men"? That doesn't make sense.

    2. I could not elaborate all the many ways and means that society, consisting of both men and women collaborate to traumatize boys when they are growing up. I would need to write a book. This abuse continues when boys become men, and to compound the problem, unlike women, men cannot even discuss these or organize to have these addressed without being ridiculed and scorned. In the US, research has revealed that women hit men far more often then men hit women, yet a man can be abused and slapped in public and on TV and it's acceptable. In any case, frankly, I have reconciled myself as most men have, to keep all this hidden, since there is no hope currently of ever being able to discuss this honestly and be treated with respect while doing so.

    3. I first want to express my regret and sorrow that you were raped as a child. That's a trauma no one should ever have to experience. I appreciate the time you took to comment and your courage in opening up about a painful memory.

      In reply to the rest of your statements:

      No single group of people--by gender, by race, by nationality, by religion, etc.--is only comprised of perfect individuals. Evil takes on many forms, and stopping evil is a neverending battle.

      As I stated in my blog, I'm not here to stop every single bad thing from happening. I'm here to educate and to inform. A conversation about consent will not stop all sexual violence, but it can stop some.

      I think you will find there are safe havens where you can discuss your own experiences and be treated with respect. However, I caution you to avoid broad statements that accuse people of collaborating to traumatize boys. I also suggest including citations of any research you mention, with an awareness that the majority of TV writers/directors/etc. are men.

  9. To the author: thank you. Just, thank you. For everything. The validation I experience when reading your blog helps me heal in places that have been broken and angry for so long, I'd become numb to it.
    You enlighten us all. You will probably never know the full extent of the good you are doing. To me, you are a superSHEro.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. My primary motivation in life is to make a difference in the world, but so often I feel discouraged. Thank you for letting me know I've helped at least one person.

  10. Belle unfortunately my 17 y/o brother is the rare victim of false rape accusations with a girl he never had sex with. I can say that the charges have ruined his and my families life in ways I couldn't imagine. But that being said I understand that this is an extremely rare and unfortunate case. If less women were raped by men who supposedly don't understand consent then there wouldn't be such the witch hunt against the occasional man falsely accused. The discussion on consent changes both the lives of men and women and I believe is even more important after this experience my family is going through.

  11. Because we live in a rape culture, we have to take precautions. But yeah, some people sadly twist women being smart about real dangers to say that if women don't take these "precuations" they are "asking for it." Try applying that to just about any other crime, folks, and see what kind of reaction you get.

    "The little boy talked to strangers...he was asking for it."

    "My grandmother answered a spam e-mail...she deserved to get scammed out of her savings."

    "I left my car unlocked...the thief can't be blamed for stealing it."

    Uh, huh. Who would say that? But when someone doesn't "do enough" toprotect themselves from rape, that sometimes even comes up as a defense for the perpetrator in court. So sad.


Thanks for reading and commenting!

Anonymous commenting disabled while my mom is sick.

Comments are moderated because I receive a lot of spam, and I think CAPTCHA is annoying. I reply to most of your comments within the comment section because it inspires discussion between readers. For first-time commenters, I try to reply by email.

Yes, you can comment anonymously. Yes, you can disagree with me. However, as of 05/31/2013, if you are commenting anonymously, and your words are hateful or abusive, I will publish these at my discretion. I like that my blog can be a forum for discussion, but anything that blames or mocks survivors of sexual assault will NOT be tolerated.


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