March 13, 2014

MANDELBLATT | Listen and Act

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In a few weeks’ time the prevalent and dangerous rape culture on college campuses will face policy reform via a task force recently created by President Obama. However, in light of current reports and conversations overheard, let us begin addressing rape culture by having a conversation about social reform.

Upon the creation of the task force, Vice President Joe Biden stated, “Men have to take more responsibility; men have to intervene. The measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.” The Vice President’s words are in many ways long overdue, but I will challenge us to extend this to not just measure a man on his willingness to speak up, but rather measure humanity on the power of its voice. Though it is true that in a statistical sense, women are the most predominant victims of rape, we cannot negate the numerous men who count themselves as victims. We also cannot negate that the skewed understanding of rape and reactions to rape reports fall upon both men and women. Therefore, the responsibility for ending the rape culture is in all of our voices.

The prevalence of today’s rape culture can be derived from society’s lessons that, in many cases, the rapist will walk away unscathed, and that if the victim is intoxicated it can be called a “drunken hookup.” If the victim was drunk or wearing “revealing clothing,” it can be deemed that he or she was “asking for it,” as was a prevalent response from the community in the Maryville rape case. It can be derived from the disbelief and even laughter at the thought of a woman raping a man. The prevalence can also be attributed to the fact that students use, “I raped that test,” as an equivalent to, “I dominated that test.” This then perpetuates the notion that rape is simply a means of asserting dominance, when in fact it is so much more. Rape is not “just sex.” It is both emotional and physical assault, invasion of privacy and the subjugation of a fellow human being. Committing an act of rape is not act of dominance; it is a criminal act.

Cornell fortunately has a number of resources available to victims of rape as well as ways to ensure that rape will be treated as a criminal act. President Obama’s task force will also help strengthen and reinforce those resources and consequences. Perhaps most importantly, though, this task force serves as a national reminder that we cannot wait any longer to address this great cultural flaw. To approach this issue we cannot just rely on legal reform and supportive resources to end the culture; we have to change ourselves. We can start by changing our perceptions of what constitutes rape. We also have to expand from conversations about “how not to get raped,” to “how not to rape.” Women especially are told what to wear and how to act in public to stay safe, but where are the lessons about how to respect and treat people? The rape culture of the present must be eradicated, and in its place it must be known that if you dare sexually assault someone, there will be consequences. It must be clear that victims are not to blame. Before that, though, let us make clear that consent is necessary: A person never asks to be raped; clothing choice is not an invitation; someone who is intoxicated cannot give consent; being in a relationship does not allow someone to bypass acquiring consent and a “no” can come at any point during intimacy.

These ideas and concepts are not new, but until we have ended the current rape culture, they cannot be stated enough. We have to create an environment in which the number of victims drops, but for the cases that cannot be prevented, we have to sustain an environment of support. This is not an easy topic to discuss, but when victims have the courage to report their stories, as they have so recently done, we have an obligation to listen and act.


Contact Cornell’s Title IX Coordinator at [email protected]

Gannett’s resources can be found at

Look at the Council on Sexual Violence Prevention’s mission, meetings and actions at