Widespread misconceptions about victimhood hinders discussion of pervasive rape culture, according to author Kate Harding.
In her keynote address on Monday during Cornell’s second annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week, Harding described her struggle to identify and convict someone who raped her in college. She said her friends did not believe her account and told her they “don’t believe that he is a rapist, but [they] believe that he is a blackout drunk that doesn’t know what he does.”
“I get it if you don’t want to believe that someone you know and like did something like this,” Harding said. “We have to be informed enough to have the intellectual background overriding that knee-jerk reaction and take these claims seriously.”
Rumors that her alleged perpetrator had been involved with several other sexual assault cases in the past finally moved Harding to file a formal complaint, she said.
Rape culture tends to blame victims for the incident, and many women are told what they can do to prevent rape, not what perpetrators should do to not rape, according to Harding.
“[We are] laying the groundwork that if you are assaulted, and any one of those things were present, then it’s your fault,” she said.
Harding called for more extensive education efforts, especially for adolescents, on consent and sexual assault to shift this belief.
“College is too late,” she said. “It’s not until you get [to college] that people start talking about this, long after people have already had sex or been sexually assaulted.”
Another common misconception about rape is that men are always the perpetrators — according to Harding, they are statistically more likely to be raped than to rape.
“We tend to talk about men only as perpetrators, not as victims,” she said. “This is a really big problem, tied into all of these other things, leaving a group of victims really undeserved.”
She added that the implication that only certain types of women can be raped causes many groups — such as ethnic people or homosexuals — to become marginalized from discussions of sexual assault.
“If you are gay, are raped by another man and tell somebody, then you now have that stigma of having been raped by a man, the stigma of it being ‘queer,’ and you have no obvious support system,” Harding said. “When you put people into one of these ‘unrapeable’ categories, that just creates more barriers to [victims] being able to access resources and find help, let alone find justice.”
Harding said she hopes to challenge current conversation around rape culture.
“I talk about rape culture very often in terms of men and women in a heterosexual context, because so much of rape culture operates in terms of telling women what to do to protect themselves and upholding rigid gender roles,” she said. “But this is something that affects people of all genders, and I don’t want to [disregard that].”