Confronting Rape Culture in Our Own Backyard

TRIGGER WARNING:

The following includes commentary that may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence.
Please be advised. 

This has been one of the most difficult things I have ever written, but it’s important.

I want to start by thanking everyone who has read and shared the pieces I’ve written this week on rape culture, and, in particular, commend those who have taken part in the grander conversation. The important part is not the initial post. All I did was make a list. The important part is that we’re engaging in discourse, and working to try to find solutions.

I do want to apologize. I haven’t been on top of moderating the comments during the last half of today. As I type, the comment count awaiting approval on my sidebar is 211. I just… haven’t been able to bring myself to touch them.

My entire world has been turned upside down in the past four days. Since the original rape culture post went up, my inbox and social networks have exploded with advocates intent on taking a stand, victims courageously sharing their stories, and average folks who are realizing for the first time just how bad things have gotten. It has been overwhelming (and I apologize for not getting back to some of you as quickly as I would like), but mostly inspiring.

You inspire me. Each and every one of you.

I had no way of knowing this at the outset, but I would need your inspiration this week more than ever. Yesterday morning, one of my former debate students contacted me, providing a link to a news story. She was distraught, angry, and hurt. I waited for the link to load, but my internet connection was glitching. All I could see from the link text was that a teacher at my former high school had been charged with having sex with a minor. I told my student it wasn’t pulling up, and asked to whom it referred.

“Lauren,” she said. “It’s Klemm.”

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In high school, I was the definition of a nerd. I collected activities like badges of honor, but the Speech Team was, without a doubt, my passion. My forte was limited preparation speaking – particularly an event called Impromptu Speaking. Students could be given a random prompt, have two minutes to think about what the prompt meant, and then be asked to give a 6 minute speech supporting their conclusions. It was Jedi training for bullshit delivery.

But real talk? Participation in speech and debate was the single most valuable experience of my life. It taught me to research, contextualize information, form cohesive arguments, write persuasively, adapt my presentation to my audience, and speak with ease in front of a crowd. As academically enriching as the activity is, its social and emotional benefits are incalculable. In Speech, your team is your family. My teammates taught me about passion, patience, understanding, laughter, loss, and – most importantly – love. I will never be able to thank them enough for that.

Klemm was my coach and my teacher. But he was also a mentor and a friend. I was an actress by trade, and really good at hiding pain. In the midst of some major struggles, Klemm was there for me in a big way. He helped me feel safe, and worthy, and strong. We were certainly close, but never in an inappropriate sense. When I won my national title at the end of senior year, we both cried like fools.

We stayed in touch as I competed in college and ventured into the grand land of debate. I would come back to visit the team, and he would show me off to his students, boasting about his “star.” I always laughed when he said that. He would beg for me to come back and coach. It was my destiny, he said. It’s what I was born to do.

When I eventually moved back to Chicago, I did coach at the school for a brief time. I worked with the Impromptu students, and joined Klemm in his attempt to establish a debate team. Working with those kids was so tremendously rewarding. They were hungry, on fire, alive. They wanted to know everything and they wanted to know it now. They reacted to hatred and injustice in the world with a sense of wide-eyed indignation.

It made me want to do more, be more. The way the students looked at me made me feel a sense of responsibility to them. I owed it to them to be the best person I could. I would not let them down.

Unfortunately, in an era of budget cuts, the funding for the debate team was simply not there. As new professional opportunities dotted the horizon, I bowed out of the Wheaton North Speech Team. But here’s the thing you gotta know about Speech – it doesn’t matter how long you’re out. You never really leave.

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I stared at the blinking cursor on my screen and reread the words of my student through tear-blurred eyes.

“No,” I typed. “No. No. No. No. No.”

It was a couple of minutes before I realized I’d begun to say it out loud. The article finally loaded, and there, floating before my eyes, was the face of a man I had trusted and admired for 12 years. It was Klemm. My Klemm. The only thing jarring me back to reality was the bright orange jumpsuit.

The details were lurid. She was 16. They had sex in parking garages and classrooms and his home. The affair lasted for months. The event came to light after a love letter from Klemm to the student was discovered by her parents. News reports indicate he has admitted to the relationship.

She was a speech student.

I felt the bile creeping up in my throat and the tears smarting my eyes and before I knew what was happening I was screaming. I was screaming at his mug shot. I was screaming for the young girl whose schoolgirl romance was a tawdry backseat fling with someone who should have known better. I was screaming for the students in his classes whose world would no longer make sense. I was screaming for alumni whose fond memories were now riddled with the guilt that accompanies knowledge of such crime. I was screaming for a Speech Team that provided so much value to its students and would possibly be put in jeopardy as a result. I was screaming for my youth as my heart broke into a million pieces, because words have no use in the vortex of shattered trust.

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The rest of the day was a daze. Within five minutes of learning the news, my phone started ringing and never stopped. Ten different chat windows popped up along the bottom of my computer screen. I’m not sure what people were hoping. I certainly did not have the answers they were seeking. The truth was, no one did.

My Facebook feed exploded with comments from former students about the case. It didn’t matter how far I scrolled down; Klemm’s face was everywhere. The commentary varied. Some expressed outrage. Others went the “I-told-you-so” route. Others still – particularly those who had interacted with him in Speech – conveyed disbelief, sadness, and pain. We were broken. All of us.

But of course, there were other comments. Some demanded the identity of the female student. Others called her a whore and slut, and blamed her for bringing down a much beloved teacher. There were those that called the whole thing “bullshit” because she had been a willing participant.

Surveying the comments, my brain began to short-circuit. It was rape culture. It was slut shaming and blaming the victim and rape apologia. It was in my backyard. My school. My team. My friends.

And to my absolute horror, before my mind could fully process some of these comments, I felt myself identifying with their sentiment - primarily with those comments based in apologia. It would be just for a moment – just one split second – before self-loathing and shame would hit me like a wave. How could I possibly encourage others to reject rape culture, while participating myself with a seemingly instinctual reaction?

It struck me as the day went on that we were talking about a lot of terrible impacts. We talked about Klemm’s young daughter, and the students who admired him. But we weren’t talking about the victim. And let me be clear – she was a victim. She was 16 years old. She was a minor. She was incapable of consent. He was in a position of power. He abused that position. The prosecutors on the case are confident. Yet here we were, so busy weighing our own reactions that her experience had been entirely lost in the shuffle.

I buried myself in work, yearning for distraction from a cognitive dissonance so fierce it had me shaking. Luckily, there was plenty to be done. Views on the rape culture post had not died off, and comments were rolling in at lightning speed. The minute I caught up on comments, my inbox was full again. Once my inbox had been cleared and I went back to my day job, the comments had backed up once more. I cycled between tasks on autopilot and tried not to think about it.

And I couldn’t help but wonder if the victim was doing the same for very different reasons.

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I didn’t want any more details. I stopped reading articles. I stopped going on Facebook. I mostly ignored the steady stream of text messages. I’d pick up the phone for a handful of people – folks from Speech who I knew were hurting just as much as me. The conversations could have been carbon copied. Shock. Anger. More Shock. Rage. Utter sadness and despair. The details were gory, but repetition brought a twisted sense of comfort. At least there, I wouldn’t have to face my cowardice in addressing rape culture at home.

I felt like a fraud. Why should I get to rail against rape culture when I stood by and watched it happen on comment threads? What right did I have to bemoan discussions that detract from the victim’s experience when I had all but discounted the same in a young girl right before me? Where did I get off, demanding that we not apologize for rapists, when I wanted more than anything to find a way to forgive the man who had played such a tremendous role in my life?

I had this acute sense of being watched. It seemed like – given my recent comments on rape culture, and the depravity boiling to the surface in my hometown – people were waiting for me to say something, do something. And I had never felt so ill-equipped to rise to the challenge in my life.

Rape culture had been made manifest in my town. More jarring, rape culture had been made manifest with an activity that I held sacred. I knew, deep down, that I couldn’t sit on the sidelines for this, but the juxtaposition of my advocacy efforts, my struggle to “walk the talk”, the direct connection I had to the story, and the many layers of  rape culture involved made finding a starting point impossible. I’d already started rationalizing reasons to delay posting about it. It was too personal. It would make people angry. It would make a bad situation worse. The excuses abounded.

I sat at the computer at 2 AM, feeling stuck, and started chatting with a former classmate. He knew Klemm as well; he was just as mortified. But as we discussed the details of the case, he revealed that some of the more loathsome aspects of this story were echoes of crimes gone by. He talked about sexual attacks on other students, about police indifference, about administrator self-preservation tactics. My rage was palpable, but he stopped me before I could begin.

“You have a choice,” he said. “Live in sheer disgust, anger, loathing; or pity, a desire for retribution, closure, and a genuine want of truth to be exposed to protect innocent men, women, and children by perpetuating a cycle of love. Not faux love, but actual, nurturing, gracious love. Your anger will never be slaked - not in one hundred years. The pain will never recede. But in my opinion, it can and will be dulled, or conformed into a positive directional force of energy that empowers young women and men to create a better world for our children.”

Damn, I thought to myself. He’s just right. 

And I started to type.

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Klemm was a teacher and coach. Assuming reports of his admission are correct, he knowingly and willfully sexually approached a 16 year old student. He then engaged in an inappropriate emotional and sexual relationship with the girl, abusing his authority over her, and exploiting her youth and inexperience. The relationship lasted from February 2011 to December 2011, when the student called off the relationship.

If I see one more comment about the fact that it was “mutual”, I might have to scream. It does not matter that a 16 year old girl thought it was a good idea to sleep with her 41 year old teacher. Klemm was the adult. He knew it was wrong. This was not a “mistake”; it was an ongoing criminal affair. He took advantage of her. He has admitted to it. This is statutory rape. To excuse it because we knew him or cared for him is rape apologia. Period.

But there’s an element to this story that is not getting enough attention.

There have been a lot of comments about how odd it was for this case to come now. After all, the relationship had taken place in 2011, and the student had since gone off to college. The bulk of these idle questions were about questioning the accusations, but as it turned out, they were questioning the wrong people.

Multiple reports have indicated that students close to the two knew what was going on. Some students have stated that they saw the two out together. Others claimed the two were pretty open about the interactions. What we do know is that, upon resigning from the Speech Team as a coach, Klemm told kids that it was because he had gotten “too close” to one of the other students. He informed students that he had been asked to resign. Students have stated that the reasons for resignation were known by most, including the Principal, Jill Bullo.

Why does that matter? It means people knew, and said nothing. It means Klemm admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a student - albeit vaguely – and nobody informed the authorities. But, most importantly, it means that administrators in the building were aware of the allegations, and did not report them to the police.

Authorities are investigating the situation, but should additional charges be brought forward for failure to satisfy mandatory reporting requirements, this is disturbing on so many levels. Allegations of this nature must be reported to the authorities by law. While some could question whether the accounting of events at the time provided sufficient warrant for a report, the fact that he was asked to resign is indicative of the fact that it was not a baseless allegation.  And if the reports are true, they swept it under the rug instead of following protocol. And if the stories I heard yesterday are of any merit, it wasn’t the first time the District has protected one of its own over the interests of a student.

This is rape culture. This is a culture that prioritizes community stability over justice. This is a culture that makes excuses for violence because the alternative – identifying a person we cared about as a sex offender – is just too terrible to think about. That’s why I’m sharing this here. Because while I may not have the answers to the questions raised by these accounts, somebody needs to start asking for them now.

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I want to make something abundantly clear.

This post is not about determining Klemm’s guilt; that is for a jury. This post is not about evaluating the charges; that is for a judge. This post is not about telling those close to the situation how they should be feeling right now; that is theirs alone to own.

This post is about the CULTURE surrounding the situation. That culture has included silence in the face of widely known allegations, and a failure on behalf of administrators to take immediate action. That culture has resulted in heinous, sexist attacks on a victim brave enough to file a report. That culture has resulted in a series of comments excusing the crime as “no big deal.” That CULTURE discourages victims from coming forward, and trivializes sexual violence by placing sympathy for the accused above that for the victim. 

This post is about recognizing that rape culture is everywhere -
even the places you’d hope you’d never see it. 

It’s about saying that rape culture is never, ever acceptable. 

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Wheaton is a small, conservative town that passes down privilege from generation to generation. Even absent this tragic case, Wheaton has a problem. The “jokes” Wheaton North students and alum made pervasive in social media echoed the callousness of spectators in Steubenville. The very idea of attacking a victim because a favored teacher has been fired speaks volumes to our community priorities, and brings to memory those who called Steubenville’s Jane Doe a liar or slut.

We can sit here and say rape culture isn’t real. We can pretend it’s not in our backyard. But when it comes to rape culture, we all live in Wheaton.

So what are we going to do about it? Awareness is good, but solutions are better. And if the past couple of days have demonstrated anything, it’s that this is not an easy fight, whether you’re talking about broad or individual change. I will not pretend to have all the answers, but given the amount of “what can I do to help?” questions in my inbox, and given my own struggles since yesterday, let’s look at some of the options for fighting back against a culture that trivializes rape.

Personal

Acknowledge Rape Culture Exists.

For some people, this one’s difficult. Maybe it’s because they mistakenly equate rape culture with assuming all men are rapists, or maybe it’s because they’re so uncomfortable with the thought of it being real, but the  first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem. And I mean this quite genuinely – if you’re having trouble understanding what rape culture means, and you don’t want to raise questions in the comments section, email me. Let’s talk it through.

Learn How Rape Culture Manifests.

Part of the problem with fighting rape culture is that, sometimes, it’s not obvious. Sometimes it’s as blatant as a rape joke. Sometimes it’s as complex and dangerous as the honor board system in your universities. Sometimes it’s as simple as unnecessarily identifying characteristics of the victim that can be used to try to forgive the rapist. Read and learn and grow.

Speak up.

If someone is actively perpetuating rape culture, call them out. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy. It takes guts, but it matters. Could you piss someone off with your statements? Absolutely. But think about it this way – there was a time in our country where jokes about beating men senseless because of the color of their skin would have been considered acceptable. Eventually, advocacy on the subject relegated the obscene humor to social Siberia. Willingness to stand up for right may not eradicate wrong, but it does help fight it back.

Get informed about your rights.

Every state has different laws about age of consent, definitions of rape, and any associated penalties for the crimes. Find out what that means in your state. Contributing to a culture where rape goes unreported is the fact that many of us just aren’t aware  of our options, and ways in which we can help secure justice following attack. Get familiar with your state’s statutes. And then help other people familiarize themselves, as well. Knowledge is power.

Talk with your wallet.

Consumer advocacy works. Perhaps the best example can be found within the LGBTQ movement:

In 2010, Target was called out for making political contributions to candidates with vehemently anti-gay rights positions. [...] outrage ensued. It was not an overnight turnaround, but Target today has ceased said contributions, and launched a series of initiatives aimed at promoting equality, be they fundraising projects or simple inclusion of the community in their service offerings- like wedding registries for same-sex couples.

How do you leverage the same tools here? Consume responsibly. Don’t give your hard earned dollars to brands that use images inclusive of violent or degrading behavior towards women (or men, for that matter). Don’t support companies or individuals that use sexual violence humor to promote themselves. Don’t bolster the market share of shows which trivialize rape by tuning in. Be a conscious consumer.

Talk with your vote.

I know we just got done with an election, and many of you (particularly those subjected to my Facebook rants at the time) are still recovering from the political hangover. However, local elections happen at scattered intervals, and technically, the midterms are 19 months away. PAY ATTENTION. If a politician trivializes sexual violence  in policy or rhetoric, take a stand in the voting booth and show them you won’t support rape culture.

These solutions are important for three reasons. To begin, it really is a matter of personal integrity. We are often called to “be the change” we wish to see in the world. This is one of those instances. Second, it’s about changing hearts and minds. The struggle with any culturally based problem is that policy cannot eradicate prejudice, misconception, bias, or hatred (though policy does have a place, we’ll get to that in a minute). Thoughtful discourse and personal advocacy, on the other hand, CAN AND DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE. I’ve already received countless emails from people saying that, after engaging in the discussion here, they now understand that rape culture is real. Finally, it’s about setting an example for those who look up to us – be they our children, siblings, friends, lovers, partners, colleagues or otherwise. When we lead by example, we lead in love, and I really can’t think of anything better than that.

Policy Solutions

While personal solutions make a lot of sense for adults, there are policy solutions worth considering for our schools. They say that the children are our future, and in terms of combating rape culture, this sentiment is particularly true. If we want to break a culture, we have to stop the cycle before it begins.

Incorporate Sexual Violence Education into Broader Sex Ed

Part of the problem is that we, as communities, are pretty terrible about talking to our kids about sexual violence. Think about it – When was the first time someone explained consent to you? When was the first time you learned of the steps to  take in the event of a sexual attack? When was the first time someone articulated the sentences and/or consequences associated with various sexually based offense charges?

If you’re like me, it was probably Law & Order SVU… assuming you watched it. But in a classroom? Never. Sexual violence is an uncomfortable subject, but by conveying the information in age-appropriate intervals, we can, early on, make it clear that sexual violence is never acceptable, and carries grave consequences.

Think this is way too young to be teaching kids about sexual violence? Consider the kind of trivialization grade schoolers exhibited in Minnesota:

Disturbing, to say the least. But there is another, more terrifying reason to arm our children with information: they are far more likely to be sexually attacked.

Individuals under the age of 18  face disproportionally high rates of attack.  The CDC’s most recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found:

More than three-quarters of female victims of completed rape (79.6%) were first raped before their 25th birthday, with 42.2% experiencing their first completed rape before the age of 18 (29.9% between 11-17 years old and 12.3% at or before age 10). More than one-quarter of male victims of completed rape (27.8%) were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.

Let that really sink in for a minute.

Frighteningly, these are not just high schoolers, either; victims and assailants are growing younger and younger. Stop it Now! - a non-profit organization dedicated to stopping sexual violence against children – reports on their website that up to 50% of those who abuse children are actually under the age of 18 themselves.

Unfortunately, these statistics pale in comparison when we consider the second problem: the lack of sexual violence reporting among children. While this phenomenon is not unique to youth sexual violence victims, it is a far larger issue in this age group than any other. The Winter 2007 issue of the psychiatric journal Adolescence found that teenagers and adolescents were the individuals least likely to report the crimes committed against them. Given that the California Women’s Law Center found 91% of undetected [read: unreported] rapists will rape again, this is pretty terrifying. This makes the problem of sexual violence in this age group particularly disturbing; we’re not just creating victims, but future assailants as well.

Despite these overwhelming problems, there is a lack of formal education for individuals under the age of 18 on the issues of sexual assault and rape. A personally conducted survey in July of 2008 of the Departments of Education in all 50 states revealed that not one state required any kind of sexual assault or rape education. The vast majority of states encourage some mention of the issue, and while respondents believed that structured programs would be a good idea, no one provided any resources with which to form formal presentations. Since the survey, some states (like Illinois – woot!) have passed laws requiring sexual violence education for younger students, but there still aren’t enough programs out there.

To give credit where credit is due, the Obama Administration did take a step in the right direction by declaring February 2013 National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. The problem was that the entire initiative centered on educating members of the community on warning signs of sexual abuse. That is certainly admirable, but until we start engaging the children on the subject, we won’t be able to break the cycle, and they still will be without compass. What exactly do I mean?

To be honest, this idea was initially proposed in a speech during my competition days as a result of a personal interview with a 17 year old rape victim. She revealed that she hadn’t reported her classmate attacker because she didn’t know what she was supposed to do; no one had ever talked about it. In retrospect, she regretted it, because she later found out that she was one in a string of attacks the young man had executed. She cried as she asked, “How many more have there been? How many could I have stopped?”

She’s not alone. Your responses have made that very, very clear. It’s high time we started engaging with local schools to ensure our kids are well-informed.

Make contact with your local school board. They dictate the curriculum for the local school district. Most have a budget for “health speakers”; discuss using some of those funds to bring in speakers to discuss sexual violence issues with youth, like SAFEHOME in Kansas, or Darkness to Light in South Carolina.

Additionally, institutions of higher learning are an invaluable resource. With most assault education already taking place in the collegiate world, these professionals are uniquely equipped to cooperate with school boards and districts in developing age-appropriate sexual violence educational programs. Indiana State University, for instance, had an initiative where University personnel with expert training in sexual violence education would go in to train local teachers on how to cover these very sensitive issues. Get in contact with your own institution or those in your area to see what help they can offer, and advocate similar cooperation with the school board near you.

Train Athletics Programs to Address Sexual Violence

Before anyone starts freaking out about me calling all athletes rapists, I’m not. All athletes are not sexual aggressors. All athletic programs do not facilitate expressions of rape culture. That is not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that data suggests that both sexually based attacks AND cover-ups occur more frequently in athletic communities. While there are numerous studies on this note, perhaps one of the more notable was the Benedict Cross Study, cited by the NCAA in saying:

Male student-athletes commit one in five college sexual assaults.

Do I have your attention yet?

This statistic comes from the Benedict-Crosset Study, a review of 107 cases of sexual assault reported at 30 Division I schools between 1991 and 1993. The study found that although male student-athletes make up only 3.3 percent of the collegiate population, they represented 19 percent of sexual assault perpetrators and 35 percent of domestic violence perpetrators. The researchers’ conclusion — “male college student-athletes, compared to the rest of the male population, are responsible for a significantly higher percentage of sexual assaults reported to judicial affairs on the campuses of Division I institutions.”

Although this study is 10 years old, any argument that it is no longer representative of the current situation is illusory. In addition to the numerous incidents of violence reported in the past year, more recent studies have corroborated the Benedict-Crosset findings.

Again, let me be exceedingly clear: All athletes are not sexual aggressors. All athletic programs do not facilitate expressions of rape culture. That is not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that data suggests that both sexually based attacks AND cover-ups occur more frequently in athlete communities.

This data does provide cause for concern. With evidence of a coach-led cover-up in Steubenville, and cases like Penn State still very much fresh in our minds, it is fair to say that we might want to spend some time talking with coaches about speaking with athletes about sexual violence. That sounds pretty vague, doesn’t it? Luckily, there is this absolutely amazing initiative being petitioned for on Change.org. The petitioners state:

As a nation, we have a history of overlooking assault when it’s committed by athletes, from the high school level to university programs to professional sports. But most athletes and coaches, like most men and most people, think sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence need to stop. Empowering coaches, who are mentors to young men, to begin difficult and complex conversations about sexual violence could create long-lasting change in communities across the nation and lead to curbing, and even ending, sexual violence. Behavior and attitudes change when important information on the topic comes from a trusted source. Students are willing (and often eager) to listen, but often only to people they respect.

We are asking the National Federation of High School Associations, which offers annual required trainings for coaches in order for them to remain accredited, to partner with nationally recognized activist organizations to develop a course on sexual violence prevention for high school coaches. Coaches must be provided with the opportunity to learn how to foster a violence-free culture among their athletes in the locker room, on the playing fields and also in school hallways and weekend parties. As local “heroes” and role models, we need athletes to lead their communities toward a rape-free climate, and we expect coaches to be prepared to initiate and foster dialogue with their athletes around issues of sexual violence that are productive and educational. The role coaches play in the lives of athletes – as role models, mentors, and thought leaders to a large portion of the youth community – is invaluable. By training coaches to understand how to address this issue with young male athletes, we can make valuable steps toward safer communities across the United States.

I have to say – pretty hard to find fault with that idea. I’m going to link to it again here in case you accidentally didn’t click it before the quote. 

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I am angry. And sad. And hurt. And confused. I feel betrayed. I feel like a fool. I feel helpless. I feel like I am not doing enough to combat rape culture. But if I can take that emotion and channel it into something important, maybe we can see positive changes made.

I am human, and there are times where I’m going to be an imperfect example of standing up to rape culture. Yesterday was a perfect example of that. I hope that the fact that I caught myself feeling sympathetic towards rape culture elements in real-time means something. I hope that it signifies I am capable of growth and change. I hope that, in sharing this story, and demonstrating that the most vocal of advocates can still falter, we can realize that none of us are perfect, and this is hard work… but we still have to try.

There are a lot of concerned people watching this blog right now. To not discuss this situation at all would have been disingenuous at best, and a product of rape culture at worst, as I attacked its perpetuation everywhere but the home front.  It was important to recognize that fighting back rape culture is difficult, and a process. It was important that I try to show a fragment of the same courage as all of you who have reached out to share your own stories. It was important that, if I really wanted to make the world a better place for my daughter and the rest of us, I speak up about what is at stake in Wheaton, and how that translates for everyone else.

Rape culture can be a daunting issue to tackle. It can be hard to conceptualize as part of a trend, and it can be even harder to acknowledge in your own interpersonal interactions. But it is people like you – the intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful souls who have been liking, sharing, commenting, preaching – that are making a difference right now.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”

Hear, hear. Keep fighting the good fight, everyone.

25 Responses

  1. Samantha McMillan March 21, 2013 / 9:39 pm

    I’m confused as to what happened here. This is an amazing (and brave) post, but when I click the links they all say, “this page cannot be found”.

    ________________________________

  2. lynnefavreau March 21, 2013 / 11:30 pm

    Lauren, I’m so sorry for all you’ve been dealing with. My first thought was—please don’t be so hard on yourself—you don’t live in a vacuum. Your instinct to think better of someone you knew and cared deeply for, no matter what they’ve done, wasn’t out of line and wasn’t due to “rape culture”, it was genuine, human and honest.

    It is your actions upon reflection of the facts that speaks to your integrity. Once again I marvel at your ability to remain focused on the issue, clearly without hyperbole despite the now very personal proximity to the problem. You put forth relevant facts and evidence in a way that is engaging, compelling, and significant. I appreciate that you not only seek to enlighten but offer means for your readers to assist in bringing to light the pervasiveness of the rape culture we live in. Warmest Regards, Lynne

  3. Paige March 22, 2013 / 12:00 am

    As a current speech team member, thank you. I thought what you said was something we all needed to hear. And as you stated in your brief background history, speech is unlike any activity, and I’ve been so incredibly blessed with my team.

    • rantagainsttherandom March 22, 2013 / 12:11 am

      Paige, I really can’t imagine what it’s like for folks on the team currently. And I am so, so sorry that you guys are dealing with all of this.

      • Paul March 22, 2013 / 12:43 am

        Lauren, meet my sister ^

      • Paige March 22, 2013 / 10:41 am

        Thank you for your concern. It has been a really tough week for the whole team. Ironically the day we found out was also the day we had our end of the season speech banquet. Going into it, we all thought it was the worst possible thing that could be added onto our day, like the situation was being rubbed in our face. It was, however, the one thing we needed. We were able to come together as a team and celebrate the success of the season, and the love and support we’ve shared over these past 4 years was emphasized over and over. In one day I have never been so heartbroken, and simultaneously loved. I have never seen any team come together the way we were able to these past few days. Alone I can’t stand thinking about the situation for very long, but with the support of my team, all of the graduated speechies out there, and my coaches whom I love dearly, I know one day we can heal. Now more than ever we stand united, because alone I don’t think any of us can do it right now. Thank you again for making this post and I hope you know that we’re standing strong. I do hope that our thoughts and concerns can reach the rest of the speech alum, because I can’t imagine having to go through this without my team. All of you are in my thoughts, because once a speechie, always a speechie. =)

  4. RowanGalahadria March 22, 2013 / 5:38 am

    Hello. Please note that this reply contains potentially TRIGGERING MATERIAL,

    I am new to your blog, but have read your posts with great interest. I, too, am a survivor of rape… A rape that occurred when I was just 16 years old. It was my first sexual experience, as well as my first experience with violence.

    This post, along with all of your posts on the rape culture in which we live, was well thought-out, beautifully written, and through its writing, shared your intimate thoughts in a profound and classy manner. Thank you for that, and for your bravery in sharing. I also want to thank you, deeply, for noting on each of your posts that triggering material may be included. It helped me mentally prepare for what I felt was necessary to read, based upon my own feminist principles, upon the fact that I am a survivor, and upon my being a woman ensconced in rape culture.

    For me, my rapist got off scot-free, as it was a family member who needed “shaping up” by the military. And so, my parents told my aunt that they wouldn’t press charges as long as my cousin was sent to the military. Un-freaking-believeable… But there it is. I got to live with the notion that “it was just a mistake” that could certainly be whooped out of the lad by serving our country instead of going to jail.

    The sad truth is, anyone still mystified by the idea that we live in a rape culture need only look somewhere in the vicinity of their family members (who, CERTAINLY could never do such a thing!), and into the back yards that make up their communities, as shown by your former forensics coach. The events in your home town, in Steubenville and Penn State will continue to leave us feeling raw, shocked and betrayed until we restructure our world in such a fashion that leaves no wiggle room for perpetrators. Once accomplished, we can confidently undertake the task of creating communities which clearly (A) denote the value of every woman and (B) denounces any lack of respect for her personhood.

    For now, all to often, perpetrators are still treated as if they are children simply needing a time-out and victims are re-victimized and re-traumatized every day they try to reclaim some semblance of living a “normal life” while being a survivor. The fact that they suffer this at the hands of their own community members is positively putrid, and it stands to show just how far we have to go in the work of dismantling the rape culture in which we live.

    Thank you, once again, for your thoughtful, intelligent posts – and for sharing your own personal process through the emotional gauntlet of rape culture’s making. I appreciate your candor, your tact, and your willingness to engage in conversation about it, confronting one myth after another while the rape culture still exists.

    Namaste.

    • bluevw16 March 24, 2013 / 9:30 am

      What happened to you was terrible and infuriating. Sending him off to the military was probably the worst thing they could have done considering how much rape is occurring there. He probably continued to attack women during his service.

  5. Ashley Austrew March 22, 2013 / 8:14 am

    This post is a lot to process. Thank you for continuing the conversation, for taking an active stance, and for encouraging people to do the same.

  6. Jupp March 22, 2013 / 8:28 am

    I have a question concerning the term “rape culture”.
    Your definition of it seems to be something like “The set of all ideas and customs which trivialise or rationalise rape” (Please correct me if I am wrong).
    Now it is not controversial, that there are ideas and customs which trivialise or rationalise rape, but which ideas and customs belong to this set seems to be disputed.
    So given an idea or a custom, how do you determine whether it is an element of “rape culture” or not? I am asking about your thought process.

    • rantagainsttherandom March 22, 2013 / 10:50 am

      I think it’s a hard question to answer. Generally speaking, if the idea, event or norm directly trivializes or rationalizes sexual violence (i.e. blaming the victim, or slut shaming), it’s part of rape culture. However, I also tend to evaluate the consequences of an idea as well. The initiator may not intend to further the trivialization or rationalization of sexual violence, but if it’s the end result, it deserves to be examined critically.

      I’m trying to be clear. In some instances, rape culture is perpetuated by people with intent, and in those cases, I do get pretty angry with the individuals in question. In others, it’s not about intent, and I think it’s really important in those situations to remember to make it about the idea, and not the person. Does that make sense?

  7. Colleen March 22, 2013 / 9:26 am

    I could have written the first part of your post- former speech team member and then coach I adored Ed as well. And I wrestled with gut reactions like yours- wanting desperately to find some loophole, some reason this wasn’t as bad as I knew it was. But the reality is unfortunately true. He knew better, he crossed a line, he is solely to blame. Thank you for wrestling out loud here and for putting so articulately to words what I have been thinking. Well said.

  8. Kathleen March 22, 2013 / 9:29 am

    Lauren, I admire you so much for your work here – it is so important. It takes energy, determination and clear logic. You have all of these attributes. Do not stop.

  9. victoriabruce March 22, 2013 / 9:34 am

    Thank you for taking a stand. In South Africa we are sadly the rape capital of the world. Our State President was accused of rape and acquitted base don his testimony that she was wering a skirt and patently therefore desired to have sex with him. Something like 74% of rapes in South Africa go unreported. Why? Because what good would it do anyway? As a rape victim you are just as likley to get re-raped by the police than get medical attention and help. And when it comes down to me choosing what to wear today, I base my decision on are my heels low enough to run in, is my long hair wavng a red flag at a bull?

    • rantagainsttherandom March 22, 2013 / 9:40 am

      Thank you so much for sharing. I think that it’s really important to remember that it’s not just an American thing. I know that I myself, and a lot of the commenters on these posts, have contextualized the conversation that way. But sexual violence is deplorable in all cases, and it’s found everywhere. We have to stand in solidarity together. Thank you for your courage.

  10. Gordon March 22, 2013 / 5:31 pm

    I don’t see any comments that bring Big Media and Big Business into this conversation. I’m talking about things such as GAP stores who sexualize 14 year-olds with near nude ads and Hollywood and TV portrayals of young women as primarily sex objects. Isn’t the story of a “Klemm” and a 16 y/o student inevitable in our culture? I’ll answer my own question: YES IT IS. And don’t we ALL share a portion of the blame for unfortunate things like this happening when we purchase the products of these exploiters within our media and business communities? If we aren’t willing to address these exploiters then we can forget about decreasing sexual exploitation.

  11. seebster March 22, 2013 / 9:36 pm

    Thank you for grappling with this publicly. I have yet to see such a thoughtful article struggling against sympathizing with a rapist you want to adore and respect.

    Unfortunately, I have to interact with an unreported (but admitted once revealed by his cousin) rapist at family dinners, a rapist who is very difficult not to like and respect and connect with.

    I know I will never see that side of him; a predator chooses his prey. There is nothing to do but never let him alone with young girls if it is ever in my power to prevent it.

  12. Sam March 23, 2013 / 1:49 am

    I’m a 9-1-1 dispatcher, for fire and medical emergencies, and sometimes I have to take a deep breath and collect my thoughts when I’ve gotten 3 or 4 domestic violence calls in a row. I mean, my mother was a victim of domestic violence, during her three year marriage to my stepfather. Vicious, insidious, almost impossible to escape domestic violence, not to mention the physical and sexual abuse my siblings and I suffered from him as well. I know very well the toll it takes on a woman’s mind, and how hard it is for her to get out, and I know she is not at fault. But when I have taken so many of those calls in a day, it starts to get easier and easier to be angry and frustrated with the woman on the phone (in my head….NEVER in tone or words, of course), especially if she’s one of the women who call me fairly frequently, wondering why, oh WHY has she not left this man yet.

    So I get up, and I take a deep breath, and I think about my mother, about how my stepfather swooped into our lives like Prince Charming, sucking us all out of a horrible situation and plopping us down into familial bliss…for a moment. I think about how much he seemed to love us, and how much my mother loved him, and I think about how insidious the change was, how he isolated us from family and friends, how he first became obsessive and controlling (things she felt she could handle) before he became physically violent, and how apologetic and loving he was after every time he hurt one of us. And that’s when I remember that it’s not their fault, these women. They are the VICTIMS. Absolutely, the victims. It takes courage and help to get out of that situation, and it’s dangerous. We changed moved to a different state, kept our phone number unlisted, weren’t allowed to tell our address even to new friends he made,and still he found us and attempted to hurt us again.

    Domestic violence is, of course, a part of rape culture, especially the–even today–overwhelming, “We can’t get involved with this; it’s a family matter” response from many police forces. But my point is that we ALL have our moments of imperfection, our moments when we feel just the inkling of a desire to put the blame somewhere other than where it truly belongs. It’s the ability to clear our minds and think beyond it that separates us from many people on this planet.

  13. Momma E. March 23, 2013 / 3:03 pm

    Hi Lauren – First let me say thanks for tackling this all so publicly and courageously. I too am a survivor. And, I’m raising two daughters. Just posted some thoughts on my own blog with regard to rape culture, etc etc within the larger context of female child rearing. I would like all of us to get to a point wherein women’s roles are not subsets of the larger roles of either “Trophy” or “Bitch”. Dialogues like the one you have so bravely opened are ESSENTIAL if we are EVER to arrive at a point where my future granddaughters and great granddaughters can wonder why equality, inclusion, and mutual respect ever had to be fought for. Thank you! Best, Donna

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