The two teens convicted in the Steubenville rape case are about to be labeled sex offenders next week. This highly controversial case has thrown the issue of rape under intoxication and the assignment of blame into the national spotlight. Attacks are thrown back and forth, saying that either the victim must take responsibility for drinking far too much, or that the perpetrator always must take responsibility.
But with so much focus on retribution and blame, we have mixed up our priorities. Retribution is important, but it is not as important as the prevention of future rapes. To this effect, the Who Are You? campaign from New Zealand has created an amazing video that shows us how we, as bystanders, can easily and painlessly prevent rape. Instead focusing on assigning blame and demanding retribution, it is far more productive for us to focus on making sure that rapes don’t happen in the first place.
I’ve never been raped or sexually assaulted, but I know people who have come close to being in Emily’s shoes. I know someone who drank so much one night she could barely move. The guy told everyone that he was going to tuck her in bed and make her drink a bottle of water, but then he molested her barely-conscious body while everyone’s back was turned. She told me that she felt violated, devastated, helpless, and ashamed. She felt dirty and sullied, and she somehow felt responsible for the utter violation of her own safety and security. She did not tell a single friend about her sexual assault for three years.
She never pressed charges, and she understands now that she is not to blame for his actions. She only wishes that the entire event had not happened. I cannot erase what has already happened to her, but I can help prevent sexual assaults from happening to other people.
I am the bystander. I am the stranger, the roommate, the best friend, and the bartender to these victims. In fact, we are all strangers, roommates, best friends, and bartenders to these victims of sexual assault. A great portion of sexual assault victims are our fellow millennials — 80% of victims of sexual assault are under the age of 30. In every two minutes, in fact, someone in America gets sexually assaulted. One out of every six American women have reported being victim to either rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. These victims are three times more likely to suffer from depression and four times more likely to commit suicide, according to the World Health Organization.
As bystanders to these sexual assaults and rapes, we can really do something to change these statistics. The Who Are You? video shows us that preventing rape can be as easy as asking someone “Are you okay?”, and gauging their reaction. The effort required to double check the situation is so minimal. It is so much better, too, to be a slight annoyance and to make sure that somebody is safe. No one in the video made a scene, and could only have used up a minute of Emily’s time. One prevented rape, after all, is worth over one million annoyances.
The comments underneath the YouTube video mostly focus on whether Emily or the guy should be responsible for the night’s events. But to focus on this aspect of the video would be entirely missing the point. We shouldn’t point fingers and forget to help people out of traumatizing situations. Prevention is far more important than assigning responsibility in the aftermath. The fact of the matter is, people make mistakes and drink more than they can handle. That does not mean that we should stop trying to prevent them from getting into dangerous situations.