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Second– Of Rape Culture and Us.

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So. I’m hoping that before you read this, you’ll go back and read that letter from Bill Zeller. And then maybe read it again. Because what should stand out in that letter is this:

In all his 22 years of life, Bill Zeller apparently didn’t hear often or sincerely that when someone is raped, it is not their fault. And not hearing that, in conjunction with hearing probably hundreds, if not thousands, of casual rape jokes, of skeptical head tilting eyes narrowed interrogation of victims by the media and by their friends and families, of all the ways that culture conspires to silence, to abnegate, to pretend that it doesn’t happen, made him feel like he couldn’t seek help.

And that, in combination with the way that we talk about victims as broken, as used, as damaged, as permanently fucked up, and not as courageous survivors, well. That takes away their agency and their dignity again. Victims should be allowed to feel what they feel, and if they feel broken and damaged and fucked up, that is part of their process for working through the trauma and thats ok. What is NOT ok is for us, we society, we friends and family, to pressure them to feel this by the way we talk to them and treat them.

Compassion and empathy. Not pity.

And ask yourself– when was the last time, outside of the feminist blogosphere that you heard lots of people say unequivocally and sincerely that It Is Never the Victim’s Fault.


No matter what. No matter what they wore, what they drank, where they went, who they let in, what other sexual activity they engaged in. No matter what.

I don’t think that one person could have prevented Bill Zeller’s death. Maybe nothing could have, I don’t know. But I feel very strongly that the darkness he was carrying is the darkness of our cultural narrative about rape as much as it was his own trauma. I believe that he had good reason not to trust people. I believe that that is the most infuriating and awful and sad thing in the world.

Someone you know has been raped. If they have never told you, that is a reflection on you.

I hope that Zeller’s darkness has let him go. I believe it has. But I think that we are carrying a little bit of it, all of us.

Because we need to stand up together and say, loudly– “It’s not her fault. It’s not his fault. It’s never, ever, EVER the victims fault. The victim is not forever damaged, the rapist NEVER has that kind of power, and doesn’t deserve it.”

Some people will never believe this. Some people will continue trying to rape apologize and victim blame. Fuck them. I’m not worried about them.

I’m worried about the rest of us, the ones that are on the fence, that think that victims are maybe sometimes a little culpable in their own rape. The ones that are confused by all the hate that gets spewed from the rape apologizers. The ones that, for politeness sake, for the sake of smoothing feathers, for the sake of seeming “fair and balanced” don’t call it out. I want them to read Bill Zeller’s letter and think about what it really means to silence the suffering.

And then I want all of us to stand the fuck up and say “It’s not your fault.” If someone trusts you enough to tell you about their rape, that is what you say. You don’t question what they should have done or did or didn’t do or whether they should prosecute or if they’re telling the truth or how bad it really was. You just listen. And you say “It’s not your fault.”

And you honor and respect their request for secrecy, you honor and respect their own agency in dealing with their rape. You honor and respect that this is their trauma, and negotiating it is up to them. You don’t have to agree with what every survivor does or thinks, but it’s not up to you to decide on their behalf who should know.

If you are a man and it’s your sister/mother/daughter/wife/girlfriend/friend– don’t make her rape about you, it’s ok if you feel angry, it’s ok if you feel like hunting the rapist down, but keep it to yourself. Because you know what? Those feelings are about you, and your own perception of your role as protector, not about her. And this is her trauma. Not yours. So you just swallow it down, just shut it off and focus on being there and listening and say as many times as she needs to hear it, “It’s is not your fault.” Because I promise you, victims have internalized every fucked up bullshit rape apology you can imagine and some that you don’t want to.

So be there for them and put your own masculinity shit aside.

And for women– don’t laugh about the idea of a man being raped. It’s not funny, it’s not impossible. Understand that there is a particularly awful kind of shame built into the construction of masculinity, and that when a man or boy is raped, it comes into full play. Rape happens to women overwhelmingly more often than it happens to men. Rape happens to transpeople overwhelmingly more often than anyone else, actually. This isn’t the oppression olympics, so don’t play that game. That doesn’t mean we have to entertain bullshit derailments when women are discussing their rapes or living in a misogynist rape culture, and this isn’t a what about the menz! moment. It’s a call to compassion.

And to all of us– when someone makes a rape joke, don’t laugh. And when your friends are talking about another high profile rape case and buying into the victim blaming, you fucking remind them– “It’s not the victims fault. And this kind of talk has life or death consequences for victims.”

And mean it. God damned well mean it.

The “it gets better” campaign has been really important in reaching out LGBTIQ people who are being bullied to death. I’d like to see a similar campaign to tell rape survivors “It’s not your fault.”

Because they are being joked, and blamed, and pitied, and ignored, and disbelieved, and silenced to death.




About Pepper

Pepper Lee Hales is a twenty something, married, vicious feminist liberal. She likes dogs, cats, spiders, epistemics and cake.

3 responses »

  1. I honestly don’t know what to say because I cannot possibly add to this.

    When one of the women on my Friends Who Were Raped List told me she was raped, twice, she did with a straight face. I told her it wasn’t her fault that he drugged her. She said she knew that. I told her it wasn’t her fault that the other guy hounded her until she “agreed” to have sex with him. So he would leave her alone.

    She didn’t answer. She just looked at me, with a straight face.

    “Hey. It’s. Not. Your. Fault.”

    And then. She cried. And so did I.

  2. Thanks very much. I really really hope that Bill’s letter gets reposted all over the place, because I feel that it pretty much sums up everything that needs to change about our cultural conversation around rape.

    When I was younger, and friends told me about their rapes, I didn’t know how to be supportive, I didn’t know how to just STFU and listen and just say “it’s not your fault.”

    I really regret that, and so if people want to repost this piece, I am ok with that, because it would have really helped me to know how to react.

    But. Yeah. Within my own family, sexual assault has taken a huge toll, as it has within my circle of friends, and it’s just a travesty that they aren’t hearing enough or anything in the mainstream that challenges the rape apologia and victim blaming.

    Because unless we can get past victim blaming, I don’t think we can expect the legal system to deliver. Basically, the legal system is going to reflect how we as a culture feel about rape, which it’s doing now, and boy is it shitty. So we have to change the conversation from the bottom up.

    I feel like I’m always on my god damned soap box, but I know too many people who have been silenced and carry around all of our collective cultural shit and we fucking owe them.

  3. One of the things you really brought into focus was the fact that we reinforce victims as damaged instead of victims as survivors. I did not clearly see this, and while I still struggle, in my own head, against thoughts like “well, that is HORRIBLE – how CAN you ever recover from that???” I think I’d prefer not to decide someone can’t recover, and decide they can. Really, it’s not up to me, and I can’t possibly fathom another person’s experiences, but which would I rather be? Someone who says “oh yeah you are broken, huh” or someone who says “you can heal.” Really?

    I am gonna have to write another post about this. Even if all the dating peeps don’t really respond. Whatevs. They still read it.


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