He’s a monster, and she asked for it, but let’s not talk about it!

Trigger warning: this story contains explicit details that may be triggering to survivors of sexual and/or violent crimes. Please read with care.

Did you know that the US ranks 13 for rape in the world? According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Rape, incest, and abuse are rampant in our society. These numbers continue to rise because we accept the silence culture, refuse to learn the real facts about rape, and detach ourselves from the issue. We can all participate in preventing sexual crimes by promoting rape literacy, openness, and compassion.

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted

In December of 2011, the FBI finally changed its 85-year-old definition of rape from “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” We are making progress in treating sexual assault as a gender-neutral issue, recognizing that males are also raped, but until we see rape as any unwanted, unconsented sexual act or contact, whether attempted or completed, we fail to grasp the scope of this issue and remain illiterate as a nation. Without an accurate definition of what rape really is, it is difficult to admit you have assaulted someone or to acknowledge you are a victim.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “victim” as “a person who is cheated, fooled, or hurt by another.” Many women and men are reluctant to identify themselves as victims because of the negative connotation it has. At age 19, I became a victim of sexual assault when I was kidnapped and almost killed by a merciless man. When I realized the stigma attached to this experience, I regretted surviving and wished the assailant had been successful in his attempted murder.

Besides the undesirable labels, most victims of sexual crimes face disbelief, blame, and invalidation. This is especially true when victims have engaged in behaviors that may have heightened their vulnerability, such as drinking alcohol or walking alone in a dangerous part of town. The fear of being dismissed, shamed, or blamed is the main reason why rape is the most under-reported crime in the U.S. The NSVRC estimates that 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

The popular notion that victims of sexual crimes must take “personal responsibility” for the inexcusable and almost irreparable pain that was inflicted upon them is not only an uneducated misconception, but also a damaging one. My attack was traumatizing, to say the least, but it was even more denigrating to have to appear in court, face the attacker, and be doubted and questioned as if I had fabricated the assault, or even worse, “asked for it.” While most rape reports are assumed to be untrue and dismissed, in 2012 the NSVRC reported a prevalence of false reporting of only 2.1%.

Victim blaming happens in both subtle and overt ways. Consider an18-year-old victim identified as “Marie” who was bullied by the Lynnwood, Washington Police Department. She was coerced into admitting she lied about being raped in August 2008, and eventually prosecuted for false reporting, facing up to a year in jail. In January of 2011, Marie received the news that pictures were found in attacker Marc O’Leary’s computer, proving her rape indeed happened. No sympathy, apology, or concern was expressed at that time. She simply received a pamphlet with counseling information, along with a $500 refund for court costs. O’Leary pleaded guilty to 28 counts of rape, five of which happened after Marie’s report had been dismissed as a lie.

Though we have much to learn, most of us agree that rape is a monstrous act. However, the mentality that perpetrators are monsters actually propagates rape culture too, because we are less likely to believe that anyone could commit these heinous crimes. We also don’t ask ourselves why. In 2005, serial sex offender Brent Brents was sentenced to 1,509 years in prison for his guilty pleas to 68 counts of rape. In a 2007 interview with National Public Radio (NPR), he shared that his motivation was payback for the physical and sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

We are failing to ask the right questions about rape and choosing to ignore the answers we do have. Most people avoid having a conversation about rape, feel uncomfortable listening to rape remarks or stories, or deny that it happens. The sense of secrecy is triggering to victims, adding unnecessary pain to a perpetually open wound. It also sends a message to people who are deliberately predatory that they will be protected and won’t have to face strict punishment. Openness to discuss rape with children could prevent it from happening or accelerate the healing process, when inevitable. Without well-informed, frank conversations about unconsented sex acts, there cannot be true compassion.

As a victim, I cherish when others genuinely demonstrate empathy, offer support, or provide a safe place for me to express my emotions. Such compassion and non-judgment makes it easier to report, open up, and heal. But, what if we extended compassion to the sex offender? I begged my rapist to stop for four hours and he never did, so I wonder what life he led to numb him so. Brent Brents was called a “punk” and a “monster” until he opened up to reporter Amy Herdy. She promised in a letter to treat him with dignity and respect, which turned out to be all he ever wanted. “There are so many people who could have done something,” he affirmed to NPR. Could it be that the kindness and concern of a neighbor, a teacher, or a simple stranger could have impacted Brent Brents and possibly prevented the crimes he committed? Perpetrators must severely pay for the crime they commit; however, it is imperative that their motivations be heard and studied. We must look to the root and prevent future rapes, rather than focus on what someone could have done differently in an attack that already happened.

According to Dominic Williams, coordinator for convicted sex offenders returning to the community, “Rapists tend to have very low self-worth. They usually have one of two, if not both, of the following major issues: a deep unresolved anger towards women (usually rooted in domestic violence) and a great difficulty establishing relationships (due to having been abused, neglected or abandoned as children).”

Several studies reveal that sexual violence is often a learned behavior in childhood. Rapist motivation has been associated with “childhood environments that are physically violent, emotionally unsupportive, and characterized by competition for scarce resources.” (Crowell NA, Burgess AW (eds.) Understanding violence against women. Washington, DC).

Rape is not “penetration.” Rape is not gender specific. Rape is a tragic act that strips both parties of the possibility of a decent life. Rape is a heartbreaking epidemic you can help prevent as you focus on becoming educated, have the courage to openly speak about sexual crimes, and offer words of kindness to both victims and so called villains. Rapists are not monsters, victims didn’t ask for it – let’s talk about it!

Elayna Fernandez - Author - 
Speaker - Success Guide to Moms and Mompreneurs
© Elayna Fernández ~ The Positive MOM

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13 thoughts on “He’s a monster, and she asked for it, but let’s not talk about it!

  1. This is a balanced article about rape and the victims. I agree, even the rapist are also victims of the situation. These are the people brought about by our society. And yes from the very childhood of an individual training must already start…respect for self and other s and a lot more. So many factors and societal issues that we need to tackle….

  2. Rape is an epidemic and it is not restricted to gender, education, and place. There are predators everywhere and we have to be cautious. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I like the definition you proposed because even an unwanted touch may be considered as rape because it is violating your right to own your body as human being. Since rape is a horrific act which damages both victim and rapist, I also agree with showing compassion for both of them

  4. Too much sadness for all those who experienced this nightmare. I hope you can overcome this soon. Everything will get better.

  5. Such a powerful post! I am so sorry for what you had to go through, and I think it is so important that we continue to talk about this issue openly so we can stop the victim blaming and learn how meet this problem head on.

  6. It is important to spread awareness for victims. Thanks for using your platform to share your story and stop the victim blaming!

  7. Rape is a horrible experience for anyone, whether you are a male or a female. It upset me when I saw a t-shirt in the mall with a print that said, “Its not rape, its a snuggle with a struggle.” That received a lot of protests from parents and the shirts were taken off the shelves. The mall store owner was blamed for even having it in his store. Educating the kids about rape should start at home. We do not only have to teach our daughter how to avoid being raped, we should also teach our sons to avoid doing it.

  8. This is such a nice, well written article or info about rape. It’s a very serious thing that can happen at both gender. A horrible event that must be prevented once and for all.

  9. You are so right! We often see a lot of blame going around when it comes to rape, but it’s also such a taboo topic that most people avoid talking about, because it makes us uncomfortable. We must talk about it, address it and find ways to eliminate these types of attacks by being more open and offer more information to prevent them, but also keep in mind to show empathy for both parties involved. Thanks for raising awareness about this!

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  11. To some extent, public consciousness is raised about this issue, but there still is much ignorance. I have worked in social services agencies for 42 years (I am in my 60’s). I have met child victims who were beaten by their parents for “leading on the abuser” or “telling lies about someone so nice”. I have met high school and college students who dropped out or transferred to escape the rapist, his friends and hostile administrators. I have met rape victims who were dumped by their friends and relatives, fired from their jobs, expelled from their churches and divorced by their husbands. I have heard of women like Marie (the 18 year old from Lynnwood, WA) who relocated to escape harassment and slander. The assault is bad enough, but the secondary wounding in some cases is even worse. Sadly, many victims receive terrible hostility from other women. It’s an old story. Women feel afraid of sexual violence. They deal with their fear by disbelieving or slut shaming victims. They turn their horror and contempt onto the rape victim instead of the rapist. Very sad.

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