Not being a rapist isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to distinguish you from a rape-enabling culture. It isn’t enough to ensure that we create a violence-free future, a world where no one has to fear sexual violence. We all have a greater responsibility than simply not committing crime. Each one of us is both an expression of the world we live in and a formative influence upon what the world will become. What we do matters. The choices we make, the attitudes we hold, the beliefs we act upon, the actions we carry out, the words we speak – thus, we make and remake the world, in a never-ending process. Each moment therefore has the potential to simply repeat the past or to invent the future.
Rape has been around forever. From the the myth of Leda and the swan to the rape of the Sabine women, rape has been handed down with our cultural heritage, normalised and banalized, for millennia. Focussing on the perpetrator’s perspective, the woman as object to be claimed or possessed and, inevitably, always accompanied by some element of doubt as to whether the act ‘really’ constituted ‘rape’, it is not hard to see from these tales why we have so resolutely failed to deal with rape effectively as a community for so long. But it doesn’t have to be this way. At least, not any longer.
We don’t have to repeat the past. We don’t have to play out the same old myths with their same old false moves. We don’t have to fall into the same traps, continue in the rut we’ve been in for far too long. We know better. We always have. And we can make the difference. It’s up to us. We can choose to follow our ethics, let our egalitarian sense lead us, be guided by our compassion to find a better way of responding to rape. For decades now we have talked the talk, internationally, about human rights and democracy, about equality and justice, a grand vision of a world of safety and opportunity for each and everyone of us. What will it take for us to walk the walk, too?
This is what the 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence is all about. Getting us to see how our cultural heritage, our ingrained and inherited attitudes and beliefs, are permitting us to recreate, decade after decade, century after century, a world of sexual violence, gender inequality and permission to rape. How generation after generation we are failing to find ways to respond to rape appropriately, ways to support victims, to prosecute perpetrators and to educate our children in healthy, consensual, respectful relationships. Rape is a man-made problem. This is what makes it simultaneously devastating and hopeful. It doesn’t have to happen. So, it never should. Which makes every single instance of it an unmitigated travesty but equally means, it could stop today.
Rape will stop when each one of us makes the decision to embody a rape-disabling culture; to carry out and model respectful relationships, to value respect and choice and the equal rights of all, to never, ever mock or diminish rape and the current, very real, savage and devastating impacts it has upon our society, to find ways to speak up and speak out for a better world, a safe, violence-free world, where sex is an act of pleasure and responsibility and is never a crime. Once we choose to be aware, to acknowledge, how rape has come to be so rampant and so poorly dealt with, we can start to remedy it. Once we understand how our relationships and the way we carry them out – both publicly and in private – matter, how they create gender relations and can build equality or inequality, respect or disrespect, safety or danger, real change will start to happen. Once we see, each and everyone of us, the part we have to play in the solution, and we make the choice to accept that responsibility and to live up to it, the solution will begin to manifest.
And then, we will look back, and wonder in incredulity – what took us so long?
A rape-free future is right there in front of us – the emerald city is sparkling on the horizon, to get there all we have to do is open our eyes and see what’s been there all along. The truth and the solution.