Sexually Assaulted: Am I to Blame?
Ask Demetria: Just because you said yes to sex once doesn't mean you gave up your right to say no.
Failure to use "common sense" can leave a woman open to being blamed for enticing her attacker. When I was assaulted in 2002 by a long-term mentor and man whom I trusted unconditionally, it was my own father who blamed me for it, saying that by going out to celebrate my move to New York and having too many drinks, I should "look in the mirror, and the person you see there is the one that is at fault." It took the explanations and careful understanding of several close, well-intentioned male friends to convince me that my father was wrong.
Of course, that line of thinking doesn't just belong to him. When it comes to female-male interpersonal relationships, culturally we let men off the hook for nearly everything. So goes popular thinking: If 42 percent of black women don't get married, it's because something is wrong with women, not because men aren't asking or stepping up. If a relationship ends, it's automatically the woman's fault for being unable to keep a man; nothing is said about what he could have contributed or done better.
If a mother raises a child alone, then it's her fault for not picking a mate who would stay -- not the man's shortcoming for abandoning his child. If that child turns out to be a degenerate, it's because the mother raised him that way, not because the father didn't participate in the child's upbringing. If a woman is abused by her partner, it's her fault for not leaving, not his for hitting. If a woman is raped, it's her fault for drinking, dressing too sexy or lapsing in protecting herself from predators who often start out as potential partners. See a theme here yet?
America doesn't like to admit it, but we live in a rape culture, one in which men's dominance and aggressiveness are celebrated outside and inside the bedroom, and one in which women's passiveness is applauded as more feminine. We've given men carte blanche to have their needs met and made women feel guilty for asserting themselves or denying male desire.
Along those same lines, we've put the onus on women to prevent rape, not on men not to assault, attack or force themselves on women. The best-intentioned activists call for increased male awareness of rape, programs that teach "no means no," but even that falls short.
A clear understanding of consensual sex by both parties should not be based on a woman not objecting but rather on her offering an enthusiastic "Yes!" that lets her partner know it's OK to proceed with the desired course of action. Anything less will do little to change the current rape culture or the alarming rape statistics.
Chin up, N.H. Become a survivor, not a victim.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.