Like many of you, a few days ago I read about the Stanford Rape trial. I remember it clearly, I read the article about it, put aside my phone and shut down. For as long as I could remember I have been writing during the worst of times to survive, but I couldn't write about this, not yet. Over the next couple of days the news carried over me and I found myself hungrily reading everything I could about it. The letter from the victim, the note from the father, everything I could find.
When people heard about this they seemed outraged, it was so obvious how couldn't you be? It was no longer a case of 'rape is drunk girls changing their mind.' This time it was a girl passed out behind a dumpster. She was passed out. It doesn't get any more clear cut than that. But I shut down for a very different reason. I didn't just shut down because of the injustice this young woman has endured, or the outrageous sentence, I shut down because this isn't news to me. I work with sexual assault victims from various places around the world. I see the reality of it every single day. I see the reality and I am constantly told that rape does not exist. And then something like this happens, where people finally see this as it is, but this is one case. I appreciate the outrage, and I love the world a bit more for it, but if 1 in 4 girls are being raped in college and every 107 seconds a sexual assault occurs amounting to nearly 300,000 rapes a year in the US then where are the rest? Where are the rest of the victims? And where are the assailants? Think about it. We are outraged that this man receiving 6 months, but we're not outraged by the fact that 98% of rapists will never see the inside of a prison cell. And so I shut down, and 107 second pass by, again and again, and I can almost feel the men and women suffering in a world that does not hear their pain.
After a few days of letting it sink in and simmer, I am finally ready to talk about it. Had I written about it a few days ago I would've written a massive critique of our society and what the hell we're doing with numbers like these. But today I don't want to focus on society's failures. Today I want to focus on where do we go from here? I think to an extent we agree that victims need more support, even though we're still in denial of this happening which is not very supportive. But we agree, somewhat. I promise I mean well by this, but what about the assailants? Where do we go from here with them?
I'm going to give you a moment to take a deep breathe before continuing. We don't want to think about the assailants. We want them locked up forever or not at all, but either way out of sight, out of our general day to day interactions. We don't want to believe that this is THIS likely. That we need to start having conversations with our sons and daughters as young as... well from the moment they can understand what you're saying at this point because believe or not it can and it does happen to the youngest of children. But my point is that we don't want to think about this. We don't want this to be our reality, even though it already is. 300,000!
The thing is I can sit here and critique our society for our rape culture, for the stigma and for everything else but I don't believe that's enough. I want to hear more from all of you about where we go from here but I believe that one of the things we can do to start is actually naming the problem. Every 107 seconds! That's not a stand alone problem, that's an epidemic. It's a disease so ingrained within our society that we've just learned to live with it. So let's name the root cause of this problem. There's a reason it's primarily males that are committing the sexual assaults against females and other males. There's a reason the rate of violence towards women and other men deemed as weaker is so prevalent within our communities. All of these things share a common root cause, and believe it or not that root cause is Patriarchy. It's great that so many are angry about this, but unless we can start actively working towards ending Patriarchy we will not get anywhere near ending Sexual Assaults or any other forms of violence perpetrated by males. You don't need to be a feminist to see this, and you don't need to be working with victims to believe it. I'm not asking you to go out there and do this work, I am asking you to acknowledge that this exists. The acknowledgment that Patriarchy is causing males to act out in violence is a form of resistance against Patriarchy and this violence on its own!
When we revisit this case and look at the 'harsh' six month long incarceration which will most likely be really three or four, we have to wonder not only how biased our system is to accomplished males, but specifically accomplished white males. Ask yourself would your reaction have been different had the male been brown or black. Truly ask yourself what the verdict would've been for him had he been brown or black. Your acknowledgement that structural racism exists is a form of resistance against it!
But let's get back to that six month sentence. Many, if not most of us are demanding more. We want closer to that 14 year max than one twenty Eighth of it, but now it's time to truly ask ourselves what is the proper punishment? Is it two years? Five years? Ten? Twenty? Life? And is it actually solving anything? If we were to incarcerate every sexual assault perpetrators; the teachers, law enforcement officers, taxi drivers, doctors, Engineers and literally every other profession, both married and unmarried, in urban areas and in cities, neighbors and strangers, but most non-strangers, what kind of world would we live in? If 1 in 4 women are raped in college and 1 in 6 males then I'm afraid we're going to be losing a significant portion of our society. A very large portion. I'm not saying this to say that we shouldn't lock rapists up because our population will significantly drop. No, please go right ahead and use up all the private jail spaces we have and contribute to an already corrupt system. But it's easy to see how our taxes would need to go up to secure funding for something even larger than our current oppressive system of mass incarceration. Regardless, I go back to will we actually solve anything? Again, I am not saying anyone should get off the hook. No, we need stricter sentencing for such a heinous crime, and no one, and I mean no one, regardless of their skin color or achievements should be absolved of such crimes. But time and again we’ve proven that incarceration does not fix anything. So, is there something that we can do at the same time to fix this once and for all? Sure it might take a while but we can get there. Again, I want to hear from you all, but in my humble opinion unless we tackle the systemic problems in place it'll be much more difficult to combat this problem. Some assume that when we speak about systematic oppression we mean to absolve people from their actions. No, we're trying to cure society of these problems. Imagine if every doctor amputated at the first sight of cancer instead of trying to dig deeper? Yes sometimes amputation is the solution but other times digging deeper gives us much better results.
All I ask for is an acknowledgement that these systems exist. The hardest part about supporting any victim of violence regardless of its form is not hearing the stories and actually being there, even though that's not easy. The hardest part is walking everyday around people that don't believe any of this exists. The hardest part is hearing that rape doesn't exist, that systemic oppression is not real, that we made it all up. I'm open to suggestions, these are just my thoughts, but I dare to ask again where do we go from here?
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder and Director of Mental Health for MCL, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events.