In my neighborhood in the ‘70s, we were afraid of two things: 1) Chester the Molester in his white van, and 2) a strip of hedges on the street that ran perpendicular to mine, where our friend’s mom was running and was raped. We joked about white van sightings, and would shout “Run, It’s Chester!” But being pulled into the hedges and raped was no laughing matter.
When I moved to Louisville, my friend K told me never to go to the park in the dark by myself, and never to run past parked cars at night as safety measures. There is a strip of hedges in a valley leading to a steep hill, where I love to run. If it’s dark, I run in the street, and I tell myself my adrenaline will kick in so I can outrun whoever might lurk at any given moment in the hedges, in a parked car or on a trail in the park.
In Kentucky, 47 percent of women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, according to Gretchen Hunt, director of Office of Victim’s Advocacy in the state Attorney General’s Office. One in five Kentucky women have been raped, higher than the national average at 18 percent, according to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hunt said that nationally, 50 percent of victims report their rapes, and nationally three of every 100 rapists serve jail time.
“The other thing people should know is that about 70 percent to 80 percent of people raped know their offender in some way. Perpetrators won’t use violence if they don’t have to, because they often use drugs or alcohol to incapacitate victims,” Hunt said. “What strikes me about the Brock Turner case is we recognize when [perpetrators] intentionally immobilize victims, like a physician who drugs a victim, or an assault on a comatose victim. We get that it’s premeditated or intentional.”
With voluntary alcohol intoxication, though, Hunt said, people don’t seem to realize that “it’s essentially the same thing as immobilization.”
You can’t outrun Brock Turners.
Turner, a Stanford University student and star swimmer, was found guilty March 30 of two counts of penetration and one count of assault with intent to rape. The rape charge was dismissed Oct. 7, 2015, according to ABC News. Two eyewitnesses who were riding bicycles by the scene testified Brock tried to flee, and they held him until police arrived. The woman said in her impact statement to the court:
“The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly. We should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.”
Enter Sara Choate, sexuality educator for UofL Health Promotion Wellbeing Central. “How did we get there?” Choate asked, in response to what will be etched into American history simply as “Brock Turner.” “We have created a culture that eroticizes and glorifies violence because we have allowed porn to be our sex education, with no thoughtful, comprehensive sex education in our schools,” Choate said. “We don’t give children and youth knowledge and skills to negotiate their boundaries and rights effectively. As the pervasiveness of porn takes over and kind of fills a void, the situation becomes more daunting.”
Choate’s office is focused on reducing sexual assault risk through what she calls “primary prevention,” to change rape culture. “I firmly believe we can do that through comprehensive sexuality education,” Choate said. Workshops that Choate gives focus on expanding students’ sense of identity, self-acceptance, accountability, health and inclusivity.
Students and presenters have conversations about values and opinions around sexuality to mitigate and minimize risk of sexual assault, Choate said. Risk management is accomplished, in part, by combining boys and girls in the same groups, rather than separating them, where they would be “taught separate things, and the responsibility to avoid sexual assault is placed on females,” she said.
It is a strategy not lost on Hunt and the Office of the Attorney General. Hunt said, “One of the questions we ask at officer trainings is [to the women] ‘What did you do today to avoid being raped?’ And to the men ‘What did you do today?’” Hunt is quick to point out that sexual assault is not a women’s issue, and one in 16 men were raped in college in 2010, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
Inasmuch as avoidance isn’t the answer, Choate said talking about anything other than how to change rape culture itself is irrelevant. “It’s not an issue of what [a victim] should have done. It’s all symptomatic and shouldn’t be our focus … The issue is what type of culture are we creating? Stop focusing on what we could have done differently. Focus on how to stop it in the first place.”