Friday, November 7, 2008

Another Banned RedEye column: On sexual assault

This was deemed too "serious" by my editors. Plus, they weren't about to allow me to level my own personal indictment of R. Kelly given that he'd just been acquitted in a court of law. Politics, man.
I was raised, not surprisingly, with a male-centric perspective on sex: get laid if you can, as much as you can.

I think a by-product of that upbringing was a rather skewed perception of sexual assault: As a youngster, I used to think rapists were evil men with no moral code or redeeming social value who resembled guys like Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson.

And when I did hear about rapes in the media, they were distant occurrences; acts toward women in rural areas that I didn’t regard nearly as much as I would the victim of any other violent crime.

Most unfortunately, I’d always cast a shadow of doubt over a victim’s truth-telling when she described her story of being raped.

But with age and experience came enlightenment on the realities of rape and sexual assault.

Offenders went from bearded freaks to famous people I respected, like Mike Tyson and Tupac Shakur. In adulthood they became even more mainstream characters like Michael Jackson, R. Kelly and the occasional Catholic priest.

The victims went from nameless faces on television to those close to me: Friends, girlfriends, relatives and so-forth. The first time I read the statistics - one in six American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to - was a sobering moment.

With it came my “come to Jesus” moment: sexual assault is a bigger problem than many people realize or are willing to accept.

The issue typically evokes three emotions: anger, helplessness and self-reflection.

I’m angry because I want to commit unthinkable acts of violence against the people who‘ve hurt those I love. I feel helpless because I know I can’t.

I can’t do anything about the fact that women I care about have to carry that burden around with them for life. Every sexual experience, every partner, everything…is somehow connected to that negative experience, and I can’t change it.

I stand in self-reflection because I try to figure out in what ways I’ve contributed to what’s really a systemic problem. Obviously, I’m far removed from the idea of ever forcing myself upon someone, but I know that, at least in the past, I have done things to subconsciously contribute to the problem.

When I was in college, I stood outside of a friend’s dorm room, and said something to him along the lines of, “did that exam rape you yesterday?” A woman I knew came outside of her room and asked me not to use that verb in such a cavalier context.

At the time, I was pissed off that someone would try to censor me, but it dawned on me later that she had probably been a victim of sexual assault herself.

And no doubt she was at least close to someone who was assaulted. We all are.

I wonder about the adult material I consume: How much of it actually perpetuates a culture of sexual assault? I don’t personally care for porn that is violent or demeaning to women, but I’ve likely shelled out money for something that indirectly – or directly – supports or promotes sexual assault.

R. Kelly’s acquittal prompted this column: if his video, which clearly depicts an illegal sexual act (yes, I saw it years ago) is not sufficient for a conviction, it simply serves as a reminder that we have such a long way to go.

In the interim, I’m still working to figure out how I can further alter my mentality and behavior to not contribute to the problem.

I suppose I could continue by symbolically ditching my R. Kelly albums.

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