On November 14th, I had the pleasure of sitting in on the second monthly discussion hosted by Melanin Uprising a youth-led collective formed out of Black Lives Matter D.C. on a mission to create a safe, positive healing space for Black youth. It is led by Black youth for Black youth! This month’s discussion was entitled Challenging Rape Culture “What is Consent?” It was a great group of young activists and mentors who came together to talk about what consent really is and the pervasiveness of rape culture in our society.
While there, some of the students present shared stories of instances of rape culture in their own communities. For those who are unaware, rape culture includes “victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, [and] refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by some forms of sexual violence” A well known instance, that was similar to the ones shared by students, happened where an entire community turned against the victim and protected the rapist. The incident described is the Steubenville rape case which is a prime example of our inherent need to place blame on everyone but the aggressor. This mindset is harmful to victims of rape and society as a whole. Hostile backlash from the community and society is the leading reason that most rapes go unreported as well. We should not be silencing rape victims but instead uplifting them so they feel safe enough to speak out about their experience and accuse their rapist without hostility from their peers or the media.
I believe that honest, fair, and equal sexual education needs to be taught to boys and girls in our public school systems. Sexual education encompasses “sexual development, sexual and reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles.” With this type of sexual education in our public school’s, societal attitudes towards survivors of rape will begin to change. I received this type of education all throughout my secondary education and I can attribute that education to my ability to resist the harmful victim-blaming nature of rape culture and rape culture itself. This was not, however, an immediate realization but one that had to be learned through workshops, open discussions in safe spaces, and honest conversations in my community. This reconditioning will not happen overnight, but should be implemented into public school systems where their sexual education reaches the bare minimum and usually only focuses on sexual intercourse alone. Moreover, the way in which we teach students to approach sexual intercourse, especially women, contributes a lot to the stigma around rape and sexual violence.
I was honored to hear from all who participated in the discussion and shared anecdotes of their own experiences because it gave everyone the opportunity to hear many different perspectives. But what this meeting also did was bring people together. I felt closer to the people in the room than I had when I entered because of the enriching conversation that took place and safe atmosphere provided. We discussed not only rape culture and consent but dress codes in public schools, if men could be victims of rape, street harassment, and much more. All of these topics brought about different personal stories and viewpoints that aided in our learning and worldview. It was truly a pleasure to listen to our Black youth speak on such important issues affecting not only their communities but society overall. I look forward to attending next month’s discussion as well!