We asked the University’s health center director to pour out his heart about why America is a rape culture. He did so with an articulate rage that will make you weep.
A hall director answers the latenight knock at her door. A young woman is standing there barefoot, wearing sweatpants and a hoody. She is staring at the floor. The hall director senses trouble and steps out and gently scoops this holy child out of the hallway and into the room. The girl slowly tells her director that she has been raped. She was at a party the night before, and she doesn’t remember anything after a certain point, but this morning she noticed and felt certain things, and found evidence on her body, and she has spent the whole day weeping and vomiting and falling asleep exhausted and waking up only to cry again.
Help me, she says to the hall director. Help me.
She says she is furious at the young man who tricked and drugged and raped her, and she is furious at herself for trusting him, and she feels guilty and ashamed, and she’s confused and exhausted and so, so sad—not just for herself but for her poor parents, my poor parents! She feels violated and exploited and stupid and a failure and she cries and cries and cries.
And the hall director helps her. She listens and believes. She gently walks the young woman through her options for medical evaluation, safety, protection, and if she wants, the pursuit of justice.
Most rapes are inflicted on children under the age of 18. The second-most rapes are inflicted upon girls and young women from ages 18 to 26. The source for these numbers? The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In The Beacon student newspaper’s third issue of the 2014-2015 academic year, a brave student named Malika Andrews, wrote an essay about being raped at the age of twelve. “One in six,” began her essay. “One in six. That’s the number of women who will be raped. One in six. I was twelve years old when I became that one. Was it my fault? Absolutely not, but that did not stop me from stewing in selfhatred. I fell into silence for years. Years. Here at the University the administration does a good job of rape awareness and prevention, but where is the student voice? Rape occurs everywhere. Rape occurs here. Who are we to be ignorant of an epidemic that plagues the nation and the world? Who are we not to stand up and take responsibility for the safety of the students on the campus we call home? Did you think rape doesn’t happen here? That’s a lie. Rape is real and rape is everywhere. Silence is the enemy. Silence allows horrific acts to continue. Silence is what causes survivors to feel alone. I am here to tell you, my friend, that you are not alone. Speak up!”
Most of us simply cannot comprehend that there are boys and men among us who become angry enough, insecure enough, detached enough, entitled enough, that they convert holy human life into a target to be dominated, and wounded, and humiliated in the most powerfully intimate manner: rape. Rape is murder of humanity; rape is power and control; rape refuses to admit that a girl, a woman, a boy, or another man is a human being, an aspect of God, breathed into life by that which we call God. Rape is dehumanization. Another tool of dehumanization is a word that reduces a person to a thing, an idea, a non-entity. Think about that when you hear someone say that someone else is a monster, a slut, a tramp, a whore, a loser, a dolt, a pig. The Nazis knew this well; it’s much easier to rape and murder people if you can convince yourself they are not people at all.
In the course of my career as a psychologist I have worked in counseling and health centers at two Catholic universities. I have also worked in jails, community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, and private practices. Across all those settings I have worked with sex offenders, child and adult survivors of sexual assault or abuse, parents who have lost their children due to selling their children for sex in exchange for drugs, single mothers whose boyfriends have used the children for prostitution and rape. I have provided mental health counseling for strippers, pimps, and prostitutes. I have worked with the Title IX system for the University of Portland. I have supervised multiple revisions of our sexual assault advocate networks on The Bluff. I have heard stories that would give you nightmares for the rest of your life; some of them have done so to me. It’s a hazard of my vocation. When truly present with someone in his or her painful, scorching story, you get burned, too, a little.
You can just begin to imagine the awful dreams of millions of people who have survived rapes and molestations. You can just begin to imagine their nightmares. Imagine living the rest of your life afraid to sleep, for fear of the horrors that await you there.
I had given a presentation about rates of sexual violence at the University to a group of student affairs professionals. At lunch a fellow administrator asked me what I had been doing that morning. I said that I had been talking about sexual assaults among our students. The man who had asked me the question leaned toward me in clear distress and said “We don’t have sexual violence in our community, do we?” I had to lean toward him and say sadly, “Yes, yes we do, far more often than anyone wishes to talk about or realize.” It seemed to me that he was angry with me, the messenger; or maybe he was outraged that those in our care have been subject to harm. I should have asked him, but I didn’t.
I met a woman once who told me she was attacked at a student party in the 1950s. She was twenty years old then. She started therapy finally decades later, after her husband, standing behind her, surprised her with a hug, and she grabbed a knife and brandished it at him. Slowly it came out that she had lived with fear and darkness for decades not only because of the rape, but because she had never reported it to the police, and was racked with guilt that her rapist probably attacked many more women. She could not forgive herself for not protecting those women. She died unable to forgive herself for that.
It is commonly thought that a rape involves a random stranger, an attack in a dark alley, a shrouded jogging path, a bad part of town, rather than a noisy house party or a quiet dorm room. If you stay away from strangers, you are safe. If you always have a jogging buddy, you are safe. If you are male, you are safe.
But those rapes are a fraction of total rapes. Most rapes are perpetrated by known and trusted family members, boyfriends, in-laws, neighbors, and acquaintances. And they also are sometimes perpetrated by women against women, and women against boys, and women against men. Less common but true, and the key variable is the power difference between two human beings.
A student brags to his buddies that he makes his girlfriend do what he wants. His friends snicker. But a guy from Corrado Hall says, “Hey, man, if you say anything like that again, I am going to tell your girlfriend, and if I see anything like that, I am going to tell everyone there is. You hear me?” Silence.
A little thing, isn’t it? A little moment, a stray moment. One remark and then another, so easily forgotten. But that student told me, and I tell you, and the more people who stand up suddenly like the young man from Corrado, who knows?
We are truly, I say to you, steeped in a rape culture. Our culture overtly depicts and celebrates the act of forcing sexual will upon another person. Our culture is blasé about prostitution. Mothers complain about the difficulty in finding clothes for their little girls that are not sexually suggestive. Our culture buys and sells and casually discusses music lyrics that celebrate rape, and advertising that objectifies women. Our culture is twisted up with pornography, the largest money tree on the Internet. Our culture adores macho men who take what they want, be it land or money or sex. Our culture adores power and domination. It appears our culture cannot be bothered to be honest about rape, or prosecute it without exposing the victim to abuse, or even admit that one in four women will face rape, and one in six college girls, and one in ten boys. Our culture doesn’t stare at the previous sentence and weep in shame.
Our culture is also confused because young people hear that they should be free to “hook up” with people they don’t know, and feel free, or even be expected, to drink alcohol to the point of poisoning. When I was assisting with psychological evaluations of inmates in jail I learned that many referred to colleges as ‘candy stores’ for exactly this combination of expectations and alcohol. They thought of drunk girls and young women stumbling along the streets of college towns as easy pickings.
In recent years, girls and women, on average, drink alcohol more heavily than they did in the past. Women suffer much more physiological and cognitive incapacitation with alcohol than do men. (It’s a biological thing). This creates more vulnerable targets for predators. This is not victim- blaming; this is me telling you coldly that many times women in a sufficient drunken state are legally unable to give consent to any action, and unable to defend themselves. Sexual intercourse without consent is defined by most laws as rape. So drunken sexual intercourse becomes, arguably, rape. Even if there is no evidence of coercion or manipulation or force or threat, it is rape by virtue of sex with an incapacitated person. But what if the partner was impaired also, and cannot accurately judge the level of impairment?
So colleges are left to sort out, in investigations, timelines for how many drinks, and who offered them to whom, and how was sex discussed, if at all, and whether they even knew each other’s names, and what was done to whom, in what order, initiated by whom. If you think this sort of thing is rare you are mistaken. And no matter what the conclusion of the investigation, the damage to self- images, to friend networks, to memories of the college years, is permanently already done.
We fight rape here at the University as hard and thoroughly and energetically and creatively as we possibly can. I believe that with all my heart. We do everything we can think of to make people aware, to be tender and sensitive to victims, to bring justice against criminals, to foment awareness and the courage to intervene. But there’s that cute guy she just met, who seems so sweet, and there are those guys who are just so friendly, and there are parties, Halloween parties, spring break parties, end-of-year parties, proms, taverns, bars at home and abroad, weekend camping trips, parties everywhere and anywhere. And almost always present, before and during a rape: alcohol.
I can give you numbers but I won’t. I don’t want a single soul to be tempted to say that we are not as bad as elsewhere. I will tell you that our number is not zero, which means there are far far far too many rapes here. One is too many. The only acceptable number is zero. I get furious about this. Many people here get furious about this. Male and female, staff and faculty, students and regents, alumni and friends. One is too many. One is a girl, a child, a boy, a child. Want me to make it real, right here in this sentence? A while ago a dad came to campus to pack up his daughter’s dorm room because she was raped and can’t stand to be on our campus. His little daughter, the kid he has loved with his whole heart and soul all her life. His baby girl. Your baby girl. Mine. Ours.
On dark days, I remember that hundreds of people here have stepped forward in hundreds of ways to try to prevent rape. Hundreds. Hundreds of people are trying to create an environment here that does not allow perpetrators to hide, or deflect, or plot, or isolate their targets. Hundreds of people keeping our eyes and ears open, and recruiting more eyes and ears, and trying to bend the public conversation toward honesty about rape and power and greed and cynicism and money and lies and justice and mercy.
Four years ago we started our Green Dot program here at the University. We joined a lot of other campuses who have Green Dot programs. Green Dot is essentially a ferocious effort to get everyone on campus to pay attention to the possibilities of rape and to stand up and stop it. The principle comes from crime maps, where red dots mark bad events. On our maps green dots mark spots on campus where bad events are prevented. To cover the campus with green dots we train students and faculty and staff to be aware, to recognize, and to disrupt possible scenarios for rape, possible rapes, jokes about rape, slurs about rape, everything about rape. In the years since we have installed the program, our campus map is covered with green dots, which is good; but it’s not awash with green dots, yet.
This sounds like officious nonsense but it isn’t. Here’s a Green Dot story. Before a male student went to a party, he donned a Green Dot wristband to remind himself to be alert to anyone who might become vulnerable, become a target for a predator. Later that evening he’s having a great time but also casually keeping track of who is the most vulnerable partygoer due to drink. Late in the evening he notices a man at the party who seems quite sober and focused. This man doesn’t seem to know anyone at the party but he scans the attendees and soon befriends the most inebriated young woman; indeed he seems to be leading her out of the party. Our student with the wristband slides over and makes an excuse and separates the girl from the stranger and escorts her to female friends who take her home and put her to bed. Our male student didn’t figure someone else would take care of it. He didn’t sneer at the girl for getting drunk. He took care of what he saw might be a serious problem. No confrontation, no fanfare, no reward. Did his actions prevent a rape? Perhaps, perhaps not. Did he reduce the possibility with a quiet, brave act? Yes, he did. That’s Green Dot.
I set out to write about rape at the University of Portland and I found myself writing about a country of rape, a culture of rape, distortions and delusions everywhere. But every time I came close to despair over its insidious prevalence I remembered how many people I know who are not in denial, who hate this crime, who are fighting it with all their might. It is a crime of violence and leering power and control and if we root it out, when we root it out, we will be a better university and better country and a better people.
I know so many men and women who are so graceful and brave and vivacious and tenacious in their public lives, and you would never imagine that they had been drugged, or bribed, or tricked, or overpowered, or beaten, and then raped, sometimes for years. So many. Whenever I hear the word grace I think of them first. How can people survive such horrors? Yet some do, with what we can only call amazing grace.
But so many do not, and they fall into drugs and alcohol and crime and disease and early death, and it was not their fault, it was never their fault, their lives were stolen from them by rapists.
My son works with the homeless in downtown Portland. He gives them a shot at housing and job-training and medication. So many of the folks he serves every day are souls blasted apart by rape. At Saint Andre Bessette Parish downtown, near where my son works, where so very many University students and alumni and Holy Cross priests and brothers have served the poor and homeless, the pastor told me once that 75% of the men and 100% of the women who came there for meals and respite had been sexually assaulted.Every single woman who walked through the lunchroom door.
When I worked at the Delaunay Mental Health Center, named for the legendary University professor Father John Delaunay, C.S.C., we found that 70% of our clients had been raped or assaulted, or seen rape and assault as children.
What stays in my mind is the realization that those atrocities created diagnoses that could be traced to their terrible struggles to cope: depression, anxiety, stress disorders, compulsive behaviors, dissociative disorders. These afflictions were not natural, not genetic, not accidents: they were the result of inhumanity perpetrated by one being against a helpless other.
Each being is sacred! Each being is God’s own child! We have a duty to protect and support and care for God’s children! We say we will do this in so many ways, in so many venues, in so many aspects of our lives, but as a community we do not do it as thoroughly and furiously as we could. We don’t. Can we?
It is the great Oregon visionary Barry Lopez, to whom the University of Portland gave an honorary doctorate celebrating his reverence and work for others, who has said repeatedly that ours is a rape culture, and we should weep for shame. He’s right. Rape is woven into video games and pop music, in movies and in advertising. She really wanted it. Her no really meant yes. She enjoyed it. He needs to just take what he wants because he’s a man’s man. Boys will be boys, no one made her drink, she led him on…Lies! Lies! Lies! Stare at the horrifying numbers with me again—most rapes are committed against children and girls. Children and girls! I weep for shame.
Even as I wrote this piece I remembered so many stories from friends, classmates, neighbors, and parishioners about boys molested on Scout campouts, and by priests from my own parish as a boy, and by a local high school teacher, and by a grade school teacher, and by babysitters on their young charges, and on and on. What I also recall is we kids knew about this in some odd way, and we did nothing. I did nothing. I was ignorant and powerless then, and later I thought I should not speak because it was not my life to speak of. But it is part of my life. I knew them and knew the story and I said nothing. How many of you have been in the same quandary?
As a psychologist I have conducted psychological evaluations of sex offenders, and evaluated child, adolescent, and adult survivors of rape and inexplicable forms of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse and assault. I have read police reports and listened to first-hand accounts that still give me nightmares. So many of the sex offenders I interviewed or tested blamed the child, or blamed the teenager for being seductive, or claimed that the victimcontrolled the act—if they admitted that anything happened at all. Their version of the events was a complete reversal from what the documented facts were for each situation. A four-year-old seductress? Your son or daughter wanted to be sold for sex? I saw such rigid denial that they would not even engage or entertain the evidence.
But there was always, always, rational and calculating planning and anticipation and manipu-lation, which would then be split off and dissociated in an act of self-protection when the perpetrator was actually witnessed or reported. The lesson I never forgot: we need to create a community in which threats that no one will believe you have no power because we will believe. Can we do that?
There are a number of reasons to admire the University’s soccer teams, but here’s one: both the men’s and the women’s teams have made videos promoting Green Dot, and many players in the past have trained to be campus Green Dot leaders, and this year all the players on both teams trained to be Green Dot leaders. Now that is a reason to be a Pilot soccer fan.
Want to never get raped? Want to be sure your children never get raped? Tell yourself this, tell them this: Don’t trust anyone, particularly those held in high esteem by those you trust. Don’t be alone with anyone. Don’t ever be intoxicated. Be as unapproachable as you can. Don’t be a child. Don’t be nice or shy or appear vulnerable. And don’t expect justice or fairness. This is the world we live in. Is this the world we want to live in?
I was on a morning walk the other day and I noticed my aged neighbor carried a rape whistle when she walks in our gorgeous Portland neighborhood. My own mother kept a can of mace on her key chain. Growing up I took it for granted that my mom kept a can of mace in her purse in case of a rapist in a parking lot. That’s just what people did and do, I figured. How sad is that? How sad is that?
I once had a client in my private practice who spoke to me for months before she disclosed that her father sold her as a sex slave for several years, beginning when she was twelve years old. When I spoke to her she was sixty years old and had spent her life alone and in terrible darkness. But she was a woman of remarkable spirit, and she was finally clean and sober, and she finally began to date, for the first time in her whole life, in the last year before she died. There’s always hope.
I think of all the people who have worked so hard, so passionately, and so ferociously against rape on our campus. A philosophy professor. A chef. A shy priest. A soccer coach. A sociology professor. Two mathematics professors. An athletics advisor. An attorney. A campus policeman. A poetry professor. A former Army colonel. A campus ministry staffer. All over the map. Every corner of the campus. Residence hall staff. Student affairs staff. The brave student who wrote about her own rape in the pages of The Beacon. So many more. So very many people. Not just the official people, the ones who are assigned the task, but everyone, from all over. That makes me happy.
In the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the Catholic order of priests and brothers who have been part of the University since the morning it opened, they proclaim: “The mission is not simple, for the impoverishments we would relieve are not simple. There are networks of privilege, prejudice, and power so commonplace that often neither oppressor nor victims are aware of them. We must be aware and also understanding by reason of fellowship with the impoverished and by reason of patient learning. For the kingdom to come in this world, disciples must have the competence to see and the courage to act.” Amen to that.
What form of relationship would have a chance to be so transformative that sexual assault is not an option for the broken and angry among us? What sort of relationship would steal the distorted motives and worldviews of rapists, so that no one could fail to recognize another being’s sacredness? Isn’t love the only answer here? A loving relationship that is honest and direct, that sees the whole person, not a caricature; evil has no chance when faced with a whole person. What an extraordinary charge, to bring that love to bear…and isn’t that what the University of Portland is about, down deep? Bringing love to bear?
I don’t have a great ending for this essay. I don’t have any rage and tears left in me here at the end. I am begging you to help save our children. I am begging you. Help save our girls and young women and boys, and yes our men. Help save every fourth female you meet and every seventh male. Help me. Please, help me. Let us join together and increase our ability to see; and let us pray for courage to act.