Too often, when people talk about sexual assault, they talk about the victim in terms of their relation to a man. They mention how the victim is “someone’s daughter” or “someone’s sister,” as if that somehow adds depth to the situation, when in reality it does the exact opposite.
Though, the media is beginning to talk more about rape and sexual assault. Every time I hear about a SlutWalk—a form of protest in which women march dressed as “sluts” in order to bring attention to and fight for an end to rape culture—or see a chalking by Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), I become absolutely elated, because I know that progress is happening. People are beginning to understand the importance of talking about the horrifying things that many people, especially women, experience every day. Experiences that I, and many of my friends, have been through or come close to. But, there is still progress to be made.
One haunting idea that is behind combating sexual assault is that the people who are victimized by another person’s complete selfishness and lack of humanity have some relation to a man. It’s common to hear someone say, “How would you feel if someone talked to your mother like that,” or “That’s someone’s daughter or sister you’re looking at like that.” I have even heard, “Would you want another man looking at your girlfriend that way?” The problem is that this thinking is just as sexist as when police officers saying to a woman who reports her rape right after it happening, “Well, your skirt was pretty short,” or a woman’s friend’s saying “Don’t you think you should have covered up a bit more before going out at night?”
I can see the seemingly positive aspect of this, because it does in fact make the situation more relatable to young men who, fortunately, will probably never know the pain of being a victim of sexual assault. But the harm that this causes in turn ends up being greater than the good it can do in making young men believe that sexual assault is something they should care about.
But this line of thinking belittles the victim—someone who has had their trust, well-being and body violated by another person—by removing them and focusing on the person who has not been harmed. The victim is now the afterthought to their father, brother, husband or boyfriend, because, let’s face it, this other person is frequently male.
This makes it seem as though unless a woman’s problems will directly impact a man, they really do not matter at all. This is extremely damaging and, clearly, it is sexist and wrong.
My personhood is not predicated on my relationship to a man, or anyone else. I am a person whether or not I have a father, brother or boyfriend in my life. No one’s personhood should ever be at risk of being diminished, especially when it comes to something as damaging as sexual assault, by their relationship to another.
The fact that I was sexually assaulted should not matter because I am someone’s daughter, girlfriend or sister—it should matter because I am a person.