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Rape culture lives in everyone, not just Hollywood bogeymen

They’re not lurking in bushes. We date them, we love them, we coddle them. The Spinoff columnist Felix Desmarais explores why, in a country that doesn’t teach consent, rape culture thrives. Some names have been changed.

Content warning: This post discusses sexual violence and harassment. It may be upsetting to survivors. Please take care. 

I started uni at Victoria in 2007. I was thrilled – away from home, finally (jeez, moooom) – I was raring to go. The famed Big Kumara pub awaited, famous for its cheap shots, sticky vinyl seating and foam parties. The recession wasn’t even a thing yet, I could buy a kilo block of cheese from New World Metro for $5. Nine dollar bottles of wine existed, too – and that was all I needed to get, as they say, #lit.

Having spent the day assembling particle board flat pack furniture, my Mum left for the airport in a taxi, tears streaming down her face, caressing the rear window, a la Philomena. Almost immediately, I got one of those cheap wines and smashed it. I was young and dumb and full of… enthusiasm.

Image: Dan Vostok / Getty

At some point, wobbling around The Big Kumara, I met Bryan. I decided I liked him because he was from Yorkshire, which is where my Mum’s side of the family is from. Whatever gets you off I s’pose, and perhaps the risk of a similar genome was my drug of choice back then.

I took him home to my pine single bed with a foam mattress and we had sex. It was my first time. I left my clutch at the bar that night – I used to like to say that that night I lost my bag, $50, my chewing gum and my virginity.

I don’t make that joke any more – because a year later I realised that Bryan raped me.

The thing is, Bryan was a nice guy. He was sweet and wanted to date me and was otherwise really smitten on me. I doubt he realised that if a girl is as drunk as I was, it’s not right to have sex with her, that that is rape. I think I’d passed out, if I’m honest.

I’ll bet you any amount of money that Bryan still does not, and further, probably would not, believe that he raped me. And that’s the problem.

I started dating another guy a little while later. His name was Andrew. He was a third year and very handsome. I’d had sex with him once and it had been alright. I went home with him one night after already having had sex with him previously. He started touching me, intimating sex. I was too tired and not in the mood.

But I was in his bed. I’d led him on. He pressured me until I just let him.

Another time and another guy, and I was drunk again – probably on a weeknight – as most first-years are. It’s funny, I feel the urge to justify it which just reveals how much I still internalise victim-blaming. No. Like Bryan, Kevin knew I was drunk and no longer able to give consent.

In the morning he got on top of me and I just let him because I knew (subconsciously) that if I said “no” outright, then it would be rape and it would be real. If I just let him, it wasn’t rape, even if I didn’t want to.

In fact, I didn’t even know that it was okay for me to say no. It was a year later, at 20 years old, that I realised I had been raped. I realised I’d blamed myself for those situations where those three people took advantage of me, coerced me, raped me. I’d always said if I was raped that I would press charges – that I would never ever let a bastard do that to me and get away with it. But I didn’t ever do that, because I didn’t know.

I’m gonna say it here, in the hope it reaches one person who doesn’t know:

Rape is “sexual”* contact without consent.

This includes but is not necessarily limited to:

When the person says no
When the person says maybe
When the person says yes but then changes their mind
When the person says no, but when pressured, eventually says yes (this is called coercion)
When a person is so impaired that they cannot give consent – eg drunk, drugged
When a person is dating the other person
When a person is married to the other person
Rape is when you don’t make sure, one fucking hundred percent, that the person consents to having sex with you.

* I say “sexual” in inverted commas because I really hate terms like “sexual” assault. There’s nothing sexual about rape. Sex is great. I’m a big fan. It’s a cool fun thing that can be so lovely and fun. Sex is pleasurable, it’s a leisure pursuit I don’t include on my CV.

Rape is not sex. Rape is violence.

How do we fix this? How do we stop teenage students from saying that it’s cool to have “sex” with someone when they’re drunk or taking inappropriate photos of their teachers? How do we stop Roastbusters? How do we stop the Harvey Weinsteins? How do we prevent that many people in your Facebook newsfeed from having to say “me too”? How do we instill in our children – girls in particular, that they have autonomy over their body, that it’s theirs and only theirs?

We have to change our culture.

If we truly want to end rape culture, this is what we need to do.

  1. Standardise sex education and make it compulsory. (Currently it ain’t, FYI.)
  2. Teach consent as a core part of sex education. Do this before the condoms on bananas thing.  Teach that sex is consensual, safe and sexy.
  3. On that “sexy” thing – promote the idea that sex is about mutual pleasure between two consenting people, multiple consenting people or between one person and a battery powered appliance. Or vegetable/warm apple pie, etc.
  4. Start this, at age appropriate levels, from Year 1.
  5. Reinforce the understanding of rape, consent and pleasure through to Year 13.
  6. Fund programmes during O-Week at universities nationwide that again, reinforce these ideas.

To change the culture, we must start with education.

This article originally appeared as a scene in Felix’s 2015 play about rape culture and sex education, Live Orgy. Read Felix’s monthly Spinoff column on his transition here.


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