Friends Don’t Let Friends Rape

I read this excellent piece on the arrogance of Steubenville, and while everyone should leave my blog and read the article, please come back to discuss the quote that stood out to me. (Parts of the quote are graphic and could be triggering)

At one point of the night of the incident, Westlake, who was sober, determined that his friend Mark Cole was too drunk to make a 10-minute drive home. At first, Cole refused to turn over his keys, claiming he could operate his Volkswagen Jetta just fine. Westlake was undeterred, though, eventually “tricking” Cole by waiting for him to relax and then forcibly seizing the keys.

Yet maybe a half-hour later, Westlake walked in on the girl, sprawled out naked in the middle of a basement floor. To her side was Mays, exposed and slapping his penis on the girl’s hip. Behind her was Richmond, who, Westlake said, was violating her with two fingers.

Westlake said goodbye to the guys and kept walking. A good friend with his eye on the safety of others just minutes before was suddenly unaware or unsure of what to do — or simply uncaring enough to do anything at all.

“Something has gotten in there that said, ‘OK, we need to prevent drinking and driving,’ ” Hanna [statewide director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence] said. “We need to take it to that level with preventing sexual assault.”

While so many aspects of of the Steubenville case are horrifying, the fact is rape and sexual assault occurs much too often in this country. Every 2 minutes someone in the U.S. in sexually assaulted. (source) How many of those victims weren’t helped by bystanders?

Friends don’t let friends rape.

I said no to an acquaintance who was attempting to take home my drunk friend and was told that I had the problem. I got laughed off by both, but I stood my ground and told him that he’s welcome to call her tomorrow. I’ve never thought that I was helping out the guy because I think any guy, who is sober enough to drive, taking home a woman, who is not sober enough to drive and didn’t come with him to the party, is gross. However, maybe I was.

A friend walked into a situation similar to the scene depicted in the quote and took the woman out as he yelled at the guys. He called me to walk the woman back to her dorm room, and I did. The following day, I checked in on her and offered my support for whatever she wanted to do. I didn’t give a crap about those two men from the party, but in focusing on helping her and putting the shame on them, maybe we did.

I was 22 and 19, respectively. I had people around me who cared about women’s rights, and I knew the consequences of rape so I was more supported and strengthened in my resolve. However, these weren’t the simple situations that classrooms, books and protests make them out to be. I didn’t feel particularly confident. It still feels awkward calling people out even on mundane issue. But it can also be life-changing and any friend on any side of the Steubenville rape case can see now.

Rape prevention is not going to start with women carrying guns or wearing longer dresses or the removal of football programs. It’s going to start with the idea that sexual assault is so commonplace each of us will have an opportunity to prevent it. Do we have the resolve to be that friend? Like taking away the keys of a drunk to not only save the driver’s life, but the lives of all those on the road, we have to protect those around us. The culture of driving drunk changed as more people stood up in basements and barrooms and demanded the keys. Each time we say, “That’s not okay,” people hear it and believe it.

Putting aside the Steubenville case, it’s easy to throw up our hands and say good men don’t rape and bad men do rape so there’s no point in speaking up unless it’s to arrest bad men. However, studies have shown that many boys and men fall into grayer area with misconceptions about women and a high acceptance of rape myth. And they are our friends and acquaintances whether we want to see it or not since over 1/3 of college-aged men admit to some degree of likelihood they would rape a woman if they wouldn’t get in trouble. (source) Are we going to assume that 35% of men should be in jail? Or do we, men and women, believe that through education, speaking out and stepping in, we are teaching what is acceptable, and in turn, reshape these men? This is how cultures become safer and healthier for everyone. Our words and actions will not stop every rapist, but I believe we will stop some and more easily convict those we don’t.

I never set out to help anyone besides the women who deserved to have a celebratory night not turn into a crime scene, but perhaps I did. Together, I believe our voices can transform not only what is acceptable, but actually change lives, if we use them when it matters most.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

27 thoughts to “Friends Don’t Let Friends Rape”

  1. Hey Alex,
    I don’t think I’ve commented on your blog before but I enjoy reading it due to the variety of posts from funny to poignant. I decided to comment on this post because it struck a chord with me.
    In the last couple of years my town has had both situations in your post happen. The kids that these events happened to all went to my high school, so our small school community has weathered quite the storm. The case of rape of the girl in my grade -although the nature of the events was horrifying, what amazed me was how my school community dealt with it. The rebound of the staff and students meant that although the girl had been through so much she still walked across the stage with our grad class last year. Regretably with the story of driving under the influence, our school lost an alumni (of one year) and a part time student. In the same crash, driving different vehicles.
    Although these stories are sad (and later on in the year we also lost a teacher and recent alumni) each of them taught and strengthened our school community. We learnt a greater love and respect for one another, that it’s ok to hurt and to cry but also to share and trust more in your community. We learnt that being surrounded by the right people you are capable of weathering any storm.
    Our grad class came into this world with our eyes already opened to just some of the horrors of the world. We learnt to look out for one another and learn from mistakes made as we fel just how much they hurt. From this a local group was formed (all by young people) who had felt the effects and we fine the more that is said, the more we look out for one another and the closer the community becomes.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing the stories of your community (and for your kind words about Late Enough). Although I am sad that for young girl and the people who lost their lives, the experiences afterwards give me hope. I believe in change and in humanity, too.

  2. I’d like to believe that more people are like you than not. To step into a potentially dangerous situation and take action. It is a good thing. Unfortunately, I think you and I are not like most.

    Your post is very relative and important. I’ll be linking to it this week. Not that I have many readers at this point, but all it takes is one, to stop something like this.

    1. Thank you so much for linking to it. It’s an honor whether you have millions of followers or ten because it means you read my piece and liked it enough to share it in your space.
      I think as speaking up around rape myths/culture is seen and heard more, it will be more commonplace and even expected. I think it is one of the great influences on the dramatic drop in rates of drunk driving. I’m sure punitive consequence are another one but would those have passed if cultural acceptance of drunk driving hadn’t diminished?

  3. I’ve lived most of my life in OH and this case embodies the reactionary, self-important attitude of many grown men who live/die for high school football. It is an obsession like no other. They believe that anything is acceptable as long as the team wins. I never have been able to stand that sub-culture of entitled jocks and their supporters.

    Now that it has been exposed and judged illegal in the court system + immoral in the court of public opinion, I hope that Ohioans decide to make all of these stupid old men & immature high school jocks accountable for what they do, or don’t do. That’s where I want to see this story go– toward a world in which everyone involved is punished, not just two boys.

    1. Well, I think the bystanders who did nothing could be punished culturally through peer shame and adult disgust, which is partly why I wrote this piece and why that quote stood out to me, but I don’t think laws could do it. We can’t judicial force people into action beyond a very narrow scope (mandatory reporters) even if we find their inaction to be morally reprehensible. It’s a dangerous precedent that may look appealing in the Steubenville case but using personal morals to craft law is how abortion is outlawed or how the majority’s religion becomes law.

  4. This is so important. One of the problems is that people don’t seem to realize how quickly something can go wrong. One decision can, as they kept saying on CNN, ruin a life.

    Thank you for making the decision to help. Again and again and again.

    1. Thank you. While I think CNN was far too focused on the ruined lives of the rapists even if they are boys, the idea that these boys are not so different from kids we know is helpful because we have to assume many of our male friends and acquaintances fall into these grayer areas at best if 38% of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim considers her friend or acquaintance and almost 3/4th of sexual assaults are by a non-stranger. (stats from the RAINN website)

  5. This whole thing just pisses me off. I didn’t even hear about it at first, I don’t like the news, till I started seeing all this stuff about “nothing said about the victim” and found out what was going on. It’s horrible. I can’t even really go into this on a comment since it’s actually a deeply personal issue for me.

    1. I was up for hours working on this piece because I wanted it to be just right since I think I understand what you mean by it being a deeply personal issue. It is for me, too. {hugs}

  6. I have so much to say on this topic that my comment would end up longer than your post. So I’ll do what I always do…I’ll say right on, head over to my blog to write a post that will some day be finished and linked back here.

    Still…to say that I’m upset by how this case is being portrayed is an understatement.

  7. As usual, you wrote about something so terrible with rational, clear thoughts. We need to keep working and talking and teaching about how to look out for each other and to question why we are so quick to blame victims and smooth over the crime with rationalizations.

  8. I am so upset with this entire situation that I don’t have many words. But I want to tell you that I am glad you wrote this and I agree with you 100%.

  9. Another great piece, Alex! As a rape victim, I am disgusted at how the media is handling this story. They’re sympathizing with the rapists and not the victim. For God’s sake, the media needs to use this opportunity to raise awareness. It is despicable.

    1. First, rape is a horrible crime and trauma, and I’m so sorry that you went through it. Second, I agree that the media completely missed an opportunity here. Even if they wanted to talk about all sides of the case, they never made any interesting, brave or thoughtful insights into what went wrong, what we, as a society, can do, what does our justice system does. I can’t tell if it is just a lack of education on the producer’s side or if 35% of men would try to get away with rape and many more continue to feel and act passive around the subject, maybe they had some people who just didn’t think it was that big of deal.

  10. That part of the article stuck out for me too. I have prevented assaults by speaking up as you did and I was doing it for the victim but I hope that it made an impact on the assailant as well. We need to change the culture by being vocal. I have told my stories to my teens and my college age kid and implored them to stand up for victims if they find themselves in that situation. I hope they listen.

  11. some of the issues in this case reminded me of ottawa’s “don’t be that guy” campaign that they launched in 2011 ( i wanted to link to it because i wasn’t sure if you were aware of it. instead of talking to woman about how not to be a victim, the point of the campaign is to talk to men about changing how they look at situations and realize for themselves what they’re doing is sexual abuse. like their poster with a picture of a passed out girl and the caption “just because she isn’t saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean she’s saying ‘yes’.” it’s not aimed at changing the criminals, it’s aimed at re-educating the average guy, making him see the situation from a different side, because it’s the average guy who thinks situations like that are fun or funny who needs to realize he is wrong. maybe a similar campaign is something we need in high schools these days?

    1. I’m so glad you linked to that campaign — I loved it! (Oh and you can leave links in my comments anytime.) I definitely agree that we need education in high school and in college. Maybe even starting in middle school. People are so convinced it won’t be their kid, but the likelihood of a teen knowing a victim or a perpetrator combined with their chances of being one or the other, is high. And good morals are great, but if the person doesn’t think it’s rape or thinks rape isn’t that big of a deal or believes if women who act certain ways deserve it, they aren’t going to apply any of those good morals to the situations they face as a bystander (or worse).

  12. Such an incredibly powerful post, Alex.
    As both a rape survivor and someone who has also stood by a drunk friend and not allowed her to stay the night with a man she didn’t know, I thank you.
    This message needs to be taught starting at high school level and then pounded into their heads.
    It’s the fear of what has happened to this girl’s reputation in Steubenville that kept me from reporting mine. We should not be silent.

    1. Thank you for standing up for your friend and I’m so sorry that you’ve had to survive rape.
      I agree that we need to teach teens about sexual assault and explain and de-explain rape mythes. When more people are willing to stand up for the victim, more rape victims can report their crime. And standing up can be as simple as not being okay with rape jokes and not talking about sluts as much as the moments when we really need to be bystanders protecting our friends.
      We need to create a safer environment. I’ve never reported my assaults because the idea of going through our justice system terrified me. The best I could do was get away and (eventually) heal.

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