By ROSIE WATERLAND
TRIGGER WARNING: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
Hey you! Yeah, you!
(1) Are you a young female?
(2) Are you no longer a virgin?
(3) Do you sometimes drink more than what your doctor would recommend?
If you answered yes to the three questions above, you better hope you don’t ever get raped or sexually assaulted, because if you did it would be YOUR OWN SLUTTY FAULT.
At least, that’s what tennis legend Serena Williams seems to think.
Need a refresher?
The Steubenville rapists are high school footballers who found a girl drunk and passed out at a party last year. They stripped her down, raped her, and dragged her around by her hands and feet. The kicker? They thought the whole thing was so hilarious that they filmed it, photographed it, and posted the evidence on social media.
Two of the boys were eventually tried and found guilty, and there was much talk in the media about what a shame it was that their ‘promising futures had been ruined’.
Futures ruined? Yep. A big shame? No. BECAUSE THEY RAPED SOMEONE.
Now, back to Serena Williams.
Williams was sitting with the reporter interviewing her for Rolling Stone when the story came on the TV. Rolling Stone reports:
We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV—two high school football players raped a 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head.
Good. She’s upset. Who wouldn’t be? Williams goes on to say:
“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know.”
Um, I don’t like where this is going…
“I’m not blaming the girl, but -” Williams continues.
Stop right there. ‘But’ is not a word that should ever be used in this context. Ever.
And here’s where despite ‘not blaming the girl’, Williams goes on to blame the girl. And her parents, just for good measure:
“- if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember?”
Wow. What an idiot this girl was: the first 16-year-old to EVER drink too much at a party. Seriously, how could her parents not have made sure that she would never make any bad choices, ever? Oh Serena, please stop. Nope, hold on, she’s still going:
“It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position…”
Okay. Okay. I think my brain just broke.
“It could have been much worse. She’s lucky.”
WHAT? Yeah. She’s so lucky her rape wasn’t a worse kind of rape. So, so lucky.
“…maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position…”
There is so much wrong with that sentence.
To start with, what does being a virgin or not being a virgin have to do with anything? If she’s wasn’t a virgin, would the severity of her horrific ordeal diminish in any way? If she was a virgin, would she deserve to be raped any less? And “put herself” in what position exactly? The position of being raped, I assume? Because she obviously planned to drink too much and should’ve known that she can’t expect boys to, you know, not penetrate her when she’s passed out.
“…unless they slipped her something. Then that’s different.”
Is it now? So if a woman drinks too much by choice, it’s her own fault if she gets raped. But if she was slipped something by her rapist… Well then! That’s different. That makes the rapist a really bad person.
Mercifully, that was the end of Williams’ insightful comments on rape and consent.
Obviously I’m frustrated. But is it fair for me to take that frustration out on Serena Williams specifically? After all, she’s a sportsperson, not an academic feminist commentator or a court reporter. I know a lot of people are probably thinking “She’s shouldn’t be expected to…” or “Why would she know a lot about…?” and “I like her for her backhand, not her views on…”
But you know what? I think it is fair.
It’s fair because Williams may not have a clue about the implications of what she’s saying, and that’s the EXACT reason we need to pull her up on it. Because the attitudes about rape and consent that underlie these kinds of comments are the kind of thing we need to pull everybody up on – no matter who they are.
The attitude that the responsibility ‘not to be raped’ lies in the hands of the victim is a dangerous one that needs to be quashed. The attitude that boys shouldn’t be punished for raping a girl because she was drunk and should’ve known better is a dangerous one that needs to quashed. Because allowing those attitudes to perpetuate and fester is how we end up with cases like Steubenville.
Whether a mega celebrity like Williams or my next-door-neighbour make comments like the ones above – I’m going to pull them up on it. I’m going to tell them about consent and what consent really means. I’ll start them off with a few basic pointers like this:
A woman drinking too much does not equal consent.
A woman passing out does not equal consent.
A woman dressing provocatively does not equal consent.
A woman having the audacity to not be a virgin does not equal consent.
A woman walking home in the dark does not equal consent.
A woman having many sexual partners in her past does not equal consent.
A woman flirting does not equal consent.
One situation and one situation ONLY equals consent: When a woman decides to give her consent. That’s it.
No behaviour, no matter how inappropriate you think it may be, gives any man the right to force himself on a woman without her consent. It’s that simple.