In this recent Sunday Review, Nicholas Kristof targets cultural issues of defining rape and sexual assault in an ambiguous world where predators use alcohol and charm. He blames narratives of stranger rape and victim 'tarnishing' for the lack of reporting and perpetuation of more rape. Kristof also points to potential legal and cultural solutions, arguing that blunt conversations about consent between men and women, encouraging 'bystander intervention', and dispelling myths about false accusations will help turn the tide.
The University of Oxford, among other institutions, is currently holding consent workshops for students to have these frank conversations. The honor code at the U.S. Military Academy has a toleration clause preventing cadets from tolerating lying, cheating, and stealing, which can serve as a good model for Kristof's point about 'bystander intervention.' These examples may not be prefect but they at least show Kristof's recommendations in action.
In addition to targeting local populations, especially University students who encounter situations of sexual assault more often than other groups, we also need to put pressure on the media and Hollywood for their portrayal of rape and sexual assault. As Kristof notes, false accusations make up only 2-10% of rape cases, and the far larger problem is fear of reporting, (contrary to what films and television tend to depict). Furthermore, stranger rape in a dark ally is much less common than rape by people the victim knows. It is time we as a society acknowledge the actual realities of this issue in order to both prevent future occurrences sexual assault by clarifying and defining consent in multiple situations, and remove any obstacles impeding victims from reporting.
Another way to fight back is cultural: Blunt conversations among men and women alike about consent, alcohol, and the need for friends to step up with what’s called “bystander intervention.” ...you don’t let a friend take advantage of someone — or let a plastered friend get steered to a predator’s bed. ONE of the fundamental challenges is that the word rape conjures a mental image of a stranger jumping out of bushes. Sure, that happens. But most sexual assault happens among acquaintances. We flinch at the truth that most rapists are less likely to point a gun than to proffer a plastic cup of booze, that they charm and kiss before they menace. That’s why men must be a part of these discussions, for it’s a failing of all society that men like Frank are unaware that they are rapists.