Believe Her | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Believe Her

Words count. One thing has become clear in reading Managing Editor Ronni Mott's cover story about sexual assault and rape this week: Too often, we objectify other people. That, in turn, leads us to treat each other not as people, but as assets and commodities.

As we've watched the so-called War on Women escalate with ever-tighter restrictions on the rights women have over their own bodies, it's easy to see how all the pieces fit together. Men (and women) seeing their spouses as their possessions is one of the reasons behind domestic violence. That point of view is the basis of our laws defining sexual assault and rape. In Mississippi, like most states, "force" is an element of the rape crime, and a victim's history of sexual consent can come into play in the courtroom, turning a rape trial into a victim's nightmare.

Rape is not an easy subject to research or write about. Victims don't want to talk about it. And who can blame them? Our Judeo-Christian moral codes have put such an exorbitant amount of blame and guilt on the sex act—particularly outside of a sanctified marriage bed—that victims will often blame themselves for their attack. But it's worse than that: Because of the psycho-social mess that we've made of this most natural human act, police, prosecutors, judges and juries too often blame the victims, too.

Read the testimonials on websites such as Start by Believing (http://www.startbybelieving.org) and the Voices and Faces Project (http://www.voicesandfaces.org). The stories are heartrending, but everywhere, people are organizing to stand up against the horrors and injustices of rape and sexual assault. Make no mistake: Victims have good reason not to speak up, but it's up to each of us to speak up for the voiceless.

The next time you hear someone pontificate about a domestic violence or rape victim by asking questions such as, "why did she stay?" Or making uninformed statements such as "I'll bet she was asking for it," it's the perfect time to educate the uneducated. They're asking the wrong questions. Instead, ask "why does he beat her?" Or "what makes flirting or the cut of a woman's dress an invitation for a rapist?" Or, "why can't s/he take no for an answer?"

It's pretty simple, really. We have to stop blaming the victims of crimes that have nothing to do with love or sex. Domestic violence is about power and control, and rape is the ultimate expression of power and control over another human being. Human beings aren't objects or chattel to be possessed, bought or sold. And people who have consensual, loving sexual relations aren't dirty or shameful, ever. Any person, any time, has the right to say no—it's incumbent on all of us not only to respect that right, but also to believe the victim when she (or he) says someone violated those rights.

One way to make your voice heard is by participating in the eighth annual JFP Chick Ball. Find 10 easy ways to get involved at http://www.jfpchickball.com.

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