As I recently listened to Nas’ 1999 album I Am--a record I'd always considered to be somewhat underrated-- when the song “Dr. Knockboot” came on and made me rethink my position. Not only is the song an atrociously awkward guide to becoming a “sexpert,” Nas drops this gem: “DON'T: take the pussy, if she fighting/Cause you saw what happened to Tupac and Mike Tyson/'Specially if you large, some hoes is trife/Get you on a rape charge, have you serving your life.”
It was disturbing, not just content-wise, but for the callousness in his voice. From his tone, the prospect of the rape charge and subsequent punishment was exponentially worse than the rape itself. It calls into question the way we think of rape and what we teach men in particular about sexual violence, ultimately coming down to the idea that women have a right to their bodies only because it’s illegal to take what is rightfully yours. That’s scary.
I’d love to write this off as the thoughts of a singular man, but looking back on events of just the past year or two tell a different story. Whether it was the gang-rape of an 11 year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas, or the alleged assault of Nafissatou Diallo at the hands of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or Too $hort’s “fatherly advice” on XXL’s website that amounted to a step-by-step guide for effective sexual assault, or even the rhetoric of the current “war on women” and the push for mandating transvaginal ultrasounds as a precondition for abortion, the message comes in from every corner of society: women’s bodies don’t belong to them. And with that mentality, why would anyone take sexual assault/violence of women seriously?
A glance at the statistics should frustrate everyone. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape during her life, with 44% of victims being under the age of 18. There is an average of 207,754 victims of rape or sexual assault per year, or one in every two minutes. Those are just the numbers. Victims of sexual assault are more likely to suffer depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, abuse alcohol and/or drugs, and contemplate suicide.
By contrast, 97% of rapists will never spend so much as a day in jail. This isn’t a plot used to trap men or enact revenge. If it were, it’s highly ineffective. Even as the rate of rape/sexual assault declines, far too many are left to experience this inexcusable crime, and the indifference on the part of men is a contributing factor.
Cold feelings on issues of sexual assault not only robs men of their empathy and humanity, it prevents them from dealing with their own instances of abuse. One in 33 American men (3%) have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their life. It’s obviously not as prevalent as among women, but it’s a problem nonetheless, one exacerbated by an unwillingness to come to terms with its existence.
A brother I worked with years ago once told me, and these are his exact words, “I was molested when I was six years old, but I was aight because it was a bitch. That’s why I’m a freak now.” That mix of denial and hypermasculine posturing would be a gift to any psychologist, but it speaks to a larger cultural issue.
We can’t solve the problem of rape/sexual assault/sexual violence if we don’t understand what it is, who it affects, and how it affects them. We can’t understand any of that if we possess a callous indifference to the fact that anyone experiences sexual assault. We can’t afford to let our humanity slip away.