Dr. Boyce Watkins penned a November 2013 essay that’s recently resurfaced, with many critiquing his ideas concerning rape—particularly men being falsely accused of rape by women who wish to “destroy [a man’s] life.” His post, “How Sleeping With the Wrong Woman Might Turn You Into a ‘Rapist’,” begins with Watkins recounting a conversation with the mother of a man accused and convicted of rape.
Essentially, a woman set up the man in question; she was out to get him and reported their consensual sex as rape. This scenario happens more than we’re willing to admit, according to Watkins, and he deems it necessary to warn men against “diseased… stripper/jump off/random wom[e]n” who seek to ruin men’s lives by crying wolf about being raped.
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Of course, Watkins was too lazy to bother gathering statistics to support his claims that men are often falsely accused of rape. And to ensure that I don’t behave as lazily as he, I must mention that 60% of rapes committed aren’t reported to police at all, and 97% of rapist will never see prison. Rape and alleged false rape allegations are far too serious issues to discuss generally and generically while using personal anecdotes. Conversations like those offered by Dr. Watkins are as dangerous as they are callous and careless, especially when we’re living in a time when men are literally shooting at women for refusing them sex.
An exceptional collective of writers, activists and cultural critics called Brothers Writing To Live—which includes professors Kiese Laymon and Mark Anthony Neal, as well as writers and advocates Mychal Denzel Smith, and Darnell L. Moore—share my concerns about the dangers of treating the issue of rape so casually. The brothers write:
Right now, a Black woman somewhere in the U.S. and around the world is having to confront real-time threats and acts of sexual violence at the hands of a male perpetrator. Right now, a Black woman—someone’s mother, aunt, sister, partner, friend—fears telling the truth about an act of sexual violence that has forever shaped her life because she believes that authorities and others won’t believe her report. Right now, a man is calling an act of rape a moment of great sex. And your unthoughtful article is excusing the inexcusable and furthering the problem of sexual assault, too often waged against our sisters, in a rape culture.
If Dr. Watkins’s intention is to steer men towards choosing better sexual partners, which seems to be the true focus of his post, then he should title and center his posts as such—even in this age of “clicks” where the more incendiary the topic or title of a post, the more popular it will become. Further, if we’re really going to teach boys and men to protect themselves from having their lives ruined by becoming convicted rapists, we have to teach them not to rape, and more so teach them what consent is.
As a professor who teaches and guides students in their social adjustments to college, my conversations concerning consent are meant to protect men and women. If I were to revise Dr. Watkins’s post on how to avoid being “accused” of rape, I’d offer the following advice:
1. Women do not owe you sex. Regardless of any behavior prior to sexual intercourse, any promises made, or any money spent on a woman, she does not owe you sex. Sex is something shared between consenting adults, not a right of passage or any right at all. Enter every sexual encounter with this understanding. Period.
2. A woman must have the capacity to consent. Remember when Rick Ross was dropped by Reebok because of the rape lyrics he spit on “U.O.E.N.O.”? His lyrics signified rape because he drugged a woman and had sex with her when she could not legally consent. Meaning, if a woman has been drinking or using drugs (even willfully), she cannot consent to sex. Yes, “drunk in love” sex could be considered rape in some cases, so protect yourself, leave the situation and return when you can receive a clear and legal yes.
3. Don’t make assumptions about consent. If a woman says “no” during sexual intercourse or at any time during the course of a sex, stop immediately. There are no “blurred lines” with consent. No means no, each and every time and with no exceptions. Also, even if a woman doesn’t physically fight against sex, she can still report the sex as rape. So yes, make good, informed choices about who you choose to have sex with and make sure your consent is clear.
4. Date rape is still rape. This is self-explanatory. A woman can report rape if she is your wife, your girlfriend or someone you sex regularly. Having a relationship with a woman does not guarantee consent for sex.
If we want to protect boys and men against being accused of rape, we must ensure they understand what rape is and not present rape victims as jump offs out to make their lives miserable. Dr. Watkins, who seems to desire to be a voice of “right” in our community, needs to do the work necessary to wear that crown.