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Are You Wearing Fear?

By Michelle Schaunaman, CCASA Blogger & Outreach Coordinator at TESSA

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Personally, I make a lot of my choices based on fear. Whether it’s not going out late at night alone, not starting my own blog, or telling my husband repeatedly to drive slower when we’re in the car together (even though he’s a relatively safe driver). I see a lot of fear in my life, and I want to rid myself of it— because it’s debilitating.

I took a “leap of faith” recently—literally into the Devil’s Punchbowl near Aspen—and it made me realize a few things. I need to stop fearing the things I cannot change, I need to stop projecting my fears onto other people, and I need to recognize when others are projecting their fears onto me.

One place where this fear is omnipresent is in all the safety precautions I take to avoid rape.

As an Outreach Coordinator for a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy Organization, I know that avoiding rape is impossible, because it’s about the perpetrator’s choice to assault, which I have no control over whatsoever.

But, I still do all of these things:

  1. I carry my keys when I walk to the car.
  2. I look at my surroundings.
  3. My phone is in my pocket, not my purse.
  4. I own mace.
  5. I don’t accept drinks from strangers.
  6. I dress the “right mix” of attractive and modest.
  7. I make eye contact with everyone I walk past.
  8. I let people who are “safe” know my whereabouts.
  9. I avoid “sketchy” places.
  10. I have taken self-defense courses.

Sadly, this list can go on and on, but I won’t bore you with the details.

I realize that this fear of rape is not only my fear, especially when I turn on the TV and see nail polish that is designed to detect “date rape drugs” for women.

It’s ironic to me that this polish was developed by men, who could be simply telling other men not to rape, but instead spend their time making a product to “keep women safe.” This says a lot about our society and how it views sexual assault and women.

It’s not “empowering” to be told to wear something to prevent rape. What is empowering is being able to go out at night by yourself and have a drink alone, without being harassed or potentially drugged—something I’ve noticed men seem to do freely, but women are not afforded that same luxury because of the fear of rape.

It’s easy to market a product to potential victims and say, “Use this to keep yourself safe.”

But the underlying message can be, “If you don’t use this, it’s your fault you were assaulted,” or “It’s women’s responsibility to stop rape.” What we should be saying is it’s the responsibility of men to stop rape because, overwhelmingly, they are the perpetrators of sexual violence. Stats I have seen report that 93% of perpetrators who violated a male victim were male themselves, while 98.1% of perpetrators who violated female victims were male, as well. If someone comes up with an app to help men be active bystanders and tell other men to stop behaviors in bars like putting drugs in women’s drinks, then let me know!

We will see change when we start to hold offenders accountable for their actions.

Only 3% of rapists ever spend a day in jail, according to a stat from RAINN. Further, most cases of rape are never even reported to law enforcement. The social stigma attached to being a victim keeps people silent and the lack of penalties for perpetrators tells them the crime they committed is not serious or severe.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult for me to get rid of my fear when most of society tells me I need to be afraid.

Will I stop taking the safety precautions I listed above? Probably not—but I realize this fear is being projected onto me and I need to say something about it. I am spreading education and awareness through my words and my work to foster a world where we don’t have to carry mace, take self-defense courses, and wear drug-detecting nail polish. Because guess what? None of these steps are foolproof anyway! We have to look to the root of the problem, and it’s not a lack of drug-detecting nail polish.

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