SEXed in the Santa Fe Reporter: Ending Rape Culture

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter. 

If you see a woman walking down the street in skimpy clothing, is she asking to be raped? If you see a man walking down the street wearing a football jersey, is he asking to be tackled?

Many of you probably answered yes to the first question and no to the second.

Welcome to rape culture. The example above is one that Jess Clark uses during presentations for people of various ages through his work at Solace Crisis Treatment Center. Clark is the education and prevention supervisor at Solace, which was formerly called the Santa Fe Rape Crisis Center. One of Clark’s main jobs is to deconstruct rape culture and educate about consent culture.

Rape culture is the idea that rape and sexual assault are tied to our society and that prevailing ideas and practices about sexual assault are excused, normalized and condoned in the mainstream.

If you look critically, messages that promote rape culture are woven into our everyday thinking and functioning. A common symptom of rape culture is victim blaming, where the victim of sexual assault, commonly a woman, is blamed for her sexual assault because of what she was wearing, her behavior and whether or not she was drinking.

Sexual assault doesn’t just affect women. Statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network say one in six American women and one in 33 men have been the victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

One of the ways Clark helps deconstruct rape culture is through his work with schoolaged children from kindergarteners to high school students.

“We start early talking to kids about sexual abuse,” Clark says. “We can talk to kids about sexual abuse without talking about sex. We’re making sure they know their bodies belong to them and no one else.”

Clark says once children are made aware of the ways rape culture exists in their everyday lives, it’s common that they begin to recognize the impact it has on them.

Social change comes about once young people start addressing the prevalence of rape culture within a peer group.

“It’s important that you speak up and say ‘it’s not ok’ when your friends make a joke about rape.” Clark says. “Because chances are there is someone affected by that in your life. If your friend is going home with someone who is drunk, don’t let them.”

Clark also teaches about gender roles, specifically the way that the stereotypical (and often inaccurate) idea of what masculinity should be is a recipe for rape culture.

“When we talk about masculinity, we talk about how the boy is always supposed to be in charge and in control,” Clark says. “We’ve created a cat and mouse game, and the game was created in a heterosexual world. …The guy is supposed to want to have sex all the time and the girl is supposed to say ‘no no no,’ and the guy is supposed to push her until then she says ‘yes.’ How is that consensual?” Building consent is more than just saying “yes.”

“Consent is verbal, sober, non-coerced, enthusiastic, continual, active and honest,” Clark says.

So how does someone help undo the effects of living in a rape culture? Talking about it and calling people out when they promote rape culture is a start.

IMPACT Personal Safety is another organization working in the Santa Fe community to empower people to defend themselves against verbal, physical and sexual violence.

Alena Schaim, executive director and instructor for IMPACT, says in the past, selfdefense work with survivors of assault wasn’t as success ful because many of the tactics weren’t designed with survivors in mind. Also, most programs discouraged people to do certain activities, such as walking at night, which is essentially a victim-blaming tactic.

Schaim says one of the most important conversations she has with participants is how traditional advice given to children and women has not been helpful or effective at preventing assault.

“We acknowledge that over 80 percent of the time, sexual assault happens by someone we know,” Schaim says. “By acknowledging that most sexual assault is perpetrated by people we know and that most safety information is about strangers, we uncover a gap in preparation, both on a community level and an individual level.”

IMPACT teaches people of all genders, to communicate more effectively and to ask for and give consent around dating and sexuality.

Communication is often the starting point, and the language we use is essential to promoting change.

“When you call a girl a slut, you are contributing rape culture,” Clark says. “We need to stop teaching girls how not to get raped, because that doesn’t work.”

If you are going to talk to your daughter about her safety when she goes out, also talk to your son about getting consent. Talk about how you have to get consent for more than just sex. If you want to touch, hug or kiss someone, ask first.

“How do you know when someone wants to kiss you? Well, we ask,” Clark says. “And people say it sounds silly, but why does it sound silly? Because it’s what we see on TV and movies.”

Hunter Riley is a Santa Fe native living and working in Albuquerque. She is the store manager of Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center and also writes an online Q & A feature. Have sex questions? Write to

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