Reddit discusses rape, and the importance of ‘yes means yes’

Content warning: rape. Links include detailed accounts of sexual violence and rape apology.

Earlier, while reading through a thread on Reddit, I was struggling to think how I would articulate my reaction. The thread in question begins with an invitation for perpetrators of sexual abuse to share their experiences:

Reddit’s had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?

The question had received thousands of responses – some of them extremely disturbing or upsetting. I have deliberately said that before adding a link, as the content could be triggering even for those who have not experienced sexual assault. The discussion can be found here.

I have added a few thoughts below, but rather than write a long and in-depth analysis, after reading around I have decided instead to refer you to an insightful and very well-written post by Miriam of Brute ReasonInside the Mind of a Serial Rapist. She has managed to put into words very effectively much of what I was thinking.

The one conclusion I successfully drew from reading some of the responses is that we urgently need to review the manner in which young people are taught about sex. This is something I am sure I’ll come back to in a later post, because it’s something I feel very strongly about. The sex education I received was minimal until the age of about 15, and was largely technical. When the subject came up, we were firmly told that we had the power to make decisions about sex and our bodies; armed with the maxim ‘no means no’, we were taught that we should never feel pressured into sex.

At the time I felt that this was a positive message, but I have since come to think that it is deeply flawed. I now firmly believe that rather than ‘no means no’, we should be teaching young people that ‘yes means yes’. The former places all of the responsibility on the potential victim rather than the perpetrator. Several responses I read on Reddit appeared to take the stance that someone who had physically abused another person was absolved of responsibility because they were not asked to stop. This is, of course, highly problematic, as a girl (as victims are usually, though not exclusively, female) may be afraid to actively stop someone who assumes that they are willing, or may feel pressured to continue. In order to remove the weight of responsibility from the victim – and to avoid victim-blaming – it is imperative that we move away from the mentality that someone is inviting a sexual encounter unless they explicitly say otherwise or put up a fight.

11 thoughts on “Reddit discusses rape, and the importance of ‘yes means yes’

  1. Hey! Thanks again for reading and commenting on my post. Just so you know, the title of my post here links to the Reddit thread, not to my post. It doesn’t seem like that was intentional, so just thought I’d let you know. :)

  2. I am not sure how I feel about the Reddit thread – raising awareness is vital, but offering a generally unmoderated/ challenged forum for victim-blaming is a problem. In any case, I agree with what you say about sex education. I went to a catholic school and got very little of any sort of sex education. We were just made to feel guilty about sex – the issue of consent was never even discussed. It wasn’t until years later that I realised that consent is the most important issue of all.

    • I think that’s one of the main problems for me – apart from the fact that some commenters seemed to show little remorse or even understanding that what they had done was completely wrong. You’re right, it wasn’t properly moderated, and that means some very unhelpful statements go unchallenged.

      For sure – another issue with education that I forgot to mention is the disparity between what girls and boys are taught. Often girls are taught to ‘just say no’ if they don’t feel ready for sex, but from what I’ve learned from talking to people and reading about it there’s not really a balance on the male side of it. It’s just as important for guys to be taught to elicit a ‘yes’ rather than wait for a ‘no’, as it is for girls to know it’s ok to refuse something if they’re not comfortable. For that matter, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be saying the same things about giving consent to guys as to girls. One of the other things that came up out of that thread was that guys had been pressured by girls into having sex when they didn’t feel ready. Until we stop teaching on the basis that all guys want to have sex all the time and that girls don’t, I’m not sure how we expect to encourage healthy sexual relationships!

      • Indeed. I read only about one-third of the page (on Friday, I think it was) because by then, I was quite sickened by the rape apology and victim-blaming. Practically every account I read had some measure of, “She was a dick-tease” (not in so many words of course).

        Bad as my sex education was, I would hate to think what sort of notions young people are getting about consent nowadays, with the amount of conflicting stories that they must see all day every day. It is interesting what you say there about this belief that boys always want sex and girls don’t. One of the striking things about the Reddit thread was the number of perpetrators who blamed their hormones. It’s the classic, “blokes can’t help it” response.

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