Trigger Warning: Rape and Sexual Assault

8 Oct

This is the View from Venus column from October 4th, by e-board member Abby Finkelman. It can also be found on the St. Rose Chronicle website (or in the paper, if you’re all old-fashioned like that).

Trigger Warning: Rape and Sexual Assault

I am sure that more than a few people reading this are confused by that title. What is a “trigger warning”? And why is rape being mentioned in the Chronicle, anyway? Is this really the place to talk about rape? Can we not leave that for support groups and stuff? No. No, we cannot. And yes, this is the place to talk about it. This week is the beginning of a four-part series on rape culture. Like the one we live in.

Rape culture is the reason trigger warnings exist and, simultaneously, the reason many people have not heard of them. What is rape culture? Well, this is a newspaper column, not an academic paper, so I am going to quote Wikipedia here: “a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women”.

I will pause for a moment to let you object to my claim that this–America, the world, whatever–is a rape culture. No, go ahead. Tell me how women are not blamed for their rapes, how “domestic violence” is not ignored by police and the courts. Tell me all about how it totally is not tolerated, even accepted, when men shout at women they do not know, telling them how sexy they are. Tell me how women are not told they are being “too sensitive” when they complain about the prevalence of jokes about rape in the media, and definitely tell me about how women in the military are treated as equals and not assaulted in vast numbers, and then punished when they speak up about it.

You can’t? You cannot tell me those things because they are not true. When the facts are pointed out, and people stop denying them, the fact that American culture “condones, normalizes, excuses, or tolerates sexual violence against women” becomes glaringly obvious. The problem is, we do not want to face those facts. We argue with them. We make excuses, we look the other way, we try to justify the unjustifiable. We deny them.

I do not blame anyone for doing so. It is hard to hear you live in such a world, harder still to accept it. When you first have it pointed out to you that women getting the vote did not fix everything, it is uncomfortable. When you realize that laughing at jokes about “slutty” chicks makes you complicit in a culture where being “slutty” means it is okay to assault you, it is uncomfortable. Denial is a perfectly reasonable, rational response.

But denial is also a dangerous response. Denial is how we perpetuate that culture, how we allow it to flourish. Denial lets people get away with terrible things. Denial is why we need trigger warnings. Yes, back to trigger warnings. A trigger warning is what it sounds like: a warning that you might not want to read this, that it might trigger thoughts, feelings, memories that could be extremely unpleasant, even traumatizing. If you have been raped, or perpetrated a rape, reading a column about rape might not be an experience you can handle.

Unfortunately, life does not come with trigger warnings, and life in America in 2011 is filled with triggers. My goal with this series is to encourage the Saint Rose community to recognize the violence being done to women, to accept our part in that, and to work to change things. This might make people uncomfortable, and I am not the slightest bit sorry for that, because only when we are uncomfortable will we begin to change and to create a world where trigger warnings are not needed–because we have taken away the trigger.


One Response to “Trigger Warning: Rape and Sexual Assault”


  1. Backlash, and sweeping it under the rug « Women's Initiative - October 28, 2011

    […] you’ve been reading The View from Venus for the past four weeks, you know that I wrote four columns about rape culture this month. For the most part, the response to them has been positive. Except […]

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