Is Rape Preventable?

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Zerlina Maxwell has been stirring quite the controversy, and the subject matter makes many uncomfortable: What prevents and stops rape?

Maxwell appeared on Hannity a few weeks ago, answering this very question. She argued that the current conversation is headed in the wrong direction; we should not be focusing on how women can defend themselves, but what cultural shift could prevent rape as a whole. She said,

I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there…You’re talking about this as if it’s some faceless, nameless criminal, when a lot of times it’s someone you know and trust…If you train men not to grow up to become rapists, you prevent rape.

The response to Maxwell’s seemingly benign comments have been astounding. The Blaze called her claims “shocking,” and her comments have spurred a mind-blowing onslaught of racist and violent comments directed toward the self-proclaimed rape survivor. Some called her a “nigger,” others oversimplified her argument to say that she thought that women should get raped instead of defending themselves. The fluster around Maxwell’s appearance on Fox transformed her academic comments into straw mans and maiden-in-distress victimhood; her message has been lost in the fire. Let’s reexamine it.

Maxwell believes that the United States needs a paradigm shift to facilitate ending rape, which she details beyond Hannity in “5 Ways We Can Teach Men Not to Rape.” I was immediately intrigued; is there a cure for rape culture and rape itself in America?

Unfortunately, Maxwell’s argument is paper-thin. Her insights start with “teach young men about legal consent” and ends with “teach males about bystander intervention.” While requiring an enthusiastic “yes!” to consider sex consensual, and questioning all else otherwise is probably a good idea, most of her goals are already being instilled in young men (or, might I add, any gender) across the country. Her ideas about consent are nothing new. These ideas have been presented pointedly and recently in 2009 and 2011. Again, this idea is not groundbreaking.

Now, I am all for a paradigm shift that would prevent rape. We’ve seen great leaps in terms of racial, gender, and sexual equality all in the past 50 years; cultural change is difficult but possible. But I’d like to highlight that it is not enough; just like there is still discrimination in the workforce as a continuance of racist and sexist ideology, there will likely always be rape. Sexual violence is likely not preventable in all cases because (I’ll be the one to say it) it is something inherent to human nature. Rape is seen cross-culturally; there is not a single culture that does not have rape. While education may prevent some rape, it will never entirely do away with the problem, regardless of the assailant and victim’s gender, income status, or race. Sorry, Jessica Valenti.

Education is important, but it is not enough. While it may prevent some rape, women and men still need to have the agency to defend themselves and their bodies from violent sexual assault, because rape will always occur across societies. In an attempt to distance myself from the second amendment arguments unfairly targeted at Maxwell, let me simply close by saying Maxwell should rethink her claims into simple, actionable arguments beyond a “cultural shift,” and should steer away from such optimism that rape is entirely preventable in America, or anywhere else.

See Zerlina Maxwell’s interview on Hannity here:

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