I can’t remember where or when I learned not to mix electricity and water, stare at the sun, drink gasoline or swim far offshore. These are things humans “just know” not to do.
People do these things, of course. But they get electrocuted, go blind, get sick and die and sink to the bottom of a lake, their lungs filled with water.
If only cause and effect were as sure for sexual assault. The act, the culture that leads to it and, too often, the punishment for it are too loosely tied in too many minds.
It’s something that men should “just know” not to do. Kesha Gibson-Carter works with an organization that for 40 years has been promoting respect for women and their bodies.
“We are dealing with a culture, particularly among our young people, where they do not understand the meaning of consent,” she says. “It tears at the fabric of society.”
Gibson-Carter is the director of Savannah’s Rape Crisis Center. I wanted to talk with her after what can only be described as a terrible run of headlines for advocates like her.
From Stanford University (“20 minutes of action”) to the White House (“grab her by the pussy”), the news seems downcast for those seeking more certain outcomes for brutes.
Gibson-Carter sees some good. “We are encouraged at the response of our community in acknowledging that these occurrences are not what we would like them to be,” she says.
“Nonetheless, we are discouraged when individuals do not value healthy relationships.” The response to the headlines gives me hope. I see it in the women’s march.
I see it in friends opening up about the language and behavior they endure on a daily basis. And I see it in the number of men stepping forward as allies.
Count Josiah Lemanski among them. In December, the Minnesota songwriter and Lydia Liza recorded an updated version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to viral video success.
Their lyrics turned the holiday classic from a creepy display of male insistence into a lesson on how to act when a woman says no. I hope the lesson filters down to others.
“We want to create a community of men who are ambassadors for our work,” she says, noting the young age when “filtering down” and “just knowing” needs to happen.
Most of her cases involve young men and women in the 15-28 age range. “Connecting with the male demographic is the best way to stop and prevent rape.”
The Rape Crisis Center’s signature male-focused event is April’s “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” a playful stroll in high heels to raise awareness about sexualized violence.
More importantly, they reach people of all ages with classes and workshops. Naturally, that’s in addition to the crisis intervention, counseling and advocacy they do for women.
It’s a great cause. But what about that surety of action and consequence that I mentioned? Particularly on the criminal justice side? “That’s a difficult one.” She sighs heavily.
Last year, her group turned over 130 rape kits to law enforcement agencies but only 28 arrests were made. And, as we’ve seen, convictions and sentences are another matter.
Still, Gibson-Carter sees incremental progress with police responsiveness, thanks in part to new laws, especially as they relate to rape kits, that is, evidence.
“Things don’t change until people are made to change,” she says. And maybe that’s another lesson people should “just know.”
We must make our own change, challenging the culture, condemning not only violence, but its antecedent and lack of punishment. If only it were as sure as electricity and water!