When I was first asked to write about the Stanford rape case, I was reluctant to do so.  I did not think that it was my place to comment on the topic because at the center of the discussion is a woman who is living in a world that I do not know.  I don’t know her pain, or her circumstance, or the particular slant with which she is now forced to view the world.  But after reading her letter where she bravely and candidly disclosed the details of her brutal sexual assault, it occurred to me that by being silent, I am a part of the problem. 

While I am incapable of describing or feeling what she went through, nor do I have any desire to, I do belong to the group that has caused deep, excruciating, and life altering pain to her and women similarly situated: American men.  And, in belonging to this group there is perhaps a duty to acknowledge my responsibility in the disturbing, disgusting ambit of sexual harm that women experience.  No, I personally have never sexually assaulted a woman but my status as a man and a human does create a duty to at least acknowledge the horror of rape culture, and educate myself about what role I can play to help prevent it. Otherwise, I am complicit in the unspeakable rape crimes against women.

The first step in accepting responsibility is to say sorry.  Although sorry offers little help to the Stanford rape victim and others similarly situated, it seems to me to be within the demands of basic human decency to apologize for the danger and pain they experience.  Sorry for the enduring threat of violence you must consider and prepare for whenever you happen to be in the company of men.  Sorry for the insults, attacks, and other offenses you have already endured, at the hand of the far too often frail and perverse male ego.  Sorry for, in spite of this being an age-old issue, failing time and time again to get it.

A second appropriate step is to recognize male privilege.  I do not have to pack a purse with pepper spray because there is a likelihood that I will have to fend off some cocky, perverted, undesirable man, who wishes to assert his masculinity over me.  I have to face neither the pesky catcalls that occupy city streets, parties, or college campuses, nor the epithets of “whore” or “bitch” that women do, whenever they decline to speak or sleep with a man who thinks they are entitled to their bodies because – well – because he’s a man.  I do not have to deploy a buddy system, as women do, so that someone is there to witness or defuse a verbal or physical altercation visited upon them by men; or to know that something has gone wrong if they are unresponsive to inquiring texts.  My humanity is not stripped, as women’s humanity is, of full recognition and, instead, interpreted as purely an object of sexual desire; the meat that cool points can be scored with, if only the chance to “hit” presents itself.  These are only a few of the privileges that men have, but identifying them and others is a necessary step towards appreciating the plight of women.  And appreciating womens’ plight is a necessary initial step towards protecting the women’s body, and giving it the respect it deserves, so that Stanford rape victims don’t resurface.

The final step that I wish to discuss – and I’m not representing this as a comprehensive list – is to dispense with male arrogance.  The New Oxford American Dictionary defines arrogant as “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.”  And this is just what plagues the male psyche, and leads to so many preventable tragedies like the Stanford Rape case.  Men have an exaggerated sense of their ability to exercise judgment in the context of pursuing the women they desire.  We’re vaguely aware that sexual assault continues to be an issue that cripples our society; sure, but no man thinks that it will happen to him.  If there is something that men can learn from Brock Turner and his heinous, irreversible decision, it’s this: any man – under the right (or wrong) circumstances – is capable of sexually assaulting a woman.  Turner demonstrates that offenders do not only take the form of depraved, sick and rare men rather they can just as easily and probably more often than not, take the form of men believed to be “good guys.” 

Against this backdrop, it is my hope that the duty to respond to the crisis of sexual violence against women is impressed a little firmer on the conscience of men everywhere.  No, this article will not be “enough,” but if even one man will think harder about his own treatment of women, or what he can do to prevent other men from sexual assaults, my words are not in vein.  Lastly, men, I will leave you with this: if you’re curious about when it is appropriate, to touch, penetrate or otherwise invade a woman’s body when you’re unsure about whether she consents, try never. 

~Justin K. Bellamy


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