Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"I was raped" t-shirt

(picture thanks to Scarleteen)

I saw a video about this last night on CNN, and I wasn't sure what I thought about it right away.

Jennifer Baumgardner is not new to controversy. Three years ago she distributed shirts that had "I Had An Abortion" spelled out across the front that ended up being worn by Gloria Steine and Ani DiFranco. Now, she is planning on distributing a new "I was raped" t-shirt on college campuses where she speaks frequently; she also plans on using the website Scarleteen.com to get these t-shirts out there.

"Abortion and rape are subjects that are secreted away and are also surprisingly common, Ms. Baumgardner said. One in six women is a victim of sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, a nonprofit sexual assault prevention and education group. According to the Department of Justice, 60 percent of sexual assaults go unreported."

Some of my thoughts about this shirt:

"'By having an object like this' — a simple T-shirt — 'that’s so mundane, it sort of forces it into everyday conversation,' Ms. Baumgardner said." This is important because rape is not a problem that will simply go away. We have to force it to go away by not being afraid to talk about it, discuss it, and come up with solutions.

But this is, in a way, very controversial because rape is still such a taboo topic. One of the women that Baumgardner interviewed as part of a film she is working on about sexual assault, voiced a concern that I had: What if wearing a shirt stating one's victimhood, made the wearer a target for harassment, hostility, or even more assault, by people (probably men) who do not understand what rape is, or who are just looking for a victim? That would seem counter-productive.

Also, as Jessica at Feministing noted this morning, what about the potential split that could happen between rape victims who are willing to go public about their experience and those who cannot, or do not want to, do so? Could it cause more guilt, more anguish in rape victims who do not want to go public by wearing a shirt? Does that cancel out the benefits for those victims who do want to go public?

I personally don't find the design offensive. The words "I was raped" are not in your face, but they are there, and when people notice them, they will be conversation starters. The safe design is interesting to me. When I first saw it, I was reminded of how rape victims must really be opening up to wear a shirt like this, which can be difficult because a lot of rape victims are so guarded about their experiences (perhaps justifiably so).

I think that discussion about rape is an important step that needs to be taken in this society, but those are some of my thoughts. What do you guys think?


Michael said...

It sort of reminds me of The Scarlet Letter. It could turn into sort of a symbol for empowerment, or something literary and important like that. Kate, tell me something interesting about this w/ your english major, lol.

It's absolutely undeniable that rape and sexual abuse are massive problems in the world and in this country. However, the "One in Six" statistic is rather skewed. Some studies consider having taken two aspirin within the 6 hours before having sexual contact to be a case of drug-assisted rape. Also ignored is the overreporting of cases of rape, which, in one study of cases in an urban area, was determined to be about 41% (TinyURL.com/4wob7z, or the wikipedia article citing that study http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics#False_reporting for convenience.)

I think that, aside from the actual perpetrators of sexual assault crimes, people who falsely accuse others of rape do more to hurt actual victims than anyone else, not to mention those who they falsely accuse.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Rape and sexual assault are a huge problem in the United States, and I am not quite comfortable diminishing the problem based on a couple of anecdotes about aspirin. Remember, the 1 in 6 statistic refers to all forms of sexual assault, which includes child molestation and other types of sexual abuse. If anything, it seems to me that sexual assault is under-reported, sometimes because family members or loved ones are the perpetrators. This reluctance to report abuse seems to be equally true for male victims of sexual abuse. Of course, Michael is right that it is much harder to get reliable data about sexual assault than about other crimes, precisely because there is such a taboo against discussing it in most communities.

That having been said, I'm not a huge fan of the shirt. It is good to get people talking, but you would never represent any other type of assault as a robbery from a safe. By associating theft (of virginity? of...?) with rape, the artist implies that sexual assault diminishes the victim somehow. I understand, of course, that many people still need to understand that rape is a violation that can have a long-term impact on the victim, but the image just doesn't seem empowering. If anything, the passive voice and use of imagery evocative of the whole 'a woman's virginity is a precious gem to be protected' double standard seem to set discourse back rather than moving it forward.

judgesnineteen said...

I love the message (not the picture though, I echo la pobre habladora). I would never expect a rape survivor to wear this, but I'd like to think that if I were raped, I would. I think it has potential.

I think the people who do the most damage to victims of rape are not the false accusers (that sucks, but people would suspect plaintiffs of lying even if none of them ever did) but the society at large that creates rapists in the first place and then excuses it, covers it up, and blames the victims.

Anonymous said...

I see the safe as being a protective object, like silence. The woman wearing the shirt, is opening the safe, and exposing something of value and importance; truth. She is casting away the safety from uncomfortable memories, looks, and and conversations that her silence on the matter would provide.

Also I think some of you are off base here about virginity and rape. Rape is theft of choice and power. The crime has nothing to do with one's virginity so much as their choice to not have sex with someone. Rape is a power trip for the perpetrator, not a sexual conquest.

Also statistics are not important in the case of sexual assault. If the rate were that 1/3,250,000,000 women (one woman on Earth) were(was) ever a victim of a sex crime, and her society accepted it or thought it wasn't their problem, then an injustice still would exist and need to be rectified.