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In her October 23 article in The Nation, feminist author and blogger Jessica Valenti identifies the common thread that might explain the recent gaffes of politicians regarding rape (humorously summarized here by Stephen Colbert):

“Feminists have done a lot to change policies, but not enough to change minds. Despite decades of activism on sexual assault—despite common sense, even—there is still widespread ignorance about what rape is, and this absence of a widely understood and culturally accepted definition of sexual assault is one of the biggest hurdles we have in chipping away at rape culture.”

I couldn’t agree more with her assessment. Prevention educators on PreventConnect’s email group often share stories of their frustrating need to expand the idea of what rape is in their communities before they can begin to do fundamental work towards primary prevention. As one of the Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator at CALCASA focused on prevention, I know that this is also a common experience among California’s rape prevention educators. The lack of a common social definition of the idea of rape has many consequences for survivors of rape, who often struggle simply to be acknowledged as a victim of a crime. As Valenti observes,

“The definition of who is a rape victim has been whittled down by racism, misogyny, classism and the pervasive wink-wink-nudge-nudge belief that all women really want to be forced anyway. The assumption is that women are, by default, desirous of sex unless they explicitly state otherwise. And women don’t just have to prove that we said no, but that we screamed it.”

Valenti also observes that this is the right moment for change. As she puts it,

“The time is ripe for going big. The American public, young women especially, are ready for a new message about sexuality and for a definition of rape that is accurate, strong, progressive and indisputable.”

Click here to read the entire article at The Nation.