When silence isn’t golden

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The more we talk about rape, the faster misconceptions die

By Robby Poffenberger | Opinion editor | [email protected]

Let’s recreate a classic Hollywood scene.

Two men are arguing. Things go back and forth and the argument escalates in intensity. Finally, one man, in the heat of the moment, says something that silences both of them. Something ignorant or controversial that reveals what he was really thinking but was afraid to say. There’s a moment of quiet. The perpetrator immediately regrets having been so candid.

We could drop some specific references here but hopefully this a familiar scene to everyone. While life isn’t often this cinematic, things came pretty close a few weeks ago at the state legislature.

It didn’t escalate like an argument, but a lawmaker made a show-stopping comment about rape that brings to light something too real for Hollywood. The subject: The definition of rape.

Rep. Angela Romero (D-), who claims to be a victim of sexual assault, introduced a bill to tweak the state’s definition of rape to include implications that having sex with an unconscious person is considered rape. Should be a slam dunk of a bill – how could an unconscious person give the golden C word: consent? In the realm of overly complicated legal jargon, this is a pretty simple concept.

Not that simple according to Rep. Brian Greene (R-Pleasant Grove).

“If an individual has sex with their wife while she is unconscious … a prosecutor could then charge that spouse with rape, theoretically,” he said. “That makes sense in a first date scenario, but to me, not where people have a history of years of sexual activity.”

He later tried to make it clear that he didn’t condone sex with an unconscious person but in politics you can’t use more words to erase past words, especially if they’re contradictory. So the media and other politicians let Rep. Greene have it. The backlash was huge, and it took him all of one day to apologize through his teeth.

There are two things to be learned from this story.

First, just because things are obvious to many of us, that doesn’t mean outdated stereotypes and stigmas don’t still exists in the minds of the people – even lawmakers. There are some out there who really believe white people are better than black people, that sexual activity with an unconscious spouse isn’t rape. There is even former Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh who claimed that a statutory rape victim “looked older than her age” and he gave her sex offending school teacher a mere 31 days in jail in a state where the minimum sentence is two years for that crime, according to Montana law.

People like that are out there. Some are in positions of power. They may not be the majority – the media and Montana Supreme Court let Baugh have it too – but they are a reality.

Second, the reason Greene’s ignorance was exposed was because people were talking about it. If we don’t talk about these issues like racism or rape we won’t be able to uncover these misconceptions and, therefore, they will live on.

That means more people need to join the discussion on sexual assault and rape, particularly on college campuses.

This university is providing us with a great avenue for that with the “Consent is Sexy” initiative. Headed by the Gender Studies Club, they just started holding what they hope to become weekly workshops on the definition, dangers and statistics on rape – things we could all be more aware of.

The more we talk about it in an appropriate and open minded way, the sooner we’ll be able to squash the misconceptions, because they’re too real for Hollywood and too wrong to be ignored.

You can learn more about getting involved in the discussion by liking Carry That Weight UVU on Facebook or attending the next workshop, which is March 3 from 3-4 p.m. in SL 101.

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