Today I’m going to talk about the word “but.”
“But” is a conjunction used to connect two different clauses, where the second clause will contradict or negate the information in the first clause.
“I usually love this restaurant, but tonight their service is really bad.”
“I’d love to go to your birthday party, but I have to babysit my little brother that night.”
Notice that in both of these sentences, the second clause has more emphasis than the first clause. The second clause after the “but” is communicating what the person really wants to say. The first clause is simply the disclaimer, the extra information, the apology. The person spoken to isn’t really listening to the first half of the sentence. S/he doesn’t need to know that the other person would “love” to go to hir birthday party, only that s/he can’t.
“I really like you, but not in a romantic way.”
“I like you a lot, but I can’t date because I’m still not over my ex.”
These two examples of “but” sentences are more hurtful than the first two examples I used. The clause preceding the “but” is the clause meant to cushion the blow, and the clause following the “but” is the person telling the other how s/he really feels. The first part of the sentence is irrelevant. It’s the second part of the sentence that delivers the stinging blow. In fact, the person on the listening end already knows to expect disappointment and heartbreak just at hearing the word “but.” They hear “but” and they know what’s coming.
Keep all of this in mind as you look at the next sentences:
“No one deserves to be raped, but she really shouldn’t have been walking in that neighborhood at night.”
“Obviously the rape wasn’t her fault, but why was she drinking and then going home by herself?”
“Rapists have to be held accountable for their actions, but her outfit was really inappropriate.”
The “but” isn’t as innocuous anymore, is it? That little three-letter-word that sounds like a body part is suddenly the tool to change the shape of the conversation about sexual assault: to shift the conversation from the rapist’s actions to the victim’s behavior.
Many of us do this, and many do it unconsciously. There are, of course (and unfortunately), many people in this world who support rape, or excuse it, or hatefully blame the victim for being raped instead of the rapist for choosing to rape.
BUT there are others of us, others who don’t condone rape at all, who have a sense of compassion and decency and who really and truly mean well, who still engage in this practice.
We do it because we really think that people can put themselves in better positions to not be raped. We do it because we’re secretly, deep down, afraid that the same thing could happen to us, and making it the victim’s fault or “responsibility” means that it can’t happen to us. We’re too smart to “allow” that to happen to us.
BUT if you’re ever in another situation where you have the opportunity to comment on a rape, and a part of you thinks that the victim was a little foolish to drink that much at the bar, a little naive to believe she could trust that guy she just met, or just plain stupid to walk around in that part of town, and you want to open your mouth and voice that opinion – don’t.
Stop. Think. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say going to support a rape victim, or support a rapist?”
Ask yourself if the rape victim in question, or other rape victims in the conversation who might not have told you they were assaulted themselves, is going to find any comfort in what you say…or if s/he is going to swallow that feeling of disgust and fear and bravely smile while silently chiding hirself for being stupid enough to be assaulted.
Ask yourself if a rapist or a potential rapist who hears this comment will internalize the clause that comes before the “but”…or if the rapist/potential rapist will only receive further confirmation that s/he can assault someone and will likely get away with it, because s/he knows the conversation will only turn back to the victim’s behavior and what the victim could have done differently.
Saying “Rape is bad, but…” is not going to transform a decent person into a rapist. It may very well bring further satisfaction to a person who has already raped somebody.
You may still privately believe that the victim was foolish for having that drink, or naive for trusting that person, or just plain stupid for walking around in that neighborhood – after all, people have lowered senses of judgment when they’re drunk, strangers can’t be trusted, and that neighborhood has a high crime rate.
It may be true that that neighborhood has a high crime rate, and that strangers can’t be trusted, and it’s definitely true that many people have less judgment when they’re drunk.
It doesn’t matter. People drink, talk to strangers, and walk in dangerous neighborhoods all the time. Most of the time, they do all of these things without being assaulted. Other times, bad things happen to them. Bad things happen because other people choose to do bad things, not because the victim was doing something stupid.
You don’t need to voice every thought that comes to your head. Even if you still think, after reading all this, that people who walk in those neighborhoods are increasing their chances of danger…stop before you say it out loud. You are not helping by saying this out loud. Even if you mean well, “intent” and “effect” are not the same thing, and it’s not worth the risk.
Look at those sentences earlier in the post without the “buts.”
“No one deserves to be raped.”
“Obviously the rape wasn’t her fault.”
“Rapists have to be held accountable for their actions.”
When it comes to conversations about rape, that’s really all you have to say.