By Erica Wong |Staff Writer|
CNN’s Don Lemon faced biting criticism after asking an alleged Bill Cosby sexual assault victim why she didn’t, “use her teeth as a weapon,” later directly stating “biting” as a way to prevent the oral rape.
The awkward exchange between Lemon and Joan Tarshis began with Lemon excusing himself for being “crude” but continuing on anyway, saying. “You know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn’t want to do it.”
The uncomfortable question that Lemon “had to ask” Tarshis implies that rape victims are capable of preventing their situation.
Twitter users began trending #DonLemonReporting, making ridiculous suggestions like: “But did the towers make any attempt to avoid the planes?” “Why didn’t New Orleans move out of the way of Katrina?” “You know, there are ways to avoid getting the plague.”
In Lemon’s non-apology the next day he said, “I would never want to suggest that any victim could have prevented a rape.” Although the premise about biting implies exactly that.
The problem with this exchange was that the focus was on the behavior of the victim, not on Cosby, who allegedly sexually assaulted more than a dozen women.
There shouldn’t even be a conversation about whether or not a rape victim did enough to fight back physically.
The victim does not need to attack a penis with their teeth to show lack of consent. The suggestion promotes victim blaming and only perpetuates a rape myth that even the FBI has been slow to change.
According to the FBI’s 2010 Uniform Crime Report, the 85,000 reported rapes only included assaults reported to law enforcement involving vaginal penetration of a woman by a man through force.
Up until 2012, the FBI’s definition was that “real rape” must be forced and corroborated with evidence of a struggle.
Rape is now understood by many as an, “act of unwanted bodily invasion that need not involve force.”
The social perpetuation and excusal of rape has normalized sexual violence.
The victim-blaming mindset society has adopted illustrates why so many sexual assault victims are reluctant to come forward and in turn, only reinforces the idea that rape can occur with impunity.
Many rape victims report feeling paralyzed during their attack, referred to as tonic immobility.
Instead of fight or flight, victims freeze. This loss of control is the body’s way to, “survive and avoid further injury,” according to Stanford’s Office of Sexual Assault.
Lemon’s “Why didn’t she chew her way out of danger?” question is really about as useful as asking, “Why didn’t she just overcome her body’s physiological reaction to trauma?”
Today, our society teaches people, “Don’t get raped” as opposed to “Don’t rape,” and Lemon’s condescending comments only reinforce the backwards logic of rape culture.
Sexual assault is a serious issue and it’s important to always remember that the only thing that causes it is the attackers, not the victim or their behavior whatsoever.