Yeah Maybe, No Update: Plot Twist

There comes a point in every documentary where the story deviates from the one the filmmaker originally set out to make. Life is full of twists and turns, and sticking with a subject long enough guarantees that you will be there to see some of it happen. It is the thrill of working with reality. I got in touch with Blake to show him a rough cut, and he let me know that he wasn't totally pleased with the story and that he had more to say. This summer has been a really intense one for him. In May, he ended up in the hospital on suicide watch, and has since packed up his life in Portland and moved to San Diego for a fresh start. He's found great support there and is thriving. But in light of this crisis and recovery, he had a lot more to share.

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I made it down there for one last interview, and I remain in awe of Blake's ability to rebound from struggle. He is only 22, but he displays the kind of deep emotional awareness that is difficult for people twice his age. He blew apart my story, but in the best way. The chaos of life brought us to a place of greater honesty in discussing his experiences with sexual assault. The conversation was not easy, but it was from the heart.

We also were able to talk about the new Yes Means Yes legislation that will likely be enacted in California. This is a really important bill that specifies a clear "yes" as the standard for consent on college campuses. One of Blake's experiences was borderline assault, and it is the most complicated one to process. Is he justified in being so upset? Does he get to call it an assault if he never said actually said "no"? It's a huge grey area that this legislation hopes to address.

If you'd like to know more about this law, I recommend this Op-Ed from the New York Times or this article that discusses more of the background and details.

Blake's recovery from depression and suicidal ideation is inspirational. If you or anyone you know starts thinking that ending their life might be a good idea, please know there are people here to help.

It is with love and gratitude, both to Blake and to all of you who have made this possible, that I am diving headlong into finishing this project. Blake's new revelations have thrown me a little off schedule, but I am more excited than ever to share this story. This excitement will carry it forward. Thank you again. <3

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Why I'm Making a Film About Rape

I'm running a KickStarter for my new documentary Yeah Maybe, No This is a really difficult, personal topic that I really happy to have distilled into a story that's ready to go public.

At it’s core, Yeah Maybe, No is the story of Blake, a college student wrestling with the memory of a bad relationship and coming to terms with the fact that he was sexually assaulted. Though it is sometimes hard to wade through such difficult emotional material, I am making Yeah Maybe, No to share a story about what sexual assault looks like when it happens through psychological coercion rather than brute force. I was inspired to make this film because I lived through a similar experience, and because of the manipulative nature of the act, I blamed myself for far too long.

Blake’s story is his own, but there are many parallels between our two experiences. My assault took place when I was 12 at an amusement park. I went with a neighbor who was a bit older than me, and, for the first time ever, I left the house with the intention to flirt. I remember feeling both excited and awkward when there was finally a boy paying attention to me. It is only now that I’m older and wiser that I see how the whole thing followed a clear pattern of assault. It started with little transgressions, like graphic jokes and leaning in too close to see how I would respond. I wanted to impress the older kids, so I played along even though I felt like running. Eventually, these little boundary violations lead to bigger ones until I was alone with one guy, confused and dissociated. I felt something like fear, but mostly just numb.

I knew something big had happened, but I had no words for it other than sex. I grew up in a repressed environment where we didn’t talk about "it" except to say that it was bad and something you did when you were married. Based on the movies and TV I was watching, I thought I was supposed to feel accomplished and cool for being a rebel, but mostly I felt sick and tried not to think about it.

Until my late twenties, I continued to think of this as just something bad that happened. Every now and then, I would wonder if it was rape, but another part of me would shake it off with “boys will be boys” or “what did you think was going to happen?” The word “naive” popped up a lot. By that time I was in my late twenties, I was well-read in feminism. I had ranted against victim-blaming, but it wasn’t until a boyfriend repeated my story back to me that it clicked. I had been sexually assaulted and blamed myself. The metaphorical scales fell off my eyes.

By that point, I was already a documentary filmmaker, and I knew that I would make a film about sexual assault. The fact that I had lived for 15 years with such deeply internalized self-blame had humbled me greatly, and I wanted to tell a story that would help other people in a similar spot.

And that’s when I met Blake. He is a student at Reed College, the same small liberal arts college I that graduated from ten years ago. In 2011, students demanded that Reed do a better job handling sexual assault cases on campus. Reed took this seriously, and not only changed their policy around assault, but also took proactive steps to educate students about consent and healthy sexuality. In Blake’s words, “All aspects of sex where being discussed… it was something subterranean dragged out into sunlight.” Through Reed’s efforts to create a safe and healthy space, Blake's had unprecedented institutional support for his experience.

Outside of the bubble of Reed College, activists, such as Know You IX are putting pressure on colleges throughout the country to change their policies to support survivors. And in January, President Obama announced that the White House has even convened a task force to address assault on campus. We are in a potential moment of change, but it needs to be change that matters. Currently RAINN, the nation's largest organization working to end sexual violence, is urging the white house to focus on taking rapists through the criminal justice system.

Our film speaks with people working alongside the justice system to question the value of sending young sex offenders through punitive sanctions such as the sex offender registry. The fact is that our legal system was built in an era without sophisticated social research, and there is compelling evidence that we're getting it wrong. Education, counseling and community-based efforts to hold young offenders accountable are demonstrably more effective at changing violent patterns of behavior.

Blake does not vilify the man who assaulted him, nor does he seek revenge. Instead, he asks for compassion and empathy from those who hear his story, so that he can move on. He is breaking the cycle of violence in a way that punishment through the criminal justice system cannot. As a survivor, this is the hardest part for me accept.  I want to be angry. I want to rage. But if my goal is truly to prevent violence, I need to look at what works to end it.  Efforts based in empathy and compassion don't just sound good in theory, they work in practice.

I have learned so much from Blake, and part of that is that he's a man talking about what people often think of as "violence against women." I did not set out to find a man to talk about being assaulted, but working with him has challenged me to think beyond my own gender politics that often refer to men as predators and women as prey. It’s not “men” who commit violence. It is rapists and abusers. These people are often men, but the overwhelming majority of men are not. And when men are victims, it’s even harder to for them to come forward than it is for women. Since I started working on this project, I’ve been surprised by how many men have quietly told me their experiences. I feel more strongly than ever that I want to do something to support them.

There is an important discussion that we need to be having right now to bring discussions of sexual violence into a supportive space where we can take real steps to combat it. We do need to put pressure on schools and universities to do more, but we also need to educate the general population so that people stop blaming themselves for what happened. With so much misinformation and sensationalized reporting, it’s hard not to fall into patterns of victim-blaming or disbelief. But that needs to stop. I’m making this film to add my voice to the call for change. I hope you can join me.

The Myth of Heroes and Villains in On-Campus Rape Prevention

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This morning, I was forwarded a NYT article by Michael Winerp on bystander intervention. It was easy to miss, tucked away in the higher education section, addressing mainly parents interested in knowing what schools are doing to keep their children safe. While mostly insightful, the article also perpetuates dangerous myths about false accusations that hinder the overall goal of protecting students from sexual violence. Winerp frames bystander programs as a way not just to protect women, but also a way to protect men, athletes in particular, from women who would do them harm. In doing so, he flames the adversarial fire between young men and women and misses an opportunity to have a grown-up discussion about sex.

It’s not hard to see the ingenuity of bystander intervention programs. When rape prevention programs were developed as part of the Violence Against Women movement in the 60s, men were painted as a more monolithic group and spoken of as the enemy. However, David Lisak, a prominent researcher into sexual assault, is quoted as saying that only 3% of men who commit assaults, so the vast majority of men are not out to do any harm. Bystander programs engage these men as potential good guys who are looking out for others. It also recognizes that they may not necessarily be looking out for women, but possibly for a male friend or teammate they don’t want to get into trouble.

While this engagement is a great way to get men involved, by continuing to frame the problem exclusively in terms of men vs. women, Winerp misses the fact that men can also be victims of this violence. They are not the majority by any means, but they are there, and their numbers are even more grossly underreported than women’s. This reliance on a battle-of-the-sexes style trope limits comes with an underlying sense of fear at the traction campus advocates are currently getting in preventing sexual violence. Greendot is a national violence prevention organization currently leading the way in implementing bystander programs on college campuses by purposefully taking gendered language out of their curriculum. They are making a conscious effort to include men, both as potential saviors and survivors in order to subvert this adversarial dynamic.

Jen Sayre from Correlate Films on Vimeo.

We all the know the dominant narrative of weak women in need of saving, and men, either as heroes or villains, taking charge of situations. However, if we leave the area of comfortable discourse and recognize that these depictions are a very limited picture of human sexuality and relationships, we’re able to have much more sophisticated and useful conversations about violence prevention. No one, neither male nor female, wants to see themselves as the victim. The part of this narrative that paints women as getting positive reinforcement for accusing someone is simply false. Accusers are put under enormous pressure and scrutiny, especially when they are speaking out against athletes or celebrities. The adversarial bias that paints the majority of women as vengeful schemers needs to go out with the idea that all men are potential predators. These exaggerated stereotypes are not helping.

This leads me to the biggest problem in Winerp’s article. After addressing the efforts made by schools to educate, he also, rightly, addresses the problem of leaving these cases brought to student tribunals. While it is overwhelmingly true that groups of students are not equipped to handle the sensitive nature of these cases, his argument as to why is one of the most counter-productive lines of reasoning present in this entire debate.

He cites the case of Dez Wells, a basketball player at Xavier university who was accused of raping a woman. He acknowledges that they had sex, but claims it was consensual and that he used a condom. According to the legal papers, it all started with a game of truth or dare among friends. As Winerp writes, “Many of the dares, Mr. Wells said, were sexual — at one point the woman gave him a lap dance; at another, she exposed her breasts. Afterward, they went back to her dorm room and had sex.” Hours later, the woman reported it as a rape.

Winerp goes on to quote the Hamilton county prosecuting attorney as saying that after their investigation, “It wasn’t even close,” and that there was no indictment. Even with this determination by the prosecutor, Xavier officials acted on their own and brought the case of a mixed student and faculty tribunal, which was not trained in how to read evidence from rape kits and admitted to not knowing how to handle the information. Still, the board found Wells guilty and he was expelled. Wells has had his reputation tarnished, and his potential career as a basketball player threatened. He maintains his innocence and is suing Xavier for this decision.

Winerp uses this story as an example for the dangers of taking these cases out of the hands of law enforcement, but he doesn’t even give passing recognition to the fact that in many cases, the courts cannot get adequate evidence to prosecute someone even if they believe that they are guilty. He does not consider the fact that many women decline to prosecute when they learn of what the process will require of them. He doesn’t even begin to question why it was dropped, but takes the fact that it was as a clear indication of innocence. I am not suggesting that the athlete in question is definitely guilty. I am suggesting that a responsible journalist would mention that conviction rates for rape are extremely low. Due to under-reporting exact numbers are elusive, but the range given is generally between 3-7% of rape cases leading to a conviction. Given these rates it seems disingenious to look to the the legal system as an authority in properly grappling with the complexity of most of these cases.

Not being able to rely on the justice system for answers in these situations is truly a problem for policy makers and journalists because it leaves them in an area where this isn’t a distinct authority in the matter. One of the major pitfalls of writing about sexual assault is that it is a topic that is guaranteed to come with some heightened emotional response and people picking sides and vehemently arguing their point. Lines are drawn around exaggerated depictions of men as evil predators with instatiable urges preying on the innocent and women as vengeful lying sirens ensnaring men into seductive traps that result in the ruination of their good name.

Winerp plays into this tendency when he mentions that the woman in question was playing sexy games with the athlete, giving him a lap dance and taking off her shirt. This implication here is that she wanted it, or generously, that any reasonable person would assume she wanted it. The fact that Winerp fails to grasp is that even if she was giving off all the signs of a lady who wants to get in bed with a man, she can still be raped. Instead of recognizing that sex is a huge grey area, he puts it into a black box, where what happens after that lap dance is not up for discussion. What if she was into it initially, but then he got too rough with her and wouldn’t stop when she wanted him to?

Some people might just call that “bad sex” and move on, but the fact remains that he kept going after she said no. We have a word for that, and it’s a lot more serious than “bad sex.” If this is what happened, any prosecution would be nearly impossible, but that would not mean that the women is free from lasting emotional and psychological scars of being victimized. Again, this is not to say that this is what happened, but it is to say that this is just as possible as any other scenario. We aren’t going to get anywhere with prevention efforts without the understanding that a woman flashing her breasts does not give a man free reign to use her body as he wants behind closed doors.

Last year, Jyl Shaffer worked at Reed College, a small libreral arts college in Portland, OR as a prevention educator. In her work, she lets students know that there isn’t really one clear and concise way to ensure that you are getting consent. As much as we want there to be a set of steps that students can run through, the fact is that you are working with people who are exploring their sexuality and don’t really know what they want. These are people who don’t have a lot of real-world experience to temper the messages they have gotten from TV or the internet. College is generally accepted as a time for learning, about the world, about oneself, and about relationships, but what is coming to light more and more is that these lessons aren’t necessarily a harmless part of growing up.

Jyl Shaffer from Correlate Films on Vimeo.

It is a somewhat new idea, at least by mainstream standards, to think of consent in such explicit terms, and comprehensive sex education that frames sex as a good and pleasurable experience remains deeply controversial. However, the fact remains that an understanding of sexual encounters as a changing and mutable experience that is constantly being re-negotiated by the parties involved is central to effective violence prevention. Bystander intervention programs are fantastic, but without a discussion on what healthy sexuality looks like, these efforts will always be limited in scope.

Sticking with the example of Dez Wells and his expulsion from Xavier, the need for a more comprehensive sex education becomes even clearer. The fact is that with good education, it’s not just men like Wells being taught how not to rape, but women like the one in the example being taught how to more clearly communicate their boundaries and desires. It is giving her permission to speak up more loudly and more forcefully when she needs to, and providing a more detailed vocabulary for her experiences. So, if a rape does occur, she is more equipped to deal with it in a way that holds the rapist accountable in a reasonable and effective way.

As it stands, no one is really happy with the case at Xavier and it’s end result is a hotly contested law suit. This is neither justice for the victim nor is it a validation of Wells’ clean reputation. Instead, what you have is an uneven attempt at finding justice within a punitive system. In the event that Wells was guilty and got away with it, his explusion is not sending any sort of message that he has to change his ways. If our goal is reduce sexual violence on campuses, it is time to look around see that clinging to the tools provided through the justice system as it currently stands are falling short.

Dr. Shawn Marsh is a researcher with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges investigating the effectiveness of the legal system in handling juvinile sex offenders. Though his work is not directly on college populations, there are similarities between teens and people in their early twenties that allow for some overlap. Most notably, people at this age are still malleable in terms of brain development and interventions that focus on treatment and education can work to prevent future assaults in a way that explosions, imprisonment, and a sex offender list cannot.

According to Dr. Marsh, research shows that punishments have to be both timely and “that it has to be, from the perspective of the person [who comitted the crime] to fit the offense.” So, to create change, we need to consider what the offender might think is an appropriate response and hold them accountable through those standards, rather than our own. In a world that wants to paint all sex offenders as the lowest of the low and the vilest of the vile, this can be deeply uncomfortable. But based on current scientific research, we are currently faced with the fact that our desire for vengeful justice is standing in opposition to creating a just and equitable society.

Shawn Marsh from Correlate Films on Vimeo.

One reason there is such deep resistance to this line of thought is that there is a long history of victims who were not heard or believed and have thereby never been given a chance to heal. Their anger seethes out and looks for scapegoats they can tear down in hopes of coming to some sort of resoultion about their own attack. Another reason for the heightened emotion is that the fear of being accused of committing a sex crime is real. These convictions can and do ruin people’s lives in a way that does not ultimately solve the problem.

Making matters even more confusing, the federal definition of rape is relatively new. It was changed in the beginning of 2012 to be more include any type of penetration into any sexual orifice, and notably removed the words “forceable” and “female.” These changes demonstrate an understanding that rape can be coercive as well as forceful and enacted in a variety of ways upon a variety of people.

Last year the world watched as football players at Steubenville High School were convicted for raping a girl. One argument in their defence was that they didn’t know that what they were doing was rape. With a lack of good education, it is reasonable to fear that our boys are getting dangerous messages about sex from the media and their friends that are leading them into trouble. We have not actively taught young people how to respect boundaries, and the rules are changing all around them.

It is no longer tenable to pretend that sex education that focuses on avoiding diseases or pregnancy is enough. We need to be adults who open up the black box around sexuality in our own lives and sort out all the fear, anger, longing or whatever other intense emotions arise so that we can be models for students. Whether we are more concerned with keeping girls safe or keeping boys out of trouble, we have a common goal in reducing sexual violence. The fearful narratives don’t work for either end. We can continue to put our heads in the sand and rely on tired tropes of vilification or we can push a little farther. We need to learn to be open about boundaries and desire, so we can watch out for ourselves and each other.


All video clips are from a forthcoming documentary about violence prevention efforts. Check out our KickStarter.

Harassment and Inclusivity at XOXO

0-B2VqkPQ6uUuWB3xM XOXO is a festival/conference in Portland that is centered around the goal of creating a positive community for artists and makers working outside of mainstream publishing and distribution models. It is heavily curated by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan (lovingly called the Andys) as a place where smart creatives can come to be inspired by stellar talks and beautiful moments of serendipity. The speaker list was very much dominated by white men in tech, but I was happy to see that they were not the only ones talking. As a female independent filmmaker, I came across some hostility to my presence at this event. Despite all that, I had a fantastic time. Backstory

I was aware of XO last year, but because it was big on the tech and gaming components, I self-selected against the event and any of the fringe activities. The conversations about sexism and tech hadn’t yet blown up to the levels they have this year, but in 2012 anyone paying attention to the feminist internet knew that women had to fight to be present in these spaces. I have always been drawn to independent media and absolutely love KickStarter, but I was in a really shaky emotional space and the thought of fighting to be heard and possibly being sexually harassed sounded too exhausting to be worth it.

In the year that followed, I made the switch to full-time freelancing and have started shooting a documentary that I want to distribute independently. So, when I saw that I could get in as a volunteer, I jumped on it. I was still a little worried about not really being a member of the club, but whatever. If I’m going to grow an audience as an independent filmmaker, I have to speak up and be seen.

XOXO

Turns out, it was a good thing that I approached this year with a stronger, more emotionally stable mindset because after being there for about three hours, I met a drunk guy who decided to sexually harass me.

Before anyone accuses me of being overly sensitive, I need to point out that it wasn’t harassment simply because the jokes were about fucking or dildos (I do play Cards Against Humanity). He also wasn’t trying to get me to sleep with him later and doing a piss-poor job of it. He was using sexually explicit language to get everyone in earshot to imagine me in vulnerable/exposed situations and then loudly laughing in my face. We had been having a normal conversation, but then he suddenly switched into harasser mode and all his body language made it clear that this was a conversation about me and all my attempts to respond to him directly were ignored. It was about his power to make me feel like shit and exclude me from the bro-time he was having.

I walked away thinking, “Fuck that guy,” but really I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t confront him directly. If I did it right then and there, that would definitely cause a scene. If I did it privately, he could easily ignore me. I didn’t want to say something publicly because that would bring a lot of attention and scrutiny down on me, and I just wanted the anger and resentment to go away so I could enjoy the conference.

Going to the organizers was the only other possible way to get a resolution, but, as anyone who’s been on the receiving end of harassment knows, people in positions of power around this issue aren’t always the most sympathetic. So,I did what any reasonable person would do and complained about the situation to a friend. After that, I had a drink and started resigning myself to pretending the whole thing never happened. Fortunately, my friend took it upon herself to go to Andy Baio and ask what he thought we should do.

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Now, this is where the magic happens.

By the time I was talking to the Andys about what happened, I was terrified. I stood in a similar place once before, and that time I was told directly that being assaulted was my own fault and that I should know better than to talk about it. That experience was a seminal one in inspiring me to make the documentary that brought me to XO in the first place. And here I was, regretting every decision that brought me there, waiting for one of these men to stop being the amazing people they seemed to be and berate me for bringing this experience to their event.

And then… it didn’t happen. Slowly, I stopped feeling like a caged animal, and realized that yes, they were mad, but not at me. I was basically speechless and just said thank you. I was so grateful that I didn’t have to defend myself or withstand a bunch of weird questions that I wasn’t even angry about the harassment anymore. I wish it would have been ok for me to pull out my phone and take a picture of that moment because OMFG YES! it was horrible, it was inappropriate, and someone in a position of power understands! I was reliving the absolute worst things that had ever happened in my life, but this new ending was so different and so much better. People I didn’t even know were angry about my experience and talking about kicking the harasser out of the event (which they did). Even more confusingly awesome, they didn’t seem to be doing it as a capitulation to outside pressure, but because they thought that what happened was wrong.

My head was exploding, and I almost went home right then and there. I felt shaky and weird and way more emotionally vulnerable than I wanted to be in a room full of strangers, but I decided to stay. I joined a game of Johann Sebastian Joust and slowly started to feel giddy. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a big game nerd, the Andys had made it perfectly clear that I was welcome and allowed to have a good time. Later, I danced my ass off to Jack Conte’s set and basked in the joyousness of his stage presence and energy. I was at an event with tech and gaming people and found it to be a safe space. It was a more positive and welcoming experience than I was expecting and left me feeling really comfortable meeting people and listening to fantastic speakers share their stories.

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As I’m writing this, I’ve just learned that an acquaintance of mine was arrested — and ultimately exonerated — for a domestic violence incident over the weekend. He’s a man in the tech community who actively works to make his section of the world more welcoming to women. Though I don’t know him well, my heart is breaking for him. He is being labelled as an abuser even though no formal charges were brought against him. He has posted on Twitter that he’s scared. Those defending him are denigrating the women who won’t take the lack of formal criminal charges as evidence of his innocence. Those women are coming from a place of fear and anger,where they are always threatened and always fighting. My heart breaks for them too.

I have arrived at this place in my life after experiencing ongoing violence in my childhood. I was raped when I was 12 and lived with unresolved trauma for 15 years. I work in independent media because I want to tell my story in a way that is honest and can help people understand both sides of my friend’s situation. I find myself stuck in a place where everyone around me is saying that to be successful, I need to shout from the rooftops until someone hears me, follow my passions, and tell the story only I can tell. But the main thing I’ve done with my life is heal from trauma, and it’s a scary thing to go public with that. There’s no separation between my art and the most vulnerable parts of myself. I know that my work is incredibly valuable to the right people, but there’s a lot of static to navigate to connect with that audience.

I have heard many of attendees of XOXO talk about how thankful they were to be there, and I am too. I never thought I would be the asshole who walks away from being sexually harassed thinking it was a net positive, but experiencing that resolution was an amazing gift for my creativity. The Andys didn’t just send me the message that it’s ok for me to be at their event, they sent the message that it’s ok for me to be on the internet. As I keep talking and making, I’m sure to find people who are going to want to tear me down, but now I also have that moment of glorious confusion when I realized that without knowing anything about me, these two guys had my back. It was perhaps a dark serendipity that brought me to that place, but a profound one nonetheless. I can’t really explain it, but am extremely grateful for it. Hugs and kisses.

Don't Call them Rapists

Another day, another football player tied up in a rape case. Jordan Johnson's case at the University of Montana is a familiar story where a college athlete has been accused of rape and an investigation is revealing a culture of tolerance around sexual assault within university athletics. Johnson's case comes on the heels of another accusation that a woman was assaulted by five men, four of whom play football for the University of Montana. In a move mirroring the initial internal reactions in the Sandusky and Steubenville cases, university official James Foley sent an email urging others in the administration to refer to is as a "date rape" rather than a "gang rape."

Yesterday, I was interviewing Jyl Shaffer, a sexual assault advocate who works on college campuses for an upcoming documentary. One of the main problems she faces is that people still think of rape as something that happens primarily between strangers. We differentiate between rape that happens when someone jumps out of the bushes, and rape that happens at a party among friends. The implication is that if we can just get everyone to agree that date rape is real and just as bad as stranger rape, then we would be more successful in prosecuting rapists and changing behavior.

Over at Salon, Stephanie Hughes examines this premise against the case of 25-year-old Lydia Cuomo, who was pulled into an alley and penetrated vaginally, orally and anally by a stranger on the way to work. The police found DNA evidence in her underwear and there were witnesses to the crime, but she couldn't tell the court what color a car parked in the alley was. According to the jury, this showed that her memory of the event was "unreliable," and her attacker was not convicted of rape.

Where this gets really interesting is that he was convicted of "criminal sexual conduct" for orally and anally penetrating her. In this case, "rape" was defined exclusively as as non-consensual vaginal penetration, and, even though the jury agrees that this man did assault Cuomo and penetrate her twice, they would not call him a rapist. The punishment for rape and criminal sexual conduct is the same and this man will ultimately spend 75 years in prison for his crime. Still, by legal terms, he is not guilty of rape.

As a sexual assault advocate myself, I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, a conviction is a conviction and if juries have such deep-seated knee-jerk reactions against the word "rape," perhaps it should be replaced with "criminal sexual conduct" in all courtrooms. Perhaps describing what athletes do at drunken college parties as "nonconsensual intercourse" will prompt administrators to address the problem rather than automatically go into PR mode and work to soften the language.

On the other hand, calling a rape a rape is important for victims/survivors. "Rape" as a word has it's power because of the intimate and long-lasting nature of the crime. Sex crimes are often compared to murder or robbery, but rape, as a word, has more emotional power than either of those. Death remains the realm of mystery, healthcare and religion, but sex and relationships are the stuff of our life. As a culture and as individuals, we are obsessed with who we love, how we love and how we make love. Being attacked on this level has the potential to impact every other aspect of a survivor's life for years and years to come. This pain is silenced when we take the emotional power out of rape in our speech.

In terms of fighting assault on college campuses and within athletic programs, there are cultural forces at play that go deeper than the drinking and presumed coquettishness of women who date. There is a deep resistance to the applying the word rape to attacks simply because it is such a strong word. Asking a survivor to soften their experience in order to seek justice is just one more way the system is stacked against them, but at this point in time, a compromised justice seems like a better solution than letting sexual criminals go free.