For me the defining moment came during the Mike Tyson rape trial.
An otherwise nice male coworker who didn't have a clue that I was a date rape survivor explained to me why Mike Tyson had to be not-guilty. It was stunning in it's simplicity.
She was alone with him in a place that had a bed.
Those weren't his exact words, but that was the message. He calmly explained that his father taught him that a woman who allows that to happen has signaled her consent to have sex. I couldn't believe what I was hearing and as I asked questions to try and make sense of his beliefs, he told me that if a woman invited a man in for coffee after a date, she was consenting to have sex.
I tried telling him that his father was wrong, but it quickly became apparent that nothing I was able to say would change his firm convictions. At the time, my history of rape was a deep, dark secret so I couldn't communicate the harm his assumptions about sexual consent could cause. The topic also seemed like a dangerous one in the workplace.
This guy wasn't a bad person at all and I don't believe he would ever have used his idea of consent to justify rape. If a woman got mad at him for assuming too much, he wouldn't have had a clue why she was angry with him.
His ignorance wasn't harmless, however.
If he had been a member of a jury hearing a rape case, I believe it would have been nearly impossible for him to convict a man of raping a woman he dated or had any sexualized contact with. He would have been blind to the significance of any evidence which challenged his deeply seated beliefs about sex. To see the evidence clearly, he would need to acknowledge that many of his core beliefs deserved to be scrapped.
Most of us defend our core beliefs, especially the negative ones, as if we are defending our very lives.
Abandoning a core belief that harms others means taking ownership of our part in that harm. It means seeing the worst in ourselves. It takes a brave person to do this.
That leads me into my question for everyone out there.
What's the most ignorant statement you've ever heard about sexual assault from someone who seemed to be an otherwise decent human being?