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Rape Culture: Don't Be a Bystander, with Christa Desir and Alina Klein

So, my first official post on YA Highway is actually going to be a guest post. Not because I'm lazy (shhhhh!), but because I think this topic is so, so important--as a writer, a mother, a woman and a human.  With that said, I'd like to introduce authors Christa Desir and Alina Klein, two amazing women and activists.  

Christa has spent 8 years volunteering as a rape victim advocate and a counselor in hospital ERs and women's health centers. Christa is a founding member and board president of The Voices and Faces Project, as well as a founding member of the Project's  "The Stories We Tell," the country's first testimonial writing workshop for sexual violence survivors. (Want to help support this great cause? Please see the link at the end of the post!)  Her first young adult novel, FAULT LINE, debuts Oct 1 from SimonPulse and is about a girl who is sexually assaulted at a party and doesn't recall the events of her assault. 

Alina Klein is a rape survivor and the author of RAPE GIRL, a novel about a teen girl stigmatized for prosecuting her rapist. Partnering with Christa Desir, Alina is a member of The Voices and Faces Project Speaker’s Bureau, presenting methods for fighting rape culture and helping to change the lens of teens. Alina has visited, e-chatted and Skyped with survivor groups and classrooms around the world. Alina is a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau, the NSVRC Experts Database, and a volunteer at Prevail, Inc.

And now, here is Alina and Christa's excellent post on Rape Culture: Don't Be a Bystander

It should come as no surprise to you that we care about the issue of rape. We are survivors, this is part of the landscape of who we are. In one way or another, the reality of sexual violence has been ingrained in our lives. It’s been ingrained in everyone’s lives. No one lives outside of rape culture.

Every day all of us come across things that perpetuate sexual violence and the denigration of women and girls. Not just obvious things like killing prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto, but more subtle and nuanced things like when a friend across the dinner table explains that Miley Cyrus is just trying to shed her Disney image by "acting like a whore."

We are all consumers of a rape culture. And the more present you are online, the more plugged in you are to movies, music, books, media, the more chance that you’re going to be smacked in the face with it.

We are writers. Being aware of the world is our business. Participating in social media, reading books, absorbing (at least a little bit of) popular culture is important when you write YA. It just is. But if we are engaging in this, it is imperative that we become even more vigilant about looking critically at the culture we live in and quite frankly, calling shenanigans when we see it.

Current discussions among anti-bullying and anti-violence professionals often focus on the role of bystanders. Because bystanders have the ability to stop shit from happening. A girl from Steubenville was dragged unconscious through three parties and sexually assaulted in front of numerous witnesses. How different could her life have been if even one bystander had intervened when they saw what was happening? If they had stepped in to stop it, or used their phone not to post photos to social media, but to call a trusted adult for help? One person choosing a different course of action could have changed so much. We may have little hope for sex offenders. But we still have a great deal of hope for bystanders.

When we take an active and public stance against the incidents and media that perpetuate sexual violence we empower others to do the same.  It’s as simple as that.

But most of the time we don’t. We stay silent. We worry if we call out people for sexism or racism or homophobia or bullying that we are being confrontational, that someone may not like us, that they may not buy our books, that such things are negative and we should only be positive on our social media platforms.

Well, being nice doesn’t stop rape. Being silent doesn’t stop rape. Being anti-confrontational doesn’t stop rape. People stop rape. People who care enough to speak up about it. People who err on the side of caution and get their friends out of dodgy situations. (Teen leaders in one of our high school presentations called this, “Hate me now, thank me later.”)

Taking a stand against rape culture can be as simple as making the choice not to buy Chris Brown’s music. Not to watch Mike Tyson’s new show, or Roman Polanski’s movies, or Kick Ass 2, upon hearing that it portrays sexual violence for laughs.

Or take it further. Discuss those things that perpetuate victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and a general attitude of disrespect and disregard for people. Don’t feel bad for asking that everyone be treated like a human being.

Think about the things you say, the questions you ask, the words you use. Be open to dialogue, and to learning about communities that aren’t your own. Be willing to call out people who are perpetuating rape culture, intentionally or not. Be understanding of your own blind spots, and be willing to apologize when you don’t get it right. But don’t let fear of getting it wrong stop you talking. As much damage is done by the culture of silence surrounding rape as anything.

Think more critically about what you watch, listen to, and read.

We are writers. There is power in our words, but there is equal power in our actions.

Some of the additional ways we choose to stand against sexual violence include explaining to people we love that we’re not okay with calling tank tops “wifebeaters”. Talking to every teen we know or give a presentation to, about affirmative consent (Yes means Yes!) and how they need a yes before they do anything. We also choose to sign petitions calling for the resignation of a judge who gives a rapist teacher 30 days in prison. We choose to own our sexuality and not let anyone tell us what we want (ahem, Robin Thicke). We choose to donate half the proceeds from our books to rape survivors. We choose to fundraise. We choose to be honest about our experience as survivors.

These are not choices for everyone. These are not without sacrifice. But this is the lens we see the world with and we have to believe in a better future.

We are not the most popular people in the room. Frequently. But above everything else, we are activists. We would do almost anything to prevent people from having to go through what survivors have gone through. To prevent our children from having to go through this. It takes a lot of voices to change a culture. We are grateful for all of them. And we’re grateful for YA Highway because they asked and said this was important.

And remember, when rape does happen, do what you can to help the survivor. Say “I’m sorry”, say “I believe you”, call RAINN (1-800-656-HOPE) if you need help deciding what to do next. Empower survivors by giving them choices, as many as you can.

*we are addressing the issue of rape from a female cis perspective for the purpose of this general blog and based on our own life experience; we do not in any way mean to negate the experiences of survivors who do not identify as such but we also do not want to speak on their behalf


Thank you so much, Christa and Alina, for helping start a conversation on such an important topic. Followers, what things do you do in everyday life to call BS on rape culture?  Please share!

Also, Christa and Alina are currently doing a fundraiser to finance a write workshop for rape survivors in New York City. If you're interested in learning more about it, donating, or spreading the word, you can find the details here:  

Debra Driza

Debra is the author of the MILA 2.0 series and a master of the fine art of procrastination.

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  1. This post is a bit hypocritical. It says everyone should be treated with respect, and advocates calling people out for slut shaming and sexism, yet has no trouble accusing someone of "acting like a whore."

    I have no personal experience with rape, but it's an important subject to me as a young woman. And, just like this post says, I have no shame in asking that everyone be treated like a human being. That includes not just Miley Cyrus and other female celebrities, but anyone who might be unintentionally perpetrating rape culture. And the thought of saying everyone should be treated with respect but then branding someone's behavior as whore-like makes me very uncomfortable, and I don't think it's okay or acceptable at all.

    1. Just want to note: the comment re: someone acting like a whore wasn't from the POV of the writers of this post but from the pov of someone else who might make that troublesome assessment of Miley Cyrus' performance.

      Recognizing that nuance is important.

    2. Mary, I think if you reread that part of the post, you'll find that they are not calling Miley Cyrus's behavior whore-like themselves, but saying that someone doing so is a subtle example of rape culture. (Which would mean, they are totally in agreement with what you're saying above.)

    3. Just to clarify, what Carrie and Kaitlin said is absolutely correct. If you read the passage again, hopefully you'll concur:

      "Every day all of us come across things that perpetuate sexual violence and the denigration of women and girls. Not just obvious things like killing prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto, but more subtle and nuanced things like when a friend across the dinner table explains that Miley Cyrus is just trying to shed her Disney image by acting like a whore."

      The Miley Cyrus comment was included as a subtle example of rape culture (from a third person's POV). It wasn't meant to be read as the authors' opinions.

      Sorry for any confusion. I went back and added quotes to "acting like a whore," in hopes that will help clarify.

  2. I love everything about this post. Everything.

  3. Being a *cough* victim *cough* I definitely understand the importance to being awareness. I didn't have the support behind me when I was dealing with that happen to me or everything that happened after. Because of this I have always made it a point to let younger girls know what happen to me and to remember they can always come and talk to me. I fear for young girls because advertising yourself has become the norm. I was raped because my best friend at the time slept with a guy on the first night so he thought I would do too and he heard about the first time. The first time I was pressured into it. I was 15 and hadn't even kissed a guy and next thing you know when I'm trying to stop what was happening... he got violent. I'll stop rambling now lol.
    Anyways, it kills me to see how movies and songs have pretty much made rape a non-issue.

    Jesus Freak Reader

  4. I thought this post was excellent. I recently saw a commercial on TV that said 1 out of 4 girls will be sexually assaulted. I don't know if that's a true stat but it's a scary one (especially for a mother with three girls. :( ) We all need to not be afraid to speak up, for whatever reason.


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Item Reviewed: Rape Culture: Don't Be a Bystander, with Christa Desir and Alina Klein Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Debra Driza