Rape, and the Date-Safe Project; an interview with Mike Domitrz

Courtesy Datesafeproject.org

Rape is a crime of violence. It is a crime of subjugation and dehumanization. In rape, sex is a tool used to humiliate and debase. The rapist is not a stranger. He is us.

  • 91% of rape victims are women
  • 73% of women know, or know of, their rapist
  • 38% of rapists are friends or acquaintances of their victim
  • 28% of women regarded their rapist as an ‘intimate’
  • 60% of rapes occur in the victim’s home, or in a friend’s home

According to the National Violence Against Women survey, approximately 1 in 6 women are either raped or have experienced attempted rape. Yet, the figure may be much higher. RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) reports that as many as 59% of all rapes go unreported.

When Mike Domitrz, founder of the Date-Safe Project discovered that his sister was raped, he decided to take action. I had the privilege of speaking at length with Mike early in April, 2014.

The Date-Safe Project, Mike, is really heartfelt, isn’t it?

Absolutely. In 1989, my sister was raped. I was just devastated. My sister! I struggled with this for two years, both as a brother and a man. I even transferred colleges to be closer to home. We wrestled with a lot of rage and pain and sadness- immediate family, extended family, friends. My sister being raped had such a wide reach.

I went back to school and it just jumped out at me- sexual assault often revolves around a failure to obtain consent. People weren’t getting permission, people didn’t know how to ASK for permission before doing this most intimate act. Most individuals did not realize their current dating practices were based on standards of disrespect.

No one, nobody, knew how to talk about my sister’s rape. No one knew what to say to me, to my sister, to the family. This subject was so taboo- no one had the skill set to support survivors of sexual assault. I decided that needed to change. And I would change it.

So, I met with a few experts about sexual assault. I did the research. I put together a one-man show. I drew them in with humor- I’ve been a DJ and know how to work a crowd- and once I had their attention, I could show them the devastation caused by sexual assault. That program is called “Can I Kiss You?” I’ve done it all over the world- universities, colleges, military bases, conferences- it’s become the backbone of what we do.

Mike, let’s take a step back for a moment. A goodly number of our readers are SAHDs (stay-at-home-dads). I understand that you have some experience with that.

Yes, early in my married life, from 1995-1999, I was a SAHD. I did work a bit to bring in a bit of income, I even had a paper route, but I was always the primary caregiver. I started the Date Safe Project while I was in college, and once the kids were a bit older, I went into the project full force. It was a considerable financial risk for our family, but thankfully, I am married to a very supportive woman. Back then, being a SAHD was such a novelty. I’d be out with the kids and I’d get a lot of “Oh, isn’t that cute?” and “Babysitting today?” from people. It was such an oddity in the late 90s that most people didn’t know what to make of it.

It’s hard enough, Mike, for many parents to even talk about sex with their kids. But we need to start these conversations with our kids when they’re tweens. How do you counsel parents to raise the issues of “consent” with their children?

We live in a sex-saturated environment and television gives us some great teaching moments. You’re sitting on the couch with your kid, you’re watching a show, and a situation comes on the screen, some sexual innuendo comes across, and there’s your open door. You make the conversation, not about your kid, but about the character on TV.

You say something like,

“Wow, that’s a spot. Does this seem like a good place for this character to be? What do you think this character is feeling right now? How do you think this character should respond?”

You take it off of the kid, and the kid will be a lot more comfortable. A good rule of thumb for the parent is “If the kid is uncomfortable, your job as a parent is to be comfortable.” You have to be understandable. If you’re not comfortable talking about sex with a twelve year old, you need to get comfortable. The other rule of course, is “shut up and listen.” You ask the questions, and then make certain you really hear your child.

Do we truly live in a ‘rape culture?’

Rape culture is a term that’s tossed around a lot these days. We see it. Within our society, by our acceptance of behavior, by comments that create a “blame-the victim” mentality, anything that creates ‘victim-blame,’ that’s rape culture. We hear and read about it every day- a drunk girl at a party, she gets raped by a guy, or a couple of guys, so it must have been her fault, why else would she have gotten so drunk? When someone is unable to consent, that’s rape. When you fail to obtain consent, that’s rape. And when we behave in a way that fails to support the victim, that’s rape culture.

I live in Wisconsin. At a Fond du Lac high school, a student wrote an extraordinary piece for the student newspaper about real events, sexual assault events, which had taken place in the school. The school administration never disputed the facts, but they changed the rules of publication for articles. They didn’t change the rules and punishment about assault in their student body. They changed the rules of what could be published in the paper. A failure to address the issue-that’s rape culture. You have to request consent. You cannot blame the victim.

When I was in school, the popular notion was “No means no.” But that backfired. “NO means no” puts all the pressure on the victim. The correct phrase is “Did you ask?” That puts the pressure on the guy. “Did you ask?” ‘Did you honor the answer?”


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The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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