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On Tuesday, just three weeks before he’s scheduled to storm Madison Square Garden as the newest player on the New York Knicks, Derrick Rose begins an eight-day trial for allegations he raped a young woman when he was in college. The 30-year-old student is seeking $21.5 million in a civil suit, and the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the case for possible criminal charges. Rose recently told reporters, “I feel like I’m innocent,” when asked about the allegations that he and his friends had sex with this woman while she was drunk and unable to consent. But Rose’s feelings are irrelevant. Whether he understood at the time or not, and whether he’s found guilty of rape or not, he and his friends are guilty, of getting far too close to that line.

It’s never fun to talk about rape. Especially when someone you know and love — a beloved icon, a celebrated filmmaker, an NBA star — is involved.

But the details of allegations against public figures like Rose and Nate Parker prove that we need to have more discussions than ever about the line between rape and consent — for the safety of both women and men.

Toxic masculinity is an even more dominant global force than White supremacy. So expecting young men to educate themselves on how their privilege can be oppressive is as futile as expecting White people to address systematic racism on their own. Each high profile rape case, from Kobe Bryant to Ben Rothlisberger to Brock Turner, further reveals that few of us understand what rape even means and even fewer are educated enough to talk about it openly.

I didn’t fully understand the concept of “rape culture” until my younger sister explained it to me last November, just as the Derrick Rose story broke. She scolded me for giving Rose and Bill Cosby the benefit of a reasonable doubt while we discussed their cases. I always had a vague understanding of what rape was, but no concrete definition. She was shocked that I wasn’t more informed on the consent laws or the amount of cases that are never reported or thoroughly investigated.

For me, rape was as simple as recognizing the clear difference between someone that wants you and someone that doesn’t. There has never been anything appealing to me about someone that doesn’t. So, even to this day, I find it hard to understand how drugs, pride and narcissism can move some to steal god’s greatest gift when it would be so much easier to just pay a professional or party with PornHub. But my sister’s scolding woke me up to my ignorance about the widespread cultural circumstances that lead to rape, and make it so difficult for women to defend themselves against it.

And yet, no matter how many statistics I hear or episodes of Law & Order: SVU I see, I still underestimate the severity of sexual violence women face around the world. I confess my instinctive skepticism when my favorite public figures are accused of rape. But any legal claims against Black men in America cause me to be at least a little skeptical. Given this country’s history of using false rape allegations to justify lynchings, my conscious requires concrete evidence before I’m giving thought to any allegations. But my standard of proof only protects me and my fellow men. It betrays the women who are subjected to a system that can be just as brutal to them today as it is to Black men.

Research finds that over one in three women had experienced a sexual assault and that only 6% of sexual assaults were reported to the police. According to Justice Institute of British Columbia, one out of every 17 women is raped, 62% of rape victims were physically injured, 9% were beaten or disfigured.” Wikipedia

Rose’s situation is not a case of White female victimhood or systemic oppression. It doesn’t have the ambiguity of Nate Parker’s 1999 case, because the digital age has provided all the receipts. The texts and call logs match the testimony, and it all looks like D. Rose had only his own ignorance — and shaky morality — to blame. He actually testified, “we men, you can assume,” when asked why he and his friends would pile into a car in the early AM to visit one of his fuck buddies. And he still doesn’t understand how his testimony incriminates him. How is that possible?

Because our society enabled him and thousands more like him by blaming victims of rape for getting raped in the first place. She shouldn’t have gotten drunk. She shouldn’t have been a hoe. She shouldn’t have texted a basketball player to come over at 1AM. Rose’s defense team actually thought painting his accuser as sexually adventurous, by highlighting her willingness to use a sex belt that Rose bought for her, would get their client off the hook for his own actions. Regardless of who’s lying and who’s telling the truth, the nature of the excuses being made by the defendant and “evidence” being stacked up against the alleged victim are, alone, paint a problematic picture: what did she expect would happen?

Pop culture shows us rape as a violent and forced act by lone creeps and crazed exes. But rape doesn’t require drugging, torn clothing or black eyes: it is simply sex without legal consent. Minors cannot give consent. Adults under the influence of certain drugs can’t give consent. And consent is not the absence of “no” or “stop.” It is the absence of yes.

It’s all very confusing when you factor in the dating practices we’ve been socialized to see as normal. Drugs and alcohol play a part in most sexual acts we see in the media. How many romantic comedies and music videos have you seen that paint drugs or alcohol as the gateway to sexual expression?

In real life, the subtle exchanges of masculine and feminine energy that are required to complete any sexual act cannot be stipulated by legal terms. But there is a difference between the natural acts of buying someone a drink while courting them and attempting to spike their drink while preying on them.

Derrick Rose’s alleged actions don’t seem as overtly predatory as the charges that Darren Sharper was convicted of, but that doesn’t mean they don’t qualify as rape. Rose can continue to try to paint himself as the victim of his own ignorance, but he will not get past this mistake until he holds himself accountable and acts to use his platform to educate the world about rape culture and consent. We can’t depoliticize crimes involving sex, money, fame and race, but we at least need to get on the same page about right and wrong if we’re going to have conversations that can lead to change.

If you’re genuinely confused about what that is, start here:

The College defines consent as a freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity, expressed by clear, unambiguous words or actions.  It is the responsibility of the initiator of the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the other person’s consent to engage in sexual activity.  Consent must be present throughout the sexual activity by all parties involved.  At any time, a participant can communicate that he or she no longer consents to continuing the activity.  Consent may not be obtained through the use of force, coercion, or intimidation or if the victim is mentally or physically disabled or incapacitated, including through the use of drugs or alcohol. Students cannot assume consent because of the existence of a previous dating or sexual relationship.  The use of alcohol or drugs does not diminish a student’s responsibility to obtain consent for sexual activity. – Whitman College

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