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Teaching Men Not to Rape: Survivor Zerlina Maxwell Defies Threats After Speaking Out on Fox News

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Over the past week, political analyst Zerlina Maxwell has received racially fueled death threats for speaking out against rape. Maxwell, who is a rape survivor, appeared on a Fox News segment with Sean Hannity last week about the possibility of arming women to prevent rape. She said the responsibility should lie instead with men. In response to her remarks, Maxwell received a torrent of abuse on social media with commenters saying she deserved to be gang-raped and killed. Zerlina Maxwell joins us to discuss her ordeal and her refusal to be silent in the face of the threats against her. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a story in the crosshairs of women’s rights and gun control. Political analyst Zerlina Maxwell is refusing to be silent after receiving racially fueled death threats for speaking out against rape. Maxwell, who is a rape survivor, appeared on a Fox News segment with Sean Hannity last week about the possibility of arming women to prevent rape. She said the responsibility should lie instead with men.

SEAN HANNITY: Women have been recommended that they use whistles and, what, pens, that they faint, fake faint, urinate, puke on people—the most idiotic things that have been said by these arrogant, ignorant politicians out there.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Well, I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want women—I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear, how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. And in my case—


ZERLINA MAXWELL: In my case, don’t tell me if I had only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped, because it’s still putting it on me to prevent the rape.

SEAN HANNITY: By the way, but you have—you have written about this.


SEAN HANNITY: That this happened to you.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Yes. And I was attacked by someone I knew. So you’re required—if what you’re saying works out in reality, not in a theoretical scenario, you’re requiring that I shoot someone that I know?

SEAN HANNITY: No, no, no, I’m not—

ZERLINA MAXWELL: That is not the reality.

SEAN HANNITY: No, no, no. No, whoa, whoa, hold on.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Two-thirds of women are attacked by someone they know.

SEAN HANNITY: Nobody is requiring that you do it. I have carried a weapon my entire adult life, and I’ve had license to carry in five—the five recent states that I’ve lived in. And I am trained. I’m a marksman in the use of a pistol. I have been since I’m 11 years old. I’ve been a good shot. Only if women choose to, they ought to have the right. That ought to be their choice.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there with prevention.

SEAN HANNITY: Well, criminals are not going to listen.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: No, but we’re not talking about—we’re not—

SEAN HANNITY: So I agree with you, but—

ZERLINA MAXWELL: I mean, yeah, men are committing a crime. But many of the men that commit rape are people that we know.

SEAN HANNITY: But criminals are not going to listen to Sean Hannity.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: But you’re talking about—

SEAN HANNITY: No man should do that to anybody.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: You’re talking about it as if they’re some faceless, nameless criminal, when it—a lot of times it’s someone that you know and trust.

SEAN HANNITY: Well, I’m saying that women need to know that these situations arise, and we’ve got to—evil exists in the world. Evil exists.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Yes, but we can prevent rape by telling men not to commit it.

GAYLE TROTTER: No, that’s not right. That is not right.

SEAN HANNITY: They’re not going to listen.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: That is—that is the core argument.

SEAN HANNITY: Criminals will not listen.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: No, we’re not talking about criminals; we’re talking about a cultural—

SEAN HANNITY: So I want women—I want women to be able to protect themselves, don’t you?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: I want women to be able to protect themselves, yes, but I want women to not be in this situation. I’d like—

SEAN HANNITY: I agree with you.

GAYLE TROTTER: But they’re going to be in that situation.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: No, that’s not true. If you train men not to grow up to become rapists, you prevent rape.

GAYLE TROTTER: That’s not correct.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: That is the core of the problem.

SEAN HANNITY: You think you could stop—you think—you think you could tell a rapist to stop doing what he’s doing?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Yes, yes. You can—

SEAN HANNITY: Do you, really? And he’s going to listen to a—


SEAN HANNITY: —an ad campaign to stop?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: There are organizations that do this. Men stop—men can stop rape. Men Stopping Violence. They train young men to not rape.

AMY GOODMAN: In response to her remarks, Maxwell received a torrent of racially fueled abuse on social media with people saying she deserved to be gang-raped and killed. One person wrote, quote, “I hope you get raped and your throat slit! Maybe then you understand why white women have to be armed!”

Well, on Monday, she responded to the comments on MSNBC, saying, quote, “I’m certainly taking steps to protect my emotional health, but I will not be quiet because I refuse to be bullied into silence.”

For more, we’re joined in studio by Zerlina Maxwell herself, political analyst, contributor to Ebony.com.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’ve been through quite an ordeal.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Yes, it’s been a very long week. But I think what’s come out on the good side of things is that I’m getting a lot of support from other survivors, that say, you know, “I’m really supportive of your message.” And really, what I was trying to say is that the conversation about guns has nothing to do with the conversation about rape and prevention. And again, it’s just another way to put it on women and putting it on them to have the responsibility to prevent rape, and that’s the wrong way to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: What is Fox saying to you about the kind of comments you’ve gotten afterwards?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Well, you know, I’ve gotten a lot of support from them. And in the end, I actually don’t put it on Fox’s shoulders as to why I got the reaction that I did. The segment was covered in conservative media, so it was when it went up on the conservative websites when I started getting a lot of the hateful comments.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you’ve been a frequent guest on Fox News in the past. Have you ever gotten the kind of reaction that you’ve gotten on this particular issue?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Well, this is my first time ever talking about this particular issue, but I have done segments about guns, because that’s, you know, a hot topic right now, and I’ve never, ever received any of the feedback like the ones, the violent feedback, that I got this week. Normally, it’s just: “I disagree. You’re stupid.” That’s fine. You know, I can deal with that. You just, you know, ignore that type of comment. But when it goes to violence and people being very, very cruel, especially since I outed myself as a rape survivor in this segment, which actually wasn’t the clip that was on conservative media sites—they took that part out—but I think that, you know, when I’m putting myself out there and I’m being vulnerable, because I think the message and the issue is important, you know, and you respond with violence, I think in many ways you’re proving my point, that there is a cultural problem that we need to address.

AMY GOODMAN: Zerlina, you wrote a piece this week, “Five Ways We Can Teach Men Not to Rape.” Talk about those ways.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Yes. We need to teach people what consent is. And, you know, this week we’re seeing in Ohio the Steubenville rape trial with two high school football players, and the defense attorney is basically arguing that she was too drunk in order to say no, and so that means she’s implying that she consented to everything that happened when she began drinking that night. And, you know, number one on the list is, we need to teach young men about consent, because I think it’s not that people don’t know that rape is wrong. I think we all can agree that, you know, people know that it’s wrong. But I think a lot of people don’t know what rape is. And so, there are times when young men will be in a situation where they do something that they think is ambiguous, but in—legally, it’s classified as rape. And, you know, it all comes down to consent and knowing what that is.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things you talk about and you raised on Fox and you talk about in your piece on the Steubenville case, which is headlined “Why Acquaintance Rape is Not a Myth” —


AMY GOODMAN: —is that most women are raped by people they know.

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Right. And this is one of the reasons why the gun conversation is completely ridiculous on its face in terms of prevention of rape, because most women are going to be in a situation where they know the person, right? So you’re not going to be out on a date or in your apartment with an acquaintance and have a gun out. That’s just not—I mean, if you—particularly because most guns, if you’re doing it the appropriate way, you’re going to lock it up and make sure that it’s not stolen or used by a child. And so, you’re not going to have your gun on hand any time something like this comes up. And I think the problem is, is that too many women, 80 percent of women, are raped by someone they know. And so, you’re not going to have the gun out.

And I think the most important thing is that people understand that rape happens in this way, and not in the jump-out-of-the-bushes stranger rape type of way, the majority of times. That, of course, happens, but the majority of rapes are this other way, this acquaintance, date-rape type of way. And we have to acknowledge that this is a real thing. This is not—this is not something that we can pretend doesn’t exist.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole emphasis now, or this attempt to solve everything, all the major problems by arming yourself—

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Right, right.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —whether it’s the school shootings now and now—and Hannity discussing the issue of rape, what does it tell you about the problems we face as a society that we see—constantly see the need to, well, arm yourself to protect yourself against “evil” in the world?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: Well, I mean, one of the things that was telling about the “evil” part of the segment was that rape, in many instances—and I think Steubenville is a perfect example of this. It’s not about evil, right? In Steubenville, those boys are very—fairly ordinary, right? They play football. They’re from a small Midwest town. They’re really ordinary. And it’s the conditioning they received as young men leading into their teenage years that led them to allegedly do this. And so, I think it has to do—I mean, the gun issue is just completely separate. And I think, in many ways, they’re exploiting women’s rights in order to promote just a pro-gun agenda. And I think that that’s wrong. And so, I just wanted to make that point clear in the segment.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a hearing on gun control measures in Colorado last week that Sean Hannity brought up during your appearance on his show. This is the testimony of one unnamed rape survivor.

UNIDENTIFIED RAPE SURVIVOR: The harsh reality, as a woman, is that a firearm is the one equalizing factor when met against an opponent much larger than me. The question of my life is, and will remain to be, what would have been different if I had been able to carry my firearm that night?

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Zerlina?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: You know, that’s hard for me to watch, because, you know, as a fellow survivor, I’m supportive of her, you know, thought process, and “It’s not my fault, and I could have prevented it,” because I went through a similar process. I think a lot of survivors go through that. “What could I have done differently? Maybe if I hadn’t gone out?” You know, you put it on yourself, the responsibility on yourself.

But I think that the response that—I didn’t actually think that the lecture, mini lecture, she got from the Democratic representative in that, at the end of that clip, was necessary, either. I don’t really want anyone to be lecturing rape survivors about anything, because many of them put it on themselves, they blame themselves. You’re already going through that process. You don’t need anybody else to put more on you. And so, you feel a deeper sense of guilt, as if you could have prevented it, when in reality you can’t. I think that’s the core of the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about anti-rape strategies that you think work?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: I think men can stop rape. I keep citing them in every interview that I do, because one of the things that I did as a journalist, I went and covered one of their bystander intervention workshops. And it was incredible. It changed my, you know, view on humanity in a lot of ways, because it was 17- to 22-year-old boys, and they learned really passive strategies on how to intervene if they see a troubling situation at a party. And it’s not about confronting someone and saying, you know, “Get away from that girl. You know, she looks to drunk.” It’s not really necessarily about that. You can do it in very nonconfrontational ways. And I think that this is revolutionary, because you want to prevent these situations before they come up. And that’s why a gun is not going to solve it, because that’s really after something has already begun that’s bad. So, if you can tell young men to intervene when they see their female friend, or a guy friend even, right? So, say, he is in a situation where he’s trying to talk to a girl that seems that—you know, to be too intoxicated, “Hey, man, maybe you don’t want to talk to that girl. Maybe you don’t want to leave with her. She looks too intoxicated. You don’t want to get into that situation.” It can be something very small, and then you can stop these situations from happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Zerlina, we want to thank you very much for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Your comment to those who have written these racist death threats and rape threats against you?

ZERLINA MAXWELL: You know, I wish them well.

AMY GOODMAN: Zerlina Maxwell, political analyst, contributor to Ebony.com. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

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