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Let’s Talk About Rape

May 17, 2011

Disclaimer:  This is not a ‘humanity is great!’ post.  You may skip it, if that bothers you.  I know this post is technically in violation of the warm fuzzy feelings! mission of  this blog.

Why do we teach “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape”?

This was the question that a friend of mine asked via that ubiquitous social media site, Facebook.  The sheer amount of responses she received was startling.  Four people ‘liked’ the question; 14 separate people wrote back (with 41 comments in all!), ranging from ‘you go girl!’ in complexity to page long treatises on their personal views and beliefs, citing sources and anecdotes (apparently even 40-somethings get roofied sometimes).  But the most interesting comments, in my opinion, were those aggressively antagonistic snipes by Bert and Peter (yes, both male).

Bert wrote first, stating that he had been finding:

“the former sentiment [don’t get raped instead of don’t rape] so much on reddit lately… it seems to stem from three issues: one, the pernicious and utterly unsubstantiated idea that rape is fundamentally tied to sexual attraction;… two, the unspoken, implied belief that women don’t understand how rape works;… three, and worst of all, that women exert unfair and unwarranted control over society through their attractiveness, that they use their beauty in cruel, mendacious ways, manipulating all the poor, sad neckbeardy basement-dwellers, and, though they’d never cop to this, rape is both karmic retribution for their sins and a societal corrective to prevent women from fully leveraging their powers.(bolding mine).

To this statement, Peter wrote that if he was going “to attempt to rape someone, [he’d] vote for somebody who looks more appealing.  Just sayin.”  He then followed up by saying “that’s just biology [for men to be visually stimulated by women].  Sorry.”

Does this woman deserve to be raped?

The backlash was swift and uncompromising.  A girl wrote that she didn’t think she was alone in “voting that not funny in the slightest.”  And Bert tore him a new one.  Paraphrasing, Bert told Peter that by emphasizing clothing, Peter was still placing the blame of rape onto the victim and that by saying rape is caused by man’s biological instinct implicitly excuses the rapist from blame.  Peter responded trying to clarify, Bert rejoined.  Finally, Bert attacked Peter’s character in no uncertain terms.  He wrote, to general acclaim from the Facebook community:

you’re deeply unpleasant, utterly wrong, abjectly unlikable, profoundly unfunny despite your obvious attempts to the contrary, with a tenuous grasp on discourse, biology, and sexuality.

It didn’t surprise me when Peter bowed out of the public discourse after that.

I had an issue with this entire conversation.  Here’s my issue: Peter wasn’t really wrong.  Sure, he was a little callous, but wrong?  Not really.  Now before Bert finds me and comes all the way from LA to stake me (I am glad you don’t condone rape of women, Bert, so please no violence either!), I’ll explain.

Partly thanks to Hollywood, we the people have a mentality that rapes only occurs in back alleyways, committed by violent, desperate men with gats and backwards baseball caps.   They stalk their victims (inevitably leggy blondes in short skirts with dubious IQs) and pounce on these unknown women in an opportunistic fashion, like a lion on a gazelle.  This is comforting, but not often true: Approximately 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.[1]

People don’t like acknowledging this fact because it means that to be safe from rape, it will take more than not wearing a mini skirt.  I think that’s why people got so enraged: it is frightening to think that someone we know is/could be a rapist.  Men don’t like to think it could be someone like them, women don’t want to fear their friends and lovers.  It is frightening for both men and women to think that rape is a more pervasive issue than random violence.  And it feels psychologically safer to couch rape in terms of clothing.  In fact, what the victim is wearing is not one of the ‘risk factors’ that dramatically increases chances of sexual violence: the number one cause is alcohol (41% of perpetrators are intoxicated).

RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), has a page devoted to what conscientious men can do to help reduce incidents of rape.  These are roughly divided into four categories: stopping perpetrators at the scene of the incident, preventative measures towards protecting female at risk friends (being the sober friend at a party, etc), being a listener should someone be attacked and changing the general culture that condones sexual assaults.

This last part is key.  It’s an unfortunate fact that as much as we could wish it were otherwise, rape is a reality and a concern women (and some men) have to deal with.  And the most important step anyone can take to reduce this risk is to change the general culture and climate that enables rape.   This should happen on a grassroots level (stricter social punishment for sexual assault) and on a national one (stricter laws punishing sexual assault).

So yes, my friend: we do need to stop demonizing the mini-skirt. We need to teach “don’t rape” to our men, our boys.  We need to sing it, scream it, discuss it, litigate it, emphasize it and humanize it.  But with the realities of today we also need to continue the worn out lesson to the potential victims.  We need to warn them, “don’t be raped.”

Please note that throughout this post I have reinforced the notion that perpetrators are male and victims female.  This is not necessarily the case; male on male victimization occurs and female on male etc.  For a less hetero-normative look at sexual assault, please click on the following link.



[1] U.S. Department of Justice. 2005 National Crime Victimization Study. 2005.
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ted permalink
    May 17, 2011 11:12 PM

    While it’s great to teach people not to rape, I think your alcohol statistic hints at a broader problem. While 41% of the perpetrators were drunk, what percentage of the victims were? How many women were raped in alcohol filled environments and felt they shouldn’t press charges because of the lack of clarity of their own recollection?

    Alcohol based parties, common among the college age group, are about the specific abdication of responsibility. In such an environment, drunken rapists will feel less concerned about consent and the consequences of their actions and victims will feel less like they were able to “not consent” and less able to press charges.

    The problem is not just that we fail to teach “don’t rape.” The problem is that we teach “stop being responsible” as a way to have fun.

    • May 18, 2011 10:00 AM

      Ted,

      I think with that last statement you really hit on something true: we are taught that being in ‘control’ is mundane, everyday and antithetical to fun. And out of control (substance induced or otherwise) is something to aspire to. And that does create a host of problems, not limited to drunk hit and runs, of both of the vehicular and the sexual natures.

      • Ted permalink
        May 19, 2011 1:25 AM

        Judging by the replies, you didn’t say enough controversial things here.

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