Monday, 2 February 2009

Othering Rapists

Wellington City Council are up with the mid 1990s and currently running a campaign called "Safe in The City." Anita wrote about this campaign at Kiwipolitico. I'd seen the comment thread referred to as interesting - although I didn't realise until I went there it was interesting in the sense that you curse someone by wishing them 'interesting times'. If you feel like seeing the depth of denial about rape culture you could check that thread out (there are some really useful comments in there, but they have to fight through people claiming that "women can't rape men" and people denying that they'd ever know a rapist).

The claim that Anita made that so incensed the commenters on that thread as:
The reality is that we all know people who rape, just as we all know people who have been raped. I’m talking about the fact some of the people we know have raped people they know, and they way they’ve talked about sex and dates and partners so we’ve had every opportunity to hear that true consent isn’t an issue for them.
Given the figures I discussed recently about the number of male college students in the US who have admitted to raping someone, and that studies of New Zealand women show a similar rape prevelance to other areas, what Anita said should be uncontroversial.

But rhetorical rapists abound in that thread, and understanding of rape as it's experienced by women is lacking (despite women disclosing their own experiences).

The belief that rapists are different from normal people is linked with the idea that prison can solve rape. This connection was made explicit on the thread by one commenter who says that if he knew anyone he knew was a rapist, that'd be one more rapist behind bars. As I've said before, this line is a basic of upholding the prison system. As long as rapists, along with other 'criminals' are scary others - the reality of the prison system need not concern most people.

This idea is dangerous because when people hear that one of their male friends has been accused of raping one of their female friends, then in order to believe their female friend something has to give. Either people abandon their idea that rapists are all 'bad people' or they abandon the idea that their friend is a good person. But often neither of these things happen, and instead this person (who had been rigorously berating the evils of rape) doesn't believe the woman who was raped.

Rapists don't have horns, sonic signals, or anything else that identifies them. Talking about rape as if they do doesn't help fight rape, and it doesn't help get any form of justice.

* As a side point I've been meaning to write about these ads for a while and could never figure out what to say. While I agree with all the points Anita makes, I think "stick with the girls" is less punitive and more likely to work than the vast majority of anti-rape advice that is given to women. Clearly there is an undertone of "don't have a one night stand you slut." But "marginally less awful policing of women's behaviour" isn't exactly a blog post waiting to happen.


Tui said...

Just wanted to say how much I thought this post was right on! I did a bit of further discussion here (it got a bit lengthy and inappropriate for this venue as it really uses this post as a jumping-off point), if anyone's interested.

Heather said...

Hi - just wanted to say that I largely agree with you, but we also need to acknowledge *why* people choose to see the world as divided into 'good' and 'bad' people etc.. A couple of years ago a friend of mine was badly beaten up by her husband, also a friend of mine. In fact, the two of them are about 15 years older than me, had been important mentors of mine since I was 11 years old (20-odd years ago). It really shook me. In theory, I knew that all kinds of people were involved in domestic violence. But accepting that someone I looked up to could do something so awful was hard. I never tried to deny what had happened, but I do understand that many people in that situation wouldn't have been able to face it and would have done so. If we don't work at understanding *why* people react to such incidents in ways that are so offensive, we won't get anywhere at trying to change their blinkers...

Anna said...

Heather, I completely agree with you. And much as I hate violence, demonising the people who commit it doesn't lead to a meaningful solution.

I actually thought the 'Safe in the city' ad campaign wasn't too bad. It actually didn't make explicit that it was about sexual violence, and I'm not sure that was it's sole intention. I think it could be read as having to do with the other alcohol-related harm that can befall people - ie good old-fashioned getting pissed and falling over type stuff. And the fact that the reference was to Sex and the City suggested to me that it wasn't trying to condemn women for having fun, being sexual, etc.