Monday, 5 August 2013

A few words about rape

Content warning:  This is about rape and the injustice of it, and stupid stupid rape culture that means many keep asking the wrong questions, and may be triggering for some readers

Most people seem to be having the wrong conversation about rape.  Too often the discussion ends up being about the person who was raped; what they wore, what they were drinking, their sexual history, where they were, their relationship to the person who raped them, so on and so forth.  As if my examining the minutiae of the lives of those who have been raped we can somehow find out how to stop rape.

It's the wrong end of the stick, and I know this will be 101 for many readers and bloggers here, but sadly it's still the only end of the stick for many in the media, figures of authority, radio hosts, and politicians. 

The problem does not lie with the people who get raped.  It never did, never has, never will.  You can examine them as much as you like, but you will never find a solution because you are asking the wrong question to the wrong people.

What we need to be talking about, again and again, is WHY PEOPLE RAPE.  Why do some people want to have sex with someone who isn't consenting?  What's going on in their head that that is ok and even desirable?  Is their decision-making impaired by alcohol or another substance?  Are they callous and narcissistic?  Do they actively want to have power over another to make up for some hole inside themselves?  Do they think that is how you show someone you love them, because that's what they've seen as a child? 

We must ask, and answer, these questions not to excuse the rapist, to minimise the rape, but to work out what the hell is going on that there are some people who think sex without consent is a good thing, something they need in their lives, or how we produced people who care so little about other human beings that consent is irrelevant to them. 

We can do this, we just need to decide, resource it and see it through.  There are a lot of NGOs and agencies doing incredibly valuable work at low levels, but it needs the omph of state support in my opinion.  Not likely currently, but absolutely essential to seriously tackle this really crucial issue that just gets put away in the One Day When We've Solved Everything Else file far too often.

Rape culture enables us to put it away, to forget about it, to put it back to the bottom of the pile time and again.  Rape culture allows us to Do Something about rape by actually doing very little at all.  Rape culture has to go. 

I'm keen to raise my kids to Not Rape.  But I don't have all the tools I need to do that because there isn't a focus on this side of the equation.  I'm teaching them to have agency over their bodies, to respect other people, to stop being so damn bossy (that one serves many purposes), and I hope I'm helping them to develop empathy.   I worry this isn't enough.  I do fear that my children might get raped one day, but ultimately that wouldn't be their fault, as terrible as it would be, and is thus largely out of their control, and mine as their parent.  What I can hopefully assist with is teaching them to respect others' bodies and choices, actively seek consent, and develop empathy for those around them.  That I can take some responsibility for. 

Rape is a horrible word, describing a hideous thing.  But we don't make it go away by not saying it, by not talking about how and why it happens and who does it.


Amanda Lyons said...


Sometimes I feel so depressed and dispirited that I have to keep arguing about this over and over again - often, to my horror, with women. But we just have to keep on saying it and saying it and hoping that slowly it starts to make people think, and assess things differently, and hopefully to change.

Anonymous said...

We also need statistics on percentages of adults who rape, percentages of males who rape and percentages of female who rape. Are there triggers? Is it more likely a one off or serial rapist?

Our figures are all on the victim/survivor which is actually part of a blame-the-victim mentality. In NZ it is 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 women but this information does nothing to help prevention. All it does is show a serious problem and highlights that rapists choose people smaller and weaker than themselves. We've known this for a couple of decades already.

K said...

Some of the problem is down to a lack of education (despite clear effort on the part of those who work in this field).

We know rape is a very expensive crime leading to benefit dependency, social/family issues, eating disorders, drug use etc etc. So why the hell is there a shortage in funding to treat people and teach people NOT TO RAPE.

sarah54 said...

One of the biggest reasons rape is a still so widespread is that it is so easy for rapists to get away with it. We have just had another example of this occuring in NZ:

Of course, the odds are very high that the accused actually did rape the woman because we know that false accusations of rape are exceedingly rare. I don't know why we even bother going through the process of a trial, which can be extremely distressing for the victim. If she said he raped her, then we can be certain that he must have done it, so he should be found guilty.

Which brings we to the main point of my post - one highly effective way of ensuring that rapists are punished is to simply change the law. I have suggested this elsewhere and will repost it here: If a woman says she was raped by a man, then she was raped by that man. We should simply stop accepting a man saying that is was consensual as any kind of defence. Unless a man can produce clear evidence that he was not the perpetrator (i.e. it was a case of mistaken identity and he has a clear alibi or something), he should be found guilty of the crime he committed. I really can’t see why we haven’t done this already. We all know the incidence of rape is extremely high. We all know that false accusations of rape are so rare they might as well be non-existent (and while there are rare cases of a woman making up an accusation, in pretty much all cases she withdraws it prior to any kind of trial).

This simply change will result in a huge drop in the number of rapes in the country. Most rapes are committed by a man known to the victim, so he can be easily caught and punished for what he was done. There will still be some rare cases of stranger rape were the perpetrator can’t be identified, but DNA evidence should hopefully catch most of these. And once his DNA is detected on the victim, he no longer has any kind of defence. Knowing the odds that he will be caught are so high will deter a huge number of these men. And those that are still stupid enough to rape will eventually be caught and locked away were they can no longer harm any more women.

That is a solution that will work. And it will produce a huge benefit and, as it will harm no one except men who commit rape, has virtually no drawback apart from the costs of imprisoning these men.

One criticism of this suggestion that I received in the past is that it will mean that rapists will be "guilty until proven innocent". But that is not it at all, the rapist is still "innocent until proven guilty", but we are simply accepting the word of a woman as proof of guilt.

ChundaMars said...

@sarah54: That has got to be, hands down, one of the most incredible posts I have ever read on the internet. Anywhere. Ever.

Congratulations. You've set a very high bar. I doubt anyone else will ever be able to reach it. Truly outstanding.

Hugh said...

@sarah54: Obvious troll is obvious.

Rebecca said...

well, i don't know if sarah54 is trolling, or whether this is satire, or something she really believes BUT i think it is pretty important to note that the opposite of what she has suggested is what society has considered 'right' for centuries - that a rapists word is taken for truth, and that punishment has been meted out to a victim based on his say so. Further, this is still the case in some societies today. So while I don't think it is quite the right approach, i also I don't think it is all that alarming, or hilarious to suggest it. i think the weight of public opinion about who is right or wrong in a rape situation still clings more closely to the side of believing an articulate white rapist over his victim. yes, it would be problematic if public opinion, and policy, swung all the way to the other side as sarah54 suggests... but maybe only differently problematic, not more.