In case you missed it, boy is rape in the news. I believe the increase in coverage has been happening for a few years now and started with the original SlutWalk that were a response to a police chief’s advice to women who don’t want to be raped: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. The result, as we know, has been an institution of protests across the world.
But it’s the last 6 months where coverage has really started taking off. There were multiple controversies in the 2012 US election, to the point that they warrant a separate Wikipedia article: Rape and pregnancy controversies in United States elections, 2012. The king of them was of course Todd Akin’s claim that rape from pregnancy is very rare because “[i]f it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”.
There was the viral Reddit thread that had rapists tell things from ‘their perspective’. This was followed by a number of criticisms like this one in terms of all the problems inherent in taking the word of a rapist about his/her motivations. At the time, I linked to the thread saying that “reading a few [of these stories[ is a very valuable exercise in understanding the extent, mindset and brutality of rape”. I now know better. A similar issue was in question with the Good Men Project debacle, where they published similar stories by and about rapists (a good roundup here.
There was the gang-rape in India where a woman was raped with an iron bar to the point that a top hospital in Singapore couldn’t save her life. There was the testimony of her male friend that basically says that passers-by and police did fuck all. There were the mass protests that followed, as well as the uproar over the these comments of a spiritual guru: “The victim is as guilty as her rapists…She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop…This could have saved her dignity and life. Can one hand clap? I don’t think so.” There was also a scientist who said “Had the girl simply surrendered…when surrounded by six men, she would not have lost her intestine. Why was she out with her boyfriend at 10pm?”
Sadly a lot of the reactions to the above story involved complacency about how bad rape is “over there”. While India is a much worse place in terms of rape, there’s plenty of it in the western world. There was the Steubenville incident where a girl who had passed out at a party was repeatedly assaulted in full view and after which there surfaced a vile video of the perpetrators’ classmates joking about the gang-rape. And while we’re at it, there are about 500,000 unexamined rape kits in the US languishing in rooms because the police can’t or won’t get to them.
Just a few days ago, this infographic (about how few rapists are convicted and how few false accusations there are) went viral. The accuracy of the exact numbers and presentation have been put into question, but the basic pattern remains. Based on the best available evidence, few rapes are reported, few trials, few convictions and definitely few false accusations — compared to a large number of rapes.
Recently, a rape “prevention” message has made its rounds on Facebook. You can see the long Snopes refutation, but I’ll quote a few choice tidbits from here. It is noteworthy that even the Snopes refutation did not focus on the worst thing about this piece — by focusing on stranger rape (which is only a small percentage of rapes), it systematically misleads and shifts the conversation away from where it would be most effective. The message purports to detail a few pieces of advice from an “amazing” self defence class.
This guy is a black belt in karate and trains twice a year with Steven Segal. He and the others in this group interviewed a bunch of rapists and date rapists in prison on what they look for and here’s some interesting facts
Does the idea of prisons letting self-defence instructors interview inmates sound a bit weird to you? More importantly, let’s ignore science and research! Who needs that when you have the folksy common sense of someone who’s spoken to a few rapists (and believed them)?
The #1 thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle. They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun, braid, or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed. They are also likely to go after a woman with long hair. Women with short hair are not as common targets. The #2 thing men look for is clothing. They will look for women who’s clothing is easy to remove quickly.
Victim-blaming aside, how far does someone’s head have to be up his/her own ass to believe something like that?
The thing about these men is that they are looking to grab a woman and quickly move her to a second location where they don’t have to worry about getting caught…If you put up any kind of a fight at all, they get discouraged because it only takes a minute or two for them to realize that going after you isn’t worth it because it will be time-consuming.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get more horrible, it does. Apparently it’s very easy to discourage rapists: you just have to put up “any kind of fight at all”. Ergo, if someone gets raped, he/she didn’t fight back hard enough. The message ends with 6 self-defence tips. Now, in principle I’m not opposed to anyone learning self-defence. The way it’s usually brought up is again either victim-blaming or putting the onus on women to “not get themselves raped” or simply offsetting the expected action from society (this means all of us!) to potential victims. But also, some of the advice is just based on false really shitty and is likely to cause more harm than good. I’ll quote 2 examples:
If someone is following behind you on a street or in a garage or with you in an elevator or stairwell, look them in the face and ask them a question, like what time is it, or make general small talk, “I can’t believe it is so cold out here, we’re in for a bad winter, etc.” Now you’ve seen their face and could identify them in a lineup, you lose appeal as a target.
After the initial hit, always go for the groin. If you hit a guy’s testicles, it is extremely painful. You might think that you’ll anger the guy and make him want to hurt you more, but the thing these rapists told our instructor is that they want a woman who will not cause a lot of trouble. Start causing trouble and he’s out of there.
Again, accepting these as reasonable advice is going off to fantasy land. In this mythical land, seeing an attacker’s face makes such a difference to the attacker’s likely conviction that the attacker will back off. Because apparently the police will always just do their job AND be fortunate enough to catch the attacker AND the eyewitness testimony will be accurate after the trauma of rape AND the jury will obviously convict a man who was seen, seen by the victim, right? (Most rapists are known to the victim. Most rapists are not convicted.) In this world of make-believe, nobody wants a woman who causes trouble. Because, you see, people who go out of their way to inflict violence on others don’t actually enjoy that violence. This buys into a very large number of shitty myths including the idea that the violence is just a regrettable necessity for the rapist in order to get sex. Vomit.
So why is the rape singularity near? Because I think we’ve reached the tipping point. I’ve described a lot of stories, and most of them were just things I’ve read in the last week. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the rape stories that have made it to my news feed. Which is the tip of the iceberg of the stories floating around in the English-speaking blogosphere. Which is a fraction of all the stories out there in the media which is a tiny fraction of all the stories in people’s minds.
The fact is that worldwide levels of rape and violent crime in general are in decline. So it was likely a lot worse decades and centuries ago. And yet the stories seem to be attracting a lot more attention these days, and people are a lot more horrified. I think that’s the result of a double-whammy. The internet, mass media, research and science have given us both the factual information and the emotional investment in the horror of rape. Fifty years ago people didn’t know much about the psychology of rape. Now we do. Fifty years ago, if all your friends who have been raped did not speak up, or if they were all accused by the police of making it up, you’d have no-one to engage your empathy. Now you do.
As indefensible as rape apologism is, it’s getting more so as we get more science, and more stories out there — and as they go viral because women have had enough. And by now, the information and empathy may have gathered enough critical mass for everyone who’s not a rape apologist to collect into a big ball of Fuck You to everyone and everything that makes rape so common. Now, I’ve read a few too many blog posts to underestimate the pro-rape contingent. No matter how scummy an argument you might conceive, there are millions of people on the internet who believe far worse, and they have keyboards and opposable thumbs. And yet, perhaps if the ball keeps rolling, if the stories keep being spread then we can beat them. The reality will have become too intolerable.