How legislators ignore history when setting precedent; how women don’t just get up and go after rape; how statistics get thrown out the window in favor of junk feelings
So – we all know that rape is a crime of violence and power as much as it’s about sex. We know that it’s primarily committed by men. We know that the victim is more than likely to know her attacker. We even know that more rapists are likely to be serial offenders, and that they are extremely likely to re-offend even if they’ve done a stint in prison for their crimes. We know it’s considered the most unreported crime in law enforcement, which means we have less reliable statistics on that than on lipstick shoplifted from WalMart. But that’s where things start to get fuzzy.
And since two out of three women who are raped know the man who rapes them, there was obviously at least some expectation of trust between them that is very hard to recover. When a date unexpectedly turns into a long ordeal at the hospital with vaginal bruising and invasive rape kits, not to mention the inevitable guilt (What did I do or say to make this happen?) – well you don’t have to be a genius to understand that rape affects more in the long term than just tissue.
But as soon as you open a dialogue about rape that crosses the gender divide, you discover that there is no objectivity where sexual assault is concerned. Here are some of the hurdles:
1)Comparing the “meat and two veg” to the unhappy clam: when it comes to the idea of rape, one of the ways for men (and some women) to make it palatable is to reinvent it solely as a crime of war and violence, as if rapists do it out of an inescapable primal urge, and women should somehow understand. I’ve been told that men get raped frequently in prison, and that women are sometimes child molesters and accomplices (the Bernardos always seem to come up) – yes, they do, but 91% of victims ARE female, and 99% of the offenders are male. Considering it takes much less than 50% of the population to elect an American president, those numbers are definitive.
1) The perception of false accusations being the norm: it’s become so common that celebrity rape cases are the only ones that ever appear in the news that there’s a deep and comforting suspicion among a large cross-section of men that women who cry rape are really just crying for attention. The truth is that there’s almost no upside to lodging an accusation of rape, true OR false. I haven’t seen any major book deals brokered with women who say they were raped, no matter how famous the perp. You have to be pretty damn screwed up before the fact to pretend you were raped. Rape is a crime of “he said, she said” in so many cases where the evidence is either inconclusive – or the victim has been known to have any sort of sordid sexual history whatsoever. Only when assassinating the character of the rapist becomes equal to the way the victim gets dragged through the muck will that particular playing field start to level – and that could be an extremely sad development.
2) Legislation determinedly avoids the idea of sex as an act that often involves some type of manipulation: What are wearing your best clothes or offering to get the bill other than part of the great mating dance we all perform when we’re out looking for lovin’? The difference between rape and consensual sex can be blurry, but it’s likely to be less so in the mind of the victim. Men who aren’t aware of their partner’s or date’s feelings in general may genuinely misread a moment. But rape crosses that line, and deserves to be considered a crime with consequences. New legislation in Ontario, Canada has proposed that a woman might not be able to say she was raped if the man believed he had consent to have sex with her after he’d strangled her unconscious. In some States, rape only covers vaginal penetration. And the onus is always on the victim to prove she wasn’t the kind of woman who invited rape, even if the defense is no longer supposed to bring up her past sexual history. The idea that a man should be cross-examined on his basic views of women to determine if rape is part of his mentality? Well, in a large part of Europe, oral and anal rape are only defined legally as a “violent attack against someone’s modesty,” meaning that the worst rapist might be accused merely of offending a woman’s decency, no matter what consequences the rape has for her.
3) Rape is treated like an aberration, as if it was a moment gone wrong instead of a pattern of behavior for some men. The problem seems to lie in the perception of sex as a negotiation with rules, and with the two negotiators as equal parties. Neither societal views of women nor female culture nor the selling of sex to men as an aggressive act that can be bartered for with presents and flattery make that simplistic viewpoint valid. Both sexes lie to get laid; both sexes manipulate their behavior and appearances to appear as attractive as possible. What a woman never knows is what a man’s long-term or deeper feelings are about women in general, or what baggage he might be carrying. A person can be very angry and give you no clues whatsoever. The notion that you should be able to identify a rapist on sight comforts men who want to believe that anyone who would rape must be an obvious, raving pervert. The notion that you can’t can terrify a woman.
4) Women who are raped have been affected by it emotionally, physically, and psychologically. The consequences are far reaching. Whether it’s happening for the first time or as part of a long history of systemic abuse, it affects the ability of the victim to come to her own defense. We have preconceived notions about how victims of crime should react. It’s why it’s so dangerous for a defendant to take the stand; if their manner of speaking or demeanor doesn’t fit the jury’s notion of how they SHOULD behave, the case can be lost right there. But in crimes of rape, a woman is often forced to be her own sole advocate at exactly her weakest moment. This is not getting your stereo ripped off. It’s a insult to the heart of your existence.
Rape has far reaching consequences for women, and can be even more traumatizing if she chooses to report the crime. Once her name is in the system, she gets poked and prodded, her blood drawn, her vagina minutely examined for telltale bruising, and this is all before she names or confronts her attacker. And then, with the brutal slowness of the legal system, she has to put herself into a state of readiness while the courts grind away to make time for her on the schedule. If she’s lucky, she’ll have a day in court or at least set a trial date within a few months. The whole process can drag on for years.
And while it does, is she supposed to keep dating? Is she supposed to remain celibate, chaste and aloof from sexual contact, for fear of running into another predator, or for fear of somehow ruining her case by being ready to jump into the game again? In some jurisdictions in the States, the infrastructure for post-traumatic counselling is almost non-existent.
For me, the association of rape with power-mad offenders who are seeking release for violent urges denies the way that rape is integrated into our culture, and the way that crimes of rape are treated as if they are awkward, largely unwinnable, and possibly a drain on court resources. Rape happens because an offender doesn’t know how to satisfy sexual urges by negotiating fairly, and has success by using undue pressure. We get how traumatic it can be for someone to lose their job when a business is bought out and dissolved. If we could view rape like a hostile takeover, maybe we’d learn to treat it more effectively in the court system, and maybe we’d take the effect on its victims more seriously.
STACKING THE DECK