So my goal in writing this piece isn’t to hold him accountable–that’s already gone on. My goal in writing this is to answer his question. And since I recently gave a talk at Swarthmore on rape culture, I just so happen to have a bunch of examples and facts right at my fingertips.
First, the primary premise is flawed.
Damon seems to think that reinforcing to men that circumstances and consent are different things means that we are also letting women off the hook for reckless behavior. However, most men aren’t privy to all the rape prevention tactics women employ everyday, as a matter of course. (For the purposes of this discussion, the framing will be around cisgender, heterosexual men and women, though we are not the only people impacted by this type of thinking and this type of violence.)
I could share stories about being told from the time I started going out to always cover your drink with a napkin, never be alone after dark, always have your keys out in case of an attack, to never be alone with a guy you don’t know. I was also told not to open the door for boys I didn’t know, but in my case, it was the boy you kind of know that gets you. But I digress.
We could tell our stories all day, but where’s the data? When I presented at Swathmore, I ran a little experiment based on a question I had. How do men talk about rape? So I took it to the newsstands.
Interestingly, most men’s magazines don’t do “How Not to Rape” articles. They don’t really do “How Not to Get Raped Articles.” A further reading into what these articles were about revealed that most of the articles listed on men’s mags weren’t about rape at all–many were jokes about prison rape (or reviews of Oz) or contained the specific phrase “against abortion except in cases of rape of incest.” With one huge exception from Esquire‘s Tom Chiarella, the majority of men’s articles that mention rape aren’t actually dealing with the subject."
Latoya Peterson gives a great response to how pop culture does not teach men how not to rape (or to avoid becoming a rape victim) at the R today. (via racialicious
Holy crap people need to read this article. So important- for men and women.
No, this isn’t a post about how women are lying hussies out to ruin the lives of good men with wrongful rape accusations. If that’s what you were expecting, you’re definitely reading the wrong blog (actually, come to think of, stick around; you may learn something).
What I’m talking about is this: Living in a rape culture, women are acutely aware of the type of rapes–and the type of victims–that are taken seriously. And the type that aren’t. The “good” victim (the only kind that counts in the minds of many, many people) is attacked by someone she doesn’t know while dressed “modestly” and not under the influence of alcohol/drugs or engaged in “risky” behavior. She’s an upstanding citizen with no history of criminal activity, mental illness, or conduct outside the norms of mainstream society.
Thanks to prevailing rape mythology, many people also have very definite ideas about what happens before, during, and after a “real” rape. Real rape victims want no sexual contact of any kind with their attackers and make this crystal clear right from the start. When attacked, they don’t just say “No;” they scream, fight, yell for help, and/or try to escape. Ideally, the victim will duke it out with her attacker to such an extent that she is left with obvious physical injuries. After the rape, she will be visibly distraught and in tears, but this will not prevent her from reporting the attack right away. In the days and weeks following the assault, she will spend a lot of time in the shower and be too traumatized to appear to function normally.
Some rapes do indeed happen like that; most don’t. And the more a rape departs from this script, the harder it is for the victim to be believed and taken seriously. She didn’t fight or try to escape? She must’ve wanted it. She wasn’t crying or visibly upset right after the rape? She’s probably lying about being attacked. She was seen laughing and seemingly having a good time just days after being raped? It couldn’t have been that bad.
Rape victims know this. Realizing that many people won’t understand why you acted in a way that doesn’t fit their preconceived notions of “how rape victims act,” or worse, knowing that many people will automatically disbelieve you because of your background or even blame you for being attacked brings some rape victims to the conclusion that there’s only one way they’re going to see their rapist punished: lie.
Most of the lies rape victims tell revolve around their use of alcohol or drugs, their relationship to the perpetrator, their reason for being in the place the rape occurred, their behavior before/during/after the rape, or their background. Virtually all lies are told to make oneself appear more like the rape culture’s idea of the “good” or “worthy” victim and/or to make one’s assault more closely resemble the rape culture’s “real rape” script.
Competent detectives and prosecutors know that victims may think they must lie to see perpetrators brought to justice and try to impress upon them the importance of telling the truth. They may attempt to reassure victims that telling the truth is absolutely essential and won’t prevent the case from going forward. And that’s true–to a point. Prosecutors must win their cases in the same rape culture the rest of us reside in, not in some alternate universe. Even if the prosecuting attorneys don’t subscribe to any rape culture myths themselves (which, of course, the victim won’t know), the DA’s office has finite resources, and they’re not going to bring a case they don’t think they can win. Too many skeletons in the victim’s closet and a rape that departs significantly from the “real rape” script, and they may conclude that their limited time and resources are better spent elsewhere.
Even if the DA’s office is prepared to take a chance on a rape victim who doesn’t fit the rape culture’s “worthy” victim ideal, that’s not the end of the victim’s quest for justice. The vast majority of criminal cases are plea bargained, but rapists are less likely to accept a plea agreement and more likely to roll the dice with a jury trial, if the victim or other aspects of the case don’t meet the rape culture’s standards for “worthy” victims and “real” rape.
There’s a case from the late 90s that I will always remember because it was the first time in my life that I got the message that someone might actually give a damn about junkies raped while buying drugs. Drug dealers raping female addicts is a very common occurrence, and most people, including most cops, believe women have only themselves to blame when they’re raped while trying to score drugs.
That’s why I was enormously proud of the prosecutor who went ahead with the case against a drug dealer accused of raping a female addict, even though I realized that the drug dealer being a known serial rapist with two prior rape convictions probably had a lot to do with that. In any event, the drug dealer decided to reject a plea bargain and take his chances with a jury, and the judge ruled that it would be too prejudicial to the defense for the jury to be told about the guy’s priors. However, the victim was a great witness, completely honest and forthright about the rape and her drug addiction. She was such a strong witness, I was actually surprised when the jury came back with a “not guilty” verdict. After the acquittal, a reporter told the jury foreperson about the drug dealer’s previous rape convictions and asked if having that information would have made a difference.
Without missing a beat, the jury foreperson replied that it wouldn’t have made a difference because the jury didn’t doubt that the victim was raped by the defendant; however, they were “concerned that she was there to buy drugs.” In other words, she didn’t deserve to see her rapist convicted because she’s a drug addict. Unfortunately this case isn’t an aberration. Even if a rape victim is able to convince cops, prosecutors, and a judge or jury that she was definitely raped, she may still be denied justice if she isn’t deemed a “worthy” victim or her rape didn’t happen according to the “real rape” script. Is it any wonder then that victims in those situations may feel they have to lie?
I bet you were wondering when I was going to get around to the new developments in the DSK case. As you have probably heard, the sexual assault case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is unraveling because the alleged victim lied. Not about being sexually assaulted, mind you, but about her background and also about what she did in the immediate aftermath of the attack. She now says that instead of reporting the assault to her supervisor right away, she initially cleaned another hotel room, then returned to DSK’s empty suite and began cleaning, and only then did she report the attack.
I’ve talked to several people who think this is damning evidence against her, but if we weren’t living in a rape culture, it really wouldn’t be. It’s not at all unusual to be in shock following a sexual assault and to continue going through the motions. I know ’cause I’ve done it. In fact, if the whole thing was a setup and she “seduced” DSK with the intention of accusing him of sexual assault (either in hopes of being paid off to drop the charges or awarded sizable damages in a civil suit following the criminal conviction), you can bet that she would have run crying to her supervisor right away! This sounds like a classic case of a victim lying about some aspects of her rape so they won’t be at odds with people’s very limited idea of what “real rape” looks like.
Apparently she also misrepresented her income to qualify for subsidized housing, lied on her taxes to qualify for a bigger refund, and lied on her asylum application about being gang raped (after being instructed to do so by a man working on her asylum case; she had been raped in Guinea, but not in the way she described to prosecutors). Additionally, there are some indications that she may be involved in a drug dealing and money laundering operation, and a man described as her boyfriend is serving time on a drug charge. All of this makes her a “bad” victim, the kind of woman men can rape with impunity. She did not want to be that kind of woman. And so she lied.
She represented herself to police and prosecutors the way she believed she had to in order to be considered a “worthy” victim. A victim deserving of sympathy and justice. And so she became the pious Muslim refugee who survived unspeakable violence in her home country before escaping to the US where she was granted asylum. The devoted mother who has neither time for nor interest in any kind of personal life outside of raising her teenage daughter. The hardworking poor person who plays by the rules and somehow manages to get by on wages too low to get by on.
I expect that the DA’s office will drop the charges against DSK any day now. Sure, they still have the DNA evidence to prove that sexual contact took place, but since DSK’s attorneys are going with a consent defense (as defense lawyers always do when there’s DNA evidence), the victim’s testimony is essential. And her credibility is shot. So that’s the end of the case.
And that’s how it goes in a rape culture. First, we make sure women understand that only a few types of rape count and only a few types of victims matter, so those who don’t conform to those narrow criteria feel they must lie if they don’t want their attacker to get away with the crime. Then, when the lies are discovered, we tell rape victims that they are now no longer credible and it’s their fault the case against their attacker must be dismissed. Works out well, doesn’t it? For rapists, that is.
Speak out against this victim-blaming mentality when you see it. Seriously. Don’t be afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. This is the primary way we fight prejudice against rape victims and the primary way we will finally see a day when rapists are actually brought to justice for their crimes.
Clothing designers are letting the parents of boys get in on the disgust that all us moms of girls have been dealing with lately. We’ve had to contend with t-shirt makers telling our daughters they’re “too pretty” for homework and contending they’re “allergic to algebra.” Now our sons are being offered t-shirts that encourage them to “stop at rape.”
Made by Jamrags, a British store that keeps it classy by advising anyone who doesn’t like their vomit-inducing products to “f—k off,” this one has the dubious honor of being the absolute worst in the line. The folks at Mommyish say it’s evidence that girls aren’t the only ones who are being targeted by these companies.
Wow. Jamrags openly states they’re offensive multiple times on their website. Their tagline is “Cotton for Cunts”. While the t-shirts are not directly marketed at young boys, young boys are just the kind of people who have been brought up thinking rape jokes are funny, that being as offensive as possible is cool, and that violence is masculine. I see plenty of young boys that would think a t-shirt saying “Feminists are big, fat, hairy dykes!” or “it’s not rape if you shout… Surprise!” or “I’d move to France… …if it wasn’t FULL of cunts!” or “I like my Muslims like I like my coffee. I don’t like coffee.” are hilarious. Those are all shirts you can buy at Jamrags, shirts they think people would laugh at and be happy to wear. And if that doesn’t send a message about rape culture, I don’t know what does.
I would like to see the makers of this shirt look a rape victim in the eye and tell him or her that the slogan is not damaging.
Part of the biggest problem with this kind of speech, whether it’s coming from a big company or being joked about in a large group of people or even on the internet, is that there’s no person-to-person accountability.
Remove individual accountability, and people feel invulnerable. Especially in large groups, if a person protests a misogynistic joke, or humor about sexual violence, he or she will often be accused of being “too sensitive” or not having a sense of humor.
It’s the safety in numbers and anonymity of the modern era that enables this kind of revolting behavior. This shirt might -and I only say MIGHT- not contribute to incidents of rape, but it most certainly makes victims of sexual violence feel ridiculed and belittled for their struggles.