Over the last few days I have been participating with victims advocates, survivors and others in a conversation on twitter using the hashtag #RapeCultureIsWhen. It’s been enlightening to learn of people’s observations about what factors are present in a ‘rape culture’, where sexual violence is prevalent and even tolerated. It’s also showcased many myths that keep popping up, and I’m going to address some of them here.
Rape is about sex.
First of all, sexual violence is just that- an act of violence. It has little to do with sex and much more to do with power and dominating another person. Contrary to eroticized depictions of rape in blockbuster films, men do not rape women because they are overcome with desire or because the woman is just so irresistible.
Men rape women because they believe they are entitled to use women’s bodies, or as an act of punishment or contempt. Consider the massive levels of sexual violence in war-time in conflict zones.
Rapists are monsters.
Rapists are men we know and interact with everyday. Sometimes they are ‘nice guys’. Sometimes they don’t even know they are rapists. Men commit sexual violence against women because the construct of masculinity, where boys and men are socialized to see women as objects, sexual conquests and things to be consumed. Basically, they have learned they are entitled to rape women, and in all likelihood they’ll get away with it.
Men commit sexual violence because of uncontrollable urges.
Some sexually violent men, like my abuser, will seek to excuse their bad behavior by blaming it on ‘uncontrollable urges’. My abuser habitually pinned me down and performed a sex act that culminated with ejaculation. His response, as I beat against his chest and begged him to “Get off”, was “I can’t…” with his eyes still closed, as he continued moving himself against me.
My abuser likened men’s bodies to trucks that couldn’t just brake suddenly. At seventeen, and with very little understanding as to men’s sexual functioning, I accepted this must be the case. Let me strongly reaffirm, THIS IS NOT THE CASE. These are the justifications of a predator.
This argument assumes that a man’s natural state is rapist. The notion that men are animals who cannot control their urges is offensive to many other men who succeed in not sexually abusing women.
Unlike some other forms of abuse, sexual abuse is ALWAYS premeditated- even if the decision is made a few seconds beforehand.
Women are raped by strangers with weapons in alleyways.
This scenario may be one most people are comfortable with- a ‘real’ rape. However, in at least two thirds of cases, victims are raped and assaulted by someone known to them- an acquaintance, a family member, an intimate partner.
In my advocacy work, I come across many women who have been sexually assaulted. Dozens. I only know of one woman who was attacked by a stranger. Much more common is an assault/series of assaults by someone the victim trusts.
Rape is rare.
If only. Commonly cited statistics suggest that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. White Ribbon Foundation research for Australia indicates that up to 1 in 3 women will be victims of sexual or physical violence. WHO provides similar statistics, but on a global level.
High levels of rape and sexual abuse are not limited to third world countries. Many women are survivors but do not feel they can speak to their experiences because of the hostility our society shows to victims. Which leads me to my next point.
Our society does not tolerate rape.
When men rape women, we blame women for getting raped. The entire legal process is prejudiced against victims while protecting the rights of rapists and abusers. The majority of victims do not even report the crimes against them, many for fear of being re-traumatised by the process they have no faith in.
Only 3% of rapists will ever spend a day in prison. That means 97% will get off, free to rape some more. Just because the accused was not found guilty or did not serve time does not mean the abuse never occurred- it means our justice system privileges men’s ‘rights’ over women’s lives.
See my last post for more examples of the system failing women and protecting men’s ‘right’ to rape with impunity.
Let’s not neglect the presence of the following:
Fifty Shades of Grey (novels eroticizing sexual abuse and domestic violence), Robin Thicke’s rape anthem “Blurred Lines”, misogynistic violent and degrading pornography including rape porn, the fashion industry that fetishises violence against women and even dead women, the frequent inappropriate use of the word ‘rape’, rape jokes, mainstream bookstore like BookWorld and Barnes and Noble selling rape-themed erotica in their “reluctant gangbang” genre, recording artists like Eminem and Tyler the Creator rapping about raping bitches, Facebook removing breastfeeding pictures but failing to remove pro-rape and paedophilia pages.
It’s not real rape if she didn’t scream and fight him off.
Victims respond in different ways when they are being assaulted. It is common for victims to freeze or to dissociate as a means of psychologically protecting themselves.
Women can prevent rape by taking appropriate precautions.
This argument is significantly flawed for several reasons. First, it works on the presumption that women are most at risk of being attacked by strangers, when in reality they are far more likely to be assaulted in their own home or by someone they trust. To this end, it is basically impossible for women to protect themselves, short of hiding in a closet somewhere.
The second major flaw with the notion that women can prevent men’s violence against them is that it places the responsibility for men’s behavior on women- an impossible burden. While we can ask all kinds of questions about the victim’s behavior, it needs to be said that we will never stop rape by focusing on the victims’ behavior- only be teaching men not to rape.
Women frequently lie about rape.
Some people, including MRAs, frequently suggest women make false rape accusations- that false accusations are prevalent, and very damaging to those accused. The FBI has stated that of all rape allegations, only 2-8% are false. Meaning false rape allegations are extremely rare. They also include women like this (who aren’t lying at all.)
Some men claim to have been falsely accused by women set on revenge. Because collecting vaginal evidence and sitting through rape trials is super fun. These are often the same men who don’t believe what they did is rape, because it didn’t fit in with the ‘real rape’ scenario with a knife and a dark street corner.
Men’s violence against women has reached epidemic proportions. It’s time to stop denying and face reality.