Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rape, Gender, Society...

Last night, I couldn't sleep, spent the whole night fuming without really knowing why. I was stuck in this miasma of just...ugh, pissed-offedness. Then, the reason why hit me. Mr. Sexy Christian Guitarist Guy. Just as the words "it's OK" hit the air. I suspect the book triggered feelings of rejection about him which went all the way back in time to my dad. Like a mine field. It makes sense. A good general rule is if there is strong emotion which is either inappropriate to the situation or generally irrational, the problem is really with something else. As Rob Bell says "this" is really about "that." Rejection is one of my deepest wound and I guess, right now, I'm not OK. I'm hurt and disappointed. And this is OK. This too shall pass. 

 Today, in the light of day, examining the issue calmly and sensibly, I came up with an essay which presents my thoughts in a form other than in the form of a verbal raspberry. I still agree with my general thoughts about rape, but I realized that I was also upset about the fact that, at least in my humble, unsubstantiated opinion, men don't seem to care, have an attitude like "you're not over that yet?" or, as you'll see in my essay, blame the "victim" (victim is a horrible, horrible word!). To the men I've known, rape is not a human rights issue so much as just a "woman's rights" issue and thus, irrelevant to them. Which sucks because men can stop rape. Which is what upset me initially last night, apathy and dismissal. Or, the fact that they seem threatened by the fact women, the majority of victims, are so angry about rape, which is perpetrated most often by males. It's understandable that they might get defensive, or personally feel attacked as men, just as I took last night personally. The essay is pretty good and pretty fair so I'll share here: 

Recently, I read an article by a man who compared rape prevention to locking the doors on a house. In his opinion, women could drastically decrease the chance of getting violated sexually by taking the proper precautions. I would agree that, in general, being safe is a wise decision. But, of course, the statistics fly in the face of his premise. As it turns out, avoiding dark alley ways and bad parts of town are not the most effective ways to ensure safety because, according to RAINN, 38% of rapes are committed by friends or acquaintances, 28% percent are committed by intimates (there is an underreported phenomenon of partner rape), and 7% are committed by relatives. Stranger rape is far less common than alarmist images of masked men hiding in the bushes suggest. 

A disproportionate number of rapists are people women trust. 

On the comment section of the article, there was also a discussion about how often alcohol is involved, and how women put themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

This is, at best, gas lighting. And, considering the aforementioned statistics, it is also largely irrelevant because, again, rape is often perpetrated by people who have gained the victim’s trust. In no way can this be construed as the woman’s fault. 

This article is just another insidious case of “blaming the victim” (“victim” is a horrible, horrible word); the author of the article presenting the “she was asking for it” fallacy in a more rational disguise. It is not primarily the responsibility of the one raped to “protect” herself, it is primarily the rapists responsibility NOT TO RAPE. If the RAINN statistics are accurate, a woman would potentially have to be on guard at all times, with every man in her life, in all places. Even at home. She might never be raped, but she would probably suffer a heart attack from all the stress.

Besides, if it was a less controversial topic in question, say, murder, few would even think to condemn the victim for her own death; it would be seen as a tragic crime, summarily unacceptable, and the murderer would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. 

Of course, I think I understand where the writer was coming from. Rape, since the seventies, has been a highly volatile, political issue championed by feminist groups; It is only natural, when any group gets angry, when there is a public outcry, there will be a back lash in its wake. People naturally get defensive. In this case, since women are statistically more likely raped than men (more on this later) and men are statistically more likely to be the rapist, I believe cases of rationalization of the sort mentioned above, men fear they will be demonized, mistrusted, and hated in the public eye (not to mention falsely accused by cunning opportunists who seek to work the system). Or, perhaps, for average decent, good man the idea that anyone else could behave in such ways is incomprehensible. These reasons would explain what seems to me, more willingness in men to deny or down play the serious damage caused by rape and the rage expressed by women over this issue; And, perhaps, why rapists on average spend no more than five years behind bars. 

As a feminist, I can appreciate the concern of men (Since even the label “feminist” will inevitably bring fire). Judgment volleyed at an entire group because of a few is also injustice, whether it be leveled at men, women, or green headed goat herders. In fact, there is already a politically charged buzz word for it. Prejudice. And, well, prejudice and sexism is part of why I’m writing this essay.  

All this said, however, since articles like the aforementioned are still written, I don’t think, as a society, we understand the gravity of sexual violence. One in six women is sexually assaulted or raped. Furthermore, one in thirty three men is sexually assaulted or raped. Victims are at a significantly elevated risk for depression, PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicidal ideation. Of course, the numbers do not even touch the phenomenological, the sense of shame and violation, the inability to trust so commonly reported by “victims.”

To shed the formality of the essayist and be completely honest, even as a third party, without personal experience, the fact that I’ve seen so many people, usually men, dismiss rape as relatively unimportant pisses me off. (It’s also a shame because we, as women, want and need our brothers to stand up with us. Men can help stop rape. See mencanstoprape.org). 

Sexual assault and rape are bad enough. Denial that sexual assault and rape matter, or the subtle implication the victim is really in the wrong, however indirectly, is worse and only compounds the problem. 

The clinical term for this denial is called invalidation. Martha Lineham, creator of Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, writes this: Invalidation has two primary characteristics. First, it tells the individual that she is wrong in both her description and her analyses of her own experiences, particularly in her views of what is causing her own emotions, beliefs, and actions. Second, it attributes her experiences to socially unacceptable characteristics or personality traits. Furthermore, invalidation is linked with self-destructive behavior. A self-injurer, for instance, invalidated as a child, might think her feelings are “wrong”, and punish herself for those “bad” feelings by cutting, burning, or otherwise harming herself. Invalidation has also been implicated in the fragmentation in multiple identity disorder. In the mind of the invalidated, there is insecurity about the integrity of his or her vision, his or her view of the world. 

For the rape victim, her right to sovereignty over her own body has already been compromised by the rapist. The integrity of her vision, the magnitude of her pain, should not also be robbed from her as well by society. I have heard it often said that woman are more likely to blame themselves for the injustices perpetrated against them. Perhaps this is why, according to RAINN, something like only half of sexual assaults and rape go reported and only six percent of rapists see jail time. Women aren’t sure it was “wrong”, or “genuine rape”, or if being manipulated or emotionally battered into having sex counts as sexual violence (it does!). When people, already dealing with  the fallout of sexual violence, have to wonder “Did I really fight him off hard enough” or, “was it my clothing that drove him completely over the edge”, there is something profoundly immoral occurring.  

1 comment:

  1. Hi from Australia

    What an awesome post!

    I was raped at 18 by a male friend. I was a virgin at the time and, when I later entered a sexual relationship, found it hard to have sex without being drunk.

    The rape also contributed to my development of a serious mental illness and just to distrust men generally.

    At present I have about 3 male friends and a good relationship with my father but I have over 20 female friends. I find it hard to feel comfortable around men, even now, nearly 20 years later.

    The whole blame the victim stuff needs to be stopped. I already blamed myself at the time, then I got angry, then I got sad and, lastly, then I went mad.

    Good on you for putting this stuff out there.