Rape and Prejudice

I told myself I wouldn’t do it. I told myself that blogging about anything besides work, stories, and favourite writers was strictly off-limits this month. Then I saw a completely demented Internet discussion on rape, and freaking snapped. The following is the result of my snappage.

Everyone knows that there is a “good” kind of rape victim and a “bad” kind of rape victim. The “good” kind is usually a virgin or virginal, white, middle to upper class, and raped by a total stranger while, say, walking home from school or work (by saying all this I am not attempting to trivialize these sorts of situations – considering that something like this happened to a childhood friend of mine who fits the profile exactly). The “bad” kind of rape victim is pretty much anyone else who has ever been raped.

Ok, perhaps the above dichotomy is exaggerated, but, fact is, there are those rape victims that “deserve” sympathy and help in prosecuting their offenders, and those that do not. How do people differentiate between the two? Well, here’s a comment (from a discussion I won’t link to) that offers us some clues:

Sympathy is for people who suffer from circumstances completely outside their control

It’s amazing, to me, how many people actually believe this stuff. I once knew someone, a very decent individual in all regards, who summed up his feelings toward rape thusly: “Well, you can’t always blame the victim… I mean, what if they hit her over the head from behind? How could she defend herself then?” I could do nothing but stammer in return.

This worldview is amazing to me, because, with any logic, it is obvious that practically no one in this world deserves sympathy (or help) after being raped. Everyone, even children, have at least a tiny bit of control over their lives (I am not talking about coma patients here… Although, of course, we can always shift the discussion on to what the “dumb slut” did to fall into a coma in the first place):

You have control over, say, smiling or not smiling at some man you think you can trust.

You have control over the sort of ribbon you put in your hair on that particular day (and we all know that red ribbons are slutty).

If you’re a boy, and we all know that boys get raped (I’ve recently discovered that someone very close to me was raped as an eleven-year old boy), well, perhaps you had a choice as to whether or not to stay out on that playground for just a half hour longer.

You have a choice when you invite a friend or acquaintance into your home. I mean, all he wants is to have  a chat. Or else he’s here to take a look at the leaky faucet you recently complained about (and you, of course, had a choice as to whether or not you could complain about it in his presence, thus giving him an excuse to enter your home… and then enter your body even if you begged him not to).

You have a choice when it comes to screaming. High-pitched? But that might irritate the rapist even further, and then he’ll punch you, and then that will be your fault as well, dont’cha know. If you don’t scream though, well, you obviously wanted it it then.

I could go on and on.

And I think I understand why people hold these views as well. It’s been said before, but it can be repeated: people are scared. People have mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and friends. And if those mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and friends can be raped – well, clearly there is something wrong with the universe. And there is – except that we can’t really deal with this, can we? So we cast the people we love in the “good” category, and everyone else gets to be “bad.” And the “good” people have a much lower chance of getting raped – since they’re out making the “good” kind of choices, and their circumstances are, of course, different.

I’ve known a father who dealt this way with the rape of his daughter. Clearly, she had done something “bad.” It didn’t matter if her only crime was walking home from school in broad daylight and being waylaid by a neighbour and his gangster friends on the stairwell.  The father re-cast the situation. In his new scenario – the daughter had led the adult men on. She wanted it. She had enjoyed it as they took turns with her in the basement of their apartment building. She had wanted them to take her to the Middle East and make money by being a prostitute (the neighbours’ friends were traffickers). It was all part of the plan. This was his way of dealing, or, rather, not dealing, with what happened.

He began to change his mind after she slit her wrists. The suicide attempt happened after she was sent away to live with a fanatical grandmother who tried to beat her into repentance for her “bad” behaviour. The grandmother who stole the stockings the girl wore under her school uniform, as they were “sinful,” and paraded in them on her promenade while the girl sat locked in her bedroom in the evenings. Yes. These things happened.

I think there is a difference between this girl’s father and the garden-variety sociopath. The father knew that something terrible had occurred. But he also felt helpless. And this helplessness was masked by the monstrous behaviour he exhibited towards his daughter. I am not excusing his actions. But I think they hold a clue as to why so many seemingly good people attempt to justify rape and excuse the rapist. And if we know of the why – then maybe we can have a starting point from which to move away from this crap.

P.S.  See Bint for more.

13 thoughts on “Rape and Prejudice

  1. The only way I can respond to Natalia’s post is to relate it to jury selection in the U.S. Within U.S. borders, civilian and I think military rape cases are tried under state criminal codes by juries, and popular perceptions of rape victims do impact jury verdicts and hence jury selection. I had a year of law school in Ohio where I was taught that rape, under the laws of Ohio, is tried as a specific form of battery, and battery is physical contact without consent. So the questions of fact presented to the jury would be, first, was there physical contact of the specific kind punishable under rape laws, and second, was there consent. As Natalia’s post indicates, in the U.S., a defense lawyer’s goal would be to persuade a jury that even if there was contact, there was in fact consent — and that’s where jury selection is crucial. A defense attorney’s ideal jurors would not only be prejudiced against women generally (as “Byrdeye,” Natalia’s un-linked blogger, obviously is), but would also believe that women, by choosing to place themselves in a certain human environment (including certain occupations), implicitly give consent. The prosecutor’s task is to make sure that the jury understands that consenting to a certain environment or occupation does not imply consenting to unwanted physical contact — i.e., that working as a prostitute or getting drunk at a frat party is not the same as WILLFULLY engaging in a barroom brawl in a bar that the victim knows or should have known to be dangerous. In other words, choosing to enter a certain environment (dangerous bar) is not the same as choosing to engage in a certain activity (willful brawling). Considering that, in the U.S., it is not difficult to select at least half of a jury that already believes that American culture is oversexualized, it is imperative to make sure that even socially conservative jurors understand that choice of environment does not imply choice of a certain activity, and that rape victims’ alleged “negligence” in choosing an environment is not a defense against a charge of any unwanted contact, any more than my negligently leaving my door unlocked in a dangerous neighborhood would be a burglar’s defense against a charge of burglary. I know this is obvious and is a very dry, academic response to Natalia’s outrage about a culture that is biased against rape victims. But, at least in the U.S., as long as the public is continuously educated about what rape actually is, it should be possible to convince even socially conservative jurors about the distinction between choosing a general environment (including an occupation) and choosing a specific, concrete activity at a specific time and place.

    The prosecutor’s other task is to remind jurors that male sexual arousal is not a form of insanity, even if the defendant is intoxicated, and therefore all male sexual contact is necessarily willful, just as punching someone in the face is necessarily willful regardless of the defendant’s state of mind even if the defendant is intoxicated (unless the defendant is insane). So even if a sexually aroused man “feels” like he is “going insane,” even if he is intoxicated, that’s not a defense against a charge of rape, any more than a state of rage even while intoxicated is a defense against a charge of battery. Also, male sexual arousal, even while intoxicated, is not a form of mental impairment — i.e., sexual arousal is not the same as being sleep-deprived while driving on the highway. In the U.S., prosecutors have to be sure to select jurors who can understand that male sexual arousal is neither insanity nor impairment, and that’s where Natalia’s comments about culture kick in. In the U.S., all too many men probably have come to believe that their own sexual arousal is a form of insanity or impairment, and men have to be educated that that’s simply not the case. That kind of education requires a long-term cultural change. But, in the U.S., it should be possible to select jurors (for at least half the jury) who can be made to understand that the current popular culture in the U.S. does not represent the facts — but it’s very challenging.

    Sorry for this long, boring post, but issues of jury selection are the only way I can relate Natalia’s concerns with the facts of prosecuting rape in the U.S.

  2. I want to make just one more set of comments, this time in response to Byrdeye’s blog and the commenters who agreed with his post. Byrdeye gave his game away with his title (as I recall it) that “allegedly” half of rape cases are fraudulent. With the term “allegedly,” anything can be argued. “Allegedly” even Santa Claus is real. The studies that Byrdeye cites that supposedly support his claim can’t hold water in the state of Georgia (USA) where I live and work, because, in Georgia, I have never read, in Georgia, where a complaint of rape to the police was actually PROVEN to be fraudulent. A conviction of rape might not have been obtained, but I have never read that any complaint of rape to the police was actually proven to have been a deliberate fraud. The closest to a proven fraudulent allegation of rape that I have read of, in Georgia, was a case (I think in the 1980s) where a young woman reported, not to the police, but to her boyfriend, that she had been raped by another man, and the boyfriend allegedly then found the man and killed him. In court, the young woman admitted that she had lied to her boyfriend when she alleged she had been raped. But that’s not the same as submitting a fraudulent complaint of rape to the police. That’s why I don’t believe the claim by Byrdeye’s commenter named “Julie” (I’m not sure that’s not a male in disguise) that young women, after they’ve been dumped by their boyfriends, frequently file fraudulent complaints of rape to the police as an act of revenge. I’ve never seen that reported in Georgia AT ALL, so I think Julie’s claim is cut out of whole cloth. At any rate, in Georgia, law enforcement continually reminds the public that most rapes are not reported, so studies about so-called fraudulent complaints of rape aren’t informative about the actual incidence of rape.

    I also believe that, as argued by a female commenter on Byrdeye’s post, that Byrdeye himself may have the psychology of a potential rapist. I’m not familiar with reports about the psychology of convicted rapists, but Byrdeye’s basic arguments that male sexual activity is not willful and that women have the prior duty to deal with that, are the classic rapist’s defenses in court. It was disturbing how many male commenters lined up in support of Byrdeye’s post.

    Sorry for the long post.

  3. The prosecutor’s other task is to remind jurors that male sexual arousal is not a form of insanity, even if the defendant is intoxicated, and therefore all male sexual contact is necessarily willful

    Emphasis mine.

    I think that’s a very point, and I thank you for bringing it up. For some reason, our culture (and many other cultures – my friend who was raped and tried to kill herself is Ukrainian) considers men to be baboons when it comes to sex. Funnily enough, they’re not baboons when it comes to everything else. Seems awfully convenient to me.

  4. I hate rape apologia for many reasons, but mainly because it masks the real issues, like what are the best methods for women to protect themselves. Also, how we can ensure that rape victims get the treatment and justice they deserve, especially considering that rapists frequently re-offend and go on to not only raping their victims, but murdering them too.

    The present system just is not protecting women, all that ‘she deserved it’ claptrap, prevents analysis and change is putting women’s lives at risk.

    A prime example of of this failure, and it’s deadly implications is the Angelika Kluk case.

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