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Beyond Rape: A survivor's journey
May 6, 2008 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Joanna Connors, a theatre critic, was raped on an empty stage. She tells her story in vivid, lucid detail-- then traces her rapist's twisted family history. One of the best pieces of journalism-- or writing, for that matter-- I've read for ages. Lots of resources for survivors and their families, as well.
posted by Maias (120 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
Heartwrenching.

She's brave. The focus on race in her case is such a touchy subject; I can't imagine showing up to the homes of the man who assaulted me.

Thanks for posting. I've sent it along to some friends.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 2:57 PM on May 6, 2008


i cannot wait to read this and applaud the paper for putting all this together BUT WHY oh WHY couldn't the paper post a pdf of the entire story? having to click through all these 'continued on....' mitigates the impact that this story could have. thanks for the heads up Maias.
posted by jmccw at 3:02 PM on May 6, 2008


This is one strong woman.
posted by athenian at 3:05 PM on May 6, 2008


Great post, great articles. Bravo.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:16 PM on May 6, 2008


WHY oh WHY couldn't the paper post a pdf of the entire story?

Page impressions . Ad revenue. Greed over reportage.
posted by dersins at 3:24 PM on May 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


That was a phenomenal read. Thanks very much. Took me an hour from start to finish, but it was well worth it.

The navigation was annoying, yes, but fuck it. It was worth *that* too.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:29 PM on May 6, 2008


Yeah, wow.
posted by The Straightener at 3:34 PM on May 6, 2008


Heartwrenching story, great post - thanks.
posted by goo at 3:35 PM on May 6, 2008


Wow. Just wow.
That piece hollowed me out and then filled me back up.
I've never been raped at knife point, but I identify so strongly with so much of this writer's journey that there were times that I realized I had stopped breathing as I read.

So much sharp, painful, clean writing and so much compassion for the humanity of each person. I'm still crying.

From part three, when the writer interviews one of her rapist's sisters:



I told her the story the way I'd told my daughter. Gently.

Now she was crying again, saying this was not the brother she knew, that he had plenty of girlfriends and didn't need to rape anybody, that he always protected his sisters. She knew he was capable of murder, sure. He had that thing, that uncontrollable rage. If I had come to her and said, "I'm doing a story because David killed two or three people," that would have made more sense.

"I know what rape is," she finally said. "I was raped myself. But I asked for it, because I was on drugs and I was prostituting. It was just me, being stupid."

She said she never reported it to the police because, hey, what the hell, you're prostituting, what do you think you're supposed to get? Besides, the first time, the rapist was a white guy, and she knew the cops would never go after a white guy for raping a black prostitute. And the second time, she was trying to get crack.

"I asked for it," she said.

It was like a script from the hot-line training I'd done at the Rape Crisis Center.

"No, Charlene," I said. "You didn't ask for it. It was not your fault."

She shook her head, tears rolling down her face. "If I hadn't of been so stupid," she said.

"You know, that's what I was saying to myself for 20 years," I said.

She wiped her tears.

"Yeah, but it's different," she said. "I mean, you had a good job, and my brother had no right to do that to you."

I knew what she was saying: that I was not a drug addict or prostitute, and she was, so she deserved what happened and I did not.

But I also heard what went unspoken: I was white, I had money, I had an education, I had parents who did not hit me.

I had all the things Charlene had not had in her life. She was used to being a victim. It was her world. It was not my world.

"Charlene," I said. "Those guys had no right to do what they did to you, either."

She wiped at her tears again.

"It's terrifying," she said. "Especially when you think they're going to kill you."

"I know."

posted by mer2113 at 3:35 PM on May 6, 2008


This, btw, is why we can't let newspapers die-- and why real journalists have value.
posted by Maias at 3:55 PM on May 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


My stomach is still churning from reading this story. So many victims.
posted by francesca too at 4:00 PM on May 6, 2008


So many victims.

That was my reaction, too. Even the judge moved on to private practice afterwards, in part because of this kind of trial.

My other reaction was that the family story she told, of the rapist's background, was more about mental illness and systematic brutalization than it was a story of simply criminality. By the time he was 18, he had been damaged at such a basic level that I'm not sure if he was fixable, if he could ever have had a place in society.

What a sad story.
posted by Forktine at 4:04 PM on May 6, 2008


Man, what a well-written story. I think the whole race/guilt thing is so true. I have to say I've always been a bit cavalier with my personal safety. In college, I would walk alone at night all the time; I didn't have a boyfriend, or anyone else to walk me home, and I wasn't going to stay home on a weekend night. I also like to strike up conversations with strangers. I probably would have checked out the lights with DAVE. After reading this, I feel I should probably be a little more cautious, a little less friendly, a little less bold. I don't know if that's good or bad.
posted by bluefly at 4:06 PM on May 6, 2008


I was robbed at gunpoint last year, about three blocks from my (former) house in Washington, DC. I am a white woman; he was a black man.

One of the aftereffects of the mugging was a persistent and fever-pitched fear of young black men I did not know. And as a person who has spent significant amounts of time at diversity trainings, taking college courses in social justice, and serving on committees dedicated to equal representation from people of color - becoming petrified of black guys screwed me up in a whole lot of ways that reach far further than that single incident of violence.

I hated my fear. A year later, I still hate it, whenever it sneaks its way into my heart - usually, when I'm least expecting it. And though I would absolutely never compare rape with what happened to me, reading this article made me feel a lot better about how I felt after my experience. It made me feel a little more normal.
posted by harperpitt at 4:08 PM on May 6, 2008 [13 favorites]



It's a basic brain property to make strong associations with particularly frightening experiences and over-generalize them. It's still hard not to feel guilty about it-- but it's a pretty automatic process and while you should fight against it in terms of discriminating against people, if you get an "unsafe" feeling, you should listen to it, according to personal security experts. And don't be unkind to yourself over it-- it's nature's way of protecting us.

The book "The Gift of Fear," tells story after story-- as was the case in this rape, in fact-- of people who did not listen to their instincts about something being "off" because they feared being seen as racist or otherwise prejudiced and, unfortunately, wound up becoming crime victims. Of course, this doesn't mean the victims are "to blame"-- but it does mean that you should trust your instincts because it may well not be the race that has cued you to something "not quite right."
posted by Maias at 4:24 PM on May 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I loved the article, but I just don't get some of the sidebars. "It may be more advisable to submit than to resist", "possible options, in addition to nonresistance, are negotiating, stalling for time, distracting the assailant and fleeing to a safe place, verbal assertiveness, and screaming to attract attention", blah blah etc. There is not one mention of fighting back in their section on "protecting yourself from a sexual predator"; not one mention of concealed carry, tazers, self defense classes, or even pepper spray. The overall message seems to be submit, submit, submit.

Forget that, fight back!
posted by vorfeed at 4:25 PM on May 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


Forktine said:
"was more about mental illness and systematic brutalization than it was a story of simply criminality."

Rape is always about more than simple criminality. It's generally a power play by someone who feels their personal power has been short-circuited in some way, or an outburst of rage that, in others, sparks outward as less intimate assaults.

and...
"By the time he was 18, he had been damaged at such a basic level that I'm not sure if he was fixable, if he could ever have had a place in society."

While I understand why one would be tempted to say such a thing, there is no way of knowing such a thing, and, I think, patronising and irresponsible to make the claim.

Patronising because it assumes the person who committed this terrorising violation is not capable of taking responsibility for such acts on any level, ever (rare for this to actually be the case; common for it be claimed as an excuse).

Irresponsible because it gives credence to those who claim such things as an excuse for not taking responsibility for spreading horror instead of breaking the chain.
posted by batmonkey at 4:28 PM on May 6, 2008


There is no way I can click that link and read that story but I am very glad she wrote it.
posted by konolia at 4:32 PM on May 6, 2008


I'll make this quick. I had a girlfriend who was raped. When I got upset and wanted to drag the guy behind my car, she said that I was treating her like I owned her. That hurt me deeply. When Joanna Connors says the same thing in her article, and then understood her husband when they had children I felt as if a judgement had been lifted.
posted by The Power Nap at 4:35 PM on May 6, 2008 [7 favorites]


Incredible. Thank you.
posted by Lizc at 4:45 PM on May 6, 2008


Batmonkey that is frigg'n nonsense. Calling forktine irresponsible for what is an absolutely sensible statement is ... I dunno... just dumb.

Taking responsibility for ones actions is also no predictive indicator of future BEHAVIOR. Only the recognition of past behavior.

Recognizing pathological behavior is not "irresponsible." The pathologies involved in violent sexual criminality are too complicated for your kind of greeting-card level oversimplification. And getting down on people for what are fairly honest and accurate reactions is just silly.

My brother trains parole officers for Florida State Corrections. He has the dubious honor of having "clients" that are the worst of the worst sexual offenders. He is a guy that wants these guys to succeed and has deep Christian convictions in terms of his personal compassion and a principle belief in atonement. His (now ex wife) was an in-system therapist for violent sex predators. And their opinion is that unfortunately there are plenty of guys who are not fixable and will never have a place in society. And many of these guys WANT to be fixed. But time after time they are back until they end up killing somebody.
posted by tkchrist at 4:48 PM on May 6, 2008


But that wasn't what Forktine said, tkchrist. You may be projecting. I don't know. I get your point and acknowledge the validity for those circumstances and some of those individuals.

Let Forktine respond indignantly for Forktine. I'm responding for people with a history of abuse and mental illness on one hand, and people who have been raped on the other, as those are also batmonkey responding for batmonkey.
posted by batmonkey at 5:03 PM on May 6, 2008


Incredible.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:11 PM on May 6, 2008


This is an excellent piece. Much of it was quite emotional for me; two parts brought me to tears. The first was her son's response to her disclosure. The second was the part that mer2113 quotes.

To me, the single most heartbreaking aspect of sexual assault is that the survivors (much more often and more intensely than other crimes) carry within them deep feelings of guilt of shame. The way in which survivors blame themselves for their own victimization is one of the deepest and farthest-reaching ways in which the assailant has caused pain. It's not ancillary.

Which brings me to vorfeed's comment. The reason fighting back isn't emphasized or even much discussed is threefold. First, whether it's likely to be effective is disputable, but there's certainly some considerable risk of increasing the risk of violent injury. Second, I strongly suspect that fighting back against any sort of seriously criminal attack is always going to be a minority response among people. It's probably not realistic to expect people to fight back, even if it was guaranteed to be effective. This has strong bearing on the third reason: telling people that they should fight back, or implying that they should fight back, gives them yet another reason to blame themselves for the attack if they, in fact, fail to fight back. Note the natural choice of wording in the preceding sentence, "fail". This message just puts even more responsibility on the victim for something that they are in no way, whatsoever, responsible for. If self-blame wasn't as big of a problem as it is, I might be more accepting of a "fight back" message. But I think it does considerable psychological harm. Which brings me to a related meme: "being safe".

Okay, let's get down to brass tacks. Good estimates of the distribution of types of rape are that the overwhelming majority are acquaintance rapes. Not strangers in an empty theater, not strangers in parking lots, or nighttime college campus sidewalks. It's people you know, people you are close to at work and even at home. And, unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the emphasis of many or most safety training classes is on stranger rapes and stranger rape situations.

The sad truth of the matter is that women in North America are disallowing themselves from doing a great many things on the basis of the false premise that they are at high risk of being raped if they did them. Meanwhile, too little concern is placed upon sexual assault at the workplace, while on a date with someone you know, or other familiar and supposedly "safe" places.

And part of the result of this is a transformation of the old style self-blame of "maybe I asked for it, maybe I was dressed too provocatively" with a new style of self-blame like "I should have trusted my instincts, I shouldn't have been in that parking lot by myself". And that's bullshit. I'm not going to tell anyone that they shouldn't be prudent about assessing risky situations and staying away from them, but no matter what happens, ever, you are never responsible for someone else's decision to do something so beyond the pale as sexually assault you. There is no question that everyone, even Eldridge Clever as quoted in that article, knows in their gut that rape is still something that is Not Acceptable. It's wrong. Making the decision to rape someone is wholly the rapist's decision. No one else, no matter what they do, is responsible for that decision. And a strong focus on womens' personal safety with regard to sexual assault has the implicit message that they are responsible for what is done to them when they "fail"—and all survivors will always believe they "failed"—to "be safe".

Finally, the writer doesn't discuss this except elliptically and directly only very briefly, but our culture's insistence on the anonymity of victims of sexual assault implicitly encourages the guilt and shame that survivors feel, as well as, naturally, any sort of blaming or distaste of the survivor felt and expressed by people around she/he. We don't keep secret the names of victims of buglary or muggings. It was very brave, and very constructive, for this survivor to identify herself and tell her story. Some of the most empowerfing implicit messages I've heard from survivors have been the "it's not me, it's about the assailant" message from survivors who are not shy at all about saying they've been raped. Just one time of hearing someone talk about it without any tone or nuance that says "this is my secret, this damaged me" is a revelation.

There was a time, interestingly when I was actually active in Rape Crisis, when I seriously considered the possibility that it would be best for everyone if the media and everyone else completely did away with the anonymity doctrine. These days, I'm not nearly so radical. As long as there are survivors who feel deep shame, and as long as there are people around them who will shame them because they're survivors, then it's best that survivors have the anonymity if they need it. But I think that the more survivors eschew any sense, publicly, that there is something shameful about being a survivor, the more likely it is that another survivor out there will feel the same way. It's a slow process, but it can happen and it will happen.

Oh, the writer also didn't touch on this much, though when she did it brought tears to my eyes, but there's big issues with SOs and other relatives and friends of survivors with regard to how they often respond. Not the more obvious harmful reactions like blaming the survivor, but the more subtle reactions of being very obviously angry and some other things that people close to survivors often unwittingly do that makes it more about them than the survivor and her/his trauma. Talking about how you want to kill the assailant has numerous harmful consequences; the writer mentions one of them, how it made her feel like her husband's property. Because, you see, it made her feel like he was most concerned about how he felt violated and it also put the focus on his sense of agency right when her own sense of agency was the most questioned (within herself).

Mind you, SOs and others close to survivors of horrible crimes like sexual assault will rightly feel violated and hurt themselves, in their own way. That's a valid feeling. And it can be so intense that it requires therapy and other management on its own. But the point is that it's the last thing the survivor needs to deal with. Men, being the way men often are, react to things like this in a "must take action of some kind" way. In doing so, they become preoccupied with their own plans for dealing with the assault and in the process, they end up disempowering the person they love and who is at the most vulnerable for feeling very helpless and weak.

As a former rape crisis volunteer "advocate" (and I took that "advocate" role very seriously because I think there is a huge need for such a person in the context of everything a survivor has to deal with, from emergency calls in the middle of the night to medical exams to trial process) it made me happy to read how the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center played a key role in every stage of this with her—from someone being at the hospital when she was examined, to when she gave her deposition, and then to her later recovery and being involved in her initiating this public disclosure. Most large cities have rape crisis centers and offer a great many services. Anyone who's a victim of sexual assault of any kind should feel that they can call the hotline any time, day or night; often they can get licensed and qualified psychological counseling at the centers; and of course there are the advocacy services available at hospital examinations and legal events. There's a ton of resources there and if you use them you'll suddenly realize, truly and deeply, that you're not the only person who has suffered this terrible thing. All the silence you seem to hear from the rest of society doesn't mean you're alone, only that people are silent. But if you want to talk, there's people who want to listen. Please call.

On Preview: tkchrist, I strongly believe that, whether true or not, someone else denying someone's capacity for moral choice is perhaps the biggest insult you could ever offer someone. More's the pity that it's often done, supposedly, in kindness. You might as well just go all the way and call them a lifeless automaton, inhuman. It may be that the illusion of the necessity of moral choice is what makes it possible.
posted by Dances with Werewolves at 5:17 PM on May 6, 2008 [45 favorites]


No indignation here. I get your point, though I don't fully agree. Some people really are damaged beyond repair. Where we fail them (and their victims) is not by using that label, but rather by not providing any options beyond jail and the street. That guy needed to have been in a series of hospitals (the kind of hospitals with locked doors) from the time he was very young, for there to have been any chance of repairing the damage he had undergone.

That doesn't excuse his actions in the slightest, but it does contextualize them as coming from someone who had been failed by his family and his society. People make decisions and have to live with them (although in many cases, like the relative she interviews in the prison), they do so from a position of limited cognitive capacity. David, the rapist, may not have been retarded, but he also wasn't making what we might call rational decisions (name tattooed on arm, coming back the next day in the same clothes, etc etc etc, not to mention all the times he decided to perform criminal actions in the first place). I'm no health professional, but I don't think it's much of a stretch to call him "fucked in the head."

He, and only he, bears (well, bore, since he's now dead) the responsibility for his actions. But what the article makes so painfully clear, however, is that his crime came out of a social context and a personal history of abuse and mental problems, and that the effects of his crime were felt by many more people than "just" the immediate victim.
posted by Forktine at 5:26 PM on May 6, 2008


Oh, one thing the author didn't mention, may or may not have been her experience, but is very common and deeply troubling for victims of sexual assault is the phenomenon that people in the field call "body betrayal". In short, the fact of the matter is that while a large portion of sexual arousal is in the brain, there's nevertheless a considerable portion that is automatic upon certain physical stimuli. Woman sometimes do lubricate during rape, they even orgasm. Men can become erect, they can ejaculate. For the survivor, this is a horrifying deep secret that they are likely to disclose to nobody, ever, yet it factors greatly into their own feelings of shame and guilt over the assault. Many people who first learn about this are astounded at the idea, though it seems fairly straightforward and obvious when you think about it. But it's one of those things I feel strongly about because it's a prime example of the way in which survivors suffer through secret shame and guilt that they oughtn't.

"But what the article makes so painfully clear, however, is that his crime came out of a social context and a personal history of abuse and mental problems, and that the effects of his crime were felt by many more people than 'just' the immediate victim."

I agree, and the article was particularly poignant because of this. The extremely scary and sad truth that anyone who works or volunteers in these fields immediately sees is that there's a subculture of both assailants and victims that suffer, repeatedly and over their lifetimes, a constant barrage of violence and pathology that those outside this subculture are almost completely unaware of. Particularly in the case of violent stranger rape, a large portion of both the victims and assailants come from an horribly impoverished subculture where the outrageous is the norm. But rather than spending any time on wondering jsut whether or not they, by virtue of their environment, have had their moral capacity severely stunted or smothered, I prefer to focus on the moral responsibility of the rest of us in privileged society who continue to look the other way and ignore this underclass.
posted by Dances with Werewolves at 5:32 PM on May 6, 2008 [6 favorites]


A great story, difficult to read but worth it. Thanks.
posted by languagehat at 5:34 PM on May 6, 2008


That was tough to chew, very hard to read, incredibly well written and brave.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:44 PM on May 6, 2008


wow.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:45 PM on May 6, 2008


A fantastic piece of journalism. Confronts the race issue squarely and fairly. It isn't something anyone likes to talk about at parties, but black men do commit a disproportionate amount of violent crimes, including rape. The author does an admirable job of dealing with that sensibly without giving in to racism.
posted by valkyryn at 6:02 PM on May 6, 2008


This was one of the best (worst) things I've read in ages. Thank you for posting it.
posted by stagewhisper at 6:03 PM on May 6, 2008


"but black men do commit a disproportionate amount of violent crimes, including rape."

Violent, stranger rape, maybe. All categories of rape? I doubt it. Acquaintance rape is so common that the majority of acquaintance rapists must be white men, merely by statistical necessity.

This is just one example of how certain observations about the crime rate among certain black populations can be badly overgeneralized into something that becomes, at best, an apology for racism and, at worst, an argument of it. Be more careful in the future, please.
posted by Dances with Werewolves at 6:12 PM on May 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


It isn't something anyone likes to talk about at parties, but black men do commit a disproportionate amount of violent crimes, including rape. The author does an admirable job of dealing with that sensibly without giving in to racism.

Wow, I didn't get that from the article at ALL.

When I first started reading, I was really curious about how she was going to work the race thing in. (She mentioned an afro and Kool cigarettes before she mentioned 'race,' so I was worried.)

It seemed to me that when she said it was partly a story about race, what she meant was that it was partly a story about how white people (like her, and like me) perceive and incorporate race into these kinds of incidents.

She admits that, after the rape, her fear of young black men is really uncomfortable to her. And in doing so, she admits that she could just as easily have been raped by a white man.

I really liked the way she addressed race, and white guilt. But in no way did I ever hear her saying, "But yeah, black men commit more rapes." And I'm glad she didn't.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:34 PM on May 6, 2008


Oh, the writer also didn't touch on this much, though when she did it brought tears to my eyes, but there's big issues with SOs and other relatives and friends of survivors with regard to how they often respond.

Is there much literature out there on constructive ways of responding and engaging? Nthing the mixture of sadness and deep admiration this piece elicits.
posted by RokkitNite at 6:36 PM on May 6, 2008


I can't actually find a single statistic that suggests that black men commit a disproportionate number of rapes. In fact, the whole world of rape statistics, the more I dig into it, becomes hard to pin down, because a large percentage of women don't report their rapes.

Perhaps black men do rape more, but, in the absence of solid statistical evidence, and without a clear context, that's not the sort of accusation that should be raise lightly, especially since the history of white violence against African-American men is so dangerously tied in with the myth of the black man as rapist.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:50 PM on May 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


Absolutely one of the best pieces of journalism I've ever read. Brave - note: not fearless, but truly brave - and enlightening.

I've never been raped, and any similar types of experiences I've had pale so much in comparison as to mean nothing, but I've done a lot of research on the subject, some academic, mostly just talking with/interviewing survivors, back when I was still screenwriting and working on a script that dealt with reactions to sexual assault. This was the best and most thorough, beautifully written, painful, life-affirming (strangely) and informative account of the healing process I've come across.

Dances with Werewolves, thanks for mentioning Body Betrayal, which, as you said, is something that makes perfect sense when you think about it, but which nobody almost ever mentions. It certainly didn't come up in any of my interviews, and I was far too - I want to say polite, but I mean hesitant and scared - to ever bring it up. When you're trained as a screenwriter, or any type of writer, I would guess, part of the instinct for fiction is to always ask, "What would be worse?" This isn't a sadistic impulse, but rather one that comes from the knowledge that increasing the antagonistic forces requires that the protagonist rise to the occasion that much more so, which makes for a better story.

In considering sexual assault, the only thing I could think of that would be worse than rape would be an assailant who was determined to make his victim orgasm. I'm sure this happens quite a bit, actually, far more than we know, and it fits in with the profile of the attacker. If the purpose of rape is not just to get off, but also to exert dominance (and it is, simply put) thn it seems likely, particularly in acquaintance-rapes, that the rapist would often want to make sure, in his mind, that his victim "enjoyed it." It would alleviate some of his guilt, while also giving him control of that much more of his victim. The fact that the crime still has such a veil of shame around the victims means that Body Betrayal is almost never discussed, which is a crime in itself, because those cases are likely the most damaging.

In any case, I never wrote the situation I described above, because I couldn't find any meaning in it for the protagonist I had designed, and I definitely was not going to make the women I spoke to relive such situations to me for a spec script. In the middle of writing, anyway, I came way too close to one of these situations for me to do anything with it ever again - anything which could ever approach "art" or "entertainment" anyway.

I was on a reality t.v. shoot in upstate NY for a month, and there were a number of teenage volunteers from the town helping out. In the last week or so, one of the girls (15) who had given us the most help was raped by an ex-boyfriend, who had also been volunteering. The girl, amazingly, in my opinion, considering how small the town was, pressed charges the next day. Immediately, her father blamed the girl, and then, not able to face that, blamed the mother for not raising her better, and filed for divorce within the next few days. The girl - phenomenally - stuck by her guns, even when one of the prime figures in the community - one of the "leads" in our series, actually - publicly proclaimed that she'd act as a character witness against her, because she was "a little slut who tried to steal my boyfriend."

It was the sort of thing that makes you want to damn all of humanity. The effects of rape don't just stop at the attacker and victim indeed, and they don't just stop at the family level, either. Every single guy on the shoot was ready to build up a posse to go and murder this kid for what he'd done. Thank god the women were around to tell us that wasn't what the girl needed.

Despite all political correctness and whatnot, what I've learned from my experiences is that rape leaves both victims and survivors, and that the victims remain victims in the face of society, and that the survivors survive in spite of it. Thank you, Joanna Connors, for painting such a picture of the road to survival. I hope that we might one day grab a beer or a coffe and just talk - preferably about movies or theatre.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:56 PM on May 6, 2008 [6 favorites]


I was sexually assaulted on a nearly empty subway car a few years ago. I say nearly because there was another man there towards the front of the car, who during the entire assault did not turn, did not do anything, and left without a word when the car stopped. I actually hate that guy more than I hate my assailant.

It was fourth-degree sexual assault; to me, even using the words "sexual assault" implies a severity of the crime that (I feel) wasn't there. The man grabbed at me, masturbated in front of me, but did nothing more than that. Of course, between my pushing and screaming and running around the car I don't think he could do much more than that if he wanted to.

He was black, and I was white. Like the author, I felt alarm bells going off in my head when he first sat down next to me and tried to speak to me. Not because of his race though, because he was dressed like he was homeless, for lack of a better word. I didn't immediately get up and move when this strange man sat down next to me and began talking to me because I felt ashamed of myself for mistrusting someone because they might be homeless. I still feel ashamed of that, even though it turns out I was right to mistrust him.

He got a year. I was told by the prosecutor this was an especially harsh sentence for the degree of the assault and the fact it was his first criminal offense. He had a history of homelessness, had been bounced through foster care his entire life, and was probably mentally ill. And this is another reason I feel ashamed. The case of the black kid who grows up poor, in foster care, running the streets, becoming homeless, then commits a crime for which he is unduly harshly punished is a pretty classic narrative, and I was ashamed because I was part of it. It's so stupid--I was his victim, and had the least to do with his life as anyone involved in it--but still, it's there. My white liberal guilt.

However, though I am ashamed of the social/racial meta aspects of the case, there is no shame of myself or my behavior during or after the assault. If anything, I feel pride. When it first became clear this guy wasn't going to leave me alone, I called my boyfriend to have some connection to the world outside the subway car. Then I yelled at the guy. I pushed him away. And when the car stopped, I booked it out of there and screamed at the top of my lungs on the crowded platform for security, pointing at my embarrassed assailant and yelling that he had masturbated in front of me. I think that, and the fact that I wasn't assaulted any worse than I was (and perhaps if I hadn't fought I would have been) is why it doesn't weigh as heavily on my mind as it could.

Like the reporter, I consider myself a strong, independent woman. And I think if I hadn't reacted the way I did, it would tear me up, to the point where it would probably be one of the most shameful experiences of my life. It's so fucking stupid, that so much of how I react to that sexual assault depends on the fact that I shouted at the guy.
posted by schroedinger at 6:56 PM on May 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie, the DOJ publishes an annual report on crime, and part of it includes the breakdown of rape perpetrators and victims. According to the statistics for 2005 [pdf], black men made up 48% of reported rapes. Considering blacks constitute 12-13% of the population--and if by inference we assume that black men constitute 6% of the population--that's way more than their share, perhaps as much as a factor of eight.

It's a nasty accusation, one that does carry cultural overtones, but one that seems nonetheless to be true.
posted by valkyryn at 7:05 PM on May 6, 2008


Dances with Werewolves and Navelgazer, you hit on something frightening with the concept of body betrayal. Some time ago, the mother of a dear friend of mine was raped by her boss. She fled home in tears, but didn't tell anyone. The next day, she confronted her assailant, and said, basically, "What you did was wrong. You should never have done that. But that was the first time I ever had an orgasm. Would you do it again?"

Needless to say, this is pretty severely twisted, but it happened. Led to the breakup of the marriage too, though the truth of her accusation suggests that things were not all happiness and light on the home front to begin with. It was quite some time before her family learned what happened.
posted by valkyryn at 7:13 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a nasty accusation, one that does carry cultural overtones, but one that seems nonetheless to be true.

I don't think that data proves black men commit more rapes, just that the ones committed by black men are reported more. Then you have to consider why that might be:

-Knowing the stereotypes about black men, a victim might think they are more likely to be believed so they report when they are raped by black men. From what I have read and heard (though not official research by any means), many victims don't report rapes because they are afraid no one will believe them. If the rapist is wealthy, a prominent member of society, or white (or other factors) that makes it even less likely the victim will be taken seriously.

Someone with more knowledge about rape can speak more definitely on this, but to me, that data doesn't prove much. It could represent more rapes by black men, but considering how prevalent unreported rapes are, using that data to draw any significant conclusions may be a bad idea.
posted by PinkButterfly at 7:20 PM on May 6, 2008


Which brings me to vorfeed's comment. The reason fighting back isn't emphasized or even much discussed is threefold. First, whether it's likely to be effective is disputable, but there's certainly some considerable risk of increasing the risk of violent injury. Second, I strongly suspect that fighting back against any sort of seriously criminal attack is always going to be a minority response among people. It's probably not realistic to expect people to fight back, even if it was guaranteed to be effective. This has strong bearing on the third reason: telling people that they should fight back, or implying that they should fight back, gives them yet another reason to blame themselves for the attack if they, in fact, fail to fight back.

First, the studies I linked to earlier suggest that fighting back tends to be a more successful rape-avoidance strategy than more passive techniques are, and does not necessarily increase the risk of bodily injury. Second, our insistence on downplaying self-defense is part of the reason why fighting back is a "minority response" -- there's plenty of evidence suggesting that training and practice in self-defense techniques can change people's automatic responses.

The third reason you give has some validity... but the truth is that those who are attacked are almost always going to have "yet another reason to blame themselves for the attack", regardless of what they are or are not taught, and what they do or do not do. This is basic psychology at work: second-guessing and feelings of shame & doubt happen even to people who successfully get away from and prosecute their attacker!

It's important to note that avoidance and other passive techniques do not usually help in the typical date-rape or acquaintance scenario, whereas self-defense techniques can still work. You talk about the invalidity of "being safe", and I certainly agree with you on that, but it seems to me that the refusal to teach self-defense is the same kind of just-so story: "women in North America are disallowing themselves from doing a great many things on the basis of the false premise that they are at high risk of being raped if they did them", yet here you are disallowing women from self-defense due to "considerable risk of increasing the risk of violent injury"! Nothing is gained by limiting our lives through fear, on both sides of the equation. Thus, I am in favor of giving women every available tool to protect themselves from trauma, rather than limiting their responses due to fears of possible self-blame.

I'm not saying we should be out there telling people that they have to fight back, and that not to do so is a failure. Everyone should be reminded that this is not true! Obviously, each situation is different, and decisions in the heat of the moment can go any number of ways, and still be equally valid... but to list a bunch of ways to "protect yourself from a sexual predator", without even mentioning self-defense as a possibility? To tell women to "roll under a car", but not to kick and punch and scream; to tell them to learn to use a whistle, but not a gun or a can of pepper spray? This is a pretty blatant omission, and speaking as a woman, I don't think it's one that does us any favors.
posted by vorfeed at 7:30 PM on May 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Pinkbutterfly, I'm not going to pretend that rape statistics have anything like the veracity of homicide statistics. With the latter, someone is dead or someone is not, and though deciding whether or not they died of natural causes is not always an obvious determination, it isn't nearly has difficult as determining whether or not a particular sexual encounter constitutes a sexual assault, sometimes even in the mind of the victim. Throw alcohol use into the mix, and . . . did I mean to do that or not? Like all self-reported statistics, there is a certain degree of unreliability that goes with the territory.

But even allowing for some fudge factor in the numbers, the statistics we do have are weighted very heavily in one direction, and the disparity is pretty constant for pretty much every year for which there is data. I think it would be unreasonable to insist that we know with scientific precision the degree to which black men are more likely to commit rape. But I think it's reasonable to assert that they commit more than their population percentage considered in isolation would suggest.

I'm curious though, pink, would you be willing to dispute the statistic indicating that men commit almost 98% of reported rapes for similar reasons? That statistic doesn't seem nearly as implausible somehow. Why question one but not the other?

I'm also inclined to agree with vorfeed: any "rape prevention" checklist that doesn't include "kick him in the nuts" is drastically lacking. Women may be, on average, physically weaker, but that doesn't make them helpless, and it's high time society stopped telling them they should be, particularly on an issue as critical as this one.
posted by valkyryn at 8:06 PM on May 6, 2008


valkyryn, I just wanted to offer up a possible reason why the stats for black men were so high. I'm not sure how much higher/lower the numbers for black men would be if all rapes were reported, but there seems to be at least one more reason (stereotypes about black men) to report rape by a black man than by other men.

As for the statistic about men, there are probably more rapes committed by women than the stats show, but I don't think men's stats are as overstated as black men's. A man's race does not make him any more able or likely to commit a rape. A man, it seems, is more likely to commit rape than a woman because of a probable size/strength advantage over a woman.
posted by PinkButterfly at 8:17 PM on May 6, 2008


It's interesting how many women do report feeling trepidation in the company of a man that eventually assaults her, and then dismisses it, because the man is black and they don't want to make assumptions.

I feel like it is always someone's right to feel safe, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how silly or how rude it may seem. If I feel nervous about someone approaching me in the street at night, I will cross the street, and even duck into someplace that feels safe. Sometimes our subconscious picks up on little danger signals that we might not consciously note, and I don't think it's ever a good idea to ignore them. Maybe you look like a heel; so what? And here's the thing -- abusive men will often take advantage of people's good manners, their fear of seeming rude, to maneuver their victim into a dangerous disadvantage.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:29 PM on May 6, 2008


I just though a little more about this. You know, when I lived in Los Angeles, and would find myself walking on a darkened street behind a woman, or walking toward her, I always crossed the street to give her some extra room. And I'm not looking to hurt anyone. But I know how frightening it can be to be alone outside with a stranger near you, and I just don't need to contribute to anyone's nervousness. Anyone who would get offended because a stranger expresses some fear of them ... well, they just don't have enough respect for how scary and dangerous a place the world can be, and that people have a right to be careful.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:36 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


black men made up 48% of reported rapes

The reported rapes, valkyryn. In the US, the acquaintance and date rapes that according to RAINN make up 73% of all rapes compose the majority of unreported sexual assaults, and most sexual assaults are unreported. Of the many women I have known who have experienced assault or rape, most was at the hands of someone they initially trusted -- a relative, a date, a boyfriend, a neighbor, a coworker. Most of it was unreported. I've never seen demographic data on who commits these unreported crimes. I don't suppose such data could even be reliably collected. In my largely white circle in my largely white state, said trusted person was almost always white. A white guy everyone else thought was just fine and who has gone on with his life untroubled by justice because the woman -- or women -- he victimized were too ashamed and frightened to tell the truth about him.

I loved this piece but the one I don't suppose I'll ever read, the one I need to read, would be written about that far more common experience of rape. The shame and self-questioning women report after stranger attacks -- double it, triple it, stack it to the moon when it's a man they know. The prosecutor was right: Connors was the perfect victim. She was dressed professionally, she was there to perform her job, she was clearly injured during the rape, and she was raped by a man of the race and background our culture urges us every day to watch out for and fear. If she had been dressed to go out, had a few drinks, was on a date -- if she knew her attacker's name and spoke to him in a friendly way -- if they were in her apartment or car, or his -- if the case could in any way be made that it was a consensual act, then it would be. The trial would be the least of it. She would also be telling her community: Your friend did this to me. Your husband did this to me. Your brother did this to me. Your father did this to me. Your son did this to me. Dave Francis's sisters, who have survived their own assaults and who intimately knew the forces of violence that shaped him, believed Connors and with great generosity offered her their love and support. However, this is not something many people from a less gritty background readily accept can be part of their world, even though 1 in 6 women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives and most not by strangers. Only 6% of all rapists ever spend a day in prison. The demographics of men imprisoned for rape tell us little about who to fear given that so many faces are missing.

The piece I want to read is the one that looks for answers to questions no one wants to ask: how do so many women bear such terrible violence in secret? What happens to all those men who rape and get away with it? Do they carry it with them always too, in some secret place of shame? Or do they forget? Or do most of them simply never understand the enormity of what they've done, the hell that they've wrought?

I doubt I will ever know the answers. It's a story that won't get told, because almost no one wants to hear it.
posted by melissa may at 10:05 PM on May 6, 2008 [26 favorites]


[...] You know, when I lived in Los Angeles, and would find myself walking on a darkened street behind a woman, or walking toward her, I always crossed the street to give her some extra room. And I'm not looking to hurt anyone. But I know how frightening it can be to be alone outside with a stranger near you, and I just don't need to contribute to anyone's nervousness.

As a male, you have more reason to be nervous than she.

I feel like it is always someone's right to feel safe, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how silly or how rude it may seem

When someone's fears are grounded in televised mythmaking incommensurate with actual data, you can't cross enough streets, write enough laws, or start enough wars to make them feel safe. You do not need to accommodate your neighbor's paranoia.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:25 PM on May 6, 2008


So you're saying that in my scenario, it would be more likely that the woman would attack and murder me?

No, of course you aren't, because that's stupid. In fact, the case you are making is unrelated to the case I was making, but thanks for stopping by to remind us that men are the ones who really suffer in the country, and women are just being paranoid when they are afraid of a stranger at night.

At least, that's what it sounds like you were saying.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:36 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


No, I'm saying that a man crossing the street to make a woman feel safe sounds like the behavior of a perfectly rational, healthy society. And hey, should black men cross two streets over, just to make sure? I think that was how the post-bellum South did it.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:02 PM on May 6, 2008


Obviously, the answer is yes they should. That was exactly my point. Yes, you nailed it.

My God, I've been so blind. You have perfectly deflated my balloon of needless concern with your excellent use of man-on-man violence statistics and mockery, and I shall never again be so foolish as to engage in a simple gesture to make a fellow human feel more comfortable.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:08 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, sorry to be snide about it. But I'm just not in favor of playing along with a culture of fear.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:10 PM on May 6, 2008


Well, by all means, hulk up behind strange women on darkened streets. After all, statistically, what the hell are women worried about?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:12 PM on May 6, 2008


But that's the point, Astro. Rape is, for the most part, not a dark alley crime. Strangers, in general, don't rape. They rob, yes, they stab and shoot, yes. The mythologizing of rape as some kind of dark alley scenario is all wrong, and is eiusdem generis of that misguided phobia that seats men apart from unattended kids on planes. As if the molestation scenario of strangers on planes is probabilistically solid, rather than the subconscious midair collision of three American paranoias - strange men, flying, and molesters.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:18 PM on May 6, 2008


I wasn't talking specifically about rape. All I am saying it is not bizarre for people to be frightened of total strangers in a darkened street, and, if someone is getting a sense that something might be amiss, they have every right to avoid a stranger, or go into a better lit place, or make a phone call, in order to make themselves safe. Every time I have been held up, it has been because I ignored a serious sense that something was amiss.

Yes, people should not live in a blind panic at all times. But avoiding strangers on darkened streets is not buying into a culture of fear, it's just being smart. And giving someone extra berth on that same darkened street isn't pandering to fear, it's being courteous.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:23 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dances with Werewolves and Navelgazer, you hit on something frightening with the concept of body betrayal. Some time ago, the mother of a dear friend of mine was raped by her boss.

The recent Chinese film, Lost in Bejing, tells the story of a country girl living in the city.

*** Spoilers to come ***



She works as a foot masseuse, and conceals the fact that she's married from her boss because they don't like to hire married women in such positions. After her friend gets fired for violently retaliating against a customer who gropes her, the pair go out and get drunk. Rat-arsed, the protagonist returns to her workplace to meet her husband, but falls asleep on one of the massage couches in a somewhat dishevelled state.

Her boss happens upon her in this state, and starts to have sex with her while she sleeps. Initially, she responds positively in her drunken state. Then, when she realizes that it isn't her husband, she struggles. Soon, however, her body takes over and she starts to respond to the physiological stimulation and she has an orgasm.

This doesn't stop her freaking out, but when her husband finds out what happened, her response to the rape both confuses and complicates things for her. But she doesn't press charges because she needs her job. Later, she discovers that she's pregnant, and doesn't know who the father is. The rapist -- an older man in a childless marriage -- wants to adopt the baby if it turns out to be his.

Banned in China, where it was made, female director Yu Li deals with the subjects with a sensitivity and an honesty that's unusual in Western films. Well worth watching if you've never seen it, IMO.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:11 AM on May 7, 2008


On the subject of self defense, of the three women I know well who have been sexually assaulted only one was attacked by a stranger and only she fought back successfully, breaking her arm in the process. She is a feisty lady and did not make good victim material. She reported it to the police.

The other two were raped by acquaintances. In one case she was full of rohypnol (provided by a friend) and although she knew she was doing the wrong thing, she had been encouraged (by the same friend) to live a little and take some risks as well as having minimal decision making power due to the drug. She was taken home by two men on the periphery of her social group who both raped her, she did not fight back. Subsequently she discovered that other friends of hers had been assaulted by them. When she went to the doctor for a check up afterward he insinuated that she deserved it and was making a fuss about nothing. She did not report it to the police. She is still angry with the doctor, despite therapy. We wonder how many other women he has maltreated during his career.

The other one is on the axis ii cluster b spectrum and as such has serious emotional problems which she does not seek any help for. She was raped as revenge for being a witness for the police regarding another much less serious assualt on a friend of hers by an associate of her rapists. She has known her attackers for years. She fought back a bit I imagine, and was beaten up resulting in injury (facial bruising, internal bruising of the skull and damage to her hands). It is hard to know what happened as she has not talked to anyone about it, indeed she has not even used the words sexual assault or rape and has denied that anything happened to anyone who gets too close to the truth, as is the way for people exhibiting borderline personality disorder. She has, however, repeatedly suggested that she will have her attackers killed, utilising her connections to some other less law abiding members of society. I don't think she will go through with that though because she is not a sociopath. I don't think it would help her.

I would think that some level of physical resistance would be effective in avoiding some cases of sexual assault. Knowing how to physically resist is very useful. Making noise is very useful. However, as most rape is perpetrated by people known to the victim the psychological barriers to retaliation are different to those traversed when defending against a stranger.

Nip, tear skin, pull hair, scratch, poke eyes, gouge, bite his lower lip off. Learn some Brasilian Ju Jitsu (grappling and floor work). The thing is, self defense has to be practiced regularly to be effective. To defend against an attacker with a weight advantage is a challenge that requires you to be stronger or faster than him in some way that is not reliant on physical strength. It is all very well talking about it, but could you stick a bic pen into someone's eyesocket? Into his neck? If he is numbed due to adrenaline, alcohol or some other drug, extreme measures are required. Incapacitating someone quickly is difficult.

To some degree we become brutalised by studying self defense, it is a necessity to be able to flip from placatory behaviour to vicious violence and back again in a controlled way. You don't need to become a monster, but you do need to use your survival instincts to defend yourself unflinchingly.

Why must women be asked once again to shoulder the burden of mens' emotional ineptitude? It makes me very sad thinking of the trust, humanity and joy that men rob women of.

Whilst we are around the subject, let us spare thought for the thousands of women raped in the various wars blighting the planet at the moment where rape is used as a weapon. Fighting back is not an option for them.
posted by asok at 3:44 AM on May 7, 2008


Also IME rape survivor support in the UK is very poor. This is not due to the lack of hard work on the part of the volunteer organisations, but due to underfunding and societal denial. Donkeys get more than abused women. Responses.
posted by asok at 4:09 AM on May 7, 2008


"Why must women be asked once again to shoulder the burden of mens' emotional ineptitude? It makes me very sad thinking of the trust, humanity and joy that men rob women of."

I'm ambivalent on this topic of self-defense. But I have to disagree with you on this particular point, although I must emphasize that I deplore the general social default of assuming women must, as you say, "shoulder the burden of mens' emotional ineptitude". In this case, though, the thing is...we don't expect people to use self-defense in other forms of violent attack. The correct thinking is that it is society which is responsible for controlling violent behavior and that expecting people to meet violence with more violence is both sometimes counterproductive and unrealistic. Why should women being attacked by rapists be the exception?

My thought on this is that there is a connection between the social stigma associated with being raped and the degree of psychological harm it causes. And because those are both high in pretty much every culture, then rape has an unusually high degree of a sense that it is terribly harmful and that the risks associated with fighting back are worth the possible benefit of avoiding that harm. Similar to say, being attacked by someone who is almost certain to very badly physically harm you, like someone willing to mutilate or murder you. In those cases, while we don't expect people to fight back, we do recognize that they don't have much to lose by doing so.

But I'm not convinced that the potential harm of rape is necessarily as great at it currently is. I don't want in any way to minimize how horrible it is to, a) be sexually violated; and b) to be so deeply robbed of agency. But I do think that there's a negative relationship between how much we expect rape to be harmful and how much it actually is harmful. In this sense, I'm not sure that I think that thinking about rape as something that a victim has so little to lose by risking provoking an extremely violent escalation is the best thing.

Anyway, back to your specific point, I certainly don't think that the current message of general "don't fight back" is the exception. I think it's the general rule for victims of violent crimes.

Whether as a practical matter it's the best approach in the matter of rape...I'm just not sure. There seem to me to be ambiguities in every direction.

On the one hand, I think that since the majority of rapists are acquaintance rapists, I strongly suspect that many or even most of them have no experience with actually being very physically violent and they aren't really prepared, mentally or practically, to escalate to that level (whatever they may threat). In those cases, fighting back may be quite effective. Additionally, many or most rapists predicate the rape on the assumption that they can keep the victim relatively quiet and cooperative. So making that difficult for them will really screw up their plans and perhaps cause them to abandon the attempt.

On the other hand, take a look at the rapist described in these articles. I have little doubt that he was prepared, both mentally and by practical experience, to be quite physically violent. I feel pretty sure that had she fought back, he would have hurt her badly, possibly murdered her.

And keep in mind that there's very likely a considerable amount of crossover between spousal abusers and rapists. Those men have quite a lot of experience being physically violent and often quite brutal. Do counselors recommend that women in abusive relationships fight back? No, and for good reason. (That's not to say that trying to escape isn't a good alternative.)

My intuition is that the breakdown of rapists in these terms would be something like, say, 50% being those who will successfully fought away; another 30% those who will not be successfully fought away but will not escalate the violence; and the final 20% those who will escalate the violence, many of them to the point of murder. Now, from my perspective, as a general rule for all people, risking that 20% for the sake of that 50% is not a good bargain. Others may feel and think differently. Note that I, personally, am a "fight back" sort of a person and actually did so in a situation within the last couple of years. But I don't expect that the average person should be able to be physically violent, nor am I certain that it's a good thing that anyone is able to be physically violent and I'm very uneasy with promoting it. I find my own capacity for violence both disturbing and a character flaw.

At any rate, I tend to feel quite the opposite than you do on this matter. Asking women to defend themselves is, in my opinion, part and parcel of blaming the victim by making them responsible for the crime. Always women have been expected to be responsible in some way or another for the violent and abusive behavior men display with women. I feel that expecting women to fight back is akin to expecting them to "be safe" or, in the past, "not to be sexually provocative". Always we are telling women that what they do has everything to do with whether or not they are raped. I hate that message. Women (and men) aren't responsible for being raped, their rapists are. I hate anything that detracts from that fundamental message.

On the matter of race and rape, I have to say that only a small number of rapes that I had knowledge of when I was a volunteer were reported to the police. Most women do not report, rape is greatly underreported. Given this, there's good reason to believe that the rapes that are reported are not representative of all rapes. They are probably exceptional in some way. And, frankly, a white woman being raped by a stranger black man as in this article, is, as she admits, the most prosecutable and most believed kind of rape there is. Being raped by your white boss in a white-collar office is not. Making generalizations about race and rape on the basis of reported rape statistics is a fallacy in numerous ways.

On a personal note, it's been twenty years since I did my rape crisis volunteer work. But I've lately been thinking a lot about going back to it. It's some of the most personally rewarding work I've done and I think I made a difference. I (and that rape crisis center at that time) believed that having a man doing rape crisis work for female victims can be a very helpful experience for them, providing it's done with a lot of sensitivity and always giving the survivors the option of having a female advocate if they prefer (which was always the first thing out of my mouth, by both training and instinct). Surprisingly, most women didn't ask that a woman replace me. And having a man help them in that capacity, the subtle role of being a trained and experienced advocate, can really help women avoid many of the fears of men in general they experience after being raped. Also, of course, many men are raped by other men (and sometimes by women), and in the case of male survivors, they often prefer another man (and often don't, it's split).

Anyway, it's very rewarding work. The only downside for me was the high percentage of women I knew in my life, both family and friends, who disclosed to me after having discussed with me my rape crisis work. It really opened my eyes, blew my mind, and made me terribly sad and angry. Until that time, the phrase "the war on women" seemed to me to be hyperbole. During and after it, not at all.
posted by Dances with Werewolves at 7:14 AM on May 7, 2008


The shame and self-questioning women report after stranger attacks -- double it, triple it, stack it to the moon when it's a man they know.

I can't speak from experience, but I can totally see how this would be true. Any rape is bad enough, but acquaintance rape adds a violation of trust to the other violations that go with the territory. Confronting your assailant is hard enough when he's a stranger, but any ripple effects of the accusation will affect his community, not yours. Acquaintance rape keeps all of the effects close to home.

Speaking of ripple effects, it might be worth mentioning the effects that such an accusation has upon the accused. Whether or not he's guilty, his life is changed forever. No one will ever look at him the same way again, even if there are no legal proceedings initiated. If there are, and if he's convicted, that's a permanent, public blot upon his reputation which will affect his ability to live and work where he chooses. The sex offender registry laws can affect the perpetrators of these terrible acts far more pervasively than their crimes affect their victims. Once convicted, it can become completely impossible to live a normal life, and limitations placed on sex offenders have resulted in commune-like group homes.

I tend to be in favor of vigorous punishment of crimes, particularly violent ones, particularly of this sort, but I'm strongly in favor of proportionality. Given the fact that a mere accusation can have permanently damaging effects, regardless of the severity of the sexual offense--rape is always bad, but there's a difference between gang-raping a stranger in an alley and having sex with a minor while a minor--I think it's time we reconsider our approach to this particular system.
posted by valkyryn at 7:14 AM on May 7, 2008


Dances with Werewolves, I think you're overlooking something pretty important: men tend to be rather dense when it comes to interpreting female sexual signals. The difference between consensual sex and sexual assault is blurry, turning entirely on consent, and the lack thereof converts a participant into a victim. As such, misinterpreting such signals can make the difference between an encounter that was consented to but regretted and a sexual assault.

If, as seems to be generally assumed, acquaintance rape is far more common that stranger rape, there's a distinct possibility that "fighting back" will prevent a significant portion of such incidents. If a women begins to be approached sexually by someone she knows, I'd be willing to bet that the man in question does not have it in his head "I'm going to rape her," but "I want to have sex with her and I will if I can get away with it." If she is quiescent, given the fact that there is a relationship there, it's plausible that many men will assume that their advances are tolerated, if not welcomed. This assumption is not necessarily correct, or even rational, but it doesn't have any violent intent. If the woman fights back, the man may be disabused of his incorrect assumption and desist.

I'm not suggesting that this is true in a majority of cases, nor am I attempting to shift culpability to the woman. People, regardless of gender, are responsible agents, and the whether or not a woman fights back has nothing to do with the moral valence of the event: no one has a responsibility not to be a victim, and everyone has a responsibility to keep their urges in check. But an unequivocal kick in the nuts might be all it takes to convince a potential rapist that his potential victim doesn't actually want to do this, and therefore he doesn't want to either.
posted by valkyryn at 7:30 AM on May 7, 2008


I'd be willing to bet that the man in question does not have it in his head "I'm going to rape her," but "I want to have sex with her and I will if I can get away with it."

And the difference is?
posted by Tehanu at 7:43 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dances with Werewolves:Asking women to defend themselves is, in my opinion, part and parcel of blaming the victim by making them responsible for the crime.
If you believe that, how do you feel about the advice, that is also mentioned in this thread, that women should always trust their instincts and RUN AWAY if they feel something is wrong? Does that lead to blaming the victim too? Because the woman in this story also felt something was wrong and did nothing with that feeling.

I don't think I agree that giving advice on how to prevent a crime is the same as saying "hey, if you do not follow this advice it is your own fault". In fact, I think you could read your advice the same way: that if a woman gets hurt after she defended herself, she'll be blamed for not being the nice complacent victim that she should have been.
posted by davar at 8:02 AM on May 7, 2008


I don't think that data proves black men commit more rapes, just that the ones committed by black men are reported more.

I'm all in favor of this line of argument, and it is often convincing, but not here. I just don't think enough women fail to report rapes by white men to make up for the difference between 6% and 48%.
posted by languagehat at 8:14 AM on May 7, 2008


Forktine explained:
"He, and only he, bears (well, bore, since he's now dead) the responsibility for his actions. But what the article makes so painfully clear, however, is that his crime came out of a social context and a personal history of abuse and mental problems, and that the effects of his crime were felt by many more people than "just" the immediate victim."

I agree with you, largely. My issue - informed by my own experience & buttressed by growing up with a developmentally disabled brother and living amongst thousands of economically disadvantaged social outcasts with no infrastructure in place for support if they began to exhibit boundary-violating behaviour and plenty of abuse and mistreatment around to warp their social filters even further - is that it sounds like his circumstances are being allowed to stand in for his person.

It gives me pause and makes me want to say something because there are so many born into or dropped into the same circumstances with the same limited cognitive ability who do not become rapists. And that is why I feel that position is patronising and irresponsible.

I don't want people looking into the places where I grew up and thinking, "thence monsters!"

I want them to think, "there are people in there who desperately need help, before they lose their humanity."
--------------------------------
Based on some of the responses here regarding the race and stranger sides of the story, I wonder what your [MeFi's] thoughts would be on a situation that occurred when I was 19. I keep trying to find a way that it would make sense to post the only thing I've ever written up about it, a poorly and cryptically written (but lengthy) 4yr old journal entry.

I don't think it does make sense, but reading some of the stories here makes me feel like I should share, in return, and maybe be part of helping other survivors know they are not alone, or still others that rape is more than what you see in the news, which is the bigger point, I think, of the survivor's tale in the FPP.

Anyway. Maias, thank you for being brave enough to post this. It's hard and I don't know if I'll ever be able to read the whole thing, but it's a valuable post and conversation.
posted by batmonkey at 8:33 AM on May 7, 2008


languagehat:
"I just don't think enough women fail to report rapes by white men to make up for the difference between 6% and 48%."

Go to those who were raped when younger, when it is their stepfather or beloved swim instructor or someone they are related to by blood, and you will find that few of them had these earliest abuses charged, because the adults around them decide, for some unknown reason, that it's "for the best".

That explains that gap quite neatly, particularly when you add in those who do not report Cutest Guy in School because he will ruin their ability to ever be "normal" at school again.

(I don't have anything already written about my experiences in this realm*, but I am so not unique in this, as I have met scores of people who can attest to similar violations from when they were to young to be the ones to make the system care)

*I am not claiming all of these things have happened to me. I can directly and accurately attest to their occurrences and the effects, however.
posted by batmonkey at 8:39 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


too young, dangit
posted by batmonkey at 8:40 AM on May 7, 2008


I just don't think enough women fail to report rapes by white men to make up for the difference between 6% and 48%.

If the frequent claim that the majority of rapes go unreported is true, and it is true that most rapes are acquaintance rapes, and we remember how segregated our society is (suggesting that most acquaintance rapes of white women will be by white men), then I think you actually have enough slack to take up much, if not all, of that 6 vs 48 percent difference. I really doubt that that accounts for the entire difference, but I am reasonably sure that it accounts for a lot of it.

men tend to be rather dense when it comes to interpreting female sexual signals.

Wrong. Men (and women, too, but we are speaking here about men) tend to be very sophisticated when it comes to interpreting societal signals about what forms of sexual misbehavior will be tolerated. Claiming that men are "dense" about those mysterious "female sexual signals" is a way of excusing and permitting what is really impermissible behavior. High rates of acquaintance rape, plus low rates of reporting, plus even lower rates of successful prosecution? Those guys aren't misinterpreting anything -- they have correctly perceived that the will be able to get away with it, and that basically no one will give a shit.

Certainly we all know of cases where the he said/she said is really murky, and the line between bad sex and criminal sex can be pretty fine. Those cases exist, and they are awful, and my guess is that they will be a problem forever because people are often bad at communicating and can be confused as to what they do and do not want. But for all that in some cases that line can be a fine line, once you are firmly over into the not-ok part of the grey area, it's no longer about mistaken cues, and instead about wrong behavior.
posted by Forktine at 8:45 AM on May 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


I really doubt that that accounts for the entire difference

Well, that's what I'm saying. I'm well aware of the phenomenon you describe, batmonkey, but the gap is really huge. (Also, surely I don't need to point out that black girls and women also suffer acquaintance rape that goes unreported.)

I mean, there's no doubt that Bush & Co. have no qualms about stealing elections, but if they won by 89% to 11% (a comparable difference) it would be silly to accuse them of not really winning. They may have stolen as many votes as they could, but that's just too big a gap.
posted by languagehat at 8:59 AM on May 7, 2008


lh- If 86% of all rapes go unreported, and the race of the assailant significantly influences reporting, then it would be quite easy to skew the statistics so that 6% of the population is responsible for 48% of the crimes. Given the population differences between blacks and whites (80% white v. 13% black) any systematic underreporting of white rapes is going to have a massive effect on the statistics.

Consider: those numbers come from the DoJ study of crimes in 2005, during which 160,270 rapes and sexual assaults were reported, 52,568 were committed by whites, 76,929 were committed by blacks. However, if the 86% underreporting number is true, 1,144,786 rapes actually occurred. Of the 984,515 rapes that went unreported, could it be that most were by white offenders? The majority of reported rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, and this percentage goes up in unreported rapes. We live in a highly segregated country where of the people an average victim knows will share her race. So those percentages might be radically off the true numbers.

Those DoJ numbers have a wierd hitch in them: there were no rapes or sexual assaults reported where the assailant was white but the victim was black.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:10 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anotherpanacea - I thought that was interesting too. 100% of black rape victims were raped by black men. 63% of the rapists of white victims were white and other.
posted by shoesietart at 9:25 AM on May 7, 2008


languagehat reassured:
"(Also, surely I don't need to point out that black girls and women also suffer acquaintance rape that goes unreported.)"

You definitely don't. See anotherpanacea's interesting comment for another layer in underreporting where the victim is not white.

The reason I went for so many years thinking what I'd gone through was normal was because so many of the females around me had been through it.

They had all kinds of coping mechanisms, few of which actually addressed their needs or helped them to attain (or resume) true functionality and peace.

My plan is to go back and help. I just need to get my own foundation secured, first.
posted by batmonkey at 10:00 AM on May 7, 2008


Anotherpanacea - I thought that was interesting too. 100% of black rape victims were raped by black men. 63% of the rapists of white victims were white and other.

Yeah, I've seen that statistic too, and it's one of the great examples why statistics like this can be so dangerous, as the place I have seen it quoted most, in doing a search engine search, is on blatantly racist sites.

Obviously there is a lot going on here. Black women do get raped by white men. But without context, these statistic can be used to make some very queasy cases.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:17 AM on May 7, 2008


Don't want to freak out somebody on a darkened street, follow the spirit of the rules for animals in the forest. Announce your presence. Passing someone, say Hi. Following behind someone, cough or rustle your keys. It sounds stupid but I do it all the time and it seems to work.

I'm an imposing figure, at 6' 3" and built like a linebacker, my presence makes people unconforatable. A polite salutation seems to go a long way.

As far as women's "burden to bare the emotional eneptitude of men", this is just wrong. I'm sorry you feel this way, but when I hear things like this uttered I lose symathy. I know a certian 4 year old boy who told his father to stop hitting his mother. Don't neuter him.

My sister was molested by one of my father's best friends and next door neighbor when she was 5. The community rallied around this guy because he was active in the church and all that (even though girls in the youth group said he could be inapropriate). Stopping my father from shooting him, helping my step mother deal with the fact that her daughter went though what she did when she was young (at the hands of her father), and dealing with the kids at school who told me "she wanted it" took its toll on me. This guy fessed up in court and got 4 years probation. It took a lot of strength on my father's and stepmother's part, but because it was their child they had no other choice. I can only imagine how it would have played out if my sister had been 16 instead of 5.

How much a community freaks out at the implied difficulty of "female sexual signals", the stigma of "blaming an innocent man", especially if "he couldn't do that, he goes to church" and I can easily see why so many go unreported.
posted by The Power Nap at 11:02 AM on May 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I completely agree that the stats can easily be abused by devious types to make points which the data does not support. But it's worth pointing out that black men commit more than their fair share of other kinds of violent crime, so it's at least rational to think the rape statistics bear at least some connection to reality, even if there is drastic underreporting. Blacks are seven times more likely than whites to be convicted of murder, and make up a disproportionate percentage of felony defendants of all types in major urban areas.

It's possible to object to all of these statistics--the criminal justice system is inherently racist, yadda yadda--but this starts to sound a bit delusional. Blacks in America are disproportionately poor, disproportionately undereducated, disproportionately in single-parent families, disproportionately grew up in foster care, and disproportionately incarcerated. No one really disputes these things. They're all pretty uncontroversial. For a totally unassailable stat, check out the map linked here earlier this year: more black men are killed in Baltimore than all other demographics combined. I seriously doubt that majority black neighborhoods are being stalked by white and Asian serial killers, suggesting that black-on-black violence is responsible for most of the killing. It's a dark mark on our culture to be sure, but denying it strikes me as downright bizarre. Nervousness about the merest hint of racism shouldn't prevent us stating facts. It's a problem, but denying it won't make it go away.
posted by valkyryn at 11:09 AM on May 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


black men commit more than their fair share of other kinds of violent crime

I think it is really, really important to take the statistics for what they are. They are an accurate (I hope) account of who is arrested and prosecuted for various crimes. They are not an accurate indicator of who commits those crimes. Sometimes there is a really tight correlation between who commits crimes and who is arrested; other times, due to biased laws, biased policing, and other factors, there can be a really huge spread between the two.

So an uncritical use of the rape statistics from the DOJ serves to perpetuate several myths about rape, including the relative risks of stranger vs acquaintance rape, black/white rape, and so on. That doesn't mean that those figures don't tell us anything -- they tell us a lot, in fact. Nor does knowing that those figures are based on a whole set of structural biases prove whether or not black men are in fact committing more than their fair share of rapes. They might be... but those figures are not the definitive proof of that. To know that, you have to know what percentages of men are committing rapes; those figures tell us only about the percentages arrested for rape.
posted by Forktine at 11:31 AM on May 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Asking women to defend themselves is, in my opinion, part and parcel of blaming the victim by making them responsible for the crime. [...] I feel that expecting women to fight back is akin to expecting them to "be safe" or, in the past, "not to be sexually provocative". Always we are telling women that what they do has everything to do with whether or not they are raped. I hate that message. Women (and men) aren't responsible for being raped, their rapists are. I hate anything that detracts from that fundamental message.

I've already gone into why I think this is wrong, but it's worth repeating that we do tell women to "be safe" (see the sidebars on the article for examples), and we do tell women that they can and should take certain actions when they feel threatened. We just don't tell them that self-defense can be among those actions. IMHO there is zero difference, blame-wise, between telling women they should struggle and telling them they should not struggle - both set up the possibility that a woman will feel she "didn't do it right". And to be honest, I see a huge difference between "you can try to do X, Y, and Z if you are being raped" and "doing A, B, and C will keep you safe from ever being raped". The latter is unrealistic and blame-inducing, but the former is not.

As for this:
In this case, though, the thing is...we don't expect people to use self-defense in other forms of violent attack. The correct thinking is that it is society which is responsible for controlling violent behavior and that expecting people to meet violence with more violence is both sometimes counterproductive and unrealistic.

The Supreme Court has stated unequivocally that protection and defense are not the responsibility of the state, not even if you have a restraining order. On top of that, the slightest glance at the American situation makes it clear that our society does not "control violent behavior"! The "correct thinking" on this issue has made us into a nation of passive victims (like Forktine said, people who commit violent crimes know they can get away with it, partly because our citizens are told and told to let them get away with it), and it has also created a whole new aura of self-blame around the idea of self-defense. Many women at the local shooting range have said things like "sometimes I feel like practicing self-defense is asking for it, like it means I'm out looking for trouble or I want something bad to happen to me or my family". Rape victims sometimes say, "I shouldn't have fought back, it's the reason why I was hurt, why didn't I cooperate", etc. Why is that kind of self-blame any better than the one you're worried about?
posted by vorfeed at 11:42 AM on May 7, 2008


The difference between consensual sex and sexual assault is blurry...

No. It's not.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:54 AM on May 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


But avoiding strangers on darkened streets is not buying into a culture of fear, it's just being smart. And giving someone extra berth on that same darkened street isn't pandering to fear

Consider living in a City for a while.

In this case, though, the thing is...we don't expect people to use self-defense in other forms of violent attack.

Perhaps you don't.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:13 PM on May 7, 2008


The difference between consensual sex and sexual assault is blurry...

No. It's not.


There are those, coming at this argument from all angles, who seek to blur it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2008


Nervousness about the merest hint of racism shouldn't prevent us stating facts.

It's not "nervousness", it's sensitivity to the reality of how those plain old "facts" can be used to justify all sorts of fucked up things. Clumsily or poorly wielded facts can do massive amounts of damage.

When I moved to Austin about 13 years ago, two of the women I dated (at different times: don't go getting any ideas!) told me that their mothers had warned them that black men are rapists; one's father told her that she needed to be careful around me because "black men are really promiscuous," which I understood then and now to be code words for "rapist." One of the women was white, the other Latino. Both also told me stories of various rape attempts/sexual assaults/coerced sexual experiences they'd had, always involving white males.

I fully understand that the plural of anecdote is not data, but when I juxtapose those stories with with the reckless eyeballing thing used against black men in the Jim Crow South; memories of times in middle school when I and other young black men were punished for things we didn't do when it was our word against a white kid's; and the weirdness involved in America's understanding of black male sexuality in general (see also: the porn subgenre of white men watching their wives having sex with black men), and there's the potential for massive fuckery in the statistics about sexual crimes and black men.

If I had more faith in our ability to ask "Why?" and then "How Can We Fix It?" when presented with social statistics, I wouldn't be bothered whenever statistics about black men and violent/sexual crimes surface in a discussion. Given America's tendency to embrace a "tough on crime/"Send 'em to PMITA prisons!"/incarceration is rehabilitation/people are poor because they're lazy and morally/ethically deficient" attitude, I get worried whenever the numbers are brought up.

...And yet...and yet, I have to acknowledge that the "facts" about black males and violent crimes affects my behavior as well. I always maintain heightened awareness of the location and behavior of black males I don't know when I'm traveling alone at night, because the statistics suggest that, as a young black male, I'm far, far more likely to be the victim of violent crimes enacted by that group than nearly everyone else participating in this thread. I say this even though I grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale that was so bad people in other bad neighborhoods called it "Vietnam," and I was never assaulted, menaced or robbed.

I guess I have made this post a lot shorter by echoing what others have said already: it's a far more complex story than can be addressed by doing something like pointing to a bunch of numbers and punctuating them with something along the lines of "I'm just sayin...."
posted by lord_wolf at 12:24 PM on May 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


men tend to be rather dense when it comes to interpreting female sexual signals.

Wrong. Men [...] tend to be very sophisticated when it comes to interpreting societal signals about what forms of sexual misbehavior will be tolerated. [...]
No, Forktine, you're wrong.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:48 PM on May 7, 2008


No, Forktine, you're wrong.
Oh stop picking on the poor men. They can't help it.
posted by peacheater at 1:28 PM on May 7, 2008


Wow, reading this thread is painful. Thanks melissa may and danceswithwerewolves for your excellent comments.

Someone mentioned the harsh punishments given to sex offenders in our society. Most women who have been survivors of sexual assault are well aware of what it means to point out someone they know as a perpetrator of sexual assault. When you're talking about an acquaintance (or worse, a friend or family member), there are few survivors than you would think who would be willing to ruin that person's life the way that be labelled a sex offender does. I think that's a huge piece of the silence.

I would argue that another huge piece of the silence, in addition to the shame/guilt stuff, is the fact that proving the absence of consent is incredibly difficult. And a lot of women who do speak up are straight up not believed. (This may come as a shock to some of you, but I've seen it happen with several friends of mine.) How often have you heard about women falsely accusing men of rape? I've heard about situations like that over and over and over again. What kind of affect do you think that has on someone who has been a survivor of sexual assault and is considering saying something about it?

Finally, I just want to throw out the idea that a lot of women I know who have been sexually assaulted are genuinely unsure if the perpetrator is even aware that they violated consent. Especially when substances are involved, nonconsensual sex is incredibly easy to rationalize. Rape happens all the time. And it seems to me that it's not about maliciousness as much as it is about entitlement.

I know a lot of survivors, most of whom have not reported it. And most of the perpetrators were white dudes. Statistics about rape are unreliable at best, if not completely worthless. And the way they're being used in this discussion looks more like a perpetuation of the "black men as rapists" cultural thread than as resources for enhancing discussion.
posted by lunit at 1:42 PM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


valkyryn & Forktine & Crabby Appleton:
" "men tend to be rather dense when it comes to interpreting female sexual signals."

"Wrong. Men [...] tend to be very sophisticated when it comes to interpreting societal signals about what forms of sexual misbehavior will be tolerated. [...]"

No, Forktine, you're wrong. [link to article explaining why]
"

valkyryn & Crabby Appleton are arguing a rather fine point in the tragically varied landscape of sexual assault.

The survivor who wrote the article in question had a knife involved in her threat, wherein the perpetrator has decided he must make such a threat in order to accomplish his ends.

That is a literal world of difference from the type y'all are describing. All types are traumatic, but there is a scale of perspective to these things, believe me.

However, I'm definitely glad to see that level of the topic discussed, because I've long believed that more casually vile version of rape, date rape, could actually be curtailed on some level by just talking about why "no" really does mean "no" and why "please, don't" and "stop" and "not now" and "not this time" should be taken seriously, too.
posted by batmonkey at 1:48 PM on May 7, 2008


"no" really does mean "no" and why "please, don't" and "stop" and "not now" and "not this time" should be taken seriously, too.

Not really that hard to pick up on. This is the line.
posted by The Power Nap at 2:16 PM on May 7, 2008


Nervousness about the merest hint of racism shouldn't prevent us stating facts.

It's not "nervousness", it's sensitivity to the reality of how those plain old "facts" can be used to justify all sorts of fucked up things. Clumsily or poorly wielded facts can do massive amounts of damage.

I agree with this 100%. But I'd add that the solution is NEVER EVER EVER to avoid facts. Avoiding facts is like saying "Hearing about car crashes makes me nervous, so I'm going to avoid reading up on how to drive safely. The book might mention car crashes!"

We need facts in order to make decisions.

One of the reasons we're so screwed up when it comes to racism is the topic get discussed horribly or not discussed at all. We're nervous of the facts -- for good reason (outlined above). So we clam up.

Poorly wielded facts don't work.

Silence doesn't work.
posted by grumblebee at 2:17 PM on May 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Asking women to defend themselves is, in my opinion, part and parcel of blaming the victim by making them responsible for the crime.

Possibly the most bizarre and wrong headed opinion I have ever read.

Why not apply that logic to all crimes. We should NEVER encourage people to buy locks on their doors. After all there shouldn't be any crime in the first place, right? Or lets go waaay out there: We shouldn't teach people the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR either, people should just chew their food and know how to swim?

While self defense for something like rape is fraught with complications it is by no means is ever blaming the victim by giving them the basic tools to survive a violent situation. The point is to prevent them FROM being victims.

Wait a minute. Is DWV really Etherial Bligh? That would explain a great deal.
posted by tkchrist at 2:44 PM on May 7, 2008


Thank you, lord_wolf

I think we're getting closer to the meaningful truth behind these figures. My favorite Law School Professor (an extremely progressive liberal former public defender) made a point when the lecture class was debating the death penalty. When it was brought up that black men receive the death penalty in far more instances than white men, he replied that this was true, to an extent, but that it was also true, and unfortunate, that black men commit a disproportionate percentage of violent crimes, and that maybe the most relevant statistic is that cases of white victims get a grossly disproportionate amount of death penalties imposed.

Another professor's final note to us at the end of this semester was to be more creative and thoughtful when thinking about how we choose to identify/group ourselves and others. Take valkryn's comment above - no one is likely to say that Maryland residents murder more blacks than any other group in America, because as true as it is, it's also meaningless. Still, somehow, it's significant to us to say that black men commit more rapes than any other group in America. If this is true (and I believe the figures are very skewed, but it still may be) that doesn't mean that the truth of it is at all meaningful. They're only meaningful in that they allow us to substitute "young black men" for the phrase that actually may get at the issue: "gang culture."

Young black men are not, by nature, violent rapists, as the strawman in the corner may be saying. By nature of economics and being marginalized in American society, though, young black men are overrepresented in gang culture, which bases itself in violence and machismo and the glory opf taking that which you can't get by conventional means, because (in many arenas, though significantly not as far as conventional sex is concerned) those conventional methods have been barricaded to them. This is breeding grounds for rapist mentality, especially as Joanna Connors describes her situation, "This was prison rape."

Gang culture, however, is not exclusive to black men, as convenient as that categorization may be. It encapsulates all racial demographics, and it all leads down the same road. I personally believe that Fraternities are in many ways just socially accepted gangs for (usually) young white men, and if the major difference between them is that frat boys focus their attention away from robbery and mugging and murder and towards getting drunk and getting laid, I don't think that helps their case in this situation. And what happens in these situations, once viewed, not through a racial lens, but through a "gang culture" lens? We begin to see why so many of these assaults go unreported.

The article points out just how painful and difficult it was for Connors to go through the reporting and trial and everything surrounding it, but she also mentions that she only saw DAVE five times - once during the attack, and four times during the proceedings. They were from different worlds, and accusing him didn't mean any backlash in his defense from her community. But if you're a black girl going to the Crip party because it's the best thing going on a Friday night, and you get raped, you know very well the consequences of pressing charges and seeing it through. Likewise if you're a tri-delt going to the Kappa Sig party, though the pressures are about social hatred and being hatred, and less about the threat of actual violence against you. But then again, the Tri-delt hasn't likely grown up in a culture of violence, and so the omen of the consequences - in her mind - may well be equal. And yes, the line between consent and assault can often be blurry, particularly for a self-blaming victim who was already hooking up with her assailant before things went too far. I hope that more states adopt statutes like the new Maryland law, which allows women to withdraw consent at any point during intercourse. I don't know how much good it will do in increasing reported rapes, but it's a step in the right direction.

Considering this based on race is easy because we're worried about stranger-rape, and race is one of the first things we may determine about somebody we don't know. As far as predicting anything, though, it's absolutely worthless, and pointing at young black men and saying that they're more likely to be rapists (thanks again, strawman) IS damaging. Not just to the young black men who have nothing to do with the scene that's causing them to have this label, but also to all the victims of frat-boy acquaintance-rape because the frat-boys think that the label doesn't describe their behavior as well.

As for self-defense, well, I think women should be trained in it, and that women are intuitive and intelligent enough to know when self-defense will bring them more damage than less.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:02 PM on May 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


Note: I don't mean to imply that Kappa Sigs are rapists. My sister was a Tri-Delt in college, and her boyfriend was a very conscientious Kappa Sig. They were just the first two names that came to mind.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:04 PM on May 7, 2008


Thank you, lord_wolf

No, thank you. ;-)

Seriously though: very very interesting points about the parallels b/t gang culture/frat culture at its worst and the nature of their relationships with the populations from which both their members and victims come.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:58 PM on May 7, 2008


Race [Human Rights Watch] is also a significant factor in rapes occurring in US prisons.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:12 PM on May 7, 2008


Finally, I just want to throw out the idea that a lot of women I know who have been sexually assaulted are genuinely unsure if the perpetrator is even aware that they violated consent. Especially when substances are involved, nonconsensual sex is incredibly easy to rationalize. Rape happens all the time. And it seems to me that it's not about maliciousness as much as it is about entitlement.

A friend of mine was raped at a party by a boy she had had consensual sex with before. They had both been drinking. So, according to the police, even though she had bruises all up and down her thighs, and a bruised cervix, there was nothing they could do about it. I wasn't present for any of the conversations she had with medical personnel and law enforcement, but I got the impression later that she didn't think any of them believed she had been raped at all. The boy who raped her was also her best friends older brother, and her friend sided with her brother and didn't believe her either. I don't think that this scenario is uncommon unfortunately. The dynamics of acquaintance rape are twisted beyond belief.
posted by supercrayon at 5:15 PM on May 7, 2008


From feministing, another angle on the self-defense issue:

'"Bruen did everything that she was supposed to do, but instead of being hailed a hero for pummeling someone who sexually assaulted her, she was further assaulted for her trouble." . . . This isn't to say that I think women shouldn't learn self-defense or fight back against assault - on the contrary, I think they should if that's what's best for them. But it's not an answer to rape culture (in which a crowd of people can stand and fucking cheer as a woman is being assaulted) - and that's what we need to be fighting back against.'

The courage to speak up, yeah. The onus is on all of us, men and women.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:22 PM on May 7, 2008


"If you believe that, how do you feel about the advice, that is also mentioned in this thread, that women should always trust their instincts and RUN AWAY if they feel something is wrong? Does that lead to blaming the victim too? Because the woman in this story also felt something was wrong and did nothing with that feeling."

You and someone else wrote something like this and it's strange because I was pretty clear that I feel that "be safe" messages are, in fact, not that different and probably counterproductive. I think they do, in fact, unnecessarily place the emphasis on what the women does, not what the rapist does. I think they are, in fact, in a cultural sense regarding how we think about women and rape, related to all the other ways in which we blame women for rape.

I think that every individual has to male their own individual decision about what they think is prudent and cautious behavior with regard to protecting themselves from people who will hurt them. But I'm generally biased against this mindset as I think it is distorting. Particularly with regard to rape, the sad irony is that women aren't being safe from the people they actually ought to be safe from: the people they know. There is actually very little likeliehood that a woman will be raped in places like dark parking lots or nighttime city streets, but those sorts of situations are where most of their attention is being directed. Also, it's the case that rapists have a preference for victims who appear vulnerable. Rapists are predators. That's why they are biased not toward attractive women, but particularly vulnerable women, like the disabled and elderly. And the upshot of that is that women that present themselves as being particularly vulnerable, like the woman who quickly walks through the dark parking lot with her head down and in considerable anxiety, actually disproportionately attracts the attention of rapists. Living in a state of fear by concentrating on "being safe" methods, always acting as if you are scanning for threats, actually attracts rapists. And as far as being safe from those close to them, in most cases (fraternity parties and similar excepted), "being safe" in terms of avoiding situations is simply not practical.

So, no, I don't think that the current trend in safety awareness is a particularly good thing. It's keeping the emphasis on women, rather than on society's responsibility for doing something about what is really a rape epidemic.


"I'm all in favor of this line of argument, and it is often convincing, but not here. I just don't think enough women fail to report rapes by white men to make up for the difference between 6% and 48%."

It's worth taking a close look at anotherpanacea's numbers here:

"Given the population differences between blacks and whites (80% white v. 13% black) any systematic underreporting of white rapes is going to have a massive effect on the statistics....Consider: those numbers come from the DoJ study of crimes in 2005, during which 160,270 rapes and sexual assaults were reported, 52,568 were committed by whites, 76,929 were committed by blacks. However, if the 86% underreporting number is true, 1,144,786 rapes actually occurred. Of the 984,515 rapes that went unreported, could it be that most were by white offenders?"

I don't know why anotherpanacea didn't follow through on the calculations, but if you take the estimate of 1,144,786 total rapes and multiply it by the proportion of whites in the population, you get 915,829 rapes by white men and 228,957 by black men, which makes about 20% of the rapes by black men. You'd have to assume a huge number of rapes of white women by individual black men to make that 20% account for a majority of all rapes nationwide. Furthermore, as anotherpancea notes, blacks are not dispersed evenly through the population. I live in Albuquerque, a metro area of about 700,000, and only about 5% of the population is black. Yet, we have a high rape rate. There's no way you can claim that most of the rapes here are being done by blacks, not even that a substantial portion are being committed by blacks. Many areas of the country are the same.

If you believe that rape is underreported and fairly evenly distributed about the US, then there's almost no way you can believe that blacks commit a very large portion of them. Not if you do the math. I don't understand why you didn't think more carefully about the math.

"I've already gone into why I think this is wrong, but it's worth repeating that we do tell women to 'be safe' (see the sidebars on the article for examples), and we do tell women that they can and should take certain actions when they feel threatened. We just don't tell them that self-defense can be among those actions. IMHO there is zero difference, blame-wise, between telling women they should struggle and telling them they should not struggle - both set up the possibility that a woman will feel she 'didn't do it right'..."

I agree.

Look, I don't think you're being completely honest in your citations. Those studies you cite about how fighting back is effective are not definitive. They're controversial and I think you know that. When I first answered your comment, I made that clear and said that your point was debatable. I didn't say that you were unequivocally wrong and I didn't make any absolute statements on my side, like you did. You have an emotional investment on a particular point of view in this discussion, which is made clear when you mention being on the shooting range.

This is also the case with tkchrist, who is a self-defense expert, highly proficient in the martial arts, actually an instructor who teaches women self-defense. He is not impartial in this discussion.

"Possibly the most bizarre and wrong headed opinion I have ever read.

Why not apply that logic to all crimes. We should NEVER encourage people to buy locks on their doors. After all there shouldn't be any crime in the first place, right? Or lets go waaay out there: We shouldn't teach people the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR either, people should just chew their food and know how to swim?"


Your last three examples are not like the first.

As a matter of fact, I'm not that particularly keen on all the ways in which we, in the US, place emphasis on crime prevention by citizens rather than crime prevention in the cultural/socioeconomic context (excepting punitive criminal justice, which we emphasize to an extreme degree). Other advanced countries do not tolerate such a high crime rate and rightly see doing something about crime the responsibility of society in terms of doing something about the environment which creates criminals, rather than locking doors, having guns, car alarms, and the like.

Furthermore, self-defense is more than a litte euphemistic in that it elides the part where it's violence as a response to violence. As I already mentioned, I don't believe that's a healthy or particularly moral response to violence. And it's not the case that I'm a coward or shrinking violet...by temperament and background, I'm willing and able and experienced in defending myself. Also I mentioned, I've done so within the last couple of years...as a middle-aged, disabled person. But I believe that my willingness to commit violence is a personal failing and that pacifism is morally correct. At the very least, I'm not willing to make the claim for other people that they ought to be willing to use violence to answer violence and I think those doing so, like yourself and vorfeed, are taking a very morally fraught position.

"Wait a minute. Is DWV really Etherial Bligh? That would explain a great deal."

Like what? That I'm verbose?

I don't really like you, either, but you don't see me bringing that up in this discussion. What does it add, and how much does it degrade the discourse by you saying this? This type of thing is why I've mostly left MeFi. It's ugly and wrong.

"However, I'm definitely glad to see that level of the topic discussed, because I've long believed that more casually vile version of rape, date rape, could actually be curtailed on some level by just talking about why 'no' really does mean 'no' and why 'please, don't' and 'stop' and 'not now' and 'not this time' should be taken seriously, too."

This implicitly brings us to the whole "rape is violence, not sex" thing.

This is dogma in feminism and rape crisis and for good reason. Historically, we've thought exactly the opposite, with tragic consequences. And, culturally, we pretty much still think of rape as being about sex, no matter what we claim.

However, when I was working in rape crisis, the director of the center told me, in private, that of course rape is also about sex as well as violence. I think most people involved in rape prevention/survivor support are aware of this. But we emphasis the opposite as a corrective measure.

In my opinion, the sex/violence relationship in rape roughly (not perfectly) lies along a continuum coincident with the acquaintance/stranger rape relationship. Because of our cultural attitudes about sex and women, there really is a lot of confusion about consent and related matters. In particular, I believe that the epidemic of acquaintance rape on campus (frat party scenarios less so) has a lot more to do with sex and communication and confusion about consent than it does about violence. Not to say that I think there's not a violent component in there, because I think there still is in pretty much every case of acquaintance rape. (I think that there's a certain amount of willful disregard of one awareness of another's lack of consent that is implicitly violent.) But I believe that education and changing the habits of how young people hook up and date could make a big difference.

Back then, when I was in college myself, I made an abortive effort to locally start a campus awareness/education program aimed at including men as well as women and teaching men to change how they think about these situations. Personally, I believe that we need to put romantic notions about ambiguity and pursuit and retreat scenarios aside and simply insist that every sexual engagement include a component of explicit consent. Young men should simply insist on explicit consent. A lot of young women may not be wiling to go so far as giving explicit consent, but I think the young men can live without the sex if that's the case. I've always (subtly) required explicit consent and, nevertheless, I had a lot of sex from the age of 15 through 21.

And, yes, as I mentioned earlier, I think that there's a high chance that women being very active in defending themselves in these sorts of acquaintance rape situations will stop the attacker. But I don't think that really would require women to be violent so much as it would involve them actively trying to stop and/or flee the situation. Note, however, that a certain minority of these rapists really aren't that different from stranger rapists and they know exactly what they are doing and are prepared to deal with resistance. This is much more true for serial rapists, which account for a considerable portion of rapes.

I think it's important to recognize that almost everything we've been discussing is ambiguous and making sweeping generalizations and giving people simply answers is best avoided. In this and my previous comments, I've been pretty careful to state the these are my considered opinions and I'd like to emphasize that individual people should consider all these different things and make their own decisions about how to deal with these issues. There's (rarely) definitive "right" and "wrong" and "true" and "false" (excepting, especially, the kinds of rationalizations rapists offer, which should be unequivocally rejected).

I don't want to give the impression that I'm telling women not to protect themselves or fight back. It's my opinion that this isn't for the best; but individual women should make he decision for themselves. The only thing I will say very strongly is that I very much disagree with anything that implies that women have some responsibility for the rape, both in terms of if it occurs, or in preventing it. One's own responsibility is to oneself in these situations, not to the actions of others. It's a subtle point, but important. The responsibility and the wrongness of committing an act of violence and the victim avoiding/resisting it are independent; one doesn't lessen or increase the other. If I fail to lock my front door and am burglarized, I failed in my responsibility to protect my possessions, but that in no sense makes me responsible for the burglary or the criminal's decision to burglarize. The two are independent. In fact, it doesn't really matter if, when I don't lock the door, I'm burglarized or not. I've made a decision that impacts the safety of my possessions and that stands on its own. If I have "failed", I've done so whether or not I'm burglarized. The same is true of rape. If you do something risky and unwise, it's risky and unwise whether or not you're raped. The failure and fault has nothing to do with what the rapist decides to do.

This seems weird, I realize, but it has something to do with the subtle difference between our responsibilities for managing acceptable and unacceptable consequences. Criminal behavior is beyond the pale—it is not a normal or acceptable response to someone failing to lock their door. No one but the burglar is responsible for committing a criminal act.
posted by Dances with Werewolves at 8:22 PM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Consider living in a City for a while.

I don't know what that means. I live in downtown Minneapolis, and have lived in Koreatown in Los Angeles and the French Quarter of New Orleans. Perhaps the capitalization in your comment means something. By "City" are you referring to Clifford Simak's classic science fiction book in which humans have abandoned the cities to intelligent dogs and ants?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:53 PM on May 7, 2008


By "City" are you referring to Clifford Simak's classic science fiction book in which humans have abandoned the cities to intelligent dogs and ants?

I capitalized C to refer to a half decent city where people don't walk around in mortal fear of each other. In America, my personal lengthy experience suggests NYC, and my understanding from friends and limited experience suggests places like SF and Seattle as places where people aren't afraid of strangers after dark, where walking around afraid of OMG STRANGERS AND IT'S NIGHTTIME would basically be an absurdity - and where I would certainly no more cross the street to avoid walking behind a woman than I would expect a Black man to cross the street to avoid walking behind me.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:22 PM on May 7, 2008


Oh. So city means whatever you define it as meaning.

I spent summer in Manhattan when I was a boy, in the 70s. People walked around with guns in their pants, and David Richard Berkowitz was shooting people in their cars.

City living can be rough. Don't mock people who have enough experience with it to use a little caution.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:33 PM on May 7, 2008


Manhattan in the 70's was an exceedingly different place by my understanding, and even then your Son of Sam reference shows the kind of misguided risk-aversity that's going on. What were your chances of being killed by the Son of Sam, slightly less than your chances of being struck by lightning on a sunny day?

The point is:

All I am saying it is not bizarre for people to be frightened of total strangers in a darkened street,

is pretty fucking bizarre for a lot of people.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:44 PM on May 7, 2008


Really? Then I might suggest you try living in a city at some point.

Here are the crime maps for downtown Minneapolis -- not exactly an urban hellhole of crime and violence. In my neighborhood, there were six cases of aggravated assault and one case of rape report in the past week. And while women are more likely to be raped by men they know, something like 30 percent of all reported rape cases are still by strangers. It happens. These are the level three sexual offenders who live in my neighborhood.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I was robbed at knifepoint walking down the street a block from where I lived. I was also robbed at gunpoint at work. In New Orleans, I witnessed numerous instances of purse snatching. The week I moved there, a long time resident was beaten by strangers near the casino downtown and died of his head wound.

I go out in the city all the time. I go out at night. I walk around. It's not like I spend all my time in some desperate state of fear. But if someone is approaching me who seems sketchy, I take a different path. Apparently New York has become so wonderful that nobody ever robs or attacks a stranger in the street. I assure you it happens all the time in every other city in the world. Your bravado might be coming from naivety, but it is somewhat galling that people keep popping in to suggest that, despite the fact that women actually do get hurt, and get hurt by strangers, they should nonetheless ignore their instincts when something seems amiss, because then they are capitulating to a climate of fear. As for me giving strangers a bit of space in the street? It doesn't hurt me and it might make someone else feel a little safer on their walk home from work. Don't understand why it bothers you.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:05 AM on May 8, 2008


Listen, my girlfriend was sexually assaulted about two weeks ago. It was a relatively minor thing -- a guy grabbed her while walking past her. But it didn't seem minor to her at the time; it felt like a huge fucking violation. He just hulked up to her in the streets and grabbed her.

I suspect my girlfriend isn't unique in that experience, and I suspect that many women have had far more violent or invasive experiences. I know the flash of fear I see in women's eyes when it's just the two of us, alone on the street, late at night. So I just don't get why it's so fucking offensive to some people that I take very minor, easy steps to give a stranger the space they might want to feel safe.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:26 AM on May 8, 2008


[a few comments removed - please do not turn a thread about rape into a grudge match, thank you]
posted by jessamyn at 6:31 AM on May 8, 2008


I seem to have mis-communicated somewhat. I am not suggesting that self defense is something that must be practiced by all women. I am suggesting that if you are going to practice self-defense it must be the real deal, which involves regular training and getting over the basic aversion to causing others harm that most 'normal' people have. Don't start what you can't finish. I was also considering the techniques that might give someone advantage over a larger and stronger opponent. Stabbing the eye with a pen (or hairpin as practiced in some Okinawan * martial arts) struck me as a likely way to incapacitate someone rapidly using something that might be to hand.

But I have to disagree with you on this particular point, although I must emphasize that I deplore the general social default of assuming women must, as you say, "shoulder the burden of mens' emotional ineptitude". - DWW

IME people with character attributes that are associated in our culture with femininity (caring, forgiving, magnanimity, consoling etc.) by default absorb the emotional violence of those who are not emotionally mature. The gender of those involved is not necessarily in alignment with their character attributes.

The ego is very much to blame for this kind of behaviour.

I witnessed an interesting drunken discussion between two of my friends once. A was arguing that argument is defined by the winning of the argument (I would call this a male perspective), B was arguing that argument is a tool in itself which works without the need for a 'winner', it is away to explore ideas. Naturally, this discussion went on for some time. Eventually A realised that he would not win the argument against the maleable defense that argument can be enjoyed on its own merits, so he changed the rules in a masterful stroke. He lunged across, grabbed B's head in his hands saying, I love you! Then preceeded to kiss him on the lips. Thus ending the argument and in effect winning it by sacrificing his macho posturing. No real point here, but it does remind me of something I read recently. Ahem. Posted pre-moderation.

I do not think that women must shoulder the burden of being continuously ready to leap into self defense mode any more than anyone else. I think it is a pity that such a consideration would be made, which we would seem to be in agreement about.

As far as women's "burden to bare the emotional eneptitude of men", this is just wrong. I'm sorry you feel this way, but when I hear things like this uttered I lose symathy. I know a certian 4 year old boy who told his father to stop hitting his mother. Don't neuter him.
- The Power Nap

Sorry, you've lost me.

*I am not suggesting that Gushi Sensei is the only person who practices hairpin techniques. Fantastic though he is, the hard-body training of Uechi Ryu is not necessarily conducive to a long and comfortable life. The first rule of self-defense is to survive, which may involve more run-jitsu than ninjitsu.
posted by asok at 7:26 AM on May 8, 2008


Danceswithwerewolves quoted me and declared:
"'However, I'm definitely glad to see that level of the topic discussed, because I've long believed that more casually vile version of rape, date rape, could actually be curtailed on some level by just talking about why 'no' really does mean 'no' and why 'please, don't' and 'stop' and 'not now' and 'not this time' should be taken seriously, too.'

This implicitly brings us to the whole "rape is violence, not sex" thing.
"

I'm not trying to pile on against you, but, no, it doesn't. This brings us to the "'no' really does mean 'no'" thing, but we were already there.

I know what my state of mind was when posting it, and that's not what I was thinking.

However, I will tell you that rape is violence, not sex. It's power, not lust. It's greed. It's a crime of opportunity. It's not sex.

You can believe whatever you want, but once you've been through it, you know what rape is: violence, abuse of power, greed, even someone's sick idea of taking advantage of an "opportunity". But, no, it's not sex.
posted by batmonkey at 9:32 AM on May 8, 2008


However, I will tell you that rape is violence, not sex. It's power, not lust. It's greed. It's a crime of opportunity. It's not sex.

With all deference to your experience, I think it is not so cut and dried. The kind of rape in the article is all about power and violence, expressed through a violent sexual act. The kind of acquaintance rape where the guy has figured out that he can "push the boundaries" and deliberately misinterpret consent without facing any consequences, there is power and violence involved, but it is also about sex -- having sex one wouldn't otherwise have, and having the ambiguity of the consent (or the violation of consent, in many cases) add to the excitement.

I definitely think that rape is first and foremost about power -- about having the power to take or do or force. But that is channeled through sex, with all the baggage sex has in a culture. It's about being the fucker (the chingón) both metaphorically (the power part) and literally (the sex part).

The ambiguity between power/violence and sex comes through very clearly in sexual fantasy, where those lines are deliberately blurred and confused for provocative effect. The classic example would be the prototypical sex scene in a romance novel from a few years back, where he pins her down and her resistance turns to desire under the force of his impassioned kisses. My point here is not that those fantasies reflect any desire for that to happen in real life, but that they reflect the ambiguity that exists between force and desire. In real life, we would correctly call that sex scene an acquaintance rape, and hopefully the Fabio-modeled hero would go to jail for a very long time. But sex is intimately tied to questions of violence, consent, and power; insisting on a sharp divide between them misses, I think, part of what is really going on.
posted by Forktine at 10:03 AM on May 8, 2008


Look, I don't think you're being completely honest in your citations. Those studies you cite about how fighting back is effective are not definitive. They're controversial and I think you know that. When I first answered your comment, I made that clear and said that your point was debatable. I didn't say that you were unequivocally wrong and I didn't make any absolute statements on my side, like you did. You have an emotional investment on a particular point of view in this discussion, which is made clear when you mention being on the shooting range.

Oh, come on. As if statements like "the correct thinking on this issue", "pacifism is morally correct", "violence is a personal failing", and the like don't show an equal "emotional investment" on your part? Sorry, but my liking shooting does not make me any more biased on the subject of self-defense than your pacifism does -- if I don't get to hold an ethical position on the issue, then neither do you. And if you can't debate other points of view without pulling the ad-hom card, that doesn't say much for your argument.

As for your not making any absolute statements, I'd say telling others what the "correct thinking" is certainly counts. I have been trying to qualify just about everything I've said with "I think" and the like; I may not have done so everywhere, but I don't think it's at all reasonable to write off what I've been saying as absolutist. In fact, I've said several times that people need to decide these issues for themselves -- my issue here is with rape education that deliberately does not mention self-defense options, not with women who decide for themselves not to pursue self-defense. I am not "making the claim for other people that they ought to be willing to use violence to answer violence". In fact, the only one who has made any strong moral claims here is you.

And as for the studies: no, they're not definitive, but they're two or three more data points than you have to support anything you've said, because you haven't provided a single reference to back up anything you've said here. Not one.
posted by vorfeed at 10:09 AM on May 8, 2008


However, I will tell you that rape is violence, not sex. It's power, not lust. It's greed. It's a crime of opportunity. It's not sex.

The logical part of me cringes at that statement. The compassionate part says "Keep your cringing to yourself. Even if you're right, a rape victim doesn't need to hear about it." I'm going to (foolishly?) try to have my cake and eat it, too. Let me do that by saying that my objecting is semantic. I'm sure that, as the victim, it didn't feel like sex. And I'm sure calling it sex puts victims in an uncomfortable position. And I'm also sure MANY rapists rape more for power than to assuage sexual desire. ALL rapists?

It's odd for one person to say X is sex or X isn't sex. Sex, s-e-x, is symbols on paper. Or its sounds hitting an eardrum. One can associate those symbols or sounds with various definitions. Who is the arbiter of which definition is right?

While all words are slippery, some are more slippery than others. "Violence" is a bit less slippery, at least if you care how the majority of people define it. I think there's general agreement that if you physically hurt someone, you're committing violence. So I would feel very comfortable saying, "Rape is a violent crime," because I'm pretty sure you'd interpret that as shorthand for "Most people would consider rape a violent crime." If you don't consider rape violent, you're eccentric at best.

But definitions of sex vary greatly. Some people don't consider oral sex to be sex. Some people consider kissing to be sex.

IF you define sex as specific kinds of physical contacts, e.g. penis in vagina, then rape IS sex.

If I have CONSENSUAL sex with someone, but I enjoy the feeling of power more than the feeling of lust, am I having sex or not? I'd say I'm having sex.

Is the claim that ALL rapists are ONLY into power? None of them are getting off sexually? If they're getting off sexually via sex, aren't they partly committing a crime of sex?

Is sex sex only when both parties feel that it's sex?

Let's say someone steals my VCR. Is that a crime of power or a crime of stealing my VCR?

What does "it's a crime of X" even mean?

I'd call rape a crime of forcing someone to have sex with you against his/her will.
posted by grumblebee at 11:38 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd call rape a crime of forcing someone to have sex with you against his/her will.

Whaddya trying to do drum up controversy or something?
posted by tkchrist at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2008


Y'all can play around with semantics all you want, but it's not sex. It really isn't. Really, really, really isn't.

That's because sex requires consent. If we're talking about "sex" as in "sexual intercourse", that is, which is what "sex not in reference to gender" is understood to mean in the English speaking world.

If there's no consent, it's rape. Or, if you like to keep the word "sex" in there, sexual assault. If it's not informed consent - one party wasn't able to authorise intimate contact with their person due to impaired cognitive ability or below the age of majority - it's generally still rape or sexual assault.

There's a reason there are different words for what happens when it's forced. It's because it is no longer fulfilling the consent requirement of the other word. Please do not use your powers of over-thinking to confuse these things. It should not be confusing or confused. Work to make it more clear, not less.

The article was about a rape. What I and other folks here have brought up regarding clearly non-consensual scenarios is still rape.

Mary-Ann may or may not have wanted to do it and no one knows which one, not even Mary-Ann? That one, you guys can argue about.

For me, it would depend partly upon the situation Mary-Ann was in, her state of mind, any past sexual abuse, and the same for the person who may have assaulted her or may have just taken part in some unfortunately regretted/forgotten sex. Not that trials do much good in these situations, but that's really what they should be doing: sorting out the line between "oh, shit, I was so not into that!" and "my god. i've been raped."
posted by batmonkey at 4:39 PM on May 8, 2008


"However, I will tell you that rape is violence, not sex. It's power, not lust. It's greed. It's a crime of opportunity. It's not sex."

As grumblebee also says, I'm certainly not going to try to interpret a rape survivor's own experience for them. That's not my place.

But I didn't say that there was any rape that wasn't violent and about violence and power, I said that I think that this is less so with some rapes than others.

I'm skeptical about how often this actually happens, but take for a moment the example of the truly clueless man who, in a date situation, has been taught that women don't like to say "yes", like to be aggressively pursued, and who just keeps pushing past non-explicit resistance to sex. I think that's rape. But I also think that in this situation, with this man, there's a minimum (not an absence) of the violence and power aspect.

Again, I don't know how often this occurs in the real world and I suspect it occurs much less often than it once did, thankfully. But to the degree that these men still exist, I think they are much more likely to be effectively reached through education campaigns. I also think they are far more likely to be young, inexperienced men, such as college-aged men.

The problem with the "rape is violence, not sex" thing is that to assert it absolutely and dogmatically tends to undermine credibility. It's pretty clear that rape is violence expressed sexually and that this necessarily means that it's about sex, too. The reason that we beat the "it's not sex, it's violence" drum so loud and hard and consistently is because—in the past and in some peoples' minds, still—rape is all about sex and not about violence and power. But if it wasn't about sex in some sense, then the rapist would express his need for power and violence in some other way. You might say that rape is a particularly effective way of expressing violence and asserting power, and you'd be right. And I think that there's probably a number of rapists, especially in certain cultural contexts (such as war, maybe?) where the choice to rape has everything to do with choosing the most effective means of expressing this, and is not at all about sexual desire.

But for the larger portion of rapes, it's about the collision of sexual desire with a need for violence and to express power and to humiliate and dominate. It's a mix. That's why it's important for most rapists to attempt to have an orgasm, even if they fail to.

And on the violence and power side of things, they often fail to. What the people arguing the opposite of your position don't know, won't believe, or downplay, is all the evidence that shows that rapists select victims for reasons that are independent of sexual desire and bahev in ways that are independent of sexual desire. Such as not achieving orgasm or even being impotent. Such as choosing conventionally sexually unattractive targets, including the very elderly, the very disabled, and others who are, though sexually unattractive, extremely vulnerable. But to my mind, the fact that so many rapists exhibit some degree of sexual dysfunction during the rape shows how little sexual desire is usually involved. This was true in the example in this story, where the rapist had difficult ejaculating and kept changing positions and the like.

In an extended discussion of rape with a sophisticated audience, especially when this aspect comes up, I try to talk about this in a more nuanced way because I think that's best for everyone. As a first gloss, and as a public service message, "rape is all about violence and nothing about sex" is fine. In more depth, though, I think it's important to deal with the aspect of it that is sexual. I feel and believe that in working in public education, and in more sophisticated setting like this one, it's better to be less dogmatic than more dogmatic. People instinctively detect and distrust dogma. And they recognize hyperbole when they see it.

I don't think that any of my comments could have been misinterpreted by valkryn, who first made the "lots of poor, well-intentioned men commit acquaintance rape unwittingly" claim, and those reading. In dealing with the ambiguities of this topic, I think I pretty strongly denied his naive viewpoint. On the other hand, as I wrote, I think that there is a certain subset of rape which is somewhat less about violence and power and that because of this, there are opportunities where education can be more effective. In fact, I very strongly believe this with regard to campus acquaintance rape, which is extremely common. I'm not including opportunistic rapes like the frat house scenario. But I do think there are relatively clueless young men who are aggressive and don't listen to subtle cues saying "stop" that they ought to. And I also think there are young women who are very resistant to ever indicating that they want sex, even when they do, and subsequently always give out a low level of resistance as part of dating ritual.

I was young once. I know things have changed for the better in the last half century. But it's hard for me to believe that they've completely changed. When I was young, especially in the small Bible-belt, farming town I grew up in, there was a lot of confusion about how to behave in this context. Girls were told they never could say "yes", doing so was being a slut. Boys were told that girls want them to pursue past weakly defended barriers. Moving a wandering hand away from a breast was part of the game, not an actual message saying "stop". In that environment, I think unintentional sexual assault happened, and I think it still must be happening, somewhere, where everyone isn't more advanced and mature. Having said this, however, I was never like this and I never behaved this way. I was quite the opposite, to an extreme, perhaps. So it's wasn't necessary for boys and girls to behave that way.

I don't know, this is a difficult subject. Those who want to deny rape as a problem always try to characterize all rape as what I just described. This is pernicious and harmful. But I don't think it's productive to take the opposite course and try to deny that what I described never happens and that it's not also part of the phenomena.

Another problem with all of this is that there's something counter-productive, in my opinion, in putting so much emphasis on the intent and mindset of the assailant as opposed to the simply objective fact of the violation of the victim. In the end, in terms of defining a criminal act, what matters is the violation. For the survivor, this is certainly true. On the other hand, when you are looking at this from a cultural perspective and trying to get at root causes and change them, then you need to look at it in all its complexity and deal with different variations as different. That's pragmatic and necessary if you want to change things.
posted by Dances with Werewolves at 5:04 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Oh, come on. As if statements like 'the correct thinking on this issue', 'pacifism is morally correct', 'violence is a personal failing', and the like don't show an equal 'emotional investment' on your part? Sorry, but my liking shooting does not make me any more biased on the subject of self-defense than your pacifism does -- if I don't get to hold an ethical position on the issue, then neither do you. And if you can't debate other points of view without pulling the ad-hom card, that doesn't say much for your argument."

I apologize for obviously striking such a nerve, I didn't intend it. But you have to admit that you've been very, um, "adamant" from your first comment on this. You clearly have a lot invested in your point of view. You're not allowing for ambiguity. And you're telling women to fight back.

Surely you see a difference between having a behavior, having an intellectual justification for it, and promoting that behavior; and having a behavior, disagreeing with it intellectually (not emotionally, that's why I behave the way I do in this respect), and promoting its opposite? I don't have an emotional investment in pacifism, my commitment to it is purely intellectual. Furthermore, I've said consistently that there are things I like about the idea of fighting back and that I think it might be effective in many cases. You've been nothing like my mirror image.

It's probably not fair for me to assign to you a number of characteristics on the basis of your being a handgun owner who talks about womens' feelings on the shooting range. But my experience of other handgun owners on the Internet is that they are relatively extreme in their viewpoints. They fetishize fighting back in its various forms. It's psychologically more than a pragmatic point-of-view. It's about power in both a personal psychological and a culture context. And it's ideological. That comment of yours sent up a red flag for me. Maybe it's not fair.

But in any case, coming from a position where having a handgun and a willingness to use deadly force places one on the extreme end of a spectrum, with radical pacifism at the other end. I think such a person enthusiastically telling women to "fight back" and arguing that emphasizing this is a big part of the social solution to the problem of rape comes from a particular place that is very relevant for an evaluation of their argument. An ad hominem isn't always a fallacy, you know. When it's relevant, it's relevant. In my case, I stated my intellectual positions on this but they've been accompanied by information which shows that they're not strongly ideological and emotionally motivated. My feelings and thoughts about violence and self-defense are complex. I have no easy and simple answer about it. I apologize if I gave a different impression with the three statements you quote. Those are all conclusions which are the product of a long line of complex, and constantly reconsidered, internal and external arguments. Again, I'm not a stranger to violence or self-defense and have, in fact, utilized them in my own life recently. And would probably do so again. I'm just not sure that's the right decision. More to the point, I'm certainly not sure that's the right decision for other people. Nor am I sure that pacifism if the right decision for other people and if I gave the opposite impression, I didn't intend to.
posted by Dances with Werewolves at 5:24 PM on May 8, 2008


Dances with Werewolves:
"Another problem with all of this is that there's something counter-productive, in my opinion, in putting so much emphasis on the intent and mindset of the assailant as opposed to the simply objective fact of the violation of the victim. In the end, in terms of defining a criminal act, what matters is the violation. For the survivor, this is certainly true. On the other hand, when you are looking at this from a cultural perspective and trying to get at root causes and change them, then you need to look at it in all its complexity and deal with different variations as different. That's pragmatic and necessary if you want to change things."

While there is gratification in people wanting to really dig in to the topic and truly understand all of the permutations and possibilities in order to get a solid grip on what it means, one sounds both patronising and ignorant (even if also well-meaning) when telling someone who has managed to endure despite not just one, two, or even just three rapes (no need to go into detail, I'm sure) that they need to look at it in all its complexity, particularly when the real problem is that it needs to be looked at in its simplicity: a violation of another person's body and psyche.

The word "rape" is intended to put the emphasis on the violation. That is what it does.

I'm not just saying this as a survivor. I've done a literally insane amount of research into rape and other intimate violations and know a depressingly large number of survivors (and others who lived but haven't thrived), and have had extensive contact with various health professionals, subject experts (legal, academic, and otherwise), and language nerds.

Whatever semantics and pop-psy ballyhoo you want to entertain, rape is rape. And, when it's not rape, it's something else. If it's consensual, it's sex. If it's not, it's not. There is probably another very good word already in existence that covers it, likely even legally. This has nothing to do with mindset. This has to do with what it is called.

A rose is a rose, because that is what we have named it, we have agreed upon that word as a way for everyone who uses the language we are currently conversing in to recognise that we are dealing with a fragrant blossom from a thorny plant. Sex is the word we use when we mean people are having sex with each other or themselves.

Rape, abuse, and assault are the words we use when people do horrible things to other people who have not agreed to those horrible things.

I don't understand why we are trying to let go of these very good, highly useful, legally precedented words. I don't understand why anyone would want to muddy "sex" itself any further than it is already. Why try to merge these two words, when the real effort needs to go in more clearly delineating when it is one and not the other. For the love of all that is sacred and green, do not taint another word with the baggage of those describing violations.

Please, for the sake of those of us who want to know we're all speaking the same language when we are describing what has happened or could happen, don't cloud the issue by substituting "sex" for "rape". Please.
posted by batmonkey at 6:45 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I apologize for obviously striking such a nerve, I didn't intend it. But you have to admit that you've been very, um, "adamant" from your first comment on this. You clearly have a lot invested in your point of view. You're not allowing for ambiguity. And you're telling women to fight back.

If you read what I've said -- as in, not what you think I've said based on your complicated preconceptions about "handgun owners on the Internet", but what I've actually said -- you'll find plenty of ambiguity. For example: "I'm not saying we should be out there telling people that they have to fight back, and that not to do so is a failure. Everyone should be reminded that this is not true! Obviously, each situation is different, and decisions in the heat of the moment can go any number of ways, and still be equally valid". Where is the "um, adamant" there? Where's all the stuff I'm supposed to have invested in my point of view? Or how about: "I've said several times that people need to decide these issues for themselves -- my issue here is with rape education that deliberately does not mention self-defense options, not with women who decide for themselves not to pursue self-defense". Does that not allow for ambiguity, for women to make up their own minds about self-defense?

As for this:
Furthermore, I've said consistently that there are things I like about the idea of fighting back and that I think it might be effective in many cases. You've been nothing like my mirror image.

Well, as you can see above, I've said consistently that self-defense is a personal choice, and that it's not the only answer. But, of course, I'm nothing like your mirror image, no way! I mean, I shoot guns!

It seems that I made a huge mistake in mentioning the handgun thing -- now everything else I've said is null and void in your opinion, even though I'm supposed to be the one who's "ideological" and "emotional". If you don't see just how ideological and emotional you're being about this, up to and including dragging your own personal biases into your last post and then painting me with them over the course of three paragraphs, I'm not going to be able to show you.

An ad hominem isn't always a fallacy, you know.

Yeah, well, it is when it's based on things that are not anywhere in my argument. If you can show exactly where I've fetishized self-defense as some kind of power totem, where I've been "strongly ideological and emotionally motivated", and where I've "made the claim for other people that they ought to be willing to use violence to answer violence", you go ahead and do it. Until then, don't be surprised when your entirely unsupported stereotyping and personal attacks "strike such a nerve"!

But just because I'm the stubborn type, here's two quotes from you that ought to drive my point on home:
"I think it's important to recognize that almost everything we've been discussing is ambiguous and making sweeping generalizations and giving people simply answers is best avoided. [...] There's (rarely) definitive "right" and "wrong" and "true" and "false" (excepting, especially, the kinds of rationalizations rapists offer, which should be unequivocally rejected)."
AND:
"It's probably not fair for me to assign to you a number of characteristics on the basis of your being a handgun owner who talks about womens' feelings on the shooting range. But my experience of other handgun owners on the Internet is that they are relatively extreme in their viewpoints. They fetishize fighting back in its various forms. It's psychologically more than a pragmatic point-of-view. It's about power in both a personal psychological and a culture context. And it's ideological. That comment of yours sent up a red flag for me. Maybe it's not fair."

Which is it? Is it OK to make sweeping generalizations and give people simple answers, or not? Because if it's not, then it's not any nicer when you do it to me just because I shoot guns. You're right: it's not fair, you KNOW it's not fair, and if you're at all interested in a civil conversation, you should knock it off before you put your foot even further into your mouth. Your "handgun owners are like this!" nonsense has nothing to do with this discussion, and does not deserve even the slightest credence.
posted by vorfeed at 9:28 PM on May 8, 2008


Please, for the sake of those of us who want to know we're all speaking the same language when we are describing what has happened or could happen, don't cloud the issue by substituting "sex" for "rape". Please.

I think this was (partly) in response to my post.

I'm NOT substituting "sex" for "rape" and I never would. If someone's raped, I would never say, "he wasn't raped, he had sex." To me, the words aren't mutually exclusive. To me, if someone is raped, he has been forced to have sex. If I don't include sex in my definition of rape, I can't distinguish rape from any other violent crime. What's the difference between kicking someone and rape? Forced sex. If rape is purely a violent crime (that doesn't involve sex), they why use the word rape? Why not just say assault or violent crime?

I am not in ANY way implying consent. I am not in ANY way implying that it feels sexy to the victim. I don't think "sex" implies those things. I think sex implies particular arrangements of body parts.

That's me.

batmonkey, you feel otherwise, and that's fine. But I get confused when you make proclamations about language while using passive tense:

The word "rape" is intended to put the emphasis on the violation. That is what it does.

Intended by WHOM? By victims? By ALL victims? By writers of dictionaries? By most people? (Have you taken a survey?) By smart people? By people who use the word you way you want it to be used?

(Incidentally, I agree with that description of the word. To ME, "rape" DOES put the emphasis on violation. I would just say that the specific violation is forced sex.)

That's because sex requires consent. If we're talking about "sex" as in "sexual intercourse", that is, which is what "sex not in reference to gender" is understood to mean in the English speaking world.

Understood by WHOM?

A rose is a rose, because that is what we have named it, we have agreed upon that word as a way for everyone who uses the language we are currently conversing in to recognise that we are dealing with a fragrant blossom from a thorny plant. Sex is the word we use when we mean people are having sex with each other or themselves. [Emphasis added.]

It doesn't make sense to define sex as "having sex." That's just circular.

If you look up sex in google's dictionary, after a definition that defines it as a synonym for gender, there's this...

5. Sexual intercourse.

If you look up "Sexual intercourse," you get...

1. Coitus between humans.
2. Sexual union between humans involving genital contact other than vaginal penetration by the penis.


I don't NOT believe that words mean what they're said to mean in the dictionary. Who would make that rule and what authority would they have to make us follow it? Words have meanings to individuals and groups. And a word may mean something different to person A than it means to person B. It may mean something different to group X than it does to group Y. I just wanted to point out that the particular group that wrote that dictionary does not link sex to consent.

In my original post I did NOT NOT NOT say "rape" is "sex." I do not use the words synonymously. What would be the point? Why even use the word rape if it just means sex. Why not just use the word sex.

Here's are MY definitions:

sex -- a set of specific activities that involve two or more humans. The set is large and fuzzy, but not infinite. Basketball is not sex. Penis in vagina is sex. Penis in mouth is sex, etc. Sex can't be pinpointed further without listing all such acts. It's fuzzy, because some people's list of "sex acts" will be different than others. Most people agree that penis-in-vagin belongs on the list.

consensual sex -- sex, as defined above, when all parties have willingly and freely agreed (before and during) to enter into the act.

rape -- forced sex. Sex without all partings consenting to it.

I don't expect you to share those definitions, but they're useful categories for me. I think they're clear. I don't believe they're "right" or "wrong," but that's because I don't believe there's such a thing as right or wrong.

I don't think you and I disagree about the major issues involved in this thread. I agree rape is a horrible, horrible crime. I agree that many rapists want power and want to humiliate. I agree that the victim doesn't consent. I agree that rape involves assault.

You and I just have deep philosophical differences about words and language. We could be having this same disagreement in a thread about something else. I simply do not believe that words MEAN things in any cosmic, fixed sense. I believe the same word can mean something different to you and to me, and it's pointless to say one of us is right and the other is wrong, unless you want to decide on some arbitrary rule for deciding right and wrong, such as "the dictionary has the final word" or "common usage has the final word." Even if you make such a rule, what authority should make me follow it?

There's a reason there are different words for what happens when it's forced.


I have so many problems with this, I don't know where to start. There isn't a clear-cut "reason" why people use any words. I mean, I'm sure there's a cause, but it's not easily knowable. How can you possibly know the reason why people use the words rape and sex? You haven't talked to everyone on Earth. If you've talked to a small sampling of people, what makes their reason more important than mine? They're experts? By whose authority and why should I accept it?

Once again: "there's a reason." WHOSE reason?

You make it sound like there's a committee that coins words and, after careful deliberation, decides what they mean. And that we'd all be foolish not to take this committee seriously.
posted by grumblebee at 4:49 AM on May 9, 2008


I also feel like your definition -- in which sex includes the idea of consent -- arbitrarily rips people out of the animal kingdom.

When we see cats having sex, is it consensual? We might make some guesses, but we can't know for sure. But most biologists would still say they're having sex (just because they're engaging in certain acts), whether it's consensual or not. Rape might be involved, too.
posted by grumblebee at 5:12 AM on May 9, 2008


Oh, for the love of puppies. I can't believe we're now debating...gods. I just..seriously? Really? You lucky people who have the ability to pick and choose what you think about rape and who don't know how immensely healing it is to be able to differentiate between what has happened as rape and what one might be well enough to have again as sex?

We're animals, yes. But we've got some important advantages because of our language center. We have cognition. We have the ability to define. We have the ability to categorise. We have the ability to differentiate between right and wrong (in general; obviously our entire existence proves there are grey areas) by using simple elements called "words". It helps us to keep things separated, to...my gods, i just can't even believe I'm having to explain this to other human beings, because they have some ludicrous argument...

I do not understand why anyone would want to further confuse matters by deciding the grey areas in sexual violation need to be confused with sexual intercourse just because they're too lazy to use one more letter or word, when we're already having a hard enough time unconfusing the two in practice. Can't you see that I'm *agreeing* with you but begging you to consider the loss, the danger, the impracticality of confusing the words used to describe these things?

But, hey, it's all just words to you guys. No problem for you. It wouldn't be a big deal for you to have to explain over and over again why "sex" should mean everything and "rape" is too grey (?!?!), while it's a HUGE deal for me to even have said as much as I have. Because you're arguing on the internet, so there's no cost to you. It's all just words on a screen. It's all possibilities, because your world has not been narrowed the way so many others have had their worlds narrowed.

You don't understand - and I hope you never, ever do - why it is so deeply vital that these words do not become confused, because sometimes the long-understood, legally precedented difference is all a person has for holding on to reality and sanity for one more day, and sometimes having normal love relationships depends on having that difference understood.

Here. Here's one of the reasons why I'm going to keep disagreeing with you. One of the reasons.
A long time ago, I was working in a mall in Houston called "Gulfgate Mall". It was one of the first indoor malls, and it showed its age, both in decrepit facilities and lackluster patronage. One particularly common variety of visitors were young thugs. I was working in a clothing store with the charming name of "City Girl".

As I was straightening stuff in the front of the shop one day, this guy passed by the entrance. He did a bit of a double-take and then walked back. He was with a couple of friends. They all hung about the entrance as he came in and asked me my name. I answered, and asked his. "Paul", he said. He asked me if I'd call him if he gave me his number. Anyone in my neighbourhood (and dominant social class while growing up) knew that a guy giving you his number without asking for yours first was kind of a classy move. It meant that they were willing to give more information than they expected to take. I thought he was cute and gladly took his number. My co-workers joked with me for a while about it, and I couldn't wait to get home to call him. As soon as I got in the door and made sure Dad and Grandpa were all right (I was living in the garage apartment behind Grandpa's house), I went upstairs and called him, hoping he was home and that it wasn't too late to call. He was home, and he wanted to talk. We talked about all kinds of things, surprising each other with interests beyond the stereotypes we allegedly fulfilled. He asked if he could meet me before work the next day so that we could have lunch together. I accepted, and went to bed with thoughts of what I would wear and what we would talk about.

At lunch, our conversation once again ranged across many subjects. He complimented me a lot, something I wasn't quite used to. I finally had to go to work, and he asked if he could meet me afterwards. I agreed, and did my shift with a permanent grin on my face. He met me at the entrance to the store, a perfect gentleman, offering to walk me to my bus stop. We talked while we walked, he waited with me for the bus, and we exchanged a sweet kiss before I boarded. He hollered for me to call him when I got home, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I did just that. We talked until he fell asleep, receiver still cradled next to his head. This same scenario repeated itself for a few days. One day, he asked if he could come home with me after work. For many, many reasons (many of which are lengthy posts in and of themselves), I said "yes". He got on the bus with me. We walked the few blocks home. I introduced him to my dad, and we went upstairs. At first we just talked. Then kissing started. Then more than kissing. Then other stuff. By the end of it all, he was having to stay until the buses began running again, so he curled up next to me and we went to sleep.

A couple of weeks passed this same way. Perhaps a month, even. I met his friends over this time, and even visited his house one day. His aunt gave him a bunch of grief for me not being dark-skinned, and he stuck up for me...sort of. That would take too long to explain, so I'll leave it at that. One of the days that he met me at the mall before work, we were going for a walk. A security guard began following us, and he led us out of the mall and over the footbridge that crossed the freeway and led to the Gulfgate Cinema. We went behind the cinema, and he pulled a gun out of the back of his pants. I'd not even noticed it - he wore shirts that didn't tuck in, and could have been there any of the other times we'd been together, for all I'd known. He hid it in some bushes, and we went back across the footbridge. I said nothing about the gun. He seemed to approve of that. I went in to work, he wandered off, and I didn't know if he'd be waiting for me after work or not. I needn't have worried. He and his friends were waiting after I got off work. He asked if they could come with us to my place, so that we could all just hang out. I agreed, thinking it had been too long since I'd had a group of people to hang out with.

Once there, they had me go downstairs to find some refreshments. I brought a few things upstairs. With Paul, there were two other guys - "Cotton" and "Buddha". We all talked for a while, listened to music, and basically just relaxed. After a while, they all decided it was time to catch the bus home. He thanked me for being such a good hostess, gave me a kiss, and they left. After that night, though, everything changed. Everything. With that situation, in my life, everything. I can't pin it all together in a linear fashion anymore, if I was ever able, because so many terrible things happened one after the other. But I know the main points, and I'll try to sketch them out.

Paul and the guys were waiting for me one night when I got off work. They sent me downstairs for food and drink again, and I happily fetched things for them. When I got back upstairs, they were going through my belongings. I asked them what they were doing, and they said they were seeing if I had anything interesting. I asked them to stop doing that, that I would happily dig out whatever music or games they wanted to be entertained by. Paul came over to me, took the food and drink from me, and sat me down on the bed. Then he held me there while they stole a bunch of my things and took off. Paul laughed and said they were just kidding. He said to watch while he went and got them. I knew that's not what he was doing, so I followed him as he got up. He reached the door, kissed my cheek, and pushed me down, sprinting down the stairs and giggling. I was mystified. This didn't make any sense, not even in the twisted world I'd grown up in.

From there, it got worse. They waited for me one night and stole my just-cashed paycheck while pointing a sawed-off at me. They trashed my apartment several times. They pointed a gun at my brother and fired it just to the side of his head (he was visiting from Dallas). They took the Christmas gifts I'd carefully saved for, even after they'd robbed me. They knocked over my best-friend's brother's motorcycle, as a sign that they would go after her family OR mine if I told anyone. And they would visit me, at night. Sometimes with guns, sometimes without. Sometimes with Paul, sometimes without. The whole time, there were the threats of what they would do to me, my family, or Cherye and her family. I resisted one night and got a brick to the back of the head. I resisted another time and was punched a few times.

I came home one night and was told to strip down and stand still. As I stood, Paul pulled out the sawed-off and pointed it at me. I started to shake, he levelled it with my torso and told me to quit doing that. I tried. I ended up on my knees, sobbing, trying to get words out, begging. He asked me to give one reason why my life was worth living. I couldn't come up with anything other than "I want to live." He laughed, made some complicated noises with the gun, and put the barrel against my chest. It had been daunting staring into it. Having it touching me made my skin crawl, made me want to vomit, made me shiver like I had batteries inside me. Cotton had been standing behind me. His job was to keep me from running to the back of the room and hiding, as I'd done in the past. He stepped forward and stood in front of me, telling Paul that it was time to stop. Paul called him a few names and asked what he was doing, and he replied that he was keeping him from doing something stupid for no reason. After a bit of an argument between the three of them, Paul and Buddha left. Cotton wrapped me in the blanket that was beside the bed, and mumbled an apology. He'd never apologised for any of the other things that had happened, having been one of the ones to punch me, visit me, and take things. I guess this time crossed even his line. He left me sitting in the floor rocking back and forth, crying, not knowing why there was any reason for me to be alive.

I'd tried a thousand ways to secure the door. My dad had tried a few more, not knowing precisely what was going on and thinking that I'd just fallen in with a bad crowd. I should explain that, briefly: my dad was a bit inured to seedier things than most, as he was a heroin addict (amongst other things) and had to do a lot of shady things for fixes a lot of the time. He thought I was just following in his footsteps or something, not realising that they literally held his continued existence over my head in order to do some of the things they did. Anyway, nothing worked. They could get around any lock, push through any bar I put on the door, had broken the window to get in, and threatened me at work if I finally did find a way to keep them out. As Paul said one day while I tried to walk away from them to get to the bus, "shotgun shells don't care about locks." Between the threats and constant torment, I was wearing down. It was almost not worth it to try and keep them out, as they would just raise hell or threaten me until I became so scared that I'd let them in.

And then, one night, they went a little too far, even for them. They had one of their friends meet me at work. After issuing a few not-so-vague threats, it became clear that the expected course of action was for me to go with him somewhere that Paul had specified. He rode the bus with me, putting me next to the window. I tried not to cry or tremble, tried to put on a bad-ass attitude. It sort of worked, sort of didn't. We got to a neighbourhood I sort of recognised and he walked me to a house. It took a moment or two, but I realised it was Paul's uncle's house, a place he'd taken me to before, on a night when something not nice had happened. I didn't see any cars in the drive, and the lights were out. He had a bottle of E&J (Brandy), and had instructions that it was not to be opened. After we'd waited a while, he started to get antsy, They hadn't turned up yet, so he decided to go looking for them. He left me on the porch with instructions to watch the E&J, not drink any, and not run away. I did stay still for a few minutes. But a slow burn started in my stomach and just kept building. I didn't care anymore. I was going home. I got up, took a swig from the bottle, and started walking back towards the transit center.

I didn't get far. A car pulled up beside me and proved to contain Paul, Buddha, Cotton, and a couple of other guys. The guy that had led me to the house got out of the car, grabbed my arm, gave the bottle to Paul, and dragged me back to the house. He put me in the garage and locked it. About thirty minutes later, after I'd exhausted all attempts to escape, Buddha let me into the house. They started to get drunk, and told me to sit on the couch with them. I did, staying as still and quiet as possible. Paul launched into a lecture about how I was much more interesting when I talked more, but that he was glad he didn't have to listen to me right then. No, it didn't make sense to me, either. This went on for a while, the ranting at me and then the guys just talking amongst themselves. And then they told me to get up. I was told to stand off to the side, and Paul pulled out the couch - it was a hideaway bed. He told me to sit on the edge of it. I did that. He told me to smile, and I couldn't. He told me again, and I still couldn't. He then tried to kiss me, and I didn't exactly kiss back. Then he cocked back his fist and hit me in the mouth. It was a shock. No matter how many times something like that happens, it's generally a shock.

He laughed at the expression on my face, and told me to kiss him again. This time, I kissed back. Then he had me kiss the other guys. I balked at Buddha - he was always the meanest to me, always instigating worse things to be done to me. Another punch. My lip had already been bloodied, but this split it. I was sent to the bathroom to wash my face and get the blood to stop. While in there, I left the water running while seeing if the bathroom window opened. It did, and I was halfway out before they came in. I was dragged back into the front room. And then it all got even worse. I won't mention a lot of the things that happened, because, well, I just don't think they're necessary to think about right now. I will say that whenever I hesitated or didn't answer the way they wanted me to, they had this broomstick that they were using to "prompt" me. Mostly they did that by hitting me, giving each other "points" for certain hits. And, sometimes, other things were done. Finally, they were too drunk and tired to do anything else. I was allowed to get into a chair, where I pulled my legs up and basically perched, watching them warily through one eye that was starting to swell as shut as the other. Buddha didn't like the way I was looking at him, he said, so he had me empty my pockets and hand the contents to Paul. Paul ripped up my bus card (my only way home), took the money in my pocket, and burned my ID.

Eventually, they decided it was time to head out. There was only way out for all of us, and that was to the transit center. I walked on the other side of the street from them, listening to them taunting me, occasionally having one of them run over and hit me or try to shove me over. I just kept walking, kept my head down, put my head as much under my wrap as I could, trying to keep anyone from seeing how mucked up my face was. We got to the transit center, and nearly everyone got on a bus almost immediately. Except for Cotton. He walked over to me and offered me the money I would need to catch the bus home. I'd been planning on panhandling for it, but I willingly took it from him. I looked up at him and asked him, once, "Why?" He shook his head and told me not to talk, that it just made my mouth worse. Then he wandered off, away from the transit center.

I finally got home. I went upstairs and passed out. I woke up in the middle of dreaming the thing all over again, and went downstairs to get ice and my brother. I covered my face until I had him in the bathroom, and I showed him what had happened. I didn't explain anything. I just showed him my face, the bruises on my arms, and had him tell me how bad the ones on my back and ribs were. At one point, he started to gag, and told me to just sit still for a bit, that moving around was making the baseball-sized eye pulse. He took me back upstairs, bringing me ice ever so often for the things on my face. We gave up on the rest of them, because it was just too difficult to take care of all of it. When I'd calmed down a bit, he helped me back downstairs for a shower. Afterwards, I called work and told them that I wouldn't be able to come in. The owner of the store answered and told me that I should consider myself on vacation and that she needed to talk to me within a couple of days, and when I came in to pick up my paycheck the next day, that's what I did. She told me that I'd been suspected of stealing by employing the "guys that came to visit the store" when I was there, and should consider not coming back. I quite literally resigned. I just couldn't fight it anymore.


This happened between December of 1989 and February of 1990. Can you differentiate the part where it's sex from where it's rape? I can.
posted by batmonkey at 8:43 AM on May 9, 2008


I have no desire to upset anyone, so this will be my last post here. batmonkey, I'm sincerely sorry if I upset you. Thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me, even though you think my points are exasperating (or worse). I mean that truly. (I worry that this will read as sarcasm, but I hope you trust it's not.)

I still think we're misunderstanding each other. This is an emotional topic (to say the least), so it's not surprising that people have trouble hearing each other without imposing their own baggage. And I include myself in "people."

I do stand by my remarks about language. In your response, you claim you agree with them but -- what? -- think they're in poor taste. They're in poor taste because they might make things worse for rape victims. I'm sorry if that misconstrues your point. That's what it seems to me like you're saying. I may have gotten it wrong.

Your point -- if that is your point -- is challenging. It's something I often wrestle with. Let's say that I deeply believe something to be true, but I also think that truth might cause someone pain if I utter it. Should I utter it? I'm torn between my devotion to truth (which is very serious and important to me) and my devotion to not cause pain. The first of these isn't purely selfish. I think truth -- even painful truth -- can help make the world a better place. On the other hand, I think causing pain is an evil. (I recognize that I might simply be wrong about my "truth." It might be false. But from my point of view, it seems inevitably true. It seems as true as 1 + 1 = 2.)

I haven't figured out the perfect way to reconcile these issues. (Is there a perfect way?) Here's the best I've been able to come up with: I follow the basic "freedom of speech" rules. You lose freedom of speech when there's clear and present danger. For instance, you can't yell "fire" in a theatre. Outside of that, you're can speak freely. I'd go further. I think you have a duty to society to speak freely.

So, I would NEVER go up to a woman who'd just been raped and get into a semantic argument with her. That would be horrible and cruel. On par with the rape itself. But if I hold something to be true, shouldn't I bring it up in a public forum, like Metafilter? I think so. I don't think we should let falsehoods stand in general, public discussions. Of course, that view entails risk. A rape victim might read the posts. I'm not sure what to do about that, other than to clam up.

Which is what I'll do shortly. (I'm available for further discussion via email.)

Finally, I've never been raped, but I have been hurt. I'm trying really, really hard to map my feelings -- from the times I've been hurt -- to what I think I'd feel like if I'd been raped. Of course it's impossible. But I'm really trying. When I'm hurt, how do I relate to the rules of language (as I perceive them)?

Let's say I fall down the stairs. (Incredibly minor compared to rape, I know. But I'm trying to make a general point). Let's say I fall down and you laugh. I might yell at you, "It's NOT funny." In fact, I have yelled that before. I've heard other people yell it, too.

But they're wrong. And I am also wrong when I yell it. Or rather, right and wrong don't enter into it. Let me be clear: you WERE morally wrong when you laughed at my misfortune. I'm not debating that. I'm just saying that I have no basis for claiming my misfortune is not funny, no matter how strongly I feel it's not funny.

I have no authority to define what's funny and what's not funny. No one does.

From everything I know about myself and how I relate to words, I can't imagine a me -- no matter what happened to me -- who believes that words have fixed meanings. And if I ever claim that they do, I would expect to be challenged -- not right when tragedy befalls me, but later in a public forum.
posted by grumblebee at 9:28 AM on May 9, 2008


Grumblebee, I don't think you get it.

I'm wary of even trying to explain further and I'm not sure I'll be able to make any difference.

But to use your example.

Did you fall down the stairs if you were pushed? Either you were pushed or you fell. Yeah, you *could* say you fell by mode of being pushed, but when did you fall, exactly? If your 'falling', ie, the moment when your feet lost stable contact with the steps, happened at the exact moment that someone else shoved you, how could that ever really be falling? You didn't 'fall' you had your stability shoved out from under you. It might have looked like falling to someone else, and even felt like falling after you were moving, and mechanically the motions may have been identical to a fall. But you didn't fall.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:44 PM on May 9, 2008


And say someone came along and said, it looked like a fall. Sure, there was a hand against your back, but that's moot. Your experience, the lost contact with the ground, the flying through the air, the banging along the steps, that was all a fall. Why should that hand determine your experience more than everything that happened after? And calling it being pushed refers to your subjective experience of the hand against your back and its pressure, etc, but the fall itself is an objective phenomena, would that be persuasive?

Sure, you might not want to *call* it falling because there was *something* about the experience that distinguished it from your average, normal fall, but according to this other person, that's not the important part of the definition of fall. The 'shoved' part of the experience might have been significant for you in determining the meaning of the experience, but from an objective standpoint it's not clear how much weight to give to that part of it.

They would be right, the same way that you're right in your discussion here. And they'd also be totally wrong.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:51 PM on May 9, 2008


Look guys, if someone confuses the idea of consensual sex with rape, you've got bigger problems than semantics. It doesn't matter what term they use. Frankly, you're wasting your time arguing with someone (grumblebee) who clearly knows the difference. What does it matter if he calls rape "bunny smuggling" as long as he knows it's not consensual and it's WRONG? It's a frickin' WORD.
posted by Evangeline at 5:04 PM on May 9, 2008


Grumblebee and Dances with Werewolves, your rape crisis work and flowery arguments and appreciation for the plight of rape victims and understanding of the complexity of the emotional, physical, psychological, and legal issues surrounding the rape victim and assailant does not change the fact that, right now, you are acting like giant dickbags.
posted by schroedinger at 5:21 PM on May 9, 2008


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