I want to add a little more to the post from a couple of days ago, about Zerlina Maxwell getting slammed for trying to explain that arming women is not rape prevention. What would a rape prevention program look like?
It probably is true that men with a propensity to rape cannot be educated out of it. But one of the things that set sexual assault apart from other kinds of assault is that there are a lot of people who are outraged by it in theory, but not in practice. In other words, they exhibit all manner of outrage about rape until confronted with an actual rape victim. And then they decide it was her fault, or she is lying.
And then there’s the common phenomenon of witnesses who do nothing. Right now two teenage boys are on trial in Steubenville, Ohio, for multiple assaults on a drunken 16-year-old girl last summer. A number of other teenage boys witnessed the acts and are testifying. But they didn’t try to stop it while it was going on.
There are videos of the incident showing the girl was barely conscious. The defense attorneys are arguing that she didn’t say no, and anyway, she went out partying with a group of boys, so she was asking for it. Certainly, her attackers were not mentally incapacitated; they were capable of making an informed decision. Why does the responsibility for what they did fall on a semi-conscious girl?
In what other kind of crime does that happen? When is a mugging victim “asking for it” because he was carrying a wallet?
Years ago, it was commonly said the only time a rapist was convicted is if the victim was a dead nun. Second wave feminism inspired legal reforms to protect victims from being turned into sluts at trial. So I understand it’s not quite so bad now, but it still seems to me there’s way too much enabling going on, as well as an attitude that it wasn’t rape unless she fought back, or if she knew the attackers, or if she’d been drinking.
Sometimes institutions enable. American Zen has had a few sex scandals already. The worst of which involve two teachers who came here from Japan decades ago (one wonders if their superiors shipped them out of Japan to get rid of them) and who have a long-standing pattern of sexual predation. But for years their senior students, mostly men, made excuses and ignored the complaints. One woman has said that when she complained he had groped her, senior students laughed about it. That Roshi! What a guy!
Irin Carmon writes of the Steubenville trial,
According to the prosecutor’s opening statement Wednesday, these witnesses saw one of the defendants, Trent Mays, try to force oral sex on the girl, but her mouth wouldn’t open. They saw the other defendant, Ma’lik Richmond, digitally penetrate the girl while she was passed out on a couch. Though the girls’ friends apparently tried to prevent her from continuing on with the boys, so far there’s been no indication the witnesses intervened with the boys who no one has disputed were capable of decision-making. And preliminary research shows that the intervention of such bystanders could make the difference in preventing rape.
Last week, an inexcusable torrent of abuse was hurled at commentator Zerlina Maxwell after she appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show and sensibly pointed out that arming women is not effective rape prevention tactics, for multiple reasons. (“If firearms are the answer, then the military would be the safest place for women,” she said.) It was her message of “tell men not to rape” that seemed to most inflame the trolls. Hannity found it self-evidently ridiculous: “You think you can tell a rapist to stop doing what he’s doing? He’s going to listen to an ad campaign to stop?” He also said, “Knowing there are evil people, I want women protected, and they’ve got to protect themselves.”
It was a clash of ideas of who commits crimes in the world. For Hannity and his ilk, rape is committed by “evil people,” an immutable fact that can’t be educated away, that isn’t about social norms. For feminists who are weary of victim-blaming — including blaming women for not just shooting their rapists in the moment — and who have for decades been pushing against the idea that rape is only committed by strangers lurking in the bushes, this is tantamount to giving up the fight. Or, as Jessica Valenti recently put it, you’re “saying that rape is natural for men. That this is just something men do. Well I’m sorry, but I think more highly of men than that.”
As I wrote in the earlier post, nearly 80 percent of the time the rapist is someone the woman knows, not a stranger who jumps out of the bushes. He may not be someone she had perceived as “evil.” He probably doesn’t think of himself as “evil.” He may not consider what he did “rape,” but just “taking advantage of an opportunity.” And it’s probably true you can’t educate such a person.
But it’s also the case that if their intended victims started shooting these guys in self-defense, most of these women would find themselves facing charges, and convictions, for it. Too many people simply wouldn’t believe her story.
So, while I don’t expect that rapists can be educated, it would be nice if we could educate society at large to stop enabling.