Why Rape Is Different: Enablers

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.

18 thoughts on “Why Rape Is Different: Enablers

  1. I probably shouldn’t tell this story, but back in the late 70’s, one of my female co-workers at Sears was from Scotland, and was married to an American Middle School Teacher, and he taught me a valuable lesson.
    She had occasional major epilectic siezures that I was responsible for helping her with, accoring to my Manager, since I was the most “responsible” – but that’s neither here nor there, and a story for another day.
    One time, her husband described how that week, two 7th or 8th Grade girls, waited until their class was done, and then bared their breasts in his classroom, and enticed him. He told me he ran out of the door, to get away from them, and got help from the administration.

    Well, in 1981, when I was a 23 year-old, just graduated college student, I was a substitute teaching in grades 7-12, for Russian, and had a similar experience.

    I had been told by the teacher I was replacing for a month, that there was one cute girl who was 13, and had been sexually abused by her family.

    One day, after about a week, as I was teaching the class, this girl volunteered to write the answer up on the board – a BREAK-THROUGH, thought I, since she hardly ever said anything in class!
    And when I called her name for her to come up and take the chalk from my hand to write her answer, she quietly unbuttoned her blouse while she was approaching, exposing more than I wanted, or needed, to see. This was so blatant, my hand started shaking as she took the chalk.
    Her answer wasn’t even close to the right response, but I thanked her for her trying. As she was sitting down, she spread her legs so that I could see that she had no underwear under her skirt.

    I didn’t stare, but, thanks to my former co-workers husband, as soon as the class ended, as the other students were leaving, I knew enough to set the land-speed record for a Middle School Substitute Teacher doing a 100 Yard-dash to the Principal’s office.

    So, my lesson to men out there is: Don’ always seek, or accept sex – and, if it’s offered to you, you need some wisdom, know right from wrong, or just some plain common sense, and consider the source, whether or not to accept the gift, or, to run, and not walk, away from it!
    We men have two heads.
    We need to remember to use the the one nearer to our shoulders, rather than the one below our waist.

  2. Expanding a bit on this topic, back in her high school days one of my younger female cousins liked “to party.” She’d get drunk, smoke some pot, get it on with a couple of her schoolmates, and wouldn’t think much of it. She did it multiple times. She never claimed she was raped. This was when she was around age 16 or 17. The guys involved were usually about the same age. I knew about all this because she told me – she obviously didn’t tell her parents. I’m only five years older than her, and the best advice I could give as a “wise” 23-year-old was “be careful.” I’m not even exactly sure what I meant by that. I think I was mostly worried that she’d get injured or killed in a drunken car wreck.

    What would your average guy do when presented with a “honey trap” like my cousin? I’ll leave that to everyone’s imagination. But of course this is not the same as the situation described in Barbara’s post where the girl was drunk almost to the point of unconsciousness. At some point, a drunk person cannot give real consent. Like Cundgulag said above, guys need to exercise good judgement. However, high school guys (and girls) are not always great when it comes to doing so.

  3. Why does the responsibility for what they did fall on a semi-conscious girl?

    Because that’s the only possible avenue of escape from their actions for the defense to pursue. Their guilt has already been established and the only way for them to avoid responsibility is to blame the girl.. Sad as it is, that’s the reality. But the good news is they will be found guilty in spite of attempts to further violate her.

  4. Boy what you said about a woman who would shoot her attacker is sooo true. I had a friend for many years who had a heart as big as gold, but she couldn’t keep it together and you could watch her slide down the hill and know she was headed to (or back too) prison..nothing anyone tried could stop her. Not even missing her daughters entire childhood was enough to wake her up. No one else would visit her. They gave up..decades later I would too but for years I would ride down 7 hwy on sat morning and head out to Leavenworth. I would bring her smokes(yep that was allowed back then) , put money on her account, keep her abreast of local gossip and bring photos of her daughter. I came to love our visits because when she was “in” I didn’t worry about her. I met most of the women she served time with over the years. I was shocked by most of their stories. I never took what I was told at face value, what they told me was easy to confirm via public records. I can think of at least a dozen women who were there for killing their husbands. Spending life for defending their own and sometimes the lives of their children against an abusive spouse. Men who , before their death had long histories of abusing not only the woman serving time, but others before her. And when they finally had enough abuse and fought back with deadly force they ended up locked down for life.

    They told accounts of being raped by their husbands and of police refusing to charge the man because he had a “right” despite the fact the event was so brutal it left black eyes and choke marks around the womans neck , along with bruises. And the officers response was it was her fault for fighting her husband( who had already been convicted of domestic abuse several times before).One woman even said she had moved out, gotten away from the cycle only to find her husband in her home one day after work. She called the police and they told her as her husband he had every right to be in “their ” home. Since they were married SHE had nothing that didn’t belong to him as well. She tried to get a order of protection the next day but the court said he had not done anything wrong and she was denied. A week later he choked her , after beating her for awhile in front of their 8 yr old. She told the kid to run for help and when the kid left she stabbed him to death. She was given life. Her kid went to foster care.

    My point is these women had long standing problems of abuse from these men and no one gave a shit about that when they finally stood up and said NO MORE. It was their fault they got beaten and their fault when they made it stop. So a woman who encounters a one time sexual assult is really gonna get raked over the coals.

    You say the second wave of feminism slowed this some and I think “Holy shit, it was worse?” We still have politicians making rape comments NOW. I can recall in my time a woman who was not wearing underwear was said to “be asking for it” or if her attire was too sexy. If it is better that isn’t saying much.

    Ladies, can you imagine seeing a hot guy in shorts and no shirt walking down the street and thinking “gee he is asking for it” or getting together with a bunch of gal pals and raping some passed out drunk guy?

  5. In the past week I watched, for the first time, “The Accused” a 1988 Jodie Foster movie about rape. And in the last month I found out that there are two younger ladies in our extended family that have had to endure physical violence that ended in rape, one of which produced what is now a three year old child.

    I know violence against women has been around forever, it just seems as if it is more brazen now. I am certainly not about to accept excuses but I am wondering if there are other societal pressures. Is rape cyclical? Caused by poverty? Done by men from broken homes? From a male dominated culture?

    . . . Pause . . .

    There has been a long pause here since I wrote the first two paragraphs. Why should we even be having this discussion? Why do some men have a need to have sex with an unwilling partner? It does not have to be a women. Could be a chicken or a dog or whatever. Just. Because. He. Can.

    The way he was raised? I have no clue.

  6. What I take away from this post is “be careful what you wish for, you just might it!”
    I think shootings would increase if all women were armed,especially in most red states and also New Jersey;PLEEZE, no guns for Jersey girlz!
    On another note, i have noticed that many news reports have features about rapes carried out by armies and militas, particularly in Africa and in Muslim nations.
    I’m wondering how many of there storys are true, especially since most are regarding Muslim extremists, who you’d think would not act against the teachings of the q’uran.
    Beyond that, I have a hard time believing a bunch of guys would ride into a village and have sex with women just because.
    It doesn’t seem to add up.

  7. These articles on “Why Rape is Different” have been excellent. Over the years I have known a number of rape and abuse victims, unfortunately probably all of us do. Although, their stories vary, the assertions and the sources you cited ring true. This is another conversation that our nation needs to have along with gun control. The folks at Fox unwittingly blended the two together neatly as a consequence of the belief that any problem can be solved if you just add more guns.

    Also, nicely displayed was Hannity’s simple mindedness. The pro gun narrative demanded not only that guns be the answer, but that they had to be the ONLY answer. Additional information, opinion and experience had to be dealt with and obliterated. Noise had to overwhelm the signal. Unfortunately, this has been an effective propaganda technique in a society where simple mindedness is fostered along with hostility.

    I live in a “Bible Belt” area. I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush. My friends and neighbors are very honest people. But, I do see indications that women are expected to be subservient, and that, along with other fundamentalist beliefs, maintains a distance between us. I suspect that not so far beneath the surface, many men here believe that wives, or ex wives have to submit to their husbands by Biblical fiat.

    I recall in my old days in Tampa, there were two legal cases involving women who shot their husbands, that made the news at very nearly the same time. I wasn’t at the trial, so I can only conjecture, but, the circumstances seemed about as similar as they could be. One of the women involved was a rich caucasian woman and the other woman was a less affluent African American woman. For one, the trial was lengthy, and she was eventually freed. In the other case, the jury was able to reach a quick verdict, and she was sent to prison. In both cases, a history of domestic abuse was well established. I don’t even have to tell you which one went to prison. I think you are exactly right about the legal problems that would ensue for a woman who shoots her assailant. I wonder how the “stand your ground” crowd would react.

  8. The Associated Press
    Posted : Wednesday Mar 13, 2013 15:46:22 EDT

    SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the military should release court-martial records of a former soldier who shot and killed two Santa Cruz police detectives.

    Jeremy Goulet was a helicopter pilot in Hawaii in 2006 when the Army court-martialed him on charges of raping two women.

    The charges were later dropped in exchange for an “other than honorable” discharge in 2007. It’s not clear why, and the military records are not public.

    Goulet faced multiple criminal charges in several states in the following years. On Feb. 26, 2013 he was killed in a shootout after he gunned down two police detectives.

    The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports Wednesday that Panetta says Goulet’s case underscores the military’s tendency to “look the other way” in sexual assault cases.


    I can think of nothing to add – except this proves what Barbara was saying about enablers. It’s not just the military – it’s society.

  9. I have a hard time believing a bunch of guys would ride into a village and have sex with women just because.

    I think it totally adds up. Historically, and to the present day, it’s a widely-documented aspect of war. And rape was perpetrated against Muslims on a massive scale, in the Balkans. It seems no ethnicity or religion is exempt from committing mass rape in wartime.

  10. Thanks justme277 for illustrating our cultural bias toward male privilege. Hannity has the right to disrespect Zerlina because it’s his show and he’s the boss. Soldiers conquer a town and own everything in it – rape and pillage is their right. Civil men are struggling to understand that mindset.

    My own rape was my fault because I trusted a man enough to sleep naked beside him and believed I could say no to him. I managed to escape 2 others by athletes because I could teach a young man that just because he was way stronger than me he had no right to my body. Both were stunned when I demonstrated my strength by arm-wrestling.

    Lucky me – I have never been in a situation where a gun would serve better than my wits. Like my cats and dogs, I let people think they have dominion over me, if they must believe that. Yassir, yassir, mmm-hm.
    I think we are becoming more civilized by having these conversations. Slowly, so slowly we move toward mutual understanding.

  11. erinyes: It was very documented in the war between East and West Pakistan (which ultimately produced Bangladesh) that many women were raped as part of the military operations. It is terror tactic and a humiliation for the women, especially in such tribal societies because the women will be shunned, their children will be outcasts, and the society breaks down. Rape is not about sex, it is about power and its naked display (intended use of the word).

  12. Yes, this did used to be a lot worse, because no one talked about it and it was just accepted. In the company my mother worked for in the 1950s, one of the executives would seduce a secretary, then fire her when he got sick of her and then refuse to give her a reference for other employers. This was just accepted. We lived next door to a family where the 5 kids would come running out of the house on a regular basis; their father was looking for somebody to beat up and their mother would tell them to get out so it wouldn’t be them. This, too, was just accepted; my mother would always let the kids come to our house, but there was no thought of trying to help their mother. And my grandmother, with whom we shared the house, thought we shouldn’t give the kids a refuge because “it was a private family matter and they shouldn’t be talking about it.”

    All that has changed is that women are now fighting back and making some noise when we do it.

  13. Stella…it was NOT your fault. Please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The fault lies with the person who violated your trust. No human has an assult like that “coming”.

    Trusting someone does not make you a bad person worthy of punishment for someone elses act, it makes you a beautiful person who trusted someone un worthy of that trust.No doubt it was a costly error but the fault lies with your attacker.Someone who is sick played on your goodness..thats not your fault.

    I have been attending the Sturgis Motorcycle rally since 1986. I have went ALONE over 15 times. Many of those years I was a young lady , in her 20’s. I have a pretty nice figure (at 46 I still look ok as you can see by my photo). I slept in my tent alone, I walked the main street in a chain maille bikini, leather halter tops, and a lot of other next to nothing outfits. Women now wear nothing but paint or pasties ( I am too old , and it was not an option in my day) and walk around amidst between 250k BIKERS and a million on some years without any fear.There is no rape, no assult, no disrespect.

    I am of the thinking that NO always means NO. There is no exception to this rule. If you are a man with a hooker and she has performed all kinds of crazy acts on you if she says NO to any act that is the end. If you proceed that is rape.Period. If a man is with his wife in the same situation and she then says no to a certain act then move on to another act or become a criminal. There is no time when any person does not have the right to say no.There is no exception. A hooker does not give up her right to say no at anytime, just because she is a hooker. If she is raped it is not her fault and even the suggestion it may be is enabling.

  14. Honestly, I do think education can work to reduce (but not eliminate) rape, because of some of the very things you mention. That so many rapists don’t see what they do as evil makes me think that many (but not all) could be made to realize what their actions mean.

    There are a lot of people who seem to think that rape is mostly about unexpected violation. Like, they think a husband can’t rape his wife – it’s not like she’s not used to sex with him by now, right?

    Or they think that what Julian Assange did was acceptable – she was okay with *sex*, so why was him skipping the condom such a big deal?

    And I think a large number of them could come to realize that it’s more than that – that, yes, a husband can rape his wife, and that it’s that much bigger a betrayal, because he should be trustworthy enough not to. I think many could be brought to understand the fear of having a guy inside you that might be infecting you, or making you pregnant, and there’s nothing you can do about, hell, it might already be too late.

    Maybe I’m naive. I could be.

  15. WAY, WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY OT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Still think Nixon wasn’t the worst American since the Revolution?
    Well, read this:

    HH could have saved this country a lot of trouble, if, right before the election, he’d just pointed out that Richard M. Nixon was a blatant f*cking traitor!

    Oh, and it’s not like Uncle Ronnie Reagan didn’t learn from this!!!

    I swear, there’s not ONE Conservative, who’s not a traitorous scumbag!

  16. http://news.yahoo.com/ohio-teens-guilty-rape-face-plus-jail-145306028–spt.html

    The State Attorney is going to seek a grand jury to charge all who were involved to whatever degree of involvement they might have had in this rape. That aught to send a message.

    OT, but something to show that sometimes kids just don’t think.
    I went to school with a girl who had an idiot boyfriend who the girl’s mother forbid the girl to keep company with..The girl decided to run away with her boyfriend. They concocted a plan where they left a ransome note saying the girl had been kidnapped and the demand for money was the exact balance that the mother had in her checking account..The FBI was called in and they were both arrested when they went for the drop. Even as kids ourselves when it happened we wondered how stupid can somebody be.

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