Thursday, January 04, 2007

What's not terrible about rape...

What makes rape a terrible crime?

Isn't that a stupid question? It's like, "yeah, now ask me what makes murder damaging to the victim's health!"

But it's an important question. It's an essential question. You can't fight rape unless and until you know what you're fighting.

There are a lot of things that make rape terrible, so let me attack it from another angle. What isn't the main thing that makes rape terrible?

"Hah?" you ask, and a very good question that is. Okay, let me explain.

There is a common belief about what makes rape terrible. It's probably not stated by most poeple, but it's an underlying assumption. Some people think "AH! This is why rape is a terrible crime!" and they are flat out wrong. Someday, we'll have a better understanding of the human condition, and people will look back on us, and say "wait, History Teacher, you're telling me they really believed this? Come on, stop pulling my leg, no one is that stupid." And the history teacher will say no, they didn't actually believe this, but it was such a part of their culture that they didn't learn to question it.

Let's look at some of the myths that people believe, or have believed in the past, that are based upon this fallacy.

A prostitute can't be raped; it's just theft of services.
How far she led him on matters, and/or a victim can't withdraw consent once penetration occurs.
Whether or not they had sex before matters.
A man can't rape his wife.

All of these are based upon a fundamental idea that sex is something a woman can get used to, or expect, and that being used to it, or expecting it, reduces the damage that is done to her. Conversely, it suggests that the major horror of rape is that the woman isn't used to sex, or wasn't expecting it. And that's pretty much irrelevant.

This is one of the reasons so many people have tried so hard to express that rape isn't about sex. It's not that it's sex. It's that it's forced upon the victim, without her consent, without her ability to stop it, and without any control over the situation.

Does sex enter into it? Would it be better if, instead of some forceful sexual interaction, it was forced eating of chocolate pudding? Sure, in some ways. But if you were forced to eat chocolate pudding until your stomach was nearly bursting, and then you vomited, and aspirated some of the vomit and coughed and choked, and then your attacker forced you to keep eating, and you kept suffering until your attacker was finshed with you, and didn't know if you were going to hurt or killed, and you felt humiliated that you were forced into this, and stupid that you trusted your assailant, and a thousand other negative feelings, does it matter that it was chocolate pudding? Would vanilla pudding make it better? How about strained carrots? If you hate chocolate pudding, or if you love chocolate pudding, if you eat it a lot, or just a little, or never, it'd still be a horrible crime if you were attacked in such a manner.

What matters is that you're being hurt, it's out of your control, you can't put a stop to it, and you have no idea what might happen next. Oh, and there's probably other stuff too; maybe it was a friend who you trusted, and you're feeling betrayed, or maybe it was a stranger, and it seems like some awful, senseless, random event - why *you*? There's probably a lot of factors that would be making this crime a terrible thing.

But it wouldn't matter that it was chocolate pudding, and it wouldn't matter that you were forced to eat; what makes it a crime is someone making another person suffer horribly. And while the suffering inflicted might change based upon a person's relationship to chocolate pudding, that distracts us from the real issue: that someone is willing to inflict terrible suffering on another, whether through sex or chocolate pudding.

The instant we start to ask about the victim, and what her relationship to sex might mean with respect to rape, we've taken our eyes off of the important thing: the rapist, and the harm a rapist is willing to inflict on another.

Comments:
Care to discuss "false rape claims" with the level of vehemence? Duke and the Service Academies being two recent examples.

More recent studies show that as many as 40% of rape claims may be false. Higher percentages may exist when we consider evidence for prosecution (non-prosecutable.)

If I might make a recommendation. All discussions of rape should first define their definition. Legal definitions can differ considerably from social definitions, especially in liberal/feminist blogs.
 
A few rules, here:

First, buden of proof is upon the person who raises the assertion.

You want to claim that "more recent studies show that as many as 40% of rape claims may be false" and you'd better have a cite handy, and you'd better be able to properly summarize the relevant information. You've done neither.

Second, no, until it is demonstrated that false rape claims are as big a problem, and cause as much damage, as rape, I won't discuss them with the same level of vehemence.

Third, when people say that there needs to be a definition of rape, those people almost invariably are concerned about those who commit rape, not those who are victims.

Rape is nonconsensual sex.

The legal definitions don't matter much past that; a rapist is still a rapist if the law ends up not covering the specific act, and a person does not become a rapist because of a technical violation of the law that causes no damage during otherwise consensual sex.

Shrug. And you know, it really is trivially easy to avoid directly causing trauma to one's partners during sex. It's not like avoiding sexual trauma, much less rape, is too high an expectation to hold.
 
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