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Thoughts on Men and Rape

A week or two back, I mentioned wanting to write about sexual assault awareness month. Something strange happened with that post. Almost immediately, a handful of comments trickled in saying, in essence, "You're a good man for doing this, Jim."

My ego enjoys a compliment as much as anyone else's, and I'm not trying to critize the people who offered them. But ... I didn't actually do anything. I posted a phone number and mentioned I'd be writing something. Eventually.

The more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. How pathetic is it that, in our culture, the only thing you have to do to be a good guy is say, "Hey, one of these days I'll write something about rape." Even that sort of vague, empty comment about rape is enough to make you stand out. Because that's already more than most guys seem willing to say or do.

I noticed the same thing when I worked with Take Back the Night years ago. Practically all I had to do was show up, and I was some sort of freaking hero.

Because rape is a women's issue. A woman's odds of being raped are around 1 in 3 or 1 in 4, if you compile the various studies and statistics. A man's odds are significantly less. Maybe 1 in 7? 1 in 10? Even so, we don't talk about that (except to joke about dropping the soap in prison). So let the women worry about it. Not our problem.

No, wait. That's not entirely accurate. Now that I think about it, nearly every time I went to talk to a group of men about rape issues, whether it was a fraternity or a dormatory gathering, the men were worried about rape. Not about their girlfriends or sisters or mothers or friends being raped, of course. No, they wanted to know what they should do if a girl lied about a rape in order to punish them. Because every one of them knew a friend of a friend whose cousin's buddy had been falsely accused of rape, so that's what we really needed to worry about.

In my role as an advocate and educator, I had to behave professionally and deal with those questions. Here on my blog? I'm just going to come out and offer those folks a big ol' cup of STFU.

Don't misunderstand me. False accusations of rape do happen. I watched one play out in the local paper here years ago. And believe me, the justice system went after that accuser for daring to commit such a heinous crime against a man.

I don't personally know anyone who's been falsely accused of rape. The people I know personally who've been raped? I've lost count. Mostly women, but I'm friends with some male survivors as well. People I care about. People I love.

And you know what the funny thing is? In almost every single case, the one who raped them was a guy. Not 100%, but up there in the ninety-plus percent.

But of course, that's not our problem. So long as none of those girls try to punish us by playing the rape card, we've got nothing to worry about. Besides, I'm no rapist, so what more do you want? Teach the girls not to get drunk or walk alone or lead guys on, and they'll be fine.

I love that logic. I never raped anyone, so it's not my problem, and I don't have to worry about it. But have you ever wondered why such an overwhelming majority of rapists are men? Ever wonder where guys get the idea they're allowed to do that to another human being? I'll give you a hint. Step one in learning to rape? Learn to see your victim as a thing, rather than a person.

But like I said, none of this is our problem as guys. None of us have ever contributed to the idea that women are objects, things to be ogled and grabbed and used. None of us have ever laughed along with the demeaning jokes, or watched one of our buddies work to get a girl drunk in order to get her into bed. None of us have made excuses for a man who grabs a woman's breast without permission. Oh, no. None of us have done a damn thing.

Forgive me if I sound a little bitter. Let's just say that after you sit there in a closed room with one of your best friends who's screaming because she just bumped into her rapist a few minutes ago, it becomes harder to worry about the guys feeling picked on because I was so rude as to suggest maybe this is our problem too.

---

Two closing thoughts that didn't really fit into my post, but are important to mention anyway.

1. Ever notice how often we talk about how someone was raped? When was the last time you heard it phrased, "Someone raped her." Because of course, the latter construction puts the responsibility on the rapist. It isn't something that just happens. It's something a person chose to do.

2. Rapists choose to rape. Nothing you do -- nothing you wear, nothing you drink, nothing you say -- nothing makes that choice for them. If someone raped you, it wasn't your fault. End of story.

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squirrel_monkey
Apr. 21st, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
Just to add to your post (with which I agree): if you consider how few rapes are actually prosecuted and result in conviction, is it any wonder that men get the idea that they are allowed to rape? The justice system condones it, for crying out loud.
jimhines
Apr. 21st, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC)
Yup. When I talked to men, I found myself trying very hard to avoid any of the stats on how few rapes are prosecuted, and how few of those result in convictions. It's depressing and infuriating and completely screwed up. Given the way our system works right now, I can understand and respect why someone might choose not to file charges.
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ellameena
Apr. 21st, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
I, too, have heard of false accusations of rape, but only know of one real-world example. (The accuser spent several months in jail on one million dollars bond before he was exonerated in court based on surveillance camera evidence.) My feeling about it is that if a man is worried that he might have consensual sex with a woman, and that she might later accuse him of rape, then he shouldn't be having sex with her. Anyone who feels anxious on that subject should err on the side of NOT having sex. That is a totally and completely easy fix, and therefore not worth talking about much. Watch: "I'm worried my girlfriend will falsely accuse me of raping her." "Okay, don't have sex with your girlfriend until you have developed a greater degree of mutual trust." And here's another one: "I am worried that I might have sex with a drunk woman at a party, and she will later accuse me of rape." "Okay, valid concern. Here's some advice. Do not have sex with women who are intoxicated. They are not capable of complete consent. Get her phone number and call her when she is sober." It makes me kind of angry, too, that these guys are not able to come to this conclusion on their own. Idjits.
j_cheney
Apr. 21st, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
I agree...

I would think that if they're worried that they might later be accused, then:
1) They probably don't know the other person well enough for the sex to be safe sex anyway,
2) There's a trust issue there that should clearly preclude something as intimate as sex.
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lindaabdavis
Apr. 21st, 2008 05:15 pm (UTC)
I almost didn't comment because I don't even know where to begin. It is such a huge problem in society and it totally gets swept under the rug because most of the good men I know don't know where to start with it either. They don't want rape to happen, but neither do they want false accusations.

The first boy I ever dated ended up having me kick him in the face to get him off of me. No, I didn't tell my parents (who knew him) because I felt stupid for putting myself in that position. I should have told, but I just wanted it over. I now realize I didn't do my part by making it public and having him account for his actions (stopped short as they were), but I try to cut myself a break for being 16.

My daughter is now almost 16, and I hope that I've counseled her on how to deal with these things more effectively. And if I had a son, he would also be counseled on such. Most people now are taught what to do in a random and violent attack but it's a harder thing to tell about when your attacker is part of your normal life. The attackers count on that, on your fear of being discounted or even you being put to blame for allowing him the opportunity. They know you just want it to be over.

And I believe the victim's attitudes are a reflection of society's attitudes, so we as a nation need to let the victims know that we are behind them, not the rapist. There is no excuse for rape. You are entirely correct, Jim. It is a choice. Thanks for the opporunity to comment.
jimhines
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:59 am (UTC)
An awful lot of the prevention efforts out there seem to be aimed at stranger rape, but like you say, there's very little discussion of what to do when the attacker is someone you know, possibly even someone you love and trust ... which is the vast majority of rapes.

As for not wanting the false accusations? Well, yes. I don't want false accusations of murder, speeding, or jaywalking, either. But the false accusations of rape seem to be a whole other category of fear for guys, and it frustrates the hell out of me.

And thank *you* for commenting.
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brownkitty
Apr. 21st, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
There are a bunch of things I want to say here, many of them angry and counterproductive. A good many of them quickly head off into OT territory and are likely to cause flame wars, but the basic short version is "I think this is a symptom more than a problem in its own right."

How is the writing project going?
cluegirl
Apr. 21st, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
I followed a link from wishwords to get here, and like many others, I want to thank you for this post. Specifically because this is the first time I've seen anyone tackle the male bystander side of the issue.

I'd like to share a story from my own life which dovetails with your experience -- that is to say, the college kids unconcerned at the idea of someone they know and love being raped.

The third time I was raped, I was thirteen years old. I had a boyfriend at the time, who was no more sexually or intellectually savvy than any high school sophomore should be, but who had just as many hormones in play as any of his peers. With him, there had been a bit of making out, a bit of cuddling, and a lot of neurosis on my part, in response to my earlier (and very secret) abuses.

When the attack happened, a stranger broke into my house, and finding me alone, beat me until I stopped trying to fight him off, then he took what he wanted.

When I told my boyfriend about it, it was the end. He didn't know how to handle it. Didn't know what to say, what to think, how to look at my bruised and blackened face without wanting to punch something himself. We met once more, the summer it happened, and then he stopped calling me, stopped returning my calls, and began treating me like a stranger.

I'm old enough now, to understand that he was afraid and confused, but at the time, that abandonment completely underscored my feeling of having somehow been to blame for what had been done to me. That somehow I had been ruined by that man who broke into my house.

The facts are plainly put for those blissfully ignorant men; at least one out of every four women they personally know, has probably been assaulted sexually. If they knew the right way to ask, they would be appalled at how many survivors they know. You know this already, of course, being experienced with counseling, but I hope you'll indulge me a moment of preachy shouting "WORD!" from atop my distant soapbox.

I hope, as we humans continue to evolve, that fewer women have to learn to live their lives guarded against those who would turn them into objects of gratification. And yes, the first step is for everyone, male, female, survivor, and unknown, to become aware that rape is not just something that happens to other people they don't know.
jimhines
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
Preach away...

I saw a lot of relationships fall apart after a rape. It's exactly as you say: when a guy's girlfriend is raped, they don't know how to handle it. We're taught to be protective and to fix things, and now we've failed to protect someone we love and we're faced with something we can't fix. None of which excuses turning his back on you, or justifies walking away.

It really sucks how often the rapist walks away, while the victim/survivor continues to be punished.
nick_kaufmann
Apr. 21st, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
Great post, Jim. Thanks for taking the lead in what I'm sure will be a long and valuable discussion.
pats_quinade
Apr. 21st, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC)
Hell yes.
shadesong
Apr. 21st, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)
Step one in learning to rape? Learn to see your victim as a thing, rather than a person.

About once a month,I stand up in front of a crowd in a college classroom or high school auditorium or quad and say, as a representative of my local rape crisis center, "Hi. My name is Shira, and I'm a rape survivor. This is what happened to me."

And I do it for many reasons. I do it because survivors need to know that it's okay to talk about it- every single time, people disclose tome afterwards. (Yes, including men.) I do it to remind people that rape exists.

But the single most important reason:

I put a face on it.

After listening to me talk, rape is no longer abstract. The girl is not a thing, a hole. The girl is a real live person who fidgets with her hands, who wears geeky t-shirts, whose voice still sometimes shakes, years later, when she confesses how terrified she was that her father might never find her body.

I write more about my reasons here.

But yeah. Rape is not a women's issue, it is a human issue. It's not about teaching women to fear, it's about teaching people about consent and violation. It's about teaching people - yes, mostly men,not always - not to rape.

I need to write a post for this month. I don't yet know what I'll say.
lkrobinson
Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you for what you do.
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renesears
Apr. 21st, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you for saying this. This a great post, and your two closing points are worth reiterating.

The first step in addressing our rape society is stopping the objectification of women, and not holding men to a lower standard. But it's hard to figure out a good way to address these problems.

Thank you to everyone who has shared his or her story. People don't talk about this enough.
otterdance
Apr. 21st, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
Wow. Where to start? First, I concur that you do deserve a slap on the back. whether you want one or not. Since men are almost the rapists, it most certainly is a mens' issue, just as much as a women's issue. Every man like you is one less rapist in the world.

So why are men more often the rapist? Strength. Testosterone. The right equipment (and I'm not being funny about that). More natural aggression (speaking in very broad strokes) that manifests physically. Women seem more likely to attack verbally. Well, that may be changing, given what I've seen on the news lately. *shudder* But verbal can still cause one hell of a lot of damage.

A phrase I really have come to hate is "rape victim". I like what you had to say about that. I recently had contact with a young girl who had just been raped. She was still in shock. She was overcome with shame. She didn't want her parents to know. To me, that seems to add up to at least a subconscious idea that she could have somehow prevented it if she'd really tried harder. She was tiny, and probably weighed in at 100 pounds soaking wet. When a woman is raped, it's an assault. She's been attacked. She is a valid human being who was treated abominably. The word "victim" seems so disempowering to me.

On two personal notes:

I've raised two sons. Everything in their upbringing, both by verbal teaching and by the example their dad and I set, has given them a respect for all people, and certainly for women, whom they view as equals. I'm no expert, but in the rape cases I've followed, many rapists come from violent, broken, abusive, or just plain ignorant environments. There's a place to do some serious work. It would be interesting to know the percentages of rapists' backgrounds. Anyone know that? The less rapists that are created, the less rapes there will be. Waiting until after it's too late is too damn late.

I've had three near missses in my life, two as a kid and one in college. Each was terrifying in its own way. I was lucky. I have a damn good flight reflex and a strong gut sense for when something is not right, even though one happened when I was quite young. I was raised by strong women and good men, but I still had a weird little twinge of shame each time. I didn't internalize it as my fault, really, just that I'd somehow "failed". Does that make any sense? Weird.

Anyway, I agree with your outrage at the slant of things, but still am grateful for every single man on the planet who feels as you do.
jimhines
Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
I've seen a lot of work to use the word "survivor" instead of "victim," going on the theory that since rape is a crime that strips away power, a more empowering word would be a better one to use. As opposed to reinforcing the powerlessness of the "victim," as you say.

You're absolutely right that she was attacked, and the blame for that goes squarely on the person who attacked her. But there's so much pressure ... and the fear of being blamed is a realistic one. I've seen parents, boyfriends, and friends attack the person who was raped, taking out their own anger or fear or whatever on her for not somehow preventing this. It's ... infuriating, to say the least.

One thing I've heard a lot is that women are taught to ignore that gut sense you talk about. Because it's not polite, or because they've been taught not to trust their instincts.

Sigh. I'm starting to ramble. I'll make one more point, then stop.

You didn't fail. Neither did the girl you talked to. Which I'm sure you already know ... but it's one of those things I think is worth repeating.
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alanajoli
Apr. 21st, 2008 08:15 pm (UTC)
I suspect this isn't the entry you originally intended to write about rape--but I think it's a good one. Because rape isn't just a women's issue--or a men's issue--it's a human issue.

I actually have known people who were "falsely" accused of rape. I put that in quotation marks because in all of the cases I've seen (not that many--certainly not nearly as many as you!), it's far more complicated than X raped Z, or Z lied about X raping her. In relationships where you're already sexually involved with a person (full on intercourse or not), if both partners aren't clear on what the signal is for stopping (whether it's "no" or a safeword), it is *much* harder to decide where the blame lies. It can completely break the person accused of raping the woman he loves to have her honestly believe he would intentionally harm her when she wasn't clear on where to stop.

I'm sure that type of case is in the minority, and that most women who have had someone rape them know from moment one that a line has been crossed. But for the sake of those cases where it isn't clear cut--well, it's harder to define than just X wrongly accused Z.
vvalkyri
Apr. 29th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. Sometimes it feels like there's no recognition of muddy areas, where signals are less than completely clear, and where one person might not think of what's going on as rape, but as 'going with the flow' when the other person doesn't want it to happen.

Since you mentioned 'safeword,' Did you see this post in jay_wiseman's journal? Much of the conversation gets into signals and how it can be easy to confuse limits.
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las
Apr. 21st, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this.

On an utterly unrelated (and more pleasant) note, it was good to see you at Penguicon. I enjoyed the panels we were both on.
jimhines
Apr. 21st, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
Ditto that. I enjoyed actually getting to talk to you for a few minutes this time :-) And the panels were fun too, even if they tended to meander a bit...
sylvia_rachel
Apr. 21st, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. And particularly this bit: Nothing you do -- nothing you wear, nothing you drink, nothing you say -- nothing makes that choice for them. If someone raped you, it wasn't your fault.

And here's another thing: If, in the course of an attempted rape, you were lucky enough (and I don't like ascribing this entirely to luck, but the alternative phrasings I tried out all seemed worse for various reasons) to escape actual penetration, it is nevertheless true that someone assaulted you, that you have a right to feel traumatized and hurt by that, that (perhaps) someone you trusted and thought you knew did something unforgivable to you, and that the experience is going to have repercussions that you may need some help to deal with. And, of course, that it wasn't your fault.

When it happened to me, I thought -- I genuinely did think this -- that I should be able to just shrug it off, because, after all, I hadn't actually been raped, right? And, after all, I had been moderately encouraging on a previous occasion, hadn't I? The only person I told at the time (and it wasn't really at the time, it was two months later) wanted to hunt the guy down and strangle him, which was emotionally heartening but not really very helpful. But the whole episode was so painful and humiliating (and so completely quashed any interest I might have had in sexual activity of any kind) that it was two years or so before I found someone else I felt comfortable telling about it.* Tell someone in authority and press charges? Forget that.

Telling it that one time made it a lot easier; now I have no problem telling people, if the subject comes up and it seems appropriate or useful. (See, I'm telling people right now.) But it's still a lot harder to talk about than, say, my experience with cancer treatment. Why is that, I wonder? Because deep down I still think it was my own fault?

* I married that guy, by the way. He turned out to have many sterling qualities besides the ability to say "It wasn't your fault" in appropriate places.

jimhines
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:10 am (UTC)
Yes. We encourage such a narrow perception of what rape means. If it wasn't a stranger leaping out of the bushes with a weapon who forcibly penetrated you, then it wasn't *real* rape. Which is bullshit, of course, but we hear it so often we end up believing it.

I'm glad you had someone there to tell you it wasn't your fault.

As for why it's harder to talk about than cancer? I imagine there could be so many reasons. We don't teach people to feel guilty or ashamed of having cancer. And when you do talk about cancer, you don't usually have to worry about someone judging or blaming you for it. (With the possible exception of lung cancer and smoking...)
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pure_entropy
Apr. 29th, 2008 10:37 am (UTC)
That's not true. Rape is sometimes about sex. Rape is sometimes about sex as well as about power and fear. Two examples, the man who pressures his wife into having sex, she doesn't feel like it but consents because he's getting angry - when she consents, he's no longer angry and simply enjoys sex, but he has raped her. The other example, the man who raped me was my mom's boyfriend, they had been fighting because she refused to sleep with him over something, so he raped me for power, fear, /and/ sex.
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shanrina
Apr. 21st, 2008 09:52 pm (UTC)
This was a great post. Well, a horrible one in the sense that there was a need to write it, but a great post in the sense that it made me think and wonder and want to do something more about it.

I won't say you're a good man just for writing this post, but I will say that this post is yet another example of the goodness I've noticed in your LJ (things like the charity book donation, etc.) so you get a "Bravo!" for that.
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