Friday, August 13, 2010

More horrified by rape than murder

Adapted from comments I left over at Quizzical Pussy's.

Why are people, generally men, sometimes more horrified by rape than murder? Doesn't that imply the rape victim would be better off dead, that their life is no longer worth living? Well, here's my take on why some men (including me) are more horrified and angered on a visceral level, and it doesn't imply that at all.

First, there's the impact on society. The existence of murder doesn't shape human interactions the way the existence of rape does. Everyone in society is impacted by it in ways they have to keep in front of them all the time, in almost every interaction between genders. In the case of men that impact shapes our interactions in ways I think we resent even more than women. The reason it produces such seething hatred for rapists in some men is that men are suspected in everything they do, as a class. The suspicion is unfortunately the only prudent course, which leaves all women paying the price by being suspicious and all men paying the price by being suspected. Men are also blamed as a class. All too frequently a rape victim is blamed and that's very bad and very stupid; I've yet to hear women as a class blamed (which would be even worse and stupider). However, men do get blamed as a class; here's a few examples I've seen recently:

Yes, there should be more "blame" placed on men. While not every man is a "potential perp", there are a LOT of ways "non-perps" condone and encourage the offenders. source here in comments

The key to preventing rape is, you know, for dudes to stop raping. source here in comments

So, part of reacting to rape worse than murder is probably just a way for men to distance themselves from it more emphatically. But mostly, it's a reaction to someone who caused all that social attitude. It amounts to "I'VE SPENT MY ENTIRE LIFE BEING SUSPECTED AND BLAMED BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU DID, YOU SICK EVIL BASTARD!" Not usually on a conscious level.

Second, there's a philosophy or psychology of crime reason. The horror of a crime is not determined solely by the harm to the victim. If a perp kills someone, or if he kills someone then rapes the corpse, the victim is not more harmed in the second case, but there's a lot more horror. Also motive comes into it. People find it less horrifying when someone poisons their rival to the inheritance of a fortune in an Agatha Christie mystery than when someone clubs someone over the back of the head to steal their sneakers. Some people have a particular horror of rape because so much is being taken for so little. Another reason is that in some cases the victim's real psychological agony is stimulating to the perpetrator; some of us find that unspeakably revolting.

Third, there's a failure of imagination, especially in men; and I think for this part we have to think about the boys they used to be. Boys think they can imagine death, sometimes the hero dies, but they have the impression that rape is worse than they can imagine. Therefore it must be worse than death. It's reinforced by what they learn about sexuality, such as the value of female virginity and the idea that sex is more that touching some body parts with some other body parts. Boys are taught that sex acts are really an enormously big deal, even though the boy's involvement seems only cool and greatly desirable. So since it's not the boy that makes it a big deal, it must be that girls are incredibly, incomprehensibly, special. So how can they imagine how bad rape must be, except in terms of being much worse than they can imagine?

So yeah, there are reasons (not actually good reasons, but reasons) that some of us are more horrified or infuriated by a crime that objectively at least leaves the victims alive. And they don't come with an implication that life as a victim is no longer worth living.


  1. Just out of curiosity, where would you place sexually abusing a child on the scale? There are times I think some of my sibs might be better off had our father just killed them instead of broken them.

  2. Like the case of rape, I DON'T want to imply that a victim's life isn't worth living. Even with someone obviously broken, how could I judge? And though victims will never be the same, they still have the potential to rise above or at least work around their scars.

    But as for my visceral reaction to the perp, well, it's even more horror and anger than the general rape case. A child can't consent, and I'm not too rigid on the concept that rape only constitutes penetration, so sexually abusing a child pretty much always constitutes rape in my mind, plus it's the rape of a child and is usually repeated.

  3. I do know what you mean. I've become a reasonably functional adult--borderline sociopath, but I keep that under tight control.

    My younger sister, on the other hand...hasn't. She's been in therapy for it since she was five (she was four and I was seven when our abuser got legal custody of us, we were five and eight when he lost it, and she was eight and I was 11 when it finally stopped, when the visits went from unsupervised to supervised). Nothing has helped. She's 28 now, never graduated high school or got a GED, can't really function outside of home, can't be around any people that she doesn't know well and trust without melting down.

    I haven't seen her get anything but worse--there's been no improvement in 20 years of therapy. I'm not sure that she is going to be able to recover and rebuild herself, but I think she'd do better if she moved away from my mother. I don't think that's going to happen, though. Every time it looks like it might, our mother does something either consciously or unconsciously to sabotage it.

    Our male genetic donor has never admitted, even privately, that he did it, or did anything wrong. I'm certain that he did do it, he knows he did it, that it was wrong whether he thinks it was or not, and that he's going to hell for messing up all but three of his kids' lives (two he had no contact with after their mother died, because he didn't acknowledge that he was their biological father).

    From a survivor's point of view, there really is a point at which it is better for the victim to not have survived. It's not the same for everyone, but it's there.

    And it pisses me off every day that Louisiana set it up to make sure that child predators can't be given a death sentence if they didn't actually kill the child, because they really might as well have.

  4. I am so sorry to hear about that. I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better.

  5. Like I said: I've healed. I still have my scars, but nothing like my sister's problems.

    Though, I am still afraid of my male genetic donor, and am very glad he's in too poor of health to travel. I'd kill him like a rabid dog before I'd let him come near my son or unborn child.

  6. The ultimate message of rape is "you are not a are an object...a moist hole into which I can repeatedly insert part of my body to increase my own pleasure, plus some mostly-superfluous support infrastructure...except for my pleasure, you have no reason to exist".

    Murder, on the other hand, is seldom quite _that_ cold. Very few murders occur in circumstances where the average bystander couldn't plausibly imagine himself as the killer, were he similarly situated. Which isn't at all to say it's more moral, but it's far less viscerally disgusting.

    The circumstances of the average murder are a lot closer to "justifiable homicide" than the circumstances of the average rape are to legitimate sex.