Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Something I learned about talking about rape

This post is edited from a comment I left at Bayou Renaissance Man, h/t LabRat. He talks about what women can do to avoid rape. I've made comments of similar import to his in the wrong place and made a lot of people very hurt and angry.

Something I learned in doing so was the tremendous extent to which blame is commonly placed on the victim to avoid blaming the perp. People feel like the victim is only being blamed for being stupid, so it's not such a big deal. And then it's possible to escape fully dealing with the perp. Thing is, likely her parents know the perp's parents, or her friends know him; the people around her don't want to deal with the misery of actually calling the cops, giving them the story, the trial, asking people to be witnesses. People don't want to deal with it, and if they can wriggle out of it by focusing on her mistake rather than his evil, it's a huge relief. After all, all they have to accuse her of is a little imprudence. Doesn't seem that big a deal to them.

Remember, if you were advising the victim, that the offender here isn't the guy we're used to from self-defense discussion, a stranger with a rap sheet as long as your arm. This is your neighbor's teenager or a friend of all your friends. Yeah, maybe he seemed a little off, but you help her go forward with this and you're going to keep seeing his friends at class and parties, or his parents that you always asked to watch the house when you were on vacation.

And the people I was talking to, when I tried to make suggestions as to what could be done to prevent rape, had been through that experience as the victim. Where no one wants to hear it, they want to sweep it under the rug, they want to say that's just how the world is, she should have known. So the victims don't want to hear word one about what they should have done, and I see why. What Bayou Renaissance Man and I meant as a sensible warning in advance is commonly an excuse to worm out of dealing with the offender.

I personally do everything that I recommended that women do to avoid rape, despite being a damn unlikely victim. I'm not convinced we can NEVER talk about prudent behavior. But I think we better bring up its use as an excuse every damn time. Every victim has a whole circle of friends and family. A lot more of us are going face the temptation to sweep it under the rug than are going to face the crime itself. There's a lot more of us that need to recognize the warning signs of wriggling out of handling a rape than will need to recognize the warnings of impending rape. We ought to be considerably better at recognizing those than recognizing what the victim did wrong.


  1. Someone (on Pervocracy, I think) made the excellent point that chastising a rape victim after the fact is like telling someone who fell down the stairs that they should have stepped more carefully - annoying and pointless.

    Except really it's worse than that. When someone says "but WHY were you going down the marble staircase in your stocking feet?" they're giving useless input about an accident that happened randomly. When someone says "But WHY did you drink so much at the party?" they're giving useless input about an act that someone deliberately committed upon someone else.

    I wonder: if I were going down my marble stairs in my stocking feet and ended up falling because the stairs heaved like a living thing and physically threw me off, would people still give those pointless laments? I think they wouldn't. After all, it was a familiar set of stairs. It never suddenly bucked a person off it before. Seems kind of stupid to focus on my choice of footwear when the real, obvious issue is that my staircase is possessed by a poltergeist.

    It's kind of a silly analogy but I think it gets the point across.

    Good for you for pointing out that rapists are usually someone the victim knows. First off, as you said, this fact changes the entire way that the victim's friends deal with what happened. Secondly, how then does a woman avoid getting raped? By avoiding everyone she knows?

  2. Personally, I've made very clear to all my friends that anyone trying--and I do mean *anyone*--will wind up losing a body part at best, and bleeding to death from a gunshot wound at worst. I've survived it once, and I will not suffer it again.

    Not surprisingly, all of my friends believe me.

  3. Heroditus, that sounds good. It would be better if more people did that. How do you go about it? Do you think people who are not rape survivors can pull it off the same way, or would they feel too embarrassed to be bringing it up preemptively like that?

  4. The few really good friends I've got talk about a lot of stuff. We tend to talk about things that happen to others, things that might happen, and how we would have reacted if it were us it were happening to/how we would react should something bad start to happen.

    There was only one of my friends that didn't believe me that I'd be able to kill someone I knew. He was going on and on about it (bit of a bleeding heart liberal--I'm not in any danger from him, and I never have been, since he's nauseated by violence [and I have the wrong plumbing for him to find me attractive]), and didn't hear anything I said.

    So, I took the little .380 that lived in the small of my back at the time, ejected the magazine and cleared the chamber while he was pontificating, and had the gun on him when he turned around and took a step toward me. My head tends to go empty of everything but gunsights and target, so I suspect my eyes were, too. Needless to say, he's never questioned me since.

    I suppose being a survivor from childhood and all of my friends knowing about it may have made it easier to get the point across. I suppose that someone who's never lived through it might have a hard time getting over the squeamishness to discuss rape seriously, or even think about how they'd act/react in a friend- or date-rape situation, much less discuss it and get the point across that any perp would likely not survive the experience intact.

  5. I could hurt or kill someone I knew (or try, anyway, since I don't have a gun or any fighting skills).

    The problem is that I could only do this if they clearly stepped over the line. If a friend or lover was all "GRRR, I'm going to hold you down and rape you!" I would do whatever it took to stop them, but it so rarely happens like that.

    In my experience it's always this incremental thing...someone I like and trust starts doing something that feels a bit weird (sitting closer to me than I'm comfortable with, maybe) and I don't say anything because I don't want to make a scene or come off as overly jumpy and reactionary ("Jeez, all I did was lean on you for a second, what the hell is your problem?!"). But then the guy subtly advances further and further and by the time things have definitely strayed into InappropriateLand I start thinking that bullshit "but I went along with everything up until now so I guess I led him on" thing that rape apologists have built into me.

    So, yeah...I've allowed things to happen that I didn't want or like because the person went about it in a very sneaky, gradual way. And that's how most rapists do it - they look for a girl who allows her boundaries to be pushed, and the game of cat-and-mouse begins.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I (and I think a lot of women) am capable of defending my boundaries, but only when they're crossed suddenly and definitively. Switching gears from being smiley and polite to get-your-fucking-hand-off-my-shoulder-I-don't-like-it is much, much harder. And predators know that.

  6. I'm not sure if a suggestion from self-defense training will help, but Heroditus has nailed the counter to the way predators work: "think about how they'd act/react in a friend- or date-rape situation,". Not just in rape, but in other scenarios, predators like to push your boundaries a bit at a time, but too fast for you to adjust or think things through in the moment. The counter is to think things through now, when there's no threat anywhere near, when you have time and are calm. What kind of response is appropriate for which stage of boundary-pushing? How much should you ramp up your next response if they've ignored previous warnings? Is there any real possibility, if they ignore this response, that they are not working up to a crime?

    The last one I find especially valuable; it means you can recognize a crime in progress before the perps are ready. They expect you to be giving them the benefit of the doubt as you're trying to figure out what's going on, until it's too late. But you can start your response knowing that you'll be able to explain how you recognized the crime and why you took this action.

  7. That's a really, really good suggestion. I'm shocked I haven't done it before, since my anxiety issues usually lead me to rehearse everything that could happen to me in any given situation and imagine every possible response and outcome.

    But I guess my anxiety overthinkings revolve around things I'm expecting might happen. I never expect a relative stranger to start talking way too close to my face or a person I trust to suddenly turn platonic snuggles into a makeout session.

  8. I suppose I have a different perspective. My trust was broken as a child--the predator was my father. I still don't trust easily, if at all, and it's something that I *always* think about.

    I know that not everyone is capable of hurting a friend, and I don't advocate that for everyone. I do advocate thinking through how you'd react ahead of time, and if it happens, do NOT give up on getting it prosecuted. Not even if the local law enforcement don't want to prosecute (like my home town refused to even investigate because my male genetic donor was a pillar of the community). If it comes to that, sue the bastard.