Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blaming the Victim: Republicans and America's Rape Culture

by Nomad

Recent remarks by a Wall Street Journal commentator reveal that there are still people who are confused about the subject of rape. A high level of intoxication of both the victim and the rapist, he claimed, makes them both responsible for the crime. 

The Sheikh and the Outrage

Let us start in another country and another culture, not to pass judgement but to reveal a widespread mentality in its most obvious expression.

For hundreds of years, the West has always held a peeve with the way strict Islam deals with its female followers. This is particularly true when it comes to the burka or the scarf-like hijab.
When a prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly made a remark about immodestly dressed women were inviting trouble. During a Ramadan sermon in a Sydney mosque, Sheik al-Hilali implied that a group of Muslim men recently jailed for many years for gang rapes were not entirely to blame. 
There were women, he said, who 'sway suggestively' and wore make-up and immodest dress "and then you get a judge without mercy and gives you 65 years. But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he said, referring to the women victims.
"If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."Women, he told his followers,  who do not cover themselves are like 'uncovered meat' who attract sexual predators.
So, by the Sheikh's reckoning, it is the men who are prey to those predatory temptresses with their pretty naughty traps. Women, the Sheikh also stated,  were 'weapons' used by Satan to control men.
"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside... and the cats come and eat it... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat."
As soon as these words hit the tabloids, there was the predictable outrage throughout Australia and eventually the globe. It was tainted with that kind of attitude we often hear when discussing other cultures.
It runs something like: "It's an outrage! At least, we are better than that!"

In any case, it also sold lots of newspapers. And while the Sheikh eventually apologized but it's hard to believe he thought what he said was absolutely wrong. And why should he apologize, it is after all a standard teaching of the religion.
(It is normally not stated in such graphic terms.)
In the Islamic publication, "Could Not Answer" it says:
The harm given to youngsters, to people and to the State by women who go about naked, and with strong smells of perfume, and wanton ornaments is worse and more threatening than that of alcohol and narcotics. Allah has commanded that women and girls to cover themselves lest His born servants fall into disasters in this world and vehement torments in the hereafter.
Many Islamic scholars have an elaborate (some would say labored) rationale. Women, they would say, are precious that they must be protected. Putting their bodies on display for all the world to see is a form of disrespect for women. 
For example, another cleric in Copenhagen created his own storm by carrying the teaching to the next level when he told his followers:
Women are not entitled to respect when they walk around without a Hijab. They are to blame for it when they are attacked”
He also said:
“All the crimes that occur against women is because they are not covered. When they are not covered, you have no respect for them.”
It is the West that disrespects women by allowing them to prance around, swaying and all, revealing their bare midriffs, or wrist, or chins. 

It is probably not all that shocking to learn that this particular cleric was reportedly later arrested for sexual assault, accused of pulling his penis out and chasing a 23-year-old woman around in a park in Sweden. I wonder how this woman brought this attack upon herself. (That's sarcasm, by the way. )

In any case, according to this line of thinking, women who do not cover themselves reduce themselves to irresistible temptations for hapless men who are unable to control themselves.
As I said, that's another culture and does not represent mainstream Muslim culture. But what about American culture? Are there really some people who still hold women responsible when they become victims of rape?

Selective Outrage?

Progressives in the West find the whole idea of  holding women responsible for rape is offensive. It is, they point out, another way of blaming the victim for the crime.  
While analogies to rape can be dangerous, it would akin to blaming the victim of a burglary for not having the most expensive alarm system or blaming the once-proud owner of that 2013 Chrysler by explaining, "It was stolen because you drove it around the wrong neighborhood and you drove it too ostentatiously. It's your fault. You irresponsibly tempted the car thieves with your outrageous behavior."
If we don't accept this idea when it comes to crimes of property, why are still people who accept it when it comes to human beings?

Thank God in the West, we are above that. Or at least, we smugly say that.  But listening to the conservatives in the Republican party, it seems like we are not above that kind of thinking.
In theory, our society might have grown away from this mentality but in practice, it is much less true.

More and more we see the same attitude of holding women responsible - at least, partially- for rape or sexual assault. This rationale is perhaps a more camouflaged version of every rapist's justification, "She was asking for it."
It is more common than you might imagine though it is not as obviously stated as the Sheikhs' remarks were.
Compare the Sheikh's words and Fox News Bill O'Reilly's in August 2006 where he implied that a murdered rape victim was asking to be raped because of the way she dressed,
“Now Moore, Jennifer Moore, 18, on her way to college. She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning. She’s walking by herself on the West Side Highway, and she gets picked up by a thug. All right. Now she’s out of her mind, drunk.”
And O'Reilly's comments were broadcast not to forty or fifty believers in a mosque but to his entire Fox News audience. Did O'Reilly apologize or express any regret at all?

Freedom Shouldn't Depend on Gender

This defense- that rape has two sides- has slipped into conversations so subtly it is sometimes hard to notice. For conservatives, it always seems to begin with one foot in relative sanity but quickly slides into dangerous nonsense. A woman who dresses provocatively, guilty or not? Too much make-up? A slutty way of speaking? (Generally meaning only too much like a man) Wrong place, wrong time of night? 

The problem is also who decides what is and what is not provocative. What is too much make-up and what is the wrong place? And most importantly, why is it necessary for a woman to change her behavior at all to stop a crime in which she herself is the victim? 

The first time this subject came up in the popular culture was in the excellent film  "The Accused" in 1988. In a review of that film, Roger Ebert put his finger on the problem.
“The Accused” demonstrates that rape victims often are suspects in their own cases. Surely they must have been somehow to blame. How were they behaving at the time of the crime? How were they dressed? Had they been drinking? Is their personal life clean and tidy? Or are they sluts who were just asking for it? I am aware of the brutal impact of the previous sentence. But the words were carefully chosen, because sometimes they reflect the unspoken suspicions of officials in the largely male judicial system.
Today they reflect the feelings of some on the conservative right. Ebert added:
the argument of the movie is that although a young woman may act improperly, even recklessly, she still should have the right to say “no” and be heard.
That was in 1988. And today we are still having the same discussion.
*   *    *    *
Some say it  reflects a sort of mentality deeply entrenched in our society. A culture that too often unconsciously or consciously condones rapists.As Sarah Marian Seltzer writing for Salon notes:
Rape culture posits sex as a transaction with women’s sexuality as a passive object either given or taken, rather than a consensual exchange. Most important, rape culture puts the onus on victims to prevent rape rather than on potential perpetrators not to do it.
Here's another way of looking at it.
..the men who rape do so in a society that reinforces, in various ways, their beliefs that their actions are acceptable and their victims "deserved it." Top politicians and judges mock rape victims. Women's bodies are used to sell everything from soap to cars. Both men and women are taught that women should be sexually available and that the value of a woman is measured by her sexual attractiveness.
Another problem is that if you follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion you would have women looking like the all of the women of Saudi Arabia. Just as restricted and just as discontent with their lives. You'd have women unable to leave home without a male chaperon, and never after 10 at night. You have both men (and even some women) saying: "Why would a decent woman risk being out after hours? Knowing the dangers,  isn't she asking for it? Good girls don't."
And even in the relatively safe daytime hours, a woman would have to ensure all exposed areas of the body are discreetly concealed (lest they encourage potential attackers).
But seriously, what kind of freedom is that?

"Some Girls Are Easy to Rape"

During the last presidential election, so many outrageous things were said about rape that it was hard to keep track. It was as if the conservatives were serving mess of reasons why any self-respecting woman would give the GOP the thumbs down.

We were informed that there was different qualities of rape: legitimate rape and the other kind. We were told by one Wisconsin politician that "some girls rape easy." We can assume that means girls that dress in a certain way, act in a certain way, drink too much or hang out in the wrong places. 

The damage caused by these remarks became so bad that one Republican strategist and senior adviser to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, was forced to say, "This is actually pretty simple. If you're about to talk about rape as anything other than a brutal and horrible crime, stop".

Not bad advice but when it comes to this lethal subject, for some deeply disturbing reason, conservatives seem unable to help themselves. (That and homosexual acts.)
One reason for this is the GOP's unshakable stand on abortion. Zero tolerance means abortion is wrong in every case. Even rape cases cannot provide an excuse, they say. This has led many in the party to make some truly ridiculous and insulting remarks on the subject of rape and ignorant statements about pregnancy from rapes and women in general.

Just when you might have thought that the Republican conservatives had learned their lesson, one journalist at Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is ready to start the whole thing up again just in time for the mid-term elections.

The False Equivalency

In a Wall Street Journal column Conservative commentator James Taranto stirred up a hornets' nest by attempting to argue for  a “balanced” approach to the college sexual assault crisis. His idea involves placing equal blame on rapists and their victims if both of them were drinking alcohol. Quoting a Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) article, Taranto writes:
"if both parties are intoxicated during sex, they are both technically guilty of sexually assaulting each other." In practice it means that women, but not men, are absolved of responsibility by virtue of having consumed alcohol.
This policy of holding rapists responsible for the crime they committed was “self-evidently unjust” which, I suppose is a high-falunting' way of saying he didn't agree with it.  (I tend to reject any journalist who thinks something is "self-evident." For a journalist, is anything actually self-evident?)

The promotion of this idea is particularly damaging when the level of rapes on campuses is so high.
Studies suggest that rape is indeed prevalent on college campuses – date rape and otherwise. In fact, in 2010, the United States Dept. of Justice estimated that 1 out of 4 college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape before their graduation day within a 4-year college period. The study suggests that women between the ages of 16 to 24 will experience rape at a rate this is 4 times higher than the assault rate of all women. Schools with more than 6,000 women are said to experience rape at the rate of 1 per day.
Given that, attempting to place rapists and their victim on equal footing in the legal system seems extremely irresponsible. Given those statistics, that's the last message we want to give young men (and young women, for that matter.) Taranto seems to be implying that campus rape isn't really rape, only alcohol-induced poor judgement by both partners. It's unfair, therefore, to hold only the male responsible, he tells us.

The Steubenville Case
Only last year, the nation focused its shame on the town of Steubenville, Ohio. A video surfaced on the Net of a 16-year-old girl being carried unconscious from
one party to another. Whether the girl was intoxicated or drugged- by her own hand or covertly- was not clear. (For Taranto this would be a key point.)

While people she trusted were filming and laughing, the girl was repeatedly raped and sexually violated by members of the school's self-styled "rape crew." Alcohol might well have been a factor in the young men's lack of judgement but no defense attorney would ever dare to use the victim's unconscious as a valid excuse for being gang-raped.
Writer Jen Roesch explains how Taranto's false equivalency must be rejected:
Like the vast majority of rapists, the "rape crew" in Steubenville used alcohol as a means. They planned their actions. They were conscious of what they were doing. And they have almost certainly raped other young women before. This is the reality that terms like "gray rape" or even "date rape" obscure.
At the time, many women readers found the coverage of the story offensive, particularly by the New York Times. They had a good point too.
Readers could easily have been left with the sense that what happened in Steubenville was a tragedy for everyone involved, that the young men who committed the rape were also victims because they might lose promising futures, that it matters whether the town's beloved football team had its reputation tarnished--and even that it's difficult to determine what happened that August night because of conflicting stories and outlooks.
While the Times article extensively profiled the two young men charged with rape, the experiences and feelings of the victim are almost entirely missing. We only learned in the last few paragraphs that she is traumatized, unable to sleep, socially isolated and afraid to go to school.
*   *   *   *
Think Progress called attention to a recent study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research which suggests that drinking alcohol doesn’t make men more likely to make inappropriate advances toward women.
Researchers found that men aren’t pushing the boundaries because they’re drunk and can’t tell where the lines are. Instead, sexually aggressive men are consciously seeking out women who may be easy targets.
It's called predatory behavior and can be found throughout the animal kingdom. It shouldn't surprise anybody that the same methodology plays out in human behavior too.
 The article points out:
Just like Graham’s new study, the previous research in this area has found that sexual predators are intentionally violating their victims’ consent. Alcohol is a convenient tool to accomplish this goal — but it’s ultimately just one tool at rapists’ disposal. Men aren’t actually “slipping up” after too many drinks and accidentally crossing the line.
Worst of all, Taranto's remarks gave further support for this kind of warped notion that the rapists are also the victims. 
Sadly, excusing the sexual offender is all part of a wider trend. The article also points out:
We have to recognize that there has been a much wider backsliding on the issue of rape and sexual violence.
That's why zero tolerance of any idea like those of Taranto must be a rule. 

Two Words
Some people simply do not want to understand who the victim is and who the criminal. It is easier to blur the line.  Yet, resolving the conflict  in the minds of people like Taranto shouldn't be all that difficult.
Two words: Affirmative Consent
If a man (and perhaps a woman) doesn't want to later be accused of committing rape, simply ask your partner.
The Affirmative Consent Standard makes it clear that it is the responsibility of the person who initiates sexual contact to make sure they have the VERBAL CONSENT of the other person -- instead of the current situation, where people put assume it's the responsibility of the woman to "say no" -- instead, the Affirmative Consent Standard says it's the man's responsibility to "get a verbal yes."
That's right. No need to make assumptions. No need to do something and then complain how unjust the law is.

If your partner is too drunk to respond, then the answer is no. If there is any doubt, the answer is no. If the girl is drunk, wearing a thong, is out alone on the street, with a sign around her neck with words saying, "Let's get it on!" if she does not give permission to have intercourse, then it is rape.  

Even if she sways suggestively, no woman is your piece of meat.

Here's a video sarcastically giving advice to women (based on various media sources!) on the subject of how not to be a victim of rape.

Here's a recent remark attributed to Republican Lawrence Lockman from Maine.

Shocking, isn't it?