The adventures (and non-adventures) of a marginally seasoned attorney.

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Not-Really-Rape Culture

Rape Culture is a misnamed concept because most Rape Culture deniers are against rape in some forms. Most people think it's wrong to pull a person off the street and attack them, most people are against perverts raping young children.... and so on. Rape Culture deniers think these things are absolutely horrendous.

And I'll even give people the benefit of the doubt and say most people would at least say that "date rape" - rape where the victim knows the attacker, which makes up the VAST majority of rape - is a terrible thing, too. I think many people say date rape is bad just because it has the word "rape" in it, though, and rape brings up of images of a woman being violently attacked, fighting back against an evil person, but ultimately losing the fight.

Rape doesn't always look like that.

I think what we have is a Not-Really-Rape Culture. We have a culture where we think rape is acceptable in certain circumstances because sometimes, rape isn't actually rape. Here are some examples of things that I've actually heard regarding the concept of Not-Really-Rape:

1. She didn't fight back. If you don't fight back, then you have no right to say you've been raped because defending yourself is your right and responsibility.
2. She didn't call the police. If she had actually been raped, she would have done that immediately. And if she decided to call the police later, she's making it up.
3. Well maybe if she didn't go out looking like that and hang all over that guy, he wouldn't have thought she wanted to have sex. It's her fault.
4. She kept on sleeping with the guy! She couldn't have been raped by him.

All of these ideas are very dangerous. In accepting these to be true, we make false assumptions about how rape affects its victims and we allow rape to become socially acceptable because it's "not really rape."

What would happen if we changed our perspectives? Is it possible that each of these scenarios involved a rape? Let's look at each one of those assumptions:

1. She didn't fight back. Rape victims fight back. 

She didn't physically fight back because she froze. Freezing was her mind's way of providing a defense mechanism. Rape victims don't always fight back physically because mentally, they can't. 
She had verbally told him no repeatedly, but he wouldn't stop. 

2. She didn't call the police. If she had actually been raped, she would have done that immediately. And if she decided to call the police later, she's making it up. 

She didn't call the police because she was humiliated about what happened, and she didn't want to tell anyone. She didn't get the courage to tell anyone until months later, and even then, she still thought it was her own fault for not fighting back, so she didn't think it was rape.

3. Well maybe if she didn't go out looking like that and hang all over that guy, he wouldn't have thought she wanted to have sex. It's her fault. 

She wanted to look nice and flirt with that guy because she really liked the guy. She wanted to get his attention. Being attracted to him didn't mean that she wanted to have sex with him that night, though.  She told him she didn't want to have sex very clearly. Multiple times. But he did it anyway. 

4. She kept on sleeping with the guy! She couldn't have been raped by him. 

The victim had consensual sex with her attacker after he raped her because it was a way for her to regain control that he took away from her. 



These aren't hypotheticals. Each one of these situations really happened. And each time someone angrily proclaims that these situations are "not really rape," that victim is being punished for being subjected to one of the most humiliating, damaging things that can happen to a person. 

So what do we do to get out of this Not-Really-Rape Culture? I don't think there's a simple answer, but I think it starts with recognizing that rape is not "supposed" to look a certain way and with realizing that we're in no position to tell a victim what their rape "should have" looked like. Once we allow ourselves to make those mental shifts, we'll be in a better position to move forward.