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It's not the empty street that causes rape - Jupiter9

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May 3rd, 2007

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11:06 am - It's not the empty street that causes rape
There's been a lot of discussion on blogs recently about blaming women's actions for rape. Every time someone says something like, "you shouldn't go out alone in a miniskirt and belly shirt and get drunk" to women in general, there is a (justified) stink raised that no one says "you shouldn't go out and rape a woman" to men in general.

lauredhel's recent blog post described the missing subject in a lot of rape discussions. "Women get raped," not "Men rape women."

Passive Aggression: Foregrounding the Object.

And yet...the idea of not warning women of rape seemed wrong to me, somehow. I mean, true, women get warned about it all the time. And rape keeps happening. It's not like no one's warning them already.

The question is, why do the warnings not help? Is the warning not strong enough? I don't think so. I don't know any women who don't consider rape a realistic threat to them, and I don't know any women who never alter their behavior because of a fear of rape.

Well, the obvious answer: Rape keeps happening because rapists keep doing what they're doing. Because it works. So how can what they're doing work if we have all these strong warnings about?

The warnings women get are misleading. They leave out the acts of the rapist himself. They focus on the situation. They also may focus on the "kind of man" the potential rapist is. If he's a friend of a friend, or your uncle, he's "safe." It's the stranger who's the threat.

And we know that's not true.

So, the discussion shouldn't be "don't go out alone." Or "don't drink too much." Or "stay out of places like X." It shoudln't be "stay away from strangers" or "look out for the high school dropout."

Being alone, on a street late at night, drunk, is not what gets you raped. Talking to a stranger or someone who doesn't have a college degree isn't what gets you raped.

It's the act of the rapist.

This seems so obvious. It's not the alcohol. It's the act of the rapist. It's not the bar. It's the act of the rapist. It's not the revealing dress you're wearing or the shoes you can't run fast in. It's the act of the rapist. It's not that he wasn't in the Boy Scouts, that he's unemployed, that he's poorly dressed or doesn't watch Friends. It's his act of raping.

So why not codify and then learn to identify rapist behaviors, the ones that happen before the rape? This won't prevent all rapes, but it does two things: help prevent some rapes, and give warning to rapists that their game is recognized.

The precursors lie not in the situation, not even in the man's "character," but in the man's actions. This puts the focus where it belongs.

For example, isolating the victim is a technique many rapists use. But this doesn't mean the isolation itself is the problem. Being alone obviously isn't how you get raped -- someone else has to do the raping.

Rape is usually premeditated. The rape occurs in the mind of the rapist long before the rape occurs, and often long before the victim even meets the rapist. The rape is *in the rapist*. Identify the rapist and you may be able to derail the rape.

As many rape survivors know, you can't go by "reputation." The rapist's "character" may seem wholesome. He may have lots of friends around him, he may be a member or officer of a respected organization, he may be a popular and revered figure in society. But his actions will tell.

It's the actions of the rapist. It's the manipulation of the situation that the rapist uses to separate the victim from others, put her in a position where she is uncomfortable with moving towards them or away from him, keeping his victim from getting help when she needs it, keeping her from telling anyone with threats of exposure or embarrassment or violence. That manipulation is studied, learned.

None of this is to say that a woman who doesn't recognize the signs is to blame, or stupid, or deserved anything she got. No one is perfect at defending from all threats. And not all rapists use these techniques. But any time a woman can avoid being raped by reading the signals is a time to cheer.

It's to say that we need to stop wasting our time warning women about the wrong things, and make the warnings we do give relevant and useful.

Rather than painting the world itself as big and scary and full of threat, rather than making it sound like it's the big empty street that's going to jump up and attack her, we need to make it clear that the threat is in particular people, doing particular things. By making the behavior we don't want clear, we're making a statement that that behavior is not acceptable. We can't just say, stalking and terrorizing women is okay so long as you don't "actually" rape them. All those behaviors are wrong.

In fact, these behaviors are wrong in personal interactions even if they don't lead up to rape. Manipulation is wrong. Pressure is wrong. Lying and misdirection is wrong. Shaming is wrong. We all know this.

[ETA the link to lauredhel's blog entry that started me thinking on this.]
Current Music: Diane Rehm Show theme

(16 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:May 3rd, 2007 05:13 pm (UTC)

I'll add:

Not placing the responsibility on the person choosing to commit the action is wrong.
(My personal beef with the justice system.)
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2007 03:19 am (UTC)

Re: I'll add:

Date:October 17th, 2008 08:12 am (UTC)
It is understandable how those charged with protecting us can not always be there to prevent a crime, but when such steps are not made to redress a wrong or bring justice simply because they choose not to do their jobs, we do not need to be lawyers to see that wrong is being done.
[User Picture]
Date:May 3rd, 2007 07:47 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:May 3rd, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
Great post, J. Just great.
[User Picture]
Date:May 3rd, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC)
Actually, this is going to be added to the FF101 FAQ.
Date:May 4th, 2007 06:34 am (UTC)
I don't know any women who don't consider rape a realistic threat to them

[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)
Yeah, I saw some of that too. I do love that community, and I think you're the one who turned me on to it.

Though I usually only read the descriptions, because I don't have the time or patience to read most of the actual thread.
Date:October 17th, 2008 06:12 am (UTC)
I have read most of the Bound books, too, in case you're wondering. CC Message edited by its author, Jun pm.
Date:May 4th, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)

Not to Be a Wet Blanket . . .

. . . but . . . I think this focus is exactly right as far as assigning responsibility and understanding the situation goes. I don't know how well your program of identify precursor behaviors will work.

Isolating, manipulating, pressuring, etc., are tactics of con artists, pickpockets, high-pressure salespeople, and other assorted non-violent sleaze as well as violent thugs. We have been trying for years to teach people to recognize when they're being conned or pressured, and it doesn't seem to work that well. Taking advantage of position, as in the case of priests, older relatives, bosses, boyfriends, and so forth is another tactic of molesters and other kinds of abusers. We have been trying to teach kids and adults both to stand up to authority figures or trusted figures who misuse their positions, but that's also an uphill fight.

Sadly, there are aspects of the way society works that make it possible for slime to prey on people who trust others too readily or who simply lack the power to do otherwise. There are positions it's almost impossible to avoid getting into, or which you don't entirely want to avoid (you have to trust somebody; there will always be authority figures), that also carry vulnerability. I think one reason it's so important to hold men and authority figues to stringent standards of behavior is that simply teaching women or those in one-down positions to be more wary is an inherently limited strategy, given the ease with which people can be manipulated into danger and the inability of most people to completely avoid being taken advantage of.

Your suggestions are worth trying, but I still suspect the answer lies elsewhere.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2007 02:05 am (UTC)

Re: Not to Be a Wet Blanket . . .

I'm working on a post that talks about some of these precursor behaviors in more detail, coming out of a conversation that J and I both participated in recently. And though I hear what you're saying about predators having an edge, I think one of the most important things that J brings up is the fact that a lot of the predation that goes on in heterosexual relationships is still treated as benign.

It's a lot harder for men to get away with pressuring and coercing women into sex than it was fifty years ago, because women are more often raised these days to see that kind of behavior as unacceptable, and to walk away from it. Naming the behaviors that are precursors to rape for what they are isn't the whole answer --- there is no whole answer, and never will be. But it's an important step, and as J says, it manages to thread the needle of giving women tools to fight rape without shifting the focus away from male behavior. There's a synergistic effect in that, I think.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2007 03:14 am (UTC)

Re: Not to Be a Wet Blanket . . .

I'll agree that this isn't "the answer." But as brooklynite says, there is no one answer. Saying that this won't solve all problems is like saying that tuning your guitar won't get your shoelaces tied.

I think that having a discussion about what predatory behavior consists of can be eye-opening on many levels. It makes people harder to victimize in lots of situations -- like you said, cons and ripoffs, both violent and nonviolent. It's a discussion young people of both sexes need to have, often. Critical thinking can't be overemphasized. "Why would s/he do that?"

It also is a step towards recognizing when an institution is playing these same games with us. Because I don't agree that children are routinely taught to stand up to authority figures. I don't agree that we have been trying to teach people to recognize when they're being conned or pressured. These techniques are used every day by business and government, school and religion, to control the population.

Instead they focus on *whom* to trust. They focus on the individual bad outlaw ripoff guy. The same ripoff performed by a big corporation is "business as usual" or even "what's good for General Motors is good for the nation." The same pressure and lies from a church is "spiritual guidance" or even "moral authority."

They teach us to trust roles, because too many people asking too many questions would be sand in the gears of the machine.

Remember, most consciousness-raising isn't top-down. It's bottom-up. It's seeing the problem up-close and personal, and then seeing it in others close to you. Then you realize it's everywhere. Then you realize the personal really is the political.
Date:July 17th, 2008 09:33 am (UTC)
I don't know why exactly, but such broadcasts either don't reach the most worthwhile people, or the most worthwhile people are too busy to answer them.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2007 06:00 pm (UTC)
I'm struck by the contrast between your suggestion that socialising women to be more vigilant about proto-rape behaviours, and the suggestions rampant in the harassment-apologist blogs that women oughtta toughen up, ignore threats, and stop being so sensitive.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks, interesting observation.

This brings up another thought which came to me in writing a response to Kevin's comment. I cut it out because my response was long enough already, but it looks like it's steam-engine time.

Feminist theory is based on experience. It is a real theory in that regard, not a guess or an unsubstantiated conjecture or a paranoid fantasy, as some seem to interpret the word "theory".

(Interesting that another theory some people have problems with is Evolution. It's a scientific theory, not a social one, but both are supported by huge amounts of evidence. Anyway.)

We as feminists see exploitation and sexism in our own lives, in that of our friends and family and associates, and then we recognize it all over the place. Yes, we can be wrong about particular instances. But it's not like we're making it up.

There's a kind of criticism of feminist thought that seems to say, "you're just coming up with this silly theory and then applying it all over the place where it doesn't belong." It's denying the life experience of those who are most qualified to see sexism. And it strikes a nerve every time it's said.

Your description of the apologists saying "stop being so sensitive" plucked that nerve. The assumption is that feminists don't know how to interpret what they're seeing, that there's a "right" way to view rape threat: one that avoids seeing the rapist at all. Going full circle back to the post that inspired mine.

Which I am now about to add a link to in my original post so it can get the credit it deserves, especially since it's yours!
[User Picture]
Date:May 7th, 2007 04:03 am (UTC)
Yes. My first thought at your second paragraph was "that "theory" misinterpretation gets around, doesn't it?"

I'm contemplating a more sinister possible explanation for the "toughen up" viewpoint, as it certainly has the effect overall of denying women's intuition, and masking and enabling manipulative, harassing pre-assault behaviours. Women fighting rape culture seems to be much more threatening a prospect than women fighting rape.

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