The Excuses Write Themselves
They don’t, actually. People write the excuses that appear, almost immediately, in the first accounts of a sexual assault, no matter how horrific. One could define rape culture that way: a culture where accounts of rape, but not other crimes, frequently meet immediately with speculation aimed at nullifying of mitigating the allegation.*
That’s not how murders are reported. The early accounts don’t say, “there is always the possibility that the victim was initially the aggressor,” unless there is reason to believe that was the case. But in rape cases, there always seems to be “reason” to explore the possible mitigation. Armed robberies are not reported that way. Arsons are not reported that way. The first reports that a fire was deliberately set are not accompanied by, “was the guy drunk? Maybe he didn’t know he was pouring gasoline on the floor. Did someone in the building lure him there to do drugs? There must be a reason!”
(White collar crime is actually sometimes reported that way, but we live in a white collar crime culture as surely as we live in a rape culture, one that only punishes symbolic scapegoats periodically to forestall social upheaval. I have more basis for this view than I’m willing to expound on here.)
In the past, I’ve used the term “social license to operate” to describe the social structures that make it possible for a significant population of serial rapists to live undetected among us, abusing victims again and again. The excuse-scripting process we call rape apologism. The rape apologists don’t actually commit the rapes, but what they do ensures that the rapists can do it again and again.
It sometimes feels like playing whack-a-mole to respond to the same mythology again and again. But the alternative is to cede the field and let folks hear the script without the response.
So, when the first accusation about Ben Roethlisberger went public, and people started running the “lying golddigger” script, feminists responded. When the second accuser came forward and people ran the “drunk” and “starfucker” scripts, feminists responded.
All the scripts have an essential similarity. They usually focus on some stigmatized personal characteristic of the victim, which has three effects:
(1) it disappears the rapist, so that instead of a particular offender whose conduct is in question, he’s a cypher on which people, especially men, project themselves or men they know;
(2) it makes the victim less sympathetic, so that without even making a logical argument about the human right not to be raped, it reduces people’s willingness to enforce that right; and
(3) it attacks the victim, discouraging her and other women from seeking justice or accountability.
There are plenty of excuses. And when people trot out the “she was doing sex work” script, it’s good to respond. When they pull out the “lying sluts” script, it’s good to respond. When they use the “provocatively dressed” script, it’s good to respond. And when they use the “she was kinky, that’s what she gets” script, I think it’s good to respond. Because these scripts are pre-written, and they’re really all the same shit about different women.
*(I’m paraphrasing something Lindsay Beyerstein wrote privately.)