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How To Be Part Of The Problem

December 8, 2009

Here at Yes Means Yes Blog, “no tolerance for rape apologists” isn’t just a rule, it’s a way of life. So the commenter I’m about to quote has already been banned, and in fact I only let the comment through because it was a good example of how people soft-peddle their rape apology. [Trigger Warning, discussion of rape apology]

I said a while ago:

We will also surely see remarks from people who don’t want to be called rape apologists, and who may even think they are not rape apologists while they gyrate wildly to turn the focus on the victim instead of the rapists and their crowd of aiders and abetters where it belongs. These people will almost always start with some version of “of course I’m not blaming the victim and what the rapists did was wrong and all that …” And then will come the key word, BUT.

Then they will make their real argument. And their real argument is that they are unwilling to actually take rape seriously or do anything to hold rapists accountable. What they believe and argue (but will avoid saying outright) is that the rapist’s behavior is unavoidable, as much a natural disaster as a hurricane or an earthquake, and so the only sensible thing is to plan for its inevitability. The argument will proceed from the dreaded BUT to focus on what SHE did, and how wrong and stupid it was, and ultimately conclude that if women just curtailed their behavior in one or several additional ways, the problem would be solved.

On the Predator Redux thread, someone showed up with an anonymous email, doing just this. Anonymousresearcher said:

My guess is that a non-trivial chunk of rapes are happening in relationships. I get the sense that some women could leave violent relationships, but they don’t want to for various reasons. In fact, I think some women only find themselves attracted to men who have a violent streak.

Proof offered? None. In fact, “[o]n average, battered women, attempt to leave their partner approximately 5-7 times before they are successfully out of the relationship (Ferraro 1998).”See also here. Many delay departure because statistics indicate that most battered women are killed by their assaulter at the time they leave or shortly thereafter. Once they are in an abusive relationship, it’s not so easy for the victims to get out. They are often controlled, constrained and surveilled. Abusers shrink their victims’ social networks and cut off their access to money and other resources, use children or pets as hostages, etc.

But Anonymousresearcher has a different answer. Apparently, they have a kink for domestic violence. (That puts this clown in the camp of Camille Paglia, who said, “many of these working class relationships where women get beat up have hot sex. They ask why won’t she leave him? Maybe she won’t leave him because the sex is very hot…How come we won’t allow that a lot of wives like the kind of sex they are getting in these battered wife relationships?” That is not a compliment.)

Anonymousreaseacher then tells us … that our work is done!

I think the “listen to rape victims” and “challenge unethical behavior, including rape, by friends” is good advice, but I think it may be oversold. Aren’t we doing that already?


Now Anonymousresearcher gets around to the real argument. Despite the two studies showing that a single-digit percentage of two different large samples of men were serial predators, each with roughly six victims in both studies, and despite one study’s finding that the same recidivists were also disproportionally child molesters and partner batterers, Anonymous researcher thinks I’ve got it all wrong:

While I’m sure those characteristics fit some people, I think that many of the rapists discovered in the survey would not be described that way. In particular, a lot of rape is probably not premeditated.

Based on what? Apparently, intuition. Anonymousresearcher offers no data in response, and there’s nothing in Lisak or McWhorter to back that up.

Yet Anonymousresearcher feels compelled to put that idea forward, notwithstanding the complete lack of support, saying that many of the rapes and attempted rapes these men admitted were not premeditated. This person is bending over backwards to make excuses for this population of rapists. To suggest without evidence that it must be a misunderstanding; or a spur-of-the-moment thing. Anything but a careful pattern of predation designed to victimize the easiest available targets, those who will be blamed.

This is how rape culture works. Anonymousresearcher is rape culture at work, making sure to anonymously put forth an excuse for the worst rapists, even when the data says otherwise.

And the “yes but” apologist is never done without attempting to turn attention back to the woman or women and away from the rapist. I had written “…women are already doing everything they know how to keep from getting raped, short of giving up living their lives.” Anonymousresearched insists:

This has got to be false. Lots of people choose to do things that are dangerous and I see no reason to think that some women aren’t taking unnecessary risks… this by no means justifies their rape, which is still a horrible crime.

[Emphasis supplied.]

It never fails. They never fail. Somehow, some way, whether talking about the specific circumstances or in the aggregate, the “yes but” apologist always posits some magical risk-reduction maneuver. If only she had X, they insists, it wouldn’t have happened. Like X is easy. The list gets longer every year. It’s usually geared to stranger rapes which are by far the less common phenomenon. The ones geared to acquaintance rape are often just plain impractical. “Avoid fraternity parties” on a campus that is heavily greek may be close to “avoid parties”, and while I don’t drink at all, it’s just a fact that alcohol is an important part of socialization rituals in our culture.

Advice that counsels women to give up the things the people consider normal, ordinary parts of social life is not really advice, is it? The goal is not to get women to take perfect precautions. In fact, men get very bent out of shape when women do treat them as potential rapists. No, the goal of putting the focus on the woman’s conduct is to make sure that when it happens again, the excuse is in place. “She didn’t X!” they can say. She did it wrong, they can say. And then, they always say, “I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, BUT …” You can ignore the rest. The bolded part is the point of the exercise.

As usual, I have the banhammer ready for rape apologists. I may not be able to make the world a space where rape apologists are always shut down, but I can do that for this blog.

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34 Comments leave one →
  1. Courtney L permalink
    December 8, 2009 1:00 pm

    You, sir, are made of WIN. Thank you so much for your excellent work as an ally to women and to feminism.

  2. MertvayaRuka permalink
    December 8, 2009 9:46 pm

    As usual, the apologists are all about “Why do WE have to change our behavior? Why can’t WOMEN change their behavior?”. The answer, for whatever rape apologist whiners may be reading this, is because WOMEN DO NOT FUCKING WELL INVITE RAPE. Get it through your heads. This is why we don’t listen to you. This is why we call you out for what you are. Every time you start with your mental flatulence about how maybe women might be to blame for their own rape because of “unnecessary risks”, you help maintain the climate in society where rapists can tell themselves “She was asking for it” and justify their own behavior. You help maintain a climate where what the victim of a rape was wearing, what she does for a living, what she does in her spare time all become “evidence” of how she couldn’t possibly have been raped or that what happened was her fault and not the fault of the poor man on trial who obviously was in the thrall of powers beyond his ability to resist. This is really not that hard to figure out. It’s not like we can’t go elsewhere on the internet and find hundreds or thousands of cases where a rapist ONLY avoided conviction because the victim was portrayed as somehow complicit if not deserving of her own violation. We don’t even have to look back that far in the past. So instead of bitterly complaining and playing the martyr about being banned, like you probably are, take a moment from contemplating the unfairness of it all and do some godsdamn research. See what kind of company you’re keeping. Perhaps it’ll be enough to kick-start whatever shriveled and atrophied thing you have that passes for a conscience.

  3. Jenny permalink
    December 9, 2009 2:58 am

    I second Courtney. Thank you for getting it. There are so few people who do.

  4. December 9, 2009 3:42 am

    So…I don’t see why anonymousresearcher would even bring up the whole “premeditation” issue. Does s/he think that *spontaneously* deciding to stick your dick into an unconscious woman is less of a crime than planning one’s strategy ahead of time?

    “Your honour, I went into the bedroom during the party and she was passed out on the bed. It’s not like I knew I’d find her there or anything, I just happened across her and thought, ‘hey, why not fuck her? Like, as long as she’s lying there anyway.’ It was totally unplanned.”

    “A compelling argument! Case dismissed.”

    • Alex permalink
      April 9, 2010 1:32 am

      Oh God! I think I’m going to copy and paste this comment and use it in future arguments with rape apologists!

  5. Melissa permalink
    December 9, 2009 7:58 am

    Thank you for this.

    I agree with the discussion about whether or not it even matter whether the rape is premeditated or not. Granted, men who rape women without planning the crime ahead of time are probably less likely to be dangerous sociopaths and repeat offenders than “opportunistic” rapists are, but the effect on the victim is exactly the same.

    I wonder if the people who talk about all the things women could do to avoid rape really think about what that kind of world would look like.
    Women never drink.
    Women never attend parties.
    Women never spend time alone with men unless they want to have sex. (Best friends? Too bad. Father and daughter? Too bad. Have a test to study for? Too bad.)
    I could go on. Just…I doubt many rape apologists would particularly like the kind of world that would exist if all women followed the “rules” to the letter.

  6. December 9, 2009 9:13 am

    Thanks for this. Rapists deserve marginalization and opprobrium, and rape victims deserve sympathy. Full stop. When we focus on what the victim did wrong, we minimize what the assailant did wrong. And that is, well, wrong.

  7. Clarisse permalink
    December 9, 2009 11:50 am

    Okay … feel free to moderate this comment out of existence if it’s deemed supportive of rape, but if it is, then I would really appreciate feedback on how I could have written it better, because I am doing my best. And I’m doing my best nervously, because I really don’t want to hurt any rape survivors even slightly, and because I really admire Thomas and this blog and the book Yes Means Yes and I really don’t want to offend anyone associated with any of those things.

    Full disclosure: Because I love this blog, I often send its posts to people I know. In particular, I often send the more eloquent, interesting, or radical posts to people who I know don’t necessarily identify as feminists but whom I consider really smart and whom I’ve had great conversations with on other topics. So yeah, anonymousresearcher is a friend of mine, and I sent him (and a whole group of other people) the Predator posts asking for their thoughts.

    Firstly, I can say that of the group I sent your post to, a bunch of statisticians raised similar concerns to anonymousresearcher, in particular about the reliability of the data. I’m no statistician, so I have no direct recommendations about this, but it might be something you want to address.

    I am not a rape survivor. I concede that the experience of rape and abuse survivors should define the ways and the spaces in which we discuss rape. But I also know that when people discuss rape, they tend to want to have nuanced discussions about how it happened and what range of behaviors on the parts of both rapist and survivor played into the event. If these analyses (especially the ones discussing how survivors tend to behave during encounters) are always interpreted as supporting rape culture and are therefore disallowed in feminist spaces, then those analyses will always happen outside feminist spaces, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

    Also … anonymousresearcher’s comment was insensitive and shaped by rape culture. But, and this is important, it was also representative of other smart reactions to these issues. And while I agree with Thomas’s analysis here in the broad sense, I find myself again in a position that Thomas and I have been in before — I think that it might have been more rhetorically effective to attempt to address some of these points in a more charitable way. But maybe I am just biased in this particular case because this is already a friend of mine.

    (By the way, for what it’s worth, I am currently telling anonymousresearcher by email that he ought to take this post seriously and try to analyze why his comment was taken so badly, rather than just arguing against it.)

    • December 9, 2009 1:29 pm

      I wonder if these statisticians have access to the original studies, or if they’re speculating based on what I quoted and summarized. I would have preferred to link full text, but I couldn’t — I paid for Lisak’s out of pocket and I don’t have the right to redistribute so I quoted and summarized; McWhorter’s I got via email and I’m not clear on what I can do with it.

      As far as my banhammering and fisking of your friend … when you say that a lot of the folks you know have similar issues, do you mean the self-report stuff that was discussed in the Predator Redux comment thread, or the stuff I specifically quoted in this post? Because AR didn’t get banned for questioning Lisak’s or McWhorter’s methodology or their statistics. He got banned for (1) saying that women in abusive relationships can leave but don’t and speculating that they do so because they are attracted to violent men; (2) for saying we already listen to rape survivors when in fact we silence them pretty routinely; and (3) for insisting that women are taking “unnecessary risks” of getting raped.

      When it comes right down to it, I am not for open discussion in every space, especially this one. This is a hothouse environment, not a marketplace of ideas. I’m not trying to be effective towards people who don’t agree with me. Frankly, I do as much of that as I can stomach offline, and that’s not my goal for this blog.

      I’m trying to create a space where ideas that will ultimately be effective in the wider culture can grow, develop and launch into a wider culture. People can call that “preaching to the choir,” but, to follow a metaphor, theology starts in discussion among the faithful, and only once it has had some time to grow in friendly hands does it got thrown out there for critique by people who are disposed to disagree. That’s why antifeminists get banned here — not because I don’t think the readers can handle them, because many of the readers here probably deal with all kinds of antifeminists all the time. But rather, because I think being rhetorically effective is a multistage process, and I want this to be a space where feminists can talk about sexuality and rape among people who have the same goals, and knock around these ideas is a sheltered harbor before they hit the open sea.

      If they have questions about Lisak’s or McWhorter’s methodology, fine. But this is not a space where I’m going to let debates get hijacked and framed as “she didn’t take X precaution, therefore her precautions are sub-optimal.” The reason I’m not going to let that happen is, primarily, because it does not matter if it’s true. And also because every other space in the universe is a space where that can be said. And also because it shuts down other discussion. But primarily because it doesn’t matter if it’s true, and the framing of the discussion in that way has a social function. For the reasons I’ve explained at great length in this and other posts, that discussion moves the focus to what I think is the most counterproductive area, when in fact we should be focused not on the rapists or their targets, but on bystanders and how they respond to rape-supporting comments, myths, and ideas; and to the rapists’ actual victim selection and incapacitation tactics. Attempts to move the focus away from those area … will not do well here.

      To the extent that this continues our discussion about whether I should be more patient with cis het men expressing antifeminist or rape supportive sentiments, in part the answer is simply that I’m not sure I can and I’m not willing to try. If some folks get frustrated with the way I treat guys who show up here and say antifeminist things … well, that ain’t gonna change.

      • Clarisse permalink
        December 9, 2009 3:28 pm

        Well, as an example, I hear the “women are sometimes attracted to violent men / some women are in violent relationships because they enjoy violent sex” argument a lot. (Especially since I am a BDSM activist ….) As you note, Paglia famously made it, and there have been lots of others. I think it might be worth trying to develop talking points on that subject that aren’t just “no women are not and do not!” … probably any such talking points will have to include BDSM theory. I am not sure where to start with this project; I just know that flatly saying “no women are not and do not!” doesn’t seem to be working.

        But this is not a space where I’m going to let debates get hijacked and framed as “she didn’t take X precaution, therefore her precautions are sub-optimal.”

        The thing is, though, that I don’t think anonymousresearcher intended to make that argument. I think all he was trying to say was that we can’t always predict or analyze the behavior of victims by assuming that they sought to act in a 100% safe manner. And I don’t think that all discussions of the way rape survivors act are making that argument either. As another friend of mine said in these posts’ email discussions, I am more interested in the victim, because I care more about the victim. Refusing to analyze her motives and actions takes away her agency — which is the opposite of a solution.

        There must be a feminist way to critically discuss and analyze how people act while being sexually assaulted. There has been a movement for people to share their experiences of being sexually assaulted, which is a step in that direction, but is there any way we can try to break down how people act in these situations without being insensitive to their experience?

        I don’t know … maybe you’re right and it’s best to simply shift the critical priority area away from the survivors entirely. But as I said before, people are discussing it, and if we don’t let them discuss it here, then they’ll just do it in spaces we can’t oversee or contribute to.

        I’m trying to create a space where ideas that will ultimately be effective in the wider culture can grow, develop and launch into a wider culture.

        Hmm, well, this is reasonable. I guess I thought the intent of the blog was just to be an outgrowth of the book, and I thought the intent of the book was at least partly to be an outreach strategy rather than a hothouse environment.

      • December 9, 2009 4:37 pm

        I already gave you the answer to “some women like violent men.” The answer is that we know with certainty that abusive situations are difficult to leave for several entirely practical reasons. Is there any particular reason to prefer the “they like it” explanation is preferable to the “they are scared and trapped” explanation? (The real answer for this kink of thinking is that postulating a world where only people who contribute to their victimization are victimized, makes people feel better.)

  8. Melissa permalink
    December 9, 2009 1:04 pm

    Clarisse, do you mind letting us know what the concerns about the reliability of the data were? Was there some glaring problem with the study?

    • Clarisse permalink
      December 9, 2009 2:55 pm

      Ouch, that is long isn’t it? Sorry, I just wanted to do justice to the full argument and didn’t feel confident about paraphrasing it. Also, could a moderator please edit out the names that I accidentally left in?

  9. Allie permalink
    December 9, 2009 3:05 pm

    I read the original post, and a lot of this is taken unfairly out of contex.

    The original post is here:

    I don’t see any evidence that AnonR thinks that non premeditated rape that occurs within a relationship is less of a crime. It was in response to a blog post that very specifically described rape as premeditated, and seemed to describe it as a man searching and targeting women. I think it’s worth pointing out that rape does not always look like one thing. Rape that is not premeditated might be harder to catch because suspicious behavior won’t be evident until the rapist actually rapes – and rape that occurs inside a relationship is near impossible to catch unless the victim speaks up.

    Also, how do you get from the acknowledging that some behaviors are riskier than others to the assertion that the solution is for women to not engage in risky behaviors? Again, the post that AnonR responded to denied that there are behaviors that put women at greater risk. Women should never have to accept any risk of rape – but that ideal has not yet been realized and it’s simply not the case that every lifestyle carries the same risk. There are risks that women take because there are benefits to those risks. Those risks are unnecessary, but that doesn’t mean that they are not worthwhile. It was probably not a worthwhile point to make, but I don’t see where AnonR said that the solution is for women not to take risks.

    As it is a lot of rape goes unseen. This makes it really hard for a zero tolerance policy to take full effect. How do you eliminate a crime you can not see? How do you stop rape that occurs within a relationship if the victim does not speak up? Is it not worth exploring why the victim does not speak up? I suspect AnonR is wrong here – that an attraction to violent men is not generally the problem. However, the correct reason is non-obvious to me, but very important. I suspect it has to do with reliance on the abuser, fear of retaliation and fear of being alone, but I am open to other ideas.

    An important question is how do we help victims we don’t know about? I think an obvious answer is to help them to speak up – “if only” victims would speak up then we could help them.” Is this blaming the victim? I guess so – and it’s certainly true that a lot of victims are not in positions where they can speak up – but if more of them spoke up there would be less rape. I think in a lot of cases with the right resources we could catch and prosecute more rapes. I could “if only the rapist would speak up!” but that’s not a solution.

    What is the solution here? If not through the victims taking action, how do we deal with ‘invisible rape’? I think we all agree that it’s a problem, but I am not hearing any solutions.

    I think AnonR got quite a few things wrong, but I also think you’ll get nowhere if you don’t engage in debate and educate people who care enough to come to your site. Do you think people are born understanding these issues? I certainly am new to the topic – I probably have misguided ideas because no one has challenged them yet. If I misspeak you can ban me, but then I guess I will go the rest of my life as a rape apologist. I don’t want that, and I believe that you don’t either.

    Melissa – yes there is very likely a problem with the data, but it’s very subtle. There is asymmetry in the categories which can lead to bias. Say the actual proportion of rapists is 5%, and non-rapists is 95%, assume that 3% of the non-rapists say they are rapists, but half of the rapists deny it. Half is a lot bigger than 3% – so you’d expect to be under counting rapists, right?

    Wrong – here we are actually over counting rapists. If you have people take the survey who are disrespectful of the topic you may get people who lie just because they can. This means that the data can be skewed pretty far from the truth. That people lie on surveys has been well established – researchers gave the same people surveys and different times and found that they contradicted themselves. This is a fundamental problem with determining the size of small groups in surveys, you almost always over count.

    • December 9, 2009 5:23 pm

      See, now what you have to say is interesting stuff. I don’t disagree that self-report has issues. However, there’s no way to ground-truth the self-reports except to compare the numbers. And I don’t at all think it’s inherently unfeasable to have dozens of reported victims — some serial killers get that high, and they have bodies to dispose of. Can one man rape one very intoxicated woman every month, on average, for four years and never be prosecuted? I say yes. I’m pretty sure he can. So I don’t think there’s anything about a mean of 5.8 that is incredible.

      The McWhorter Navy study finds the same thing, over a different population of men at a different time. So any discussion of likely error in Lisak & Miller has to account for the replicability of it. It’s possible there’s a systemic skew, but it’s skewed the same way for Boston-area college students and a somewhat younger group of Navy recruits from across the US, two groups with class and educational differences, etc.

      The premeditation issue comes, really, from Redux, which is a review of Lisak’s other work. He has employed other methodologies including interviews, he works with law enforcement, he’s relying in part of other research including sex offender programs and interviews with convicted samples that allow for some more ground truthing of the responses, etc. So that’s not just coming from the 2002 survey.

      AnonR’s “can’t be true” remark is what really got him banned, and it got him banned because of how remarks like that play out in the discussion of rape. (That, and the “we’re already doing that” crap.) I didn’t say that women all took every possible risk reduction measure, I said that they did so short of “giving up living their lives.” He didn’t ask where I drew that line or even point out that that’s a vague concept. (In fact, I think my claim is not quite tautological, but nearly so.) He just declared it untrue, which is problematic for several reasons, given the way discussion of rape so often plays out.

      Telling potential victims what to do differently has been done so much that I think even if there were actual effective advice out there — and there may be some, including a better relationship with fear and techniques to decrease socialized helplessness — women are already so saturated with “how not to get raped” advice that it’s a very low-yield strategy to put more of it out there, in my view. I also think telling rapists to change is useless. My proposal from MTP is to focus on getting people to see a cycle of predation and a culture that allows it to function, and to intervene in these.

      That’s why I was so harsh on AnonR. I don’t care if he’s a nice person in real life. What he actually said functions as part of the problem.

    • December 9, 2009 5:31 pm

      Addendum: if the surveys overcount rapists, it reinforces my point, from a policy perspective. My point is that the vast majority of raping is done by a few rapists.

      We know about how many women are raped, if you trust the host of victimization surveys. All those rapes are being done by someone. If Lisak is right, it’s 13% with heavy emphasis on 6% recidivists. But if he’s overcounting and it’s really just 7% with 4% recidivists, for example … then it only further underscores what I’ve said.

      A mild undercount is still consistent with everything I have to say: most men don’t rape, and a population of rapists hide their conduct in an environment that allows them to operate by offering excuses for what they do. A dramatic undercount would have different implications.

  10. December 9, 2009 3:11 pm

    I will add my call of “WIN!” to the pile. I raise the horns and an appropriate beverage to you, good sir! Definitely made of win! Someone has to tell it like it is!


  11. Allie permalink
    December 9, 2009 3:18 pm

    I’m obviously the poster that Clarisse is quoting – did not notice that she had posted my response before I wrote another one.

    I will access the paper next time I go to campus and report back. It’s true that I have not read the methodology, but this is a fundamental problem with surveys and the only way around it is to compare a sample of answers to “ground truth” answers (the answers you know are true) so that you can get an estimate of how often a response of rapist is a lie and how often non-rapist is. Then you can adjust the numbers on your larger survey based on what you find. This just is not possible for this subject matter.

  12. December 9, 2009 4:32 pm

    Clarisse, that’s interesting. They focus on problems that are general to self-reporting as a methodology and stigmatized behavior. In this case, of course, there are no alternatives, so the proposal seems to be “all the data you can have are useless, do not be guided by data.” (How else, after all, does one establish how often an uncaught rapist rapes?)

    Are you persuaded that the data we have are the equivalent of no data?

    In fact, I’m not interested in precision. I’m interested in the general outlines of the problem, and their implication for policy. For those purposes, I think “best we can do” data is a lot better than none.

    Also, two large-sample studies, of different populations, in different years, by different researchers, one longitudinal, corroborated each other as to the broad outlines, which I didn’t see much discussion of. Whatever issues surveys have, they are broadly replicable.

    • Clarisse permalink
      December 10, 2009 1:23 am

      Are you persuaded that the data we have are the equivalent of no data?

      No, but I’m already on your side, so persuading me isn’t the question.

      P.S. Could you delete my original response to Melissa?

      • December 10, 2009 7:31 am

        I wasn’t asking if you’re persuaded by the results or by the policy prescription. I’m asking you the methodological question, which shouldn’t travel through whether you agree with me on the rest of it. Is the data we have a better basis to work from in defining and dealing with the problem than just saying, “there’s no good methodology and we have to reason in the absence of any”?

      • Clarisse permalink
        December 10, 2009 12:42 pm

        I’m not sure because I don’t feel confident to analyze the reliability of the data myself. If, say, statisticians whose opinions I respect (whether because I know them personally and consider them intelligent, or because they have credentials I recognize) are willing to back up the reliability of the data, then I would say yes. If the data is unreliable and useless (as some of my friends said upon reading your post), then no. I can’t just give you a “yes or no” answer about whether this data is better than no data.

        I found your analysis compelling and interesting (obviously, because I sent it to a lot of people), but I probably would have found one of your analyses equally compelling without any data (I usually do).

        From an outreach perspective, I think people are persuaded by data, so I think we should use data as much as we can. But if specific data can be attacked in itself, then it distracts from the main argument.

      • December 10, 2009 1:15 pm

        Understood. I think methodological criticism generally is a good thing, and makes for better methodology. But some things are hard to study. This is one where I don’t see a lot of better ideas out there, and the power of having some data is such that I’d much rather have it, and understand its limitations, than not have it.

  13. December 9, 2009 10:12 pm

    I just find it funny that someone calling himself anonymousRESEARCHER made a post that was all about his hunches. “This data is incorrect because my gut tells me that CHICKS DIG VIOLENCE.” Yeah, that’s really scientific.

    Also, I don’t know why anyone would be shocked by the repeat offender thing. If you’re the type of guy who thinks it’s fun to have sex with an incapacitated woman, and if you do it once and there are absolutely NO repercussions, then why wouldn’t you do it again? Which is why, as Thomas says, we have to focus on making repercussions for these guys, both legally and socially.

    As for preventing rape by making sure women don’t engage in “risky behaviour”, there are whole countries that forbid women from being alone with men, restrict where women can go, and make them cover themselves in baggy robes from head to toe for that exact reason – and guess what? Women in those countries still get raped. If memory serves, the incidence of rape is actually higher in those parts of the world than it is in North America. The way to prevent rape is to raise our kids to understand that women are people – not to treat women like valuable objects that need to be kept in a safe.

  14. December 10, 2009 1:12 am

    Things that are “unnecessary risks”:

    Going to parties.
    Wearing anything other than “sensible shoes”.
    Having a drink.
    Wearing clothing that is attractive.
    Taking a walk after sunset.
    Going to a club.
    Waiting for a bus.
    Accepting a date.
    Going to a friend’s place.
    Spending the evening with a partner.
    Having a non-normative family life.
    Crashing on the couch.

    Being heterosexual.
    Being gay.

    Yeah. Women do indeed do some of these things. All these horrible unnecessary risks. Horrible horrible horrible unnecessary risks.

    Being alive is taking the same sort of unnecessary risk. Oh noes. And, well, I don’t see a line between the “unnecessary risk” of going to the store after dark, or wearing a skirt, or going to a party, or having a partner, or turning a guy down for a date, or whatever else, and the “unnecessary risk” of being female and breathing.

  15. December 13, 2009 9:00 pm

    I’m sure you’ve seen this,,0,7648053.column?page=1 and the follow up:,0,6929157.column?obref=obinsite

    I’d like to say first, thank you. Thank you for continuing to repeat the point that in fact, “Yes means yes,” because, “no means no,” ignores so much.

    Allie, you bring up the point of, “invisible victims,” this is predominantly true. Whether someone is raped and then silenced or so shamed that they remain silent is, indeed, part of the larger problem. We are not culturally ingrained to imagine that someone who has been raped could be our: mother, daughter, sister, lover, wife, friend, co-worker, etc. Even that grouping leaves out the men who are raped. (Talk about invisible, that’s the definition.)
    I can only speak for myself, but my experience was simple: I didn’t speak. I couldn’t speak during the rape, (due to being drugged, and even that is an assumption, because the evidence vanishes quickly.) I couldn’t speak afterwards, as I pieced it together. Scraps of memory that made me scream. In private. How do you tell someone what happened to you when you only remember things that make you want to kill yourself? How do you get justice when you can’t identify your rapists?
    I was essentially mute for a year. I functioned, but I was a walking corpse. The only reason I didn’t kill myself is because there was another human being depending on me for their survival. I didn’t have time for a full breakdown.
    Eventually, I spoke and it meant something. Eventually, I stopped writing and got on a stage and spoke. Eventually, I made myself heard. Because I didn’t have a choice in what they stole from me, but I wasn’t going to let them steal my voice, my life, my truth.
    As for the data, I’m certain that the 3 men who raped me, (2 actively, 1 watching,) wouldn’t identify themselves as rapists. Even though they obviously planned what they were going to do, or were prepared for any opportunity to present itself.
    Data will always be skewed when surveys are the method of gathering it.
    That said, I examined every little thing I could have done to prevent my rape. I left my drink on the table with my friends. They weren’t vigilant about guarding it. I drank it.
    Preventing rape isn’t a woman’s job. We can lock ourselves in ivory towers or we can be human beings with full agency. Instead, we are perpetually cast in limbo. Biological chattel, guardians of purity, bearing the burden of preventing rape.
    The bottom line is this: Regardless of data, the principles hold true – the only person responsible for rape, is the rapist. Those that egg them on, those that ignore, those that watch, are ancillary. While still criminal behaviors, the crucial decision exists in the mind of the rapist and that’s the one over which no survivor had any control. Debate all you like, about the data. It doesn’t change that ultimate fact. Rape happens because someone chooses to rape. Period.

    • December 14, 2009 9:52 am

      Kristen, so sorry for the terrible crime that was committed against you. I hope that being able to call it by its name and write straighforwardly about it gives you some sense of peace.

      I am aware of that execrable advice column. Lots of other people were on it, so I didn’t write about it here.

    • December 16, 2009 12:31 pm

      Thank you Kristen.

      I too was raped. It feels strange saying that. I too feel very damaged and deliberately hurt prior to my rape, by abuses supported by a rape culture.

      I was drugged. There was a gap of 8 hours missing. I do remember something horrible but was so unsure. I did not know who to blame because I could not see my attackers. I do believe one of my attackers was female, and had totally planned it. She was my partner.

      She was abusive in our relationship. It was not outright beatings and rape. The part where I was drugged I believed was deliberately done to confuse me because she was female, and understood me when I said I was raped. That’s the real fucked up part. It was like she had a split personality and you didn’t know which side to trust.

      The things that hurt me prior to that were terrible. And it was not completely male-centric violence either.

      I had one experience when I was young that I now call rape. It took me a long time to believe that. I blamed myself. Tried to say I liked it, but something was off with what happened. I blamed my behavior. I knew slips of behavior would be blamed- admitting to talking about sex, or admitting to having sex before to the men involved.

      Their behavior was physically abusive, and coercive. I sometimes wonder if it was premeditated not so much by me admitting to sex, but because another woman went to them before hand, and said, “you should fuck her.” And then would call me a whore. There are women who play along to the games of a rape culture to get ahead.

      Afterwards I tried to pretend nothing happened. I tried to say I liked him because I think that’s what people would believe the most. I felt ashamed. I still thought what happened to me fit a definition of assault though, even if I tried to pretend I liked him. I would feel tremendous guilt because I knew I did not like it. I knew it was something pulled out of my control, and parts of it were assault.

      I was beaten after that happened. My mother thought I had behaved like a whore. She had my brother beat me. Then they tried to have me tossed out on the doorstep on a mental hospital.

      It sounds unreal. I have to admit it’s not. But you see, my experiences are not male-centric. I am not criticizing your point of view at all. I am very very thankful for it. However there is a female component to violence. It is not always a she who is the victim. I also think to combat rape we have to look at men who rape, and women who rape. I think some of my worst experiences were perpetrated by other women.

      I sometimes think in order to combat rape we have to fight the rapists, and the rape apologists, and enablers as well- male or female.

  16. kalany permalink
    March 3, 2010 5:36 pm


    I realize I’m very late to the party, Thomas, but I wanted to quickly respond to a couple of the comments here, and I’m happy to discuss further via email if you’re interested. I am a working Bayesian statistician, and I think our field offers a few ways to answer some of the concerns here.

    Bayesian statistics relies on the idea of “updating” your beliefs with new information. So for example we each probably have some notion, however we came about it, as to the true percentage of rapists in the population—whether we believe it’s 50% or 1%. We also have some beliefs about the reliability of the data (and we can get very specific as to how we think they’re unreliable, if we’d like) and the reliability of our previous notions about the percentage of rapists. We can then combine the two to get a reasonable notion of what we think about the percentage and behavior of rapists in the population, after having read the studies.

    Furthermore—and this seems like it might be of more interest to you—we can use this as a springboard to talk about utility/loss. As you say, knowing that a small percentage of men are responsible for a huge percentage of rapes has a very large public policy implication. If we can get at some idea of the costs of over- and under-counting rapists, we can use that to further guide what we think is a “useful” thing to believe and do. If we want to go so far as to put relative costs on prevention of rapes versus overzealous… what’s a good word here? Looking-askance-at? innocent men, we can narrow in even further as to what interventions might be reasonable.

    Men don’t like to be looked at as rapists. I can understand this; as a teaching assistant at my university, I don’t like being told that I can’t even comment on how nice my students are dressed or invite a male student to a solo meeting because I might be sexually harassing them. However, as a woman, I do understand the flip side of this, and I try my best to follow even the rules that I think are pretty stupid, because I’d rather not put my students in the academic equivalent of date rape (“I’m really uncomfortable meeting my TA alone after dark in her office, cause that’s just weird, but she’s my TA, and I can’t say no”). It’s very uncomfortable to be told that you can’t do something because you might be sending signals you didn’t intend to be sending that could be confused with someone trying to do something really bad to someone. Of course, women are routinely told not to do things because you might be sending signals that you didn’t intend to be sending that might *cause* someone to do really bad things to you. I don’t think anyone in this situation “wins”, except maybe the rapists. It really sucks.

  17. March 19, 2010 3:11 pm

    An old thread, but I just found the site and am reading the backlog. A now banned individual states:

    In particular, a lot of rape is probably not premeditated.

    To which I say: And? The fact that it’s not premeditated makes it no less rape. The real harm has still been done. The fact that it wasn’t planned is, to me, only material in the sentencing phase if then. A person shouldn’t get off scott free simply because he hadn’t set out that evening with the intent of raping someone.

    • Dark Rooster permalink
      September 16, 2012 10:58 pm

      Terrfiic, incisive article, Thomas, thank you.

  18. Little Mouse (Not) permalink
    July 31, 2011 4:06 pm

    Stunning to contemplate both Paglia and Anonymousresearcher’s classist bullshit. One imagines a Dickensian villain waxing his Anglo-Saxon mustaches over brandy in the lounge and saying, “Why, Humphries, those ragged beggars ENJOY being poor.”


  1. Planes, Trains, and Darkened Streets: Things I’m Afraid of Because I’m a Woman « Lillian Lemoning
  2. This is rape culture. « michelle galo

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