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How Is Rape Like A Hurricane?

March 24, 2010

It isn’t. But I keep seeing commenters in threads act as though rape arises from some natural law, as an unavoidable consequence of a woman’s actions, instead of being the conscious act of a criminal wrongdoer. Usually this arises when some rape apologist on a thread gets called out for policing the victim’s behavior rather than discussing the rapist’s. I could cast around for examples in various threads, but I don’t have to because probably every reader I give a shit about will recall an example of exactly what I’m talking about.

I said earlier that I would post a companion piece to my post on the O’Byrne paper, discussing another piece of social psychology literature that is useful in analyzing online discussion or rape. This is that.

O’Byrne et al. refer to two types of causation, Type 1, or “natural” causation, and Type 2, or “moral” causation. The paper says:

Jason is the first to address Kyle’s introduction of the topic. Despite having previously claimed that ‘girls are usually fairly apt at letting blokes know when it’s not on’, and also that their being ‘cold to a certain extent’ is readily ‘hearable’ as a refusal to have sex (in data reproduced in O’Byrne et al., he too immediately invokes the miscommunication model to account for rape. However, he omits any reference to the ‘perpetrator’ and their ability to interpret ‘signals’ in the explanation that he provides, and
instead emphasizes a non-specific ‘you’, who does not ‘give a verbal ‘‘no’’’, as the prime agent accountable for rape. This claim is accomplished by producing the account in terms of causality—‘if you don’t give a verbal ‘‘no’’ then you’re up shit creek’ (our emphasis). What makes this claim so powerful is that it is based in what Sacks describes as Type 1 (‘natural’) causality (e.g. if you touch the stove [then] you will burn your hand) when in practice Type 2 (‘moral’) causality (e.g. if you are insincere [then] no-one will love you) is operative This effectively positions his claim as a ‘universal truth’ . By doing so the effect (being ‘up shit creek’) is constructed quite simply as the inevitable and natural result of the cause (‘not giving ‘a verbal ‘‘no’’’). The implication is, therefore, that if the abstract (and hence generalized) ‘you’ do ‘give a verbal ‘‘no’’’ then ‘you’ will not be raped. As such, he not only attributes the cause of rape solely to the victim but, in addition, the sole responsibility for rape prevention.

[P. 179, internal citations omitted, emphasis supplied.]

In most threads in feminist spaces, there are folks who do a good job of identifying the game; spotting when the apologist is trying to erase the rapist from rape and treating it as a natural phenomenon instead of a crime. I quote this not because feminists don’t see it, but because we do, though I think many of us (myself included until I read the paper) are not aware that the phenomenon is a known quantity within the social psychology literature. It adds force to the argument to say that this tactic has a name and a history.

The O’Byrne paper contains long segments of transcript from focus groups where a handful of young men discuss rape, mostly dodging it and explaining it away. It is cringe-inducing material, though also enlightening. I encourage folks to read it, and I think it generally supports what I said at the end of Meet The Predators about men refusing to tell other men that rapists have a social license to operate.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. femspotter permalink
    March 24, 2010 1:08 pm

    Rape is a heinous crime and never the fault of the victim. I do think it is worth examining how women can try to avoid being unprepared for a surprise attack or avoiding certain shady situations. I think this puts me in a gray area that’s often misunderstood…like I’m saying a rape victim was asking for it because she got drunk at a party with a bunch of men she barely knew. I’m not saying she was asking for it. But I do think it’s worth warning women to take care in situations where they’re with men they don’t know or without friends who watch each other’s backs. Just because I say, “Why not take a self-defense class?” doesn’t mean I’m saying “If you don’t take a self-defense class, it’s your fault if you get beat up or raped.” I believe that the fault – the crime – lies with the attacker.

    I don’t know if it’s possible to eradicate the act of rape. I do know that I can only control my own actions.

    • March 24, 2010 4:38 pm

      With the subject of rape, the conversation is usually derailed (by supposed advice or whatever) to the point that *nobody is even talking about rapists (the real cause) any more.* Thus, it ends up being discussed as if it were a natural disaster.

      I think a good analogy would be how car owners are told to lock the doors when they park it and don’t leave an mp3 player in sight, to discourage auto break-ins. When police talk about auto theft, the advice doesn’t overshadow the fact that criminals steal cars or things in them. People aren’t going to think that a normal person sees an unlocked car sitting parked and BAM they can’t resist the urge to steal it. People accept that even locked cars with an alarm and no visible valuables are stolen. If you report your car stolen, most reasonable people will give you sympathy instead of asking if you were somehow to blame.

      Yeah, my keen spidey sense tingling has gotten me out of some bad situations but it didn’t save me from being raped by someone I trusted. I’ve had friends who completely lacked a spidey sense, too. For example: friend and I were cornered by some creeps, my alarm bells went off. She was planning to walk into a trap until she saw that I was in fight-or-flight mode. We got ourselves out of there to safety, but if my friend had been alone I think the ending would have been very different. She was a smart girl, but didn’t sense any danger or see the trap I found obvious until I pointed it out to her. She just didn’t have that gut sense for impending doom, and as a result was a target for rapists. She was sexually assaulted more than once a year on average in the short time I knew her, and blamed herself for most of the assaults.

      I blame the rapists for assaulting my friend, and so do you, but she blamed herself because she grew up with the message that she should never leave the house while alone and female and didn’t see rapists being blamed for raping.

  2. femspotter permalink
    March 24, 2010 5:03 pm

    That’s terrible that she blames herself. I’m about to have a daughter and I would never give her such a restrictive message as never leave the house alone. My husband’s mother died from breast cancer which puts our daughter in a higher risk category, so I don’t think it’s wrong to encourage her to give herself breast exams regularly and take advantage of as many mammograms as she can. Similarly, when she’s in a higher risk category for rape like college-age, I don’t think it’s wrong to warn her against the dangers of drinking from unopened containers. I don’t know how to make the world safer for her. How do we prevent rapists from committing their crime?

    • March 24, 2010 6:53 pm

      Do you not see how “rape is like breast cancer” is exactly the same thing as “rape is like a hurricane”? It is exactly the same analogy.

      Nobody is disagreeing that it’s a good idea to teach your daughters about the risk of rape, and supply them with examples of how to protect themselves and others from predators. But that is the status quo. Frankly, though self-defense classes or being vigilant about one’s drink are never a bad idea, when 1 in 4 women gets sexually assaulted over the course of her lifetime, shouldn’t it be obvious that the status quo is simply not working?

      Rapists can be prevented from committing their crimes when we stop only teaching women avoidance strategies, and start teaching everyone to be vigilant about predatory behavior. One of the major reasons that college-age women are at risk for acquaintance or date rape is because college culture teaches men that in order to be real men, they have to get laid as much as possible regardless of the cost. They are also shielded from their responsibility for rape by ideas such as “bros before hos” or the notion that helping a girl get out of a potentially coercive situation is “cockblocking”.

      Women are supplied with a ton of strategies to reduce their risk of sexual assault, but your daughter won’t be able to protect herself alone. She will need watchful friends who don’t let a man follow her into the bathroom at a party, or who would never leave the dance club without making sure she gets a ride too, or who will tell a guy who’s hounding her straight up to leave her alone.

      Until we end rape culture, the litany of handy tips and tricks aren’t going to work. I hold my house key in my coat pocket, ready to pull it out and get stabby if needed too – but let’s face it, if I get attacked by someone larger and stronger than me, holding my key that way will probably turn out to be as effective at protecting me from rape as cargo cult rituals were for attracting airplanes out of the sky.

      • femspotter permalink
        March 24, 2010 7:39 pm

        I agree with you. I’m not the enemy. If I were having a son, the message would be aimed at his taking responsibility for his body and control of his actions. Until such a time that the rape culture evaporates, I’m still going to encourage my daughter to defend herself and make as many smart choices as possible. Of course that does not eradicate the risk. But what’s the alternative? Not warning or preparing her on principle?

      • March 25, 2010 3:42 am

        femspotter-
        We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with telling your daughter she has the right to defend herself. You aren’t a rape apologist, but you’re illustrating part of what the post was observing. When people try to talk about rape, the discussion ALWAYS turns to self-defense tactics and we stop talking about the rapists themselves. Rape isn’t a natural occurrence we can only react to like hurricanes or cancer, yet we often end up discussing it as if it was.

        Victim blamers/rapist apologists use this tactic to derail conversation and move the spotlight off rapists (the real cause of rape) and onto victims. But you’re just shown that even people who don’t blame victims tend to focus on discussing self-defense, which still puts the spotlight on victims.

        When we only talk about self-defense, we’re missing the cause (rapists). We need to throw the spotlight on the rapists themselves if we want to make progress. How can everyone stop the rapists from operating?

        Self defense isn’t the problem. The problem is that discussion of self defense has completely overshadowed discussion of rapists. Which leads to a culture of victim-blaming, intentionally or not. The conversation needs to be at least 50/50 defense vs rapists, I would prefer to see even more focus on the rapists.

        Back to the example with my friend, if all you hear about is defense and prevention tactics for women, they’re going to assume they’re at fault for doing or not doing something.

        Got me?

      • March 25, 2010 3:53 am

        Quote from femspotter:
        “I don’t think it’s wrong to warn her against the dangers of drinking from [opened] containers. I don’t know how to make the world safer for her. How do we prevent rapists from committing their crime?”

        We make the world safer by talking more about the rapists (instead of exclusively defense). Who are they? How do they operate, what tactics do they use, how do they avoid detection? If we know how they work, we can shut them down.

        (Now I see that in my previous comment I am repeating myself until beating a dead horse. Oops, shouldn’t Lunesta and post I guess.)

      • March 25, 2010 7:14 am

        femspotter, I know that you are not “the enemy”. And in fact nobody here is telling you not to teach your daughter strategies to protect herself, in fact I think I mentioned a few times that that is a good idea. Actually, teaching girls that they have the right to decide what happens to their bodies and that it’s always OK to say no is very important.

        Trust me, I know that it is comforting to think to yourself, “Well, I dress in practical clothing, I have good street sense, and I don’t binge drink. I am not passive around men and I’m not shy about saying no. I’m not the type of person who gets raped.”

        The problem is that that’s just not true, since the type of person who gets raped is basically the type of person who has a body with orifices in it. Smart choices are good, but they aren’t always going to be enough.

        So yes, please, teach your daughter to take good care of herself and others, to make smart choices, and to be vigilant about the signs of predatory behavior. But please also let her know that even if women don’t make our whole lives an exercise in risk reduction, we don’t “deserve” to be raped.

      • March 25, 2010 7:17 am

        Oh and sorry, I didn’t put “deserve” in quotes to imply that you said that! I was going for more of a quoting the rape-culture hivemind thing and I didn’t realize that I’d used direct quotes from you in the exact same way.

        What we have here is a failure to punctuate!

      • femspotter permalink
        March 25, 2010 7:24 am

        Thanks! I’m totally on your side. I have been accused of rape apology before and that’s why I decided to try and explain my perspective here. K, I would never say to myself that because I dress in practical clothes…I’m not the type to get raped. I think the problem we face in this rape culture we live in is that you and I and other feminists are doing all the talking about rape and rapists and prevention and punishment, etc. and our legal system is still not willing (or able) to listen and react.

  3. femspotter permalink
    March 24, 2010 5:11 pm

    Open containers, sorry!

  4. rebekah permalink
    March 28, 2010 1:59 pm

    so, first I would like to say that I fully support taking self defense classes, because it means that you are going to be able to better fend off if something like this happens. However, I at the age of twelve was sitting in my own home and my step father was there as well. He decided to rape me that day. I fought him off for four hours before he finally got a lucky shot in and overpowered me. I had been training in the russian martial art of systema at the time and I still couldn’t manage to get away from my attacker, someone who I had lived under the same roof with for 4 years. There was absolutely no possible way that I could have avoided being raped, or assuming that that was going to happen, but it did. I would like to point out that more survivors have stories similar to mine than they have the “random guy in the alley way who had a mask over his face so I couldn’t see who was attacking me” stereotype.

  5. MissaA permalink
    March 29, 2010 12:38 pm

    I don’t know if it’s possible to eradicate the act of rape. I do know that I can only control my own actions.

    But your own actions have no determining effect on whether or not you will be raped. Rapists do not always strike in “shady situations”, but situations in which the victim thought they were safe. Rapists seldom operate by “surprise attack.” That is one way that rape is like a hurricane – a person’s actions do not act as a talisman to protect them from either.

    • March 29, 2010 1:25 pm

      I don’t disagree with you. But I do think there are ways to reduce some risks. Note: I use the word “some.” It seems to me that these blogs often focus on our inability to avoid victimhood rather than the rapists and the rape acts themselves. Isn’t that what we all say we should be focusing on. But how do we eradicate rape?

      • March 29, 2010 2:13 pm

        I’ve long said that we can’t change the rapists, but we can revoke their social license to operate. I talked about that at some length at the ends of both Meet the Predators and Predator Redux.

        – If people drop the assumption that rape is some kind of misunderstanding, and instead expect that all sex will be consensual and wonder why the hell anyone is proceeding without being clear on consent, rapists stop having a built-in excuse when they rape their drunk friends.

        – stop victim-blaming so women can report, because a guy doesn’t make the same “mistake” over and over.

        – don’t tolerate predatory behavior, stop treating a guy trying to isolate a drunk woman as normal or near-normal and instead treat it like it could be the precursor to rape, because it often is.

        – distrust misogynist men, who talk about women like the most important thing is to evade their defenses. These guys are telling the truth about how they see it, and they are forever looking to solicit other men’s agreement and complicity.

      • March 29, 2010 2:33 pm

        There focus is there because there is so much cultural dialogue to the contrary, telling girls and young women that there is ALWAYS something they can do to avoid rape. There isn’t always.

      • femspotter permalink
        March 30, 2010 7:38 am

        All good suggestions, Thomas. I hope the people who really need them are reading.

        http://www.kintera.org/c.nlIWIgN2JwE/b.5706887/k.37FC/Eliminate_the_Rape_Kit_Backlog/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx

        There is a rape kit backlog in the U.S. and a bill in play to deal with it. You can write to your Congress people at that link.

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