Good Men Project’s Rape Faceplant, Predators and the Social License to Operate
So by now many of my regular readers will know that Good Men Project first published Alyssa Royse’s piece about how her friend who raped a sleeping woman (both she and, in her telling, he call it rape) but she wants to discuss how he was confused by the mixed signals the woman allegedly sent (prior to sleeping). Then, Good Men Project published another piece by an anonymous rapist (he admits he is) who gets wasted and fucks people who are too wasted to consent, and he says he won’t stop because it’s just fun to get wasted and not give a shit what happens to other people. This predictably drew outrage, and lots of folks have been all over it, including Jill at Feministe in two posts here and here. Joanna Schroeder at GMP put up a post defending the decision to give the drunk rapist a platform, and in the comments one thing she’s done is try to distinguish the research that Lisak & Miller and McWhorter have done on “undetected rapists” — those who have not been caught or disciplined, but whose responses on surveys are concessions to having raped, though they don’t call it that. This is in part a discussion about that research, and I cover it in Meet The Predators, which is among the most cited posts here at YMY — I’ll assume familiarity with it.
As what lawyers call a “threshhold issue,” Schroeder thinks the studies don’t support my post, but she’s not just arguing with me. She’s arguing with Lisak about his own research. David Lisak has said:
“This is the norm,” said Lisak, who co-authored a 2002 study of nearly 1,900 college men published in the academic journal Violence and Victims. “The vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by serial offenders who, on average, have six victims. So, this is who’s doing it.”
I’m not putting words in his mouth when I say that Predator Theory (my term for the conclusions drawn from his and similar research) is the explanation for the vast bulk of the rapes that happen. That’s what he says his findings mean, too.
Next, I think Schroeder ‘s criticism doesn’t grapple with the math.
Let’s use Lisak & Miller’s numbers, with a population of a million men and a million women. If 2% of the men are single-offense rapists meeting Lisak’s definition, and a further 4% are repeaters with an average of 5.8 victims, that implies that 20,000 of the men are single-offenders with 20,000 victims, and the 40,000 repeat offenders have 232,000 victims. To oversimplify and assume that no women rape, no men are victims, everyone is either a man or a woman and there are no repeat victims, we then have 252,000 victims, or about a quarter of the population of women. If we believe the various victim-report data, that’s about what we would expect. So, while Lisak & Miller’s questions certainly will not capture every rape, they do capture the vast majority — they have to, unless she’s postulating a victimization rate much higher than the victim report data account for. If she’s saying that maybe half of all women are raped … well, you can say that, but where is the data to back that up?
Also, I don’t agree with how she reads a question. Look at Lisak & Miller’s Question 2, which Shcroeder puts a lot of weight on in her argument that Lisak’s and McWhorter’s questions capture premeditated rape only. Question 2 does not actually do that. It captures all situations where the respondent knows that consent was absent by reason of intoxication; not just those where he concedes knowing that at the time. McWhorter includes a similar question that allows for getting someone drunk or high and does not actually inquire about foreknowledge, an element she read in. She misreads “they didn’t want to” to mean premeditation, but if you take out “they didn’t want to” then why would it be rape? It’s only rape if one participant to the act does not consent and if they don’t ask that, then they are not asking about rapes.
If one actually goes back and reads the account from the rapist GMP published, he would be captured by Lisak & Miller’s survey, though maybe not McWhorter’s. Lisak & Miller asked:
(2) Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated (on alcohol or drugs) to resist your sexual advances (e.g., removing their clothes)?
What did the guy whose accountin the GMP piece say? He said:
A friend of mine once told me about a girl who he knew for a fact had only had two drinks. He didn’t know she was on prescription medication that amplified those two drinks beyond all measure. He thought she was just very horny when she wouldn’t leave him alone or take “Are you okay?” for an answer. It wasn’t until she kept calling him by the wrong name and couldn’t remember the right one that he realized she was not able to consent, and called a halt to things before they went any further. He says he had to dissuade her from pursuing things further, because she was really into it, apart from not knowing who he was or where she was.
“Can you imagine?” he tells me in horrified tones. “I was almost a rapist.”
How do I tell him that I was in a similar position and made a different call? How do I tell him that I am what he’s terrified he almost was?
The fair read of what he said about “a different call” is that he’s been in a situation where he realized that his prospective partner was so out of it that she was in no position to give meaningful consent, i.e. unable to resist his advances, and went ahead and fucked her anyway. That satisfies Lisak & Miller’s question 2.
The other piece that has brought a recent storm of controversy on GMP, Alyssa Royse’s, has a similar story, and that one would not be captured by either the McWhorter or Lisak survey. But I don’t think that helps Schroeder’s argument, since her issue is that the Predator Theory deals only with premeditated (it doesn’t), deliberate (that’s correct) rape. The story in the Royse piece is a story of a deliberate rape. She was asleep. She could not give consent, and at the time, she was not giving any signals – none at all. Sleep is not a communicative state. Even if one assumes that he was certain she wanted to fuck him, he would have pursued that while she was awake. If he thought she consented, why wait until she is asleep? So this is a deliberate rape, maybe not a premeditated one but a decision to stick his cock in a person who was unable to express consent, and was in fact unaware of his conduct until his penis was in her.
I think Schroeder is starting from the premise that these “miscommunications” have to be the more prevalent scenario, and are simply saying that Lisak and McWhorter can’t be addressing the majority of rapes because they don’t address that. But that’s misguided as a matter of math, of reading their questions, and I think of how the world works.
I submit that, because the phenomenon that Lisak and McWhorter identify squares with victim report data in terms of overall numbers, while it doesn’t capture all rapes, it does capture the bulk of the problem. I reason from this premise to the conclusion that the sort of miscommunications that you seem to be talking about, are a much smaller dynamic. And that squares with other research, that outlined in the post Mythcommunications, which is another of the most-referenced YMY posts, and which has been picked up for republication in specialty publications for folks that deal with rape in professional settings, like law enforcement and medicine.
I think the folks saying that guys rape because they misread signals are mostly getting snowed by guys that are taking advantage of the wiggle room people are willing to extend them, even after recognizing that what they did was rape. This is what I’m talking about at the end of Meet The Predators when I discuss the Social License to Operate. If we start from the premise that the rapist is the guy in the bushes, of course, we can’t accept that what the people we know do is rape. But also, if we start from the position that the people we know are good people and we’re unwilling to reevaluate that, then we’ll forever make excuses for them.
The two pieces at GMP recently have the effect of erasing the rapists’ responsibility for the rapes. It’s the “weather” approach – guys just do this, they misunderstand signals, they’re drunk, sure it’s wrong but it can’t be helped, so all you women out there better change your behavior. It’s really telling that you used the words “for the record” – it’s terminology people use when they have to say something but they don’t really mean it, a formal acknowledgement of something they’re trying to undermine or amend or excuse. It’s the part that comes before “but.”
The guy whose account GMP published is, if not wholly a rational actor, at least a partially rational one. He knows what he’s done and he knows what he will do. He’s choosing this path because it hasn’t cost him enough yet, because the rewards in the fucked up feedback loop still outweigh the costs.
(He’s a drunk. My regular readers know that I know more about living with substance abusers than I wish I did. Drunks avoid the hard decision to get sober until the consequences motivate them. We don’t shrink from throwing drunks in jail for drunk driving when they hurt people because we just can’t have them crashing into people. Well, we can’t have drunks raping people either, and if there were consequences they’d have to make tough choices. As long as we focus on how women can change their own behavior, we’re not going to do that.
But he’s not every drunk. Every drunk doesn’t rape. Drunks rapists rape because getting drunk allows them to give themselves permission to do things they know are wrong, to push the conscience into the corner and keep it there. If rape just happened when people got drunk, all drunks would rape. This guy’s hard-partying friend does not say, “hey, it’s all good” when a prospective partner is too bombed to recall his name. But this guy does.)
A lot of well-meaning people are, in my view, acting as part of the problem by accepting as a stated or unstated premise that we should erase the rapist’s agency from the discussion. If we assume that rapists are like hurricanes, that we can’t stop them from forming and can’t control their movements, then the only thing left is to control the victims’ behavior.
That’s wrong for two reasons. First, rapists are not hurricanes. If we could dissuade hurricanes from hitting the coast by fining them or jailing them or kicking them out of the dorms, wouldn’t we? Of course we would. Second, to reference the Ben Franklin quote, “those who would trade essential liberty for a little temporary security deserve neither.” Or, as Golda Mier put it when a curfew for women was proposed to protect them from a serial rapist, why not give the men a curfew? Curtailing women’s freedom by policing their behavior has a cost. By making that the focus of prevention, we’re imposing that cost on women. That’s not a logical necessity. That’s a policy choice.
Amanda Marcotte said years ago that if we are serious about a problem we tackle it systemically, and if we just want an excuse to blame women we tell them its their individual responsibility. She was talking about recycling or food politics or some such, but it goes for rape, too. Men use alcohol and excuses to rape. If we were serious, we’d look at those dynamics and find a public policy solution to interrupt the cycle: increased policing, better rape reporting, consent education aimed primarily at men around their drinking – not so much to educate the rapists but to make them stand out; this is a major point in my Predator Theory writing. But we don’t do that. We tell women not to go out and drink so much. Well, we tell women what to do and not to do with their own bodies a lot, and I don’t think anyone thinks we can make a damned bit of difference by doing that more. We’re not going to stop any rapes by scolding women. But we are going to build in an excuse, an i-told-you-so that, however good the intentions, is going to be used to club rape survivors. Don’t we all know that by now? We must know.
I’ve said what we need to do. We need to strip away the Social License to Operate, the cover we give these guys.
Alyssa Royse says her friend is a rapist, but she doesn’t say he’s not her friend. She tells the story in a way that is openly sympathetic to him. While she repeats the verbiage of opposition to rape, it’s manifestly inconsistent with the tone – almost as if she made a series of flashcards of things I would say or Jaclyn or Jill would say, and made a set of flash cards of things someone says when they’re making excuses for rapists, and then shuffled them together and included them in her piece in whatever order they appeared in. (The cognitive dissonance between saying nothing excuses fucking her in her sleep and saying that she led him on by describing her history of sex work is so powerful that if we could harness it we could eliminate the need for hydraulic fracking.) We need to stop doing that shit. She said herself that the way she talked to the survivor had the effect of victim-blaming and alienated the survivor. That’s the problem. We know that some of the rapists are the people we know and like, we know that survivors get bomber with accusatory questioning, yet when it was her friend, she did exactly the same thing, and now instead of feeling angry at the rapist and mad at herself for falling into the same dynamics, she feels sad for him and wants to understand, and seems not to accept that her victim-blaming, however intended, was victim-blaming and made her part of the problem.
Whatever the intent, the effect is to excuse him, to create a rape that “just happens”, a rape without a “rapist” in the morally culpable sense, the kind that we all agree belongs in prison, the kind we can no longer be friends with or say nice things about.
And the drunk rapist GMP gave a platform to needs to stop. He certainly needs to get sober, and he needs to stop raping. But nothing GMP did helps put him in a position where he, or anyone like him, needs to make these tough choices. Their version of “understanding” has the effect, whatever your intent, of coming across as sympathy, making excuses for him as a poor drunk who isn’t really culpable the way the predators are. But he is them. He did it, he’ll do it again, he knows it, and he’s not willing to stop because he likes how it works out for him.
We need to stop being okay with rapists. Understanding is a word with multiple meanings. I am all about understanding rapists in the sense of being able to make policy effectively to affect them. But I don’t want to understand them in the sense of empathy. They’re not sob stories and they don’t need our warm fuzzies. They need to stop. We need to give them reasons to stop.