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Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers

May 8, 2013

[Content Note for rape and kidnapping, and general rape culture.]

They look just like everybody else.

It’s not an easy thing to keep in your head.  Disney movies have taught us that villains look like villains.* But in real life, they look like everybody else.

Once they get caught, and we see a mugshot and they look like they were up all night drinking and then groped a stranger in a parking lot and were driven off by force, it’s easy to see them for what they are.  But in the office, before Jeff Krusinski got arrested, he looked like a normal person.  Someone gave him the job of heading up sexual assault prevention for the Air Force.  In hindsight, it seems like a cruel joke, or a deliberate effort to put the fox in charge of the henhouse.  Rather like putting a pedophile in charge of a program for troubled children.  And given the massive issues the US armed forces have with sexual assault, it’s not absurd to think there are plenty of people who are more or less outright pro-rape.  But just like the proportion of the population that are actually rapists is limited, the proportion of the population that can think both “that guy’s a rapist” and “I’m okay with that” is limited.  I don’t have anything quantitative to point to for the size of that population, but experience teaches me that when people are determined to make excuses for a rapist, they first deny he’s** a rapist.  Even the rapists don’t say they’re rapists.

Men’s power advocates (the guys who call themselves “men’s rights activists”, which is not a little like calling one’s self a “white rights activist”) get all wound about the term “rape culture,” making really facile arguments like we can’t have a rape culture if rape is a crime.  But if you have a crime that perpetrators routinely get away with, where people defend even those duly convicted, then isn’t it a crime the culture offers a lot of support to?  I think we’d all agree that we have a culture of corruption in politics, even though every once in a while one of the scoundrels gets hauled off in handcuffs.  It’s illegal, but it’s common, it’s both decried and laughed at and to way too large an extent tolerated.  Rape culture is like corruption culture:  we all know it happens, it’s a crime, it’s sometimes prosecuted; but efforts to stop it are ineffective and lots of people who know about it find ways to make believe it isn’t what it i,s or convince themselves that the people who do it are justified; especially when it’s their friend.

I’m not saying that outright, self-serving human venality isn’t a significant reason that people look the other way.  If we look at Sandusky, certainly for some people at some point there’s a more or less conscious thought process: I know what he is, I know what he does, but I’m putting the interest of the program and my self-interest first.  If we look at Polanski, some people are simply calculating that supporting him is important in Hollywood and calling him what he is just isn’t in their self-interest.  Even someone whose primary public reputation is as a feminist will call a rape a “model sexual negotiation” when necessary to appeal to a target market.

But people don’t have to be making consciously self-interested or rape-supportive choices to participate in rape culture.  All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.***  People participate in rape culture when they choose not to see, refuse to believe, reject evidence that leads to painful conclusions.

So when General Franklin overturned Lt. Col. Wilkerson’s conviction by a military jury for rape, he may have been thinking, “rape is awesome, and I’m in a position of power and I can help the rapist, so I will.”  There certainly are people who think that.  They even form groups on Facebook (which Facebook will not take down because they’re engaged in that good people doing nothing thing).  Or maybe he believes all kinds of victim-blaming shit.  Maybe when a victim’s story varies in any way from the script he has in his head for the “real rape” story, he decides he doesn’t believe it or it doesn’t count.  Maybe that decision to disbelieve isn’t really a conscious one, but a gut feeling based on a mythology about how the world works that he has internalized, and never really examined.  I’m thinking that’s a lot more common.

And then there’s the all-time, number one reason why people look right at a rapist and don’t see a rapist:  he’s their friend.  I excoriated Alyssa Royse for her piece about how her friend is a rapist and also a nice guy.  I stand by that.  The reason I went after her personally so hard (as opposed to the Good Men Project, which I view as essentially a failed project) isn’t that what she said is so rare, but (in part) because it’s so common, and she of all people should recognize that by doing that “but he’s a nice guy” stuff she’s part of the problem.  It’s what Whoopi did with Roman and what Naomi did with Julian and what some fans did with Kobe and Mike and Ben.  We know him, they think, he’s our friend.  It must not be true, it must be more complicated.  What was unique about Royse’s piece was that instead of trying to dodge the word and concept of rape and explain it away, she acknowledged what it was and still said the things she said.  Usually, the way people manage cognitive dissonance between values (“rape is bad”, “this rapist is my friend”) is to keep the contradictory facts as vague or obscure as possible, to avoid dealing with the conflict by not looking at the conflicting facts side by side, as it were.  As Upton Sinclair put it, it’s hard to get a man to understand a thing when his salary depends on not understanding it.  It’s a special kind of messed up to be able to just confront the fact that a friend is a rapist and still do all the victim-blaming that people do when they’re trying to weasel out of the conclusion that their friend is a rapist.

This week, a woman escaped from years in captivity.  It’s not the first time.  She wasn’t alone, either.  And now, some people are sending around video of Charles Ramsey, the neighbor she ran to, who called 911.  This guy did the right thing, obviously, and anyone whose reaction to the interview he gave is to mock him is being an asshole.  But here’s the part that has my attention: he is talking, I think, Ariel Casto (or maybe one of his brothers) who is now under arrest for keeping the women captive, and he says they were buddies.  They ate ribs together.  They saw each other daily for a year.  And when Ramsey saw Berry trying to escape from that house, he helped her.  He believed her.  It sounds so simple, and it should be, but people’s capacity to wish away all evidence in favor of maintaining their good opinion of their friends is vast.  Ramsey’s willingness to do the right thing is, sadly, something we really can’t take for granted.

How normal did Ariel Castro seem?  When Amanda Berry disappeared, he helped pass out fliers.

They don’t wear hats that say, “Rapist.”  We have to get our heads around the reality that we can’t tell who they are just by looking at them.  Try this: imagine that you were a serial rapist or maybe a child molester.  I’m not asking for emotional connection here, just a logical thought experiment.  If you were a serial rapist and didn’t want to stop being a serial rapist, what skills would you see as your mission-critical skills?  Here’s what I came up with:

(1) Seem normal, the sort of person that people don’t think is a serial rapist;

(2) Learn to pick victims who are less likely to talk or be believed;

(3) Learn to use tactics that tend to make prosecution or other accountability less likely.

The villains are the ones who do the villainous things.  Castro is now alleged to have had a history of beating his wife and kidnapping his own kids.  Which is exactly what the Lisak & Miller research says we should expect from a serial rapist. 

Here’s another thought experiment:  assume that a serial rapist has mastered all three of those those rapist skills.  How could we know that he’s a serial rapist?  Not just by looking at him, and not necessarily because he says creepy things; he may have a good sense of his audience and calibrate what he says to not seem out of place.  What we would expect, though, is:

(1) A string of victims.  And all of them will come with “problems”, reasons to disbelieve their account, because that’s part of picking the victim.

(2) Use of tactics that undetected rapists use, or could use, to keep from being detected: boundary testing, isolation, choice of alcohol and drug facilitation over overt force unless the victim or circumstances offer cover for other tactics.  You can actually see this in operation sometimes. 

This doesn’t come naturally.  The culture tells us to look at the surface.  If we want to revoke rapists’ social license to operate, we have to learn to look for different things.  Because they don’t wear hats that say, “Rapist.”  They hang out in the back yard, work on their car and eat some ribs with the neighbors.  Just like they were normal.  Even while they have captives in their homes.

* The linked bit is in my view very problematic for its failure to contextualize what constitutes conventionally attractive.  Disney villains are not ugly, they’re “ugly”, which means older and/or darker skinned and/or fatter, sometimes disfigured and often with exaggerated facial features.  This isn’t exclusive to Disney, though.  The over-representation of all these characteristics among villains is a broad cultural tendency.

**Or she or they, because when we talk about the rape of adult victims we’re largely talking about something men do, but if we include the rapes of children, men don’t have a monopoly on molestation; and actually I don’t believe anyone has good numbers of rape by (or of) non-binary gendered folks, but it has happened.

***Versions of this are almost universally, and wrongly, attributed to foundational conservative Edmund Burke.  The real origin of the saying is, as far as I know, unknown, and it’s probably closest to something J.S. Mill said.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    May 8, 2013 1:50 pm

    Of course, I agree with everything you said about these famous cases. But I also just want to say, on a totally personal level: thank you. This was exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right time. Thanks for the work that you do.

  2. May 8, 2013 4:42 pm

    There are also some very objective reasons to believe your friends more.

    1) You have hopefully selected your friends according to “not-rapist” criteria. Your friends are people whom you have most likely seen over the years act in a good and caring manner over and over again.

    2) Rapists are, as you have pointed out before quite rare. A few people are responsible for many many rapes.

    Under these circumstances, if a stranger (ergo, somebody with no particular credibility to you) accuses your friend of being a rapist, it seems perfectly rational to weigh more heavily the wealth of evidence which says your friend is a good person rather than the remarks of a stranger.

    Of course, one should not be closed to new evidence which may contradict and overwhelm one’s prior experiences. (Which I am sure many people are.) But not all of this resistance is based on malice or illegitimate biases. It makes sense to update one’s beliefs using a Bayesian model rather than throwing out everything whenever a new piece of information comes in.

    • May 8, 2013 5:05 pm

      Reason number one is not objective at all. In fact, it’s the very soul of subjectivity.

      You’ve selected your friends based on not being a rapist? Or you hope that your taste in people also acts as a screen for rapists? Those are two different things. Most people don’t actually consciously screen their friends, but sort of collect them by accretion over the years. If you’re assuming that your taste in people also works to screen out rapists, you may want to think that through.

      If, on the other hand, you discretely slip questions from an evaluative battery into conversation to screen your friends, record their answers and attempt to empirically ascertain the likelihood that they are rapists, that’s awesome and I’d like to know what battery of questions you are using.

      But you don’t. So what you’re doing here is, “if he’s my friend, I assume be’s not a rapist.”

      As to rarity, is the serial rapists are about five percent, that’s one in twenty, on average. I am no statistician, but if you know a lot of people, you probably have a few acquanitances and maybe a close-ish friend who is a serial rapist.

      • May 8, 2013 7:41 pm

        I do not administer a specific battery of tests. However, I do spend my time observing and speaking with people who I consider friends or who I eventually get to consider friends and if red flags come up, I do take them seriously. To quote you and more importantly, the surprising literature “The men in your lives will tell you what they do. As long as the R word doesn’t get attached, rapists do self-report.”

        To be slightly more specific, people whom I consider friends have not shown themselves to be misogynists and they certainly have not ever confided to me that they committed rape or sexual assault. (whether under such a name or another) Furthermore, I also screen people for honesty. Somebody who habitually lies to me is unlikely to become a close-ish friend.

        In the more general case, we hopefully select friends by looking for people who demonstrate through words and actions that they are “good people”: they respect others, act honestly, etc… So, when I have seen someone always or almost always act “well”, I can objectively make the inference that they tend to act “well” in general and therefore will find it unlikely that they have acted “unwell” on any particular occasion. (Of course, again, such presumptions are rebuttable)

        As for my personal case, women largely outnumber men within my circle of friends which significantly lowers the chance that I have a rapist friend. But that is of course always possible. I am just not likely to take the word of a stranger who is attempting to introduce in my mental model a data point so far off all the other data points I have gathered.

      • May 9, 2013 12:38 pm

        You have a point that if you listen to them, they usually tell you who they are — mitigated somewhat by their ability to gauge their audience. So it may be that you’re paying attention and your friends are a lot less likely to be rapists than the general population. Those are data points. But for a lot of people, that kind of confidence in their estimation of their friends ends up being an absolute barrier to assimilating contradictory information.

  3. May 8, 2013 4:52 pm

    Promethee, I’m going to take a wild guess. You have friends who have been accused of rape?

  4. May 8, 2013 5:01 pm

    After several years, I was forced to removed my blog via a legal “agreement” between the plaintiffs (rapists) and me. Regarding the leader who set me up … he KNEW I would not report being gang raped because he had raped me once prior to that and I did not tell a soul. So this post hits close to home. He was the perfect manipulator and I was the perfect victim.

  5. May 8, 2013 5:07 pm

    Reading my own post sounds like I was quite the slut. But until the first rape, I was a virgin. It’s difficult to comprehend unless you were able to read the blog when it was still up.

    • Jericka permalink
      May 8, 2013 11:04 pm

      “Reading my own post sounds like I was quite the slut. ”
      No. It does not. There is nothing in your post that would make me assume that at all.

      • May 9, 2013 8:02 am

        I’m with you. And just what does it say about how entrenched rape culture is when a rape victim feels that admitting that she was raped on (at least) two different occasions makes her “sound like a slut”?

    • May 9, 2013 8:05 am

      Hi Georgia. I just wanted to say two things in support of you:
      1. Like Jericka, I don’t think your post makes you sound like a slut.
      2. Point #1 is irrelevant. I’m not here to judge your sexual history (and have no business doing so) anyway. What matters to me is that you were raped and that’s not cool. I am very sorry that you had to go through that.


    • May 9, 2013 2:39 pm

      Georgia, you shouldn’t feel like a slut. You shouldn’t feel like a slut because “slut” is not even a thing. The concept of “slut” has no explanatory value. It’s just a specter used to devalue women. Research has shown that it isn’t even based on actual sexual behavior, but typically is attached as a kind of community censure. And also because it would be ridiculous to define someone by the criminal acts of some other person. And also because shaming survivors with labels about their real or imagined life choices is what the rapists want us to do. Their victim selection is all about finding people who are vulnerable, who can’t speak up and be believed.

  6. Will Chapman permalink
    May 9, 2013 1:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Rethinking Me(n) and commented:
    Important commentary on rape culture and the recent news from the Air Force, Cleveland, etc.

  7. May 10, 2013 9:40 am

    Remarkable post! Thank you for putting all of this together. I’m going to share this on our Facebook fanpage, Spread Information. Keep writing! I’ll keep reading 🙂

  8. May 11, 2013 3:45 pm

    You’re right, I think the word Slut should be banned from our vocabularies. I will never use that term again.

    Warm thanks for your support and pep talk — makes me weepy to read your comments.

    • May 13, 2013 1:15 pm

      Technically “slut” means “an untidy female.” Slattern is a synonym. For some reason, though, slut got coated with sexual connotations, and slattern fell into general misuse.

      And a bitch is a female dog. I own one. She’s the sweetest little bitch I’ve ever met! But, goodness, can she make a mess. I guess she’s a slutty bitch.

      I take great comfort, sometimes, in etymology. I can OWN the words, if I so choose.

      And for what it’s worse, I do not read “woman of loose morals” into your comments. And even if you were highly sexually active, I wouldn’t really give a hoot, because you are so wholly unconnected with me and my heart.

      My rule (the official, Miss Manners rule) is that unless you are actually ENGAGED, you are free to court and/or have sex with as many people as you jolly well choose, and no one has the right to be jealous. Envious, perhaps, at your sex life, but not jealous. If you want the right to be jealous of a sexually active person, you have to become engaged or married to that person, thus giving you something of a claim on them. And it has to be OFFICIAL, and it has to involve that other person actually verbally committing, as well. It can’t just be in your head (I want her, and I’m sure someday she’ll see the light and marry me, so I own her, and we are engaged, whether she knows it or not – Ummmm, nope!)

      So, TL:DR – I don’t think you’re a “slut,” and even if you were, I would not care. I care about whether or not you make intelligent comments. Yay, you!

      I’m so sorry for your experiences. Please, find your own “Team You,” and get all the love and support you need. And please accept some Jedi Hugs from me! I wasn’t raped, but I was assaulted, and somehow it got turned around to being MY fault (???? Excuse me for bleeding!), so I empathize, for sure! For six months afterwards, I couldn’t bear to be touched, let alone hugged, except by my own family. So I love Jedi Hugs. They don’t trigger anything for me, but they’re comforting, instead. (((((((Georgia))))))))

      • May 13, 2013 3:54 pm

        (((Michelle))), you are the best. And I love your writing!

  9. May 12, 2013 7:57 pm

    Regarding Disney villains, one of the few good things about Beauty and the Beast (which has a generally awful message about the supposed power of love to change an abusive partner into a gentle and loving one — :-P) is that Gaston actually looked almost like a typical Disney hero, except for the exaggeration of several features associated with high testosterone, such as a large, cleft jaw, prominent brow and cheekbones, and massive muscles. Most of the actual male protagonists in Disney animation tend to have a slightly more androgynous look; that’s particularly true of the Beast’s human form, making a strong contrast with Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity. (BTW, can anyone remember the last time you saw a hero in a Disney animated film with facial hair? Seems like beards are for villains only.) One of the reasons I tend to like Japanese animation better than American — you’ll often see highly attractive villains in anime, although there is still, as in practically all forms of visual entertainment, a decided dearth of good people who are not conventionally attractive.

    • May 13, 2013 1:26 pm

      In a local production of Beauty and the Beast onstage (Plaza Theatre in Cleburne, Texas – it was AWESOME!), the actor playing “Gaston,” had his own fan club. I’m not sure if it was an official fan club, but there were several squeeeing girls in the audience, who were desperate to meet him after the show. They terrified him. Even as he was expressing delight at seeing me there, he was trying to avoid the squeeing fan-girls.

      I knew the actor, and he was sweet as can be, and yes, quite attractive, physically. He also gave the most frightening performance of Gaston I have ever seen! That man can loom like nobody’s business. Yes, he’s hot, and the girls were squeeing, but I was shrinking in my chair, going, “oooooooh, scary!” because his facial expression was beautifully terrifying. He exuded an aura of psycopathy. He did the same thing in another play, where he played the part of a spy. Scaaaary, despite it being a comedy. It’s in the eyes.

      In my opinion, physically beautiful villains are the most terrifying. Their beauty draws you in, and we have been taught by our culture that beauty = goodness, and so we give these beautiful villains our trust. We have also been taught that a bit of “bad,” makes sex even hotter, so a beautiful villain, who allows just a touch of bad to show, is considered downright drool-worthy. Talk about a honey trap. Next thing you know, you are covered in sticky goo, and you don’t realize until it’s too late that the “honey,” isn’t really honey, but is actually highly corrosive acid. And worse, when you cry for help, people don’t think to hose you down. No, they get envious, and say, “Lucky you! You’re absolutely covered in sweet, delicious honey! I wish I were in your sticky shoes.”

  10. May 14, 2013 5:28 pm

    You always write great articles. Keep up the good work!

  11. May 18, 2013 6:48 am

    Reblogged this on Ardentmeld's Blog and commented:
    very well done Thomas, thank you

  12. mysterics permalink
    June 12, 2013 7:49 pm

    I don’t think Mens rights activists are comparable to white rights activists because the problems of sexism are a completely different kettle of fish, in a racist environment certain races get dehumanized and stereotyped while others get all the privileges. Sexism in our society is not like that, it’s almost universally dehumanizing and stereotyping; no-one gets all the privileges.

    • June 13, 2013 11:12 am

      I am approving your comment just so I can reply. People who call other people “lublicated holes” are dehumanizing them. Go read this post, and then reconsider your position.

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