rape

Sexual Assault: Facts and Research

Major content warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault.

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Earlier this week, my daughter got into a conversation with someone who seemed to believe a lot of the myths and misinformation about rape. That it was rare … that rapists are generally caught and jailed … that there’s no real research into the prevalence of rape and sexual assault.

So I’m putting this together as a reference for my daughter, and for anyone else interested in the research and facts about sexual assault. (The emphasis here is on U.S. statistics.)

Prevalence

We don’t know exactly how frequent rape is, in part because it’s one of the most underreported crimes. A U.S. Bureau of Justice study from 2002 found that only “36% of rapes, 34% of attempted rapes, and 26% of sexual assaults were reported to police.” A 2016 study from the Medical University of South Carolina National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center found that “Only 16 percent of all rapes were reported to law enforcement.

So take, for example, the 2017 FBI report that found:

  • There were an estimated 135,755 rapes (revised definition) reported to law enforcement in 2017.

That’s about 0.04% of the population. Based on what we know of underreporting, we recognize that the true number was significantly higher. But even using these numbers, remember this is for a single year. If we take an 80-year lifespan, you end up with 3.3% of the population. And that’s just the reported numbers.

In 2010, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. This was a nationwide survey of randomly-selected subjects. Results are based on 16,507 completed and 1,542 partially completed interviews.

Some of their results:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States has been raped in her lifetime (18.3%).
  • Approximately 1 in 71 men in the United States (1.4%) reported having been raped in his lifetime, which translates to almost 1.6 million men.
  • Nearly 1 in 2 women (44.6%) and 1 in 5 men (22.2%) experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.

A 2000 U.S. Department of Justice study focused on The Sexual Victimization of College Women. From a national sample of 4,446 women, they concluded:

  • Nearly five percent (4.9%) of college women are victimized in any given calendar year.

This study also highlighted another problem with collecting and reporting statistics about rape. Namely, that many people are unclear on the definition of rape. The study notes:

In each incident report, respondents were asked, “Do you consider this incident to be a rape?” For the 86 incidents categorized as a completed rape, 46.5 percent (n=40) of the women answered “yes,” 48.8 percent (n=42) answered “no,” and 4.7 percent (n=4) answered “don’t know.”

The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, prepared for the National institute of Justice, found that:

  • 26.1% of college senior women reported experiencing attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.
  • 3.7% of college men reported being victims of completed sexual assault since entering college.

False Reports

Ever since I started working with rape survivors and talking about the research, people — mostly men — have been asking, “But what about all of the false reports?” It feels like that particular response has gotten more common in recent years, and it’s frustrating as hell.

To be clear, false reports of rape and sexual assault can and do happen. But the research shows such cases to be rare.

Let’s start with False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault, published in 2009, which includes an extensive literature review that finds:

  • When more methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.

They conclude, “this realistic and evidence-based estimate of 2-8% thus suggests that the American public dramatically overestimates the percentage of sexual assault reports that are false.”

Going back a bit farther, a 1996 FBI report found that “Eight percent of forcible rape complaints in 1996 were ‘unfounded’.” But this includes complaints found to be “false or baseless,” and therein lies a problem. What qualifies as an unfounded report? Many reported rapes aren’t prosecuted because prosecutors don’t feel there’s sufficient evidence. “Baseless” and “false” aren’t the same thing.

In 2017, Sandra Newman gathered additional research on false accusations and found, among other things:

  • False rape accusations almost never have serious consequences.
  • In the most detailed study ever conducted of sexual assault reports to police, undertaken for the British Home Office in the early 2000s, out of 216 complaints that were classified as false, only 126 had even gotten to the stage where the accuser lodged a formal complaint. Only 39 complainants named a suspect. Only six cases led to an arrest, and only two led to charges being brought before they were ultimately deemed false.

Who Are All These Rapists?

There’s a common myth that rapists are creepy strangers lurking in bushes, and while this does happen, rapists are far more likely to be someone the victim knows.

Research finds some patterns among rapists. “These men begin early, studies find. They may associate with others who also commit sexual violence. They usually deny that they have raped women even as they admit to nonconsensual sex.”

Cross-campus studies of rape identify the following factors as contributors to sexual violence: sex-role socialization, rape myths, lack of sanctions for abuse, male peer group support, pornography, adversarial sexual beliefs, lack of empathy, and all-male membership groups such as fraternities and sports teams.”

Why Aren’t All the Rapists in Jail?

Another myth is that, since rape is a crime, shouldn’t rapists all end up in jail?

I 100% support jail time for rapists, but the reality is, our legal system does a poor job of prosecuting, convicting, and sentencing rapists.

There are a number of reasons for this. Take, for example, the nationwide problem of rape kits (evidence collected from a rape victim) being left to gather dust on shelves.

While things are starting to change here, and there’s more attention and push to process the backlog of rape kits, it’s obvious these cases weren’t a priority for many police departments.

Even when a victim reports a rape, the perpetrator is less likely to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted when compared to other crimes.

If a rapist is convicted, they often receive a lenient sentence. One notorious example is that of convicted rapist Brock Turner, who was “convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in county jail, three years probation and a requirement that he register as a sex offender.” Why only six months? In part, because the judge said a longer sentence “would have ‘a severe impact’ and ‘adverse collateral consequences’ on Turner.”

That’s far from the only example.

Given how often rapists receive these slap-on-the-wrist sentences, is it any wonder rape is so underreported? And that’s before you get into other reasons for not reporting, like one study that found 1 in 5 rape victims who didn’t report said it was because of a fear of reprisal. Or shame, denial, minimization, fear, or lack of information. Or victim-blaming. Or because when they do tell someone, they’re not believed.

Resources

Why I’m Not at Arisia Anymore: My Rapist is President. Again. (Post by Crystal Huff)

Updates:

10/25 -Arisia Guests of Honor Daniel José Older and Malka Older will not be attending as things stand.

10/26 – Arisia posted the following on Twitter:

“Regarding a recent influx of comments, the Arisia Executive Board takes our Incident Response process and the safety and concerns of our community very seriously. We will follow up with a statement by the end of the weekend.”

10/26 – Nalo Hopkinson has turned down Arisia’s invitation to be their 2020 Guest of Honor.

10/26 – Arisia Artist GoH Elizabeth Leggett announced on Facebook that she’s waiting until Monday to see how the convention handles things, at which point she will decide whether or not to attend.

10/26 – I’m seeing reports that Noel Rosenberg has resigned. (Confirmed)

10/26 – Statement from the Arisia Executive Board:

“Effective immediately, Noel Rosenberg is no longer President of Arisia, Inc. On October 26th, at an emergency meeting of the other members of the Arisia Executive Board, the first step we took was to ask Noel to resign as President of Arisia Corporate and we have accepted that resignation. The Arisia 2019 Conchair has informed the Eboard that Noel is no longer the Operations Division Head, and will not be placed in any other staff positions.

“Yesterday we issued a short statement that ‘the Arisia Executive Board takes our Incident Response process and the safety and concerns of our community very seriously.’ We mean that, but we acknowledge that we failed severely in this case…”

10/26 – Rose Fox discussed an Arisia staff member using his position to harass others in 2011, and Arisia’s failure to respond satisfactorily.

“This one set of incidents–not just Morgon’s behavior but the complete lack of backup from [the head of security at the time] and the general chain-of-command fumbling that led to Morgon keeping his badge and ribbon well after he was known to be violating Arisia’s code of conduct–was the immediate cause of Arisia losing two dedicated, hardworking volunteers who might otherwise have contributed a great many more hours to the convention, and of Arisia’s community losing two people who had previously been very involved in the convention’s social aspects.”

10/27 – Maura Taylor posted another account of Arisia mishandling a reported rape.

10/28 – Per the Arisia Eboard, Noel Rosenberg has been permanently banned from Arisia. (Though there are ways this ban could be overturned.)

10/29 – Statement from 2019 Arisia con chair Daniel Eareckson.

“I have taken too long to make this public statement; I apologize for that. Between now and the convention, I intend to frequently put out messages like this one indicating what we are doing to make Arisia a safer place…”

10/30 – Statement from an Arisia safety staff volunteer.

“What I can tell you is this: There was an investigation about the allegations against Noel, but it was taken so lightly, and without seriousness, they didn’t even bother to tell the person running con safety, someone who worked closely with him, anything about it. I believe Crystal Huff. And I feel utterly betrayed by so many people I thought I could trust.”

10/30 – Another statement from the Arisia Eboard.

“At this time I, Gregorian Hawke, have accepted the resignation of the the following Eboard members (those who stood for re-election in September). Anna Bradley – Vice-President, Rick Kovalcik – Clerk, Benjamin Levy – Treasurer, and Sharon Sbarsky – Member-at-Large. Anna Bradley has resigned effective immediately. Rick Kovalcik, Benjamin Levy, and Sharon Sbarsky have resigned effective upon the election of a replacement (per Bylaws 3.12) at the November 11th meeting when elections will be held.”

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I’ve known Crystal Huff for years. She’s active in fandom, and was one of the people helping to promote the 2017 Helsinki Worldcon bid. She’s chaired or co-chaired at least half a dozen conventions. She’s been one of the moderators of the Journeyplatypii of Fandom conrunners group. She’s the Executive Director of Include Better and the former Executive Director of The Ada Initiative.

She’s also a rape survivor. Like many survivors, her rapist wasn’t a stranger hiding in the bushes, but a man she knew and trusted.

A few things to keep in mind:

Conventions have gotten better in recent years about establishing policies on abuse and harassment. When it comes to following and enforcing those policies, the record is spottier. I know of some instances where conventions have done an amazing job of following through and working to promote the safety of their attendees.

Crystal’s experience, when she reported this to Arisia, was … well, it sounds like she’s correct when she says she doesn’t think Arisia was prepared to deal with this situation. It’s one thing to create a policy. It gets messier when the accusation is against someone you know. Possibly a friend. Possibly an officer in your organization.

That doesn’t change the organization’s obligation to follow through and protect its attendees.

One objection Crystal encountered was that people didn’t want to have to choose between her and her attacker. And sure, that can be a lousy position to be in. But let’s be clear about who’s responsible for putting people in that position. Hint: the one creating this “awkward” situation for everyone is the guy who committed the assault in the first place, not the person who reported it.

This is a long post, but an important one. We have a lot more work to do to make fandom a better, safer place. I hope Crystal’s post, which I’m sharing at her request, can be another step in that process.

Trolling, harassing, and victim-blaming comments will be deleted, and the commenters tossed into the moderation queue.

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Content warnings: rape, trauma, sexism, gaslighting, harassment, intimidation, stalking, and general asshattery of a group of people in general and one rapist in particular.

This is really long, and I am sorry, but it is mostly depressing.

I know why my rapist wins.

TL;DR: After a few years of intimidation and stalking behavior that drove me more and more from the Arisia community, my rapist, Noel Marc Rosenberg, was appointed as the Operations Division Head of Arisia 2017. I’d objected to his positions of authority in Arisia before, privately, to leadership, but I strenuously objected at that point, and did not attend the convention. That appointment made Rosenberg the person responsible for oversight of the safety team of the convention. In September of 2017, he was also elected as president of the umbrella corporation of Arisia. The president of Arisia presides over the executive board, which is apparently the entity to which safety concerns and incident reports are referred if they are too complex to address during the convention itself.

This year, on September 23, 2018, Rosenberg was re-elected as president of the organization. The election was held less than two hours after the executive board notified me that they would not be addressing my safety concerns regarding him.

The Arisia Code of Conduct states:

“…all Staff are representatives of Arisia and therefore are held to a higher standard of behavior, even when off duty.

“…Arisia forbids abusive, insulting, harassing, and / or intimidating behavior which includes, but is not limited to, stalking, physical or verbal intimidation, discriminatory comments, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

“Please report any incidents in which a member of the convention is abusive, insulting, intimidating, bothersome, or acting in an unsafe or illegal manner to Incident Response Team (IRT), an Assistant Div Head, a Division Head, an Assistant Con Chair, or the Con Chair.”

It’s impossible to start at the beginning, or even know where the beginning of this story should be.

Arisia was the first science fiction event I attended, my first year in college. It was the first convention for which I volunteered on staff. After working on the convention for several years, it was the first one I chaired, in 2011. I served on the executive board several times. I used to regard Arisia as my “home convention,” and I was proud of the things I did to make it happen. I regarded the progress on the con’s inclusion and diversity efforts in recent years as having roots in things I did years ago, in ways great and small, and I was thrilled to see accessibility and safer spaces and diversity of program participants expand beyond those efforts. I was, to be honest, chuffed that Arisia was considered a feminist convention by other convention-runners. My online handle, for many years, was “ArisiaCrystal.”

You can therefore perhaps imagine how awful and gutting it was for me when members of Arisia leadership, over the past few years, told me that there was nothing to be done about the fact that my rapist was also on staff, in positions of authority, and has in recent years involved himself with the safety processes of the convention. Over the past few years, these developments have edged me out of the Arisia community. I didn’t feel safe attending Arisia in 2017 or 2018, given Rosenberg’s position and authority over the safety team.

This post is because I think he’s finally won. I can no longer imagine attending Arisia.

I share some of my thoughts here in the hopes it is useful for other organizations in the future. It’s my hope that talking about this in public might help address the underlying problems. If nothing else, as my friend Nóirín Plunkett once urged me, I’m going to refuse to participate further in my own gaslighting.

So. Here is a list of some of the reasons why my rapist has won.

These factors all tie in together, but this only happened because Arisia, as an organization and as a community, decided that this was all okay.

More

On Rape Jokes and Normalizing Assault

A few people have commented on this part of yesterday’s blog post about sexual assault and excuses:

And then you have the guys who say they’ve never heard such things. Really? Never? As common as sexual assault is in this country, you’ve never heard anyone boasting about a problematic encounter? Never heard anyone glorifying assault, talking about what they could do, what they could get away with? Never heard the jokes about getting women drunk in order to get them into bed rape them?

I have no problem accepting that most people aren’t as blunt, vulgar, and obvious about such remarks as Trump was in that video clip. And I’m obviously not in any position to point out examples in people’s real lives. So instead, I figured I’d list some examples of this kind of boasting, glorification, and normalization from shows most of us are probably familiar with.

Let’s start with Avengers: Age of Ultron, wherein Tony Stark jokes, “I will be reinstituting prima nocta.” For those unfamiliar, prima nocta is the historical right of a lord to have sex with rape any woman he chooses on her wedding night. But it’s not like Tony’s actually boasting about sexually assaulting women, right? It’s just a gross, sexist joke, isn’t it?

So how about the Big Bang Theory, where we see this “hilarious” scene of Howard using a remote control car with a video camera to look up Penny’s skirt. (This is one of many, many problematic examples from that particular show.)

Going back a little further to Friends, there’s an episode where Joey realizes his tailor has been sexually abusing him for years. Laugh track is included to make sure you know how hilarious this is. (There are plenty of other messed-up bits in this show as well, including the “Taking care of a drunk naked woman sounds like a job for Joey” line, followed by Joey starting off to do just that, only to be stopped by Chandler.)

The Harry Potter films never question the fact that Fred and George are selling what are, in essence, a magical date rape drug. When Ron is drugged by a love potion, it’s once again played for laughs, and never challenged or confronted.

How I Met Your Mother had Barney struggling with a Very Serious Problem: “How Can I Have Sex With Robin Again?” His solution? To get her drunk at Ted’s wedding. (This is one of many shows where, if you’ve watched it, then yes, you have heard the jokes about getting people drunk in order to get past their unwillingness to have sex rape them.)

None of these are as blunt and vulgar as Trump’s quote. All of them normalize and minimize sexual harassment and/or assault. They suggest it’s normal for guys to not worry about pesky things like consent. They teach that the proper response to being sexually harassed is laughter and maybe mild, quickly-forgotten annoyance.

I can’t say what people see and hear — or don’t — in their day to day interactions with other people. Some of us are less social and outgoing than others, and hopefully we’ve mostly tried to surround ourselves with decent human beings. But as common and prevalent as this stuff is in our media and our culture, it’s hard for me to imagine never hearing any of it in real life.

Rape Statistics

Earlier this week, I referenced a CDC study on rape statistics as part of my post about tiresome mansplainers and harassment. It was pointed out that this particular study was potentially problematic in the narrow way it defined the rape of men. Fair enough — and I agree that from my reading and experience, the actual number of male rape survivors is significantly higher than the CDC found in their study.

So let’s bring in some additional data. Looking through these statistics, please keep in mind that no single study is perfect. Also remember that rape tends to be underreported, due to a combination of factors including shame, fear, lack of support from friends & family, aggressive victim-blaming from law enforcement and the judicial system, confusion over rape myths and the definition of rape, and more.

  • “9 of every 10 rape victims in 2003 were female.” (Source)
  • A U.S. Department of Justice study in 2005 estimated 15,130 male victims of rape/sexual assault, and 176,540 female victims. (Source)
  • “The first and most inclusive set of measures we present are the number and percentage of undergraduate women who reported being a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault of any type before entering college (15.9% ) and since entering college (19.0%).” (Source – study did not examine male victims of rape)
  • “1 in 6 women (17 percent) and 1 in 33 men (3 percent) reported experiencing an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives.” (Source)
  • “In 1994 victims reported about 1 rape/sexual assault victimization of a female victim for every 270 females in the general population; for males, the rate was substantially lower, with about 1 rape/sexual assault of a male victim for every 5,000 male residents age 12 or older. Overall, an estimated 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault were female. Nearly 99% of the offenders they described in single-victim incidents were male.” (Source)
  • Another U. S. Department of Justice study found that 95.4% of single-offender rapes/sexual assaults were committed by men. (2.9% were committed by women, and in 1.8% of cases, the gender of the rapist was unknown.) When multiple offenders were involved, then the offenders were all male in 89.6% of cases. (Source)
  • “In a single year, more than 300,000 women and almost 93,000 men are estimated to have been raped [in the U.S.]” (Source)
  • “[E]stimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.” (Source)
  • The U.S. Department of Justice has consistently found that only about 1 in 4 rapes are committed by strangers. (Source)

I could go on all day, but I’ve got a doctor appointment to get to. My takeaway from everything I’ve read over the years, as well as my personal experiences and interactions, is that:

  1. No single study is perfect.
  2. Rape is too damn common.
  3. Women are far more likely to be raped/sexually assaulted than men.
  4. Men are also raped and sexually assaulted. This is a real and valid problem too, and male victims are just as deserving of support.
  5. Men are far more likely to commit rape/sexual assault than women.
  6. Most rapes/sexual assaults are committed by friends, romantic partners, or family members, not strangers.

And of course, no matter how many studies you cite, no matter how many people share their stories and experiences, there will always be people — often but not exclusively guys, in my experience — who get extremely defensive and refuse to believe it.

Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley

My very first rejection letter was from Marion Zimmer Bradley. It was both harsh and helpful. So I was thrilled when, years later, I made one of my first professional sales to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. I was even happier when I sold a story to her anthology Sword & Sorceress XXI.

I’m proud of those stories. I believe the Sword & Sorceress series was important, and I’m grateful to Bradley for creating it. I believe her magazine helped a lot of new writers, and her books helped countless readers. All of which makes the revelations about Marion Zimmer Bradley protecting a known child rapist and molesting her own daughter and others even more tragic.

Here are some of the relevant links.

  • Marion Zimmer Bradley’s testimony in defense of her husband, Walter Breen, a convicted pedophile.
  • A blog post from Deirdre Saoirse Moen, in which Moira Greyland, daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, states that Bradley molested her starting when she was three years old and continuing until Greyland was twelve and able to walk away. Greyland also describes Breen as “a serial rapist with many, many victims,” but says Marion “was far, far worse.”
  • The “Breendoggle” Wiki. Much of fandom seemed to know about the allegations against Breen. The documentation includes eyewitness accounts of Breen molesting children and discussion that even if Breen was indeed an active pedophile, that doesn’t mean he should be expelled from fandom.
  • Silence is Complicity. Natalie Luhrs talks about Breen, MZB, and the damage done by prioritizing silence over safety, complicity over acting to protect the vulnerable members of our community.
  • On Doing a Thing I Needed to Do. Janni Lee Simner talks about having written for some of MZB’s projects, and her choice to donate her income from those sales to RAINN.

There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author.

I disagree.

To begin with, while Bradley and Breen are both gone from this world, their victims survive. The damage they inflicted lives on. Are you going to tell victims of rape/abuse that nobody’s allowed to acknowledge what was done to them? That the need to protect the reputation of the dead is more important than allowing victims their voice? To hell with that.

Second, as Luhrs and others have pointed out, many of the same behaviors that allowed this abuse to continue for so long are still present in fandom and elsewhere today. We excuse sexual harassment as social awkwardness. We ignore ongoing harassment and assault for years or decades because someone happens to be a big name author or editor. Half of fandom shirks from the mere thought of excluding known predators, because for some, sexual harassment and assault are lesser crimes than shunning a predator from a convention.

I’m not going to say that people should or shouldn’t throw all of MZB’s books away. There are authors whose careers might not have happened without MZB’s help, and our genre is better for many of them. But it’s also important to acknowledge that predators exist. They may be in positions of power and influence. Sometimes, they’re people who have done good work for a community. They often have very smooth, well-practiced tactics for defending or excusing their actions.

When we ignore ongoing harassment and abuse, when we belittle efforts to create harassment policies, when we respond to people speaking out about their own abuse and harassment by accusing them of starting “lynch mobs” and “witch hunts,” we’re teaching predators that fandom is a safe hunting ground. We’re teaching them that they will be protected, and their victims will be sacrificed so we can cling to an illusion of inclusiveness.

We need to work on teaching a different lesson.

LC on Rape and Self Defense

ETA: Conversation seems to be going nowhere, with people repeating the same points, desperately trying to get the last word, or just insulting people they disagree with. I don’t see much in the way of productive comments/discussion at this point, so I’m turning off the comments. There may be a follow-up post if I have time, or there may not. Depends on deadlines…

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So apparently Miss Nevada said something about the importance of awareness and self-defense for women, some people responded with varying degrees of anger on Twitter, and Larry Correia chose to respond with a blog post called “The Naive Idiocy of Teaching Rapists Not To Rape.”

I’m not gonna waste a lot of time here, and I’ll preface this by noting that as someone who studies and teaches self-defense, I have nothing against people learning to protect themselves.

  1. Self-defense isn’t and can’t be the only answer. If it is, we’re basically telling everyone who isn’t physically or emotionally capable of fighting off every attacker, no matter how much power that attacker might have over them, that they’re on their own. Sucks to be them, eh?
  2. How many self-defense courses teach that you’re vastly more likely to be raped by a friend, acquaintance, or loved one? How many courses actually prepare you to use the kind of force you need to use against someone you like or love?
  3. To LC’s claim that rape culture is a myth and we’re just dealing with individual, isolated criminals, and that all of those studies have been debunked (in which he omitted any links or citations to the alleged debunking … strange, considering how grumpy he is about people supposedly “ignoring reality”):
  4. Finally, on the “naive idiocy” of teaching men not to rape, I’m gonna just quote from an old blog post:

Correia is right that there are a lot of different kinds of predators out there. When it comes to sexual assault, the majority of them are men, and they’re far more likely to be someone the victim knows. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, yet for as long as I’ve been working with rape survivors and speaking out about rape, there have been countless people insisting that the Only True Solution is to turn all women into gun-toting ninjas.

I don’t understand the fear some people — again, this seems to be primarily men — have when it comes to looking at other solutions. Instead of reading the research, they just proclaim that education will never work, because reasons. They ignore the pervasiveness of rape myths, the myriad approaches to things like bystander intervention, the utterly broken way our legal system treats rape, and all of the other factors that contribute to the prevalence of rape in our society.

There’s nothing new in LC’s rant. It’s the same attitude we’ve seen for ages, an attitude that conveniently puts the burden on victims to end rape, oversimplifies the problem, and allows the rest of us to look away and pretend there isn’t a real or widespread problem here, despite countless studies showing otherwise.

Some of you are aware of the current conversation in SF/F fandom about several Big Names who sexually assaulted hundreds of children, and how fandom stood by and let it happen, despite there being multiple eyewitnesses to these assaults. Call me a naive idiot, but I wonder how many children would have escaped those assaults if others in fandom had intervened or reported them or enforced any kind of consequences, anything to teach the perpetrators that this kind of behavior was unacceptable.

I wonder how many victims we’re continuing to turn our back on today because we assume there’s no point in doing anything to intervene.

RAINN on Rape Culture

Will Shetterly wrote a blog post asking if I had addressed “RAINN’s refutation of ‘rape culture’” yet. I’m writing this less to respond to Shetterly and more because I think there’s some good conversation to be had around RAINN’s recommendations. But I should warn folks that by invoking his name and linking to his blog post, I’m basically guaranteeing that Mr. Shetterly will show up in the comments. To Will and anyone else, please remember that trolling, refusing to respect boundaries, and general dickishness will get you booted.

The Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) released 16 pages of recommendations to the federal government. In his blog post, Will chooses to quote a TIME Magazine article by Caroline Kitchens about “Rape Culture Hysteria” that references a few select paragraphs from RAINN’s recommendations. Kitchens claims that by blaming rape culture, we “implicate all men in a social atrocity, trivialize the experiences of survivors, and deflect blame from the rapists truly responsible for sexual violence.” She talks about the “thought police of the feminist blogosphere,” and how the concept of rape culture poisons the minds of young women and creates a hostile world for young men.

I’m glad to know Mr. Shetterly is looking for good, objective reporting to validate his crusade against those he dubs “social justice warriors.”

Let’s look at the primary source and talk about what RAINN’s recommendations actually said, shall we?

The paper opens with a discussion of how rape is alarmingly underreported on college campuses. Rape culture is mentioned on page two:

“In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming ‘rape culture’ for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”

I absolutely agree that it’s important to hold rapists accountable for their choice to rape. I’ve been saying and emphasizing and teaching that for decades. I think it’s absurd to claim an individual has no responsibility for their crime … but it’s equally absurd to claim that crime occurs in a cultural vacuum, or that these two ideas are mutually exclusive.

Most of the time, when I see rapists being excused with little more than a wrist-slapping for “cultural” reasons, it’s judges and police blaming victims, or the old “boys will be boys” attitude that minimizes the severity of the crime and the responsibility of the rapist. Which is exactly what so many conversations about rape culture try to point out.

RAINN says it’s important to remember that the rapist is responsible for the choice to commit rape. I agree. They do not say that the concept of rape culture is invalid, only that it shouldn’t overshadow the need to hold individuals responsible for their crimes.

RAINN recommends a three-tiered approach to reducing rape on college campuses:

  1. Bystander intervention education: empowering community members to act in response to acts of sexual violence.
  2. Risk-reduction messaging: empowering members of the community to take steps to increase their personal safety.
  3. General education to promote understanding of the law, particularly as it relates to the ability to consent.

Bystander intervention includes educating people about what rape is, helping them see beyond rape myths and victim-blaming narratives, sharing the research that explains how the majority of rapes are committed not by strangers, but by people the victim knows, and so on. (Strangely enough, a lot of the points I made in a blog post about rape culture a few years back.)

RAINN acknowledges the difficulty in separating risk-reduction from victim-blaming. Personally, I have very little problem with a risk-reduction approach. I do have a problem when that’s the only approach, which seems to happen all too often. When people focus solely on what women/victims can and must do to reduce rape, then we put the responsibility on them. If your only idea about reducing rape is to tell women what to do differently, you’re the one who doesn’t understand that rapists are responsible for their decision to rape.

I’ve been pushing for education for ages, including education about the laws. And for improvement in those laws, based in part on a better understanding and definition of consent. Unfortunately, a lot of people have a very poor understanding of consent. We encourage things like getting prospective sexual partners drunk, pursuing reluctant or uninterested partners, and the myth that you should just magically know what your partner wants. (It’s almost like we have an entire culture that doesn’t really get how consent works.)

On the legal side of things, RAINN stresses that college advisory boards aren’t in a position to be deciding rape cases. I agree. I worked as part of a student justice program at Michigan State University. Rape cases went to the police. We tended to work with things more on the level of catcalling from the street, trying to intervene with behaviors and attitudes before they escalated to more serious crimes. The goal was early intervention and prevention.

But there’s also a culture (oh look, there’s that word again) of secrecy around sexual assault and abuse, and I certainly understand that many institutions do try to bury rape reports and pretend it’s not a problem for them. Steubenville is a good, well-known example.

The report then goes on to talk about:

  • The need for more education for everyone about rape
  • The need for the legal system to respond more seriously to rape cases
  • The need to provide support services to victims
  • The need for more research

In RAINN’s 16-page report, we find a single mention of “rape culture,” which is part of a paragraph stating that rape culture shouldn’t be used as a way to remove responsibility from the rapist. Sorry, Will. I see no “refutation of rape culture” here, just a call for a balanced approach, one which I generally support and agree with.

I get that Mr. Shetterly is mostly just interested in scoring points against those he deems “social justice warriors.” My advice to him would be that if your knowledge and understanding of rape is such that you believe “saying no usually works” to prevent it, maybe you should try talking listening to rape survivors and learning more about the topic before you try to have this kind of conversation.

What is Rape Culture?

Last night, I posted the following on Facebook and Tumblr:

It’s not that Ken Hoinsky ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund his book, “A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women,” filled with advice for aspiring rapists, like “Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant.”

It’s that 732 people backed his project on Kickstarter. That they donated more than eight times what Hoinsky was asking for.

Think about that the next time someone belittles the idea of rape culture.

This led to a side discussion about what “rape culture” meant. The suggestion came up that the phrase is a dog whistle that prevents honest discussion and implies all men are rapists and rape-enablers.

Okay, given the seven billion people in this world, I’m sure you can find one who believes all men are rapists, but that isn’t what that phrase has meant in any conversation I can remember having. (It is what I’ve seen some “Men’s Rights” advocates try to claim it means, because it gives them a way to derail discussion.)

I use “rape culture” to describe a society in which sexual violence is common, underreported, and underprosecuted, where rape victims are blamed or even prosecuted for trying to report the crime. A society that turns its back on rape survivors, or blames them for wearing the wrong clothes, drinking the wrong things, sending the wrong signals, putting themselves in the wrong situation, and so on. A society that treats women as objects and encourages men to be sexually aggressive, to see sex as a game to be won.

Does this mean all men believe women who are raped deserve it? That’s as silly as saying “The U.S. has a strong gun culture” = “All Americans are gun owners” or “Tumblr is full of fandom culture” = “All Tumblr posts are about fandom.”

Okay, fine, the argument goes. But that doesn’t prove this so-called “rape culture” actually exists. You worked as a rape counselor and spend a lot of time talking about this. Doesn’t that give you a distorted, overblown sense of the problem?

My sense has always been that my experience has helped open my eyes to a problem most people tend to ignore or minimize. That experience has included a fair amount of time reading research and articles about rape in our world.

Prevalence:

Back in 1995, the AMA described rape as the most underreported crime in America. It’s difficult to get exact numbers, but here’s some of the research and statistics discussing just how common rape really is.

Men as Perpetrators:

It’s true that not all rapists are men, nor are all victims women. However, the vast majority of rapists are indeed male, and women are raped at a significantly greater rate than men. Looking specifically at men as rapists…

  • A study from 1981, which is admittedly out of date, found that 35% of college men said they would commit rape under certain circumstances if they thought they could get away with it.
  • A 1991 study found that 56% of high school girls and 76% of the boys “believed forced sex was acceptable under some circumstances.” (White, Jacqueline W. and John A. Humphrey)
  • In this article from 2010, psychologist David Lisak found that 1 in 16 men admitted to committing rape, though few men labelled it as such.
  • Another article by Lisak and Miller looked at the research and found that between 6% and 14.9% of men admitted to committing rape.

How Our Culture Facilitates Rape:

Once again, these are just a handful of examples that illustrate our culture’s attitudes toward rape and rape victims, and the impact of those attitudes.

  • In a 2002 study of athletes, Sawyer found that “both male and female respondents, though predominately males, felt that about half of all reported rapes were invented by women. In other words, it was believed that women lied about being raped 50% of the time.” (Source)
  • Most rapes are not reported to the police. (Source) Reasons for not reporting include:
    • Shame/embarrassment
    • Fear of reprisal
    • Fear of police bias
  • A review of 37 studies found that “men displayed a significantly higher endorsement of rape myth acceptance (RMA) than women. RMA was also strongly associated with hostile attitudes and behaviors toward women.” (Source)
  • Men who have peer support for behaving in an emotionally violent manner toward women and for being physically and sexually violent toward women are 10 times more likely to commit sexual aggression toward women. (Source)

You also see these things, if you look, in our daily lives. In reporting that sympathizes with the rapists or emphasizes the victim’s looks, in rape prevention efforts that put the responsibility for stopping rape on women, in the way we conflate rape and sex, in jokes that minimize or belittle rape, in the way we expect rape to be a normal part of our fiction, in stories of police hostility to rape victims, in legal battles where the popular defense is victim-blaming, and so much more.

When I use the phrase rape culture, I’m not saying, “Hey buddy, did you know that you are personally an evil rapist and responsible for all the rape?” I’m saying we have a culture in which rape is widespread, and the reasons are many and multilayered.

When women talk about men as potential rapists, they’re not saying all men are animals who will commit rape at the slightest opportunity; they’re pointing out that because rape is so widespread, and because the perpetrators are so often “normal-looking” men, frequently friends and family, it creates an atmosphere of distrust and fear. Heck, doesn’t the fact that we focus prevention efforts almost exclusively on women essentially require women to treat all men as potential rapists?

And when men respond to these conversations by trying to reframe them as a personal attack or accusation, it takes the focus off of the problem of rape and derails the conversation.

How Old Should My Child Be Before I Start Teaching Him/Her About Rape?

I’ve seen variations of this question come up in the wake of Steubenville. I’ve said several times lately that it’s important to educate boys and men about rape, because we do a piss-poor job of it. We do teach girls and women, but we present a very slanted, one-sided, and often harmful picture of what rape is and who’s responsible. We need to do better.

So how old should your child be for you to start teaching them about rape?

I don’t understand the question. How old should they be before you start teaching them language? Before you teach them about love and respect?

How long should I wait to start teaching my son that women are people?

I haven’t sat down with my eight-year-old son to discuss the horrifying details of what Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond did to their victim and why it was wrong, nor have we talked about the witnesses and everyone who tried to ignore or cover up the crime.

On the other hand, my son struggles with awareness of personal space. For years, we’ve been working to teach him that he can’t touch other people without their permission. That lesson can begin as soon as they’re old enough to comprehend it.

I’ve tried to teach both of my children that they have the right to control their own bodies. As my daughter approaches her teenage years, she doesn’t always want hugs from me, and that stings. But I’ve tried not to push the issue. I want both of my children to understand that not even their parents have the right to hug or kiss them without their consent.

How old does my son need to be to learn about bullying, and that when he sees someone being hurt, he can go and get help?

How old do kids need to be to learn that the word “No” means no, and that whining and wheedling and arguing with Mom and Dad isn’t a good way to get what you want?

There are twisted people out there who will molest children of all ages. How long should we wait before teaching our kids that they can say no, that it’s not okay for anyone to do this to them, and they should tell us if something happens? That if they see a grown-up or another kid doing something that seems wrong, they should tell.

How long should I wait to start modeling a loving, respectful relationship with my partner?

I think a lot of us underestimate how much our kids pick up. I certainly wasn’t expecting my son to ask about sex as early as he did, but I did my best to answer honestly. (I’ll admit to being both entertained and pleased when he made a face and said, “Gross!”) I suspect there are an awful lot of conversations that, if we wait until we’re comfortable and think our kids are ready, we’ll have missed the boat.

Rape is one of the most common violent crimes out there. It comes up in the news and in movies and TV and video games and books… There are countless opportunities to start that conversation with your children. To find out what they understand and what they’re confused about. To clarify misunderstandings and provide facts to dispel the various myths.

In my opinion, it’s never too early to start teaching your child about rape. It’s a conversation that will evolve over time as their understanding develops and their social life becomes more complex and confusing, but it’s a conversation that needs to begin early, and to continue. It’s a conversation we have to have with our sons, not just with our daughters. It’s a conversation both parents should be involved with, when possible.

It’s not a conversation most of us particularly want to have. But we’re parents. This is our job.

Related links (standard warning about not reading the comments applies here):

Jim C. Hines