rape

Rape in the Media

I’m talking about sexual assault and the coverage of rape in the media.  Both the description of rape and the victim-blaming in the reporting are likely to be anger-inducing and/or triggering for some readers.

Shadesong pointed out two very different news stories about CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was separated from her crew and repeatedly raped during the protests in Egypt. The difference between the CBS News report and the LA Weekly report is obvious from the images chosen for each story.

For CBS, Logan was one of their own.  Not a sexual object but a human being, a colleague.  They present the facts in a concise article.  Logan was reporting on the celebration in Tahrir Square.  She was separated from her crew.  She was raped and beaten before being rescued by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.  The story concludes with, “There will be no further comment from CBS News and correspondent Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time.”

Contrast this with Simone Wilson’s “report” in LA Weekly. “South African TV journalist Lara Logan, known for her shocking good looks and ballsy knack for pushing her way to the heart of the action, was brutally and repeatedly raped…”

Wilson emphasises Logan’s appearance, calling her “the gutsy stunner” or referring to “her Hollywood good looks,” while at the same time sensationalizing/sexualizing the rape with phrasing like, “…Egyptian protesters apparently consummated their newfound independence by sexually assaulting the blonde reporter.”  (Emphasis added.)

Of course, it was really Logan’s fault, because she should have known better, right?  Wilson brings up an Esquire interview in which Logan was called “insane” for wanting to return to Egypt.  (Um … she’s a reporter.  This is her job.  Would a male reporter be similarly criticized for choosing to report in Egypt?)

No report of rape would be complete without an attack on the victim’s sex life.  The longest quote in Wilson’s article is reserved, not for anything to do with rape, but for an excerpt from a New York Post article from 2008 about Logan’s sexual history in which she’s called a “sultry” “home-wrecker,” a lurid piece which sounds more like the setup for an erotic romance than actual reporting.

The pathetic thing is how normal this is.  This is how rapes are reported in this country.  Sensationalized and sexualized, deliberately playing into readers’ rape fantasies.  (Why else would Wilson include the following quote from Mofo Politics: “OMG if I were her captors and there were no sanctions for doing so? I would totally rape her.”)

This is the story we tell, again and again — that rape is about sexually attractive women getting what they deserve, for being sluts or for being unavailable or for just being where women don’t belong.  This is how we treat survivors of rape, blaming them and sexualizing/fetishizing what they’ve been through.  This is how we encourage rapists, fantasizing and justifying the act of rape.

The next time someone asks what “rape culture” means, tell them to go read LA Weekly.

#

ETA: For those wondering if there’s anything they can do, Laura Anne Gilman writes:

I just wrote a rather scathing letter directly to the reporter, via the newspaper’s website.

“…Well played. I’m sure you’ll get a Pulitizer for that. Or maybe a Penthouse award. It’s clear which one you were going for…”

I encourage others to do the same. And cc the publisher of the newspaper while you’re at it.

Monday Miscellany

Thanks to everyone who entered to win a copy of The Secret History of Moscow [B&N | Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] by Ekaterina Sedia.  Of the 37 entries on my various blog mirrors, Random.org has chosen temporaryworlds as the winner.  Congrats, and I’ll be contacting you shortly to get your mailing info.

#

I was going to do a separate post about this, but you know what?  Stupid doesn’t deserve a full post.

Last week, another random anonymous commenter popped up on one of my old rape posts. He followed the typical pattern, explaining how only one in a thousand women are really raped.  I guess the rest are just part of the Great Rape Conspiracy. And then, as so many of these guys do, he added the tired old line: I don’t know anyone who’s been raped.

If you think this proves your point — if you can’t distinguish between “Nobody I know has been raped” and “Nobody I know has chosen to tell me they were raped” — then you need to get off the computer and go back to school.  I recommend remedial logic.  Because if you’re the kind of person who goes around commenting anonymously on strangers’ blogs to explain that rape isn’t a problem, that the True numbers are minuscule, and the rest of those women are just making it up for their own misguided or malicious ends … is it any wonder people don’t choose to talk to you about having been raped?

Don’t be that guy.

#

Finally, fairy tale in LEGO: scrat_ has done an impressive rendering of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Little Match Girl.  Click the pic for the full set.

Assange’s Rape Charges

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested in Britain on charges of rape and sexual coercion for a warrant issued in Sweden.  Given the timing of the arrest, coming so soon after WikiLeaks posted a large number of U.S. diplomatic cables, combined with the fact that rape charges are so often disbelieved anyway … well, it’s no surprise that the discussion has gotten ugly, and fast.

A Slate article quotes a Washington Post blog, claiming that the actual charge is “for violating an obscure Swedish law against having sex without a condom.”

Right.  In Sweden, it’s illegal to have sex without a condom.  This is why the Swedes died out after a single generation, and their land was immediately colonized by sentient ninja velociraptors.

The Swedes are making it up as they go along, proclaims another news story, describing the charges as “absurd” and talking about how the victims went to the police for advice, “a technique in Sweden enabling citizens to avoid just punishment for making false complaints.”

I’m having a hard time finding many official documents or sources about the case.  It’s getting buried under the conspiracy theories and the attacks against Sweden and/or the alleged victims.  But according to a report by The Press Association:

[T]he first complainant, Miss A, said she was victim of “unlawful coercion” on the night of August 14 in Stockholm … Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.  The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on August 18 “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”. The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

I’m neither judge nor jury, and I can’t say what actually happened.  But it strikes me as rather telling that all this outrage about condoms completely ignores the parts of the charges where he allegedly used force to hold one victim down, and assaulted another in her sleep.

As for the condom issue, let me put this as clearly as I can: consent for one action does not imply consent for another.  If I consent to kissing, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to grope me.  If I consent to mutual masturbation, it doesn’t mean I consent to intercourse.  If I consent to intercourse with a condom, it does not mean I consent to intercourse without one.

Meaning, if Miss A did consent to sex with a condom, but Assange didn’t use one, then he was committing a sexual act against her which she had not consented to.  Remind me, what do we call it when one person commits a sexual act against another without the other person’s consent?

There may be other issues here, political and otherwise.  And if I’m understanding the chronology correctly, Sweden didn’t do itself any favors by flipflopping on whether or not to charge Assange with rape.

However, I’m getting awfully damn tired of yet another round of Smear The Rape Victims.  Of the assumption that women lie.  Of the myth that if you tweet about hanging out with cool people at a party, then nothing that follows could possibly be “real” rape. (After all, you went to the party, right?  Doesn’t that equal consent to be assaulted?)[1. A commenter correctly pointed out that I had the chronology backwards here. The party was thrown after the alleged rape. There are any number of reasons a rape victim would go through with a party after an assault (denial, shame, efforts to pretend life is “normal,” pressure from others, etc.), but I wanted to acknowledge my error.]

I don’t know if Assange is guilty or not.  But I’m disgusted with how we so often and so quickly leap to attack and condemn the alleged victims in cases of rape.

Gray Rape

Two things led to this particular post. The first was a guest essay on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog by Jaymee Goh, about Enthusiastic Consent.  The second was an article published in Cosmopolitan a while back about “Gray Rape.”

I don’t like the phrase gray rape, and the Cosmo article pisses me off from page one with “gray areas” like:

“No. Stop,” she said softly — too softly, she later told herself. When he ignored her and entered her anyway, she tensed up and tried to go numb until it was over … “It fell into a gray area,” she said recently. “Maybe I wasn’t forceful enough in saying I didn’t want it.”

and:

When [Laura] was a sophomore, she met a fellow student at a frat party. They drank, they flirted, and then he invited her to his apartment. There, they kissed for a while, and things got more heated until Laura realized that he was taking off her underwear and entering her. She was drunk, but she says she was aware enough to say no. When he ignored her, she froze — a common response, much like Alicia’s — and he continued to have sex with her.

There’s no gray here.  This is rape.  It does illustrate a common reaction to being raped, however, which is to blame yourself, and to question what you could have done differently.  It’s a reaction our culture is all too happy to encourage, emphasising the victim’s supposed responsibility for someone else’s choice to rape her (or him).

What about those situations where the victim didn’t clearly say no?  This used to come up a lot, along with false accusations, when I spoke to men about rape.  Is there a difference between rape and a misunderstanding?

Take the Kobe Bryant case back in 2003.  After the alleged victim dropped the criminal case, Bryant was quoted as saying:

Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did…

If one person believes an encounter is consensual and the other doesn’t, you have a problem.  Consent has to come from both parties.  If it’s one-sided, it’s not consent; it’s rape.

But if you didn’t intend to rape someone, and you believed they were okay with it, then it’s not your fault, right?  Just like if you didn’t intend to run someone over with your car, then they won’t really end up in the hospital with internal bleeding.

Wait, the voices say.  Isn’t it her responsibility to say no and make it clear she’s not interested?  Is it fair to blame the guy if someone’s sending mixed signals?

This seems like a duh moment to me, but the phrase “mixed signals” means the signals are mixed.  There’s no clear message as to what the person wants … meaning you have to find out.  With as much miscommunication as you get in most relationships, don’t you think it’s a good idea to make sure you’re both on the same page?

When working with rape survivors, I talked to a number of people who had frozen when they realized what was happening.  Sometimes these were people who had been raped before.  Freezing is a survival response to a threat.  It does not equal consent.

So to everyone worrying about “misunderstandings,” you’ve got a choice.  You can choose to make sure your partner enthusiastically consents to what you’re doing, or you can choose not to.  Why wouldn’t you make sure?  I can think of only two reasons.

  1. You’re uncomfortable talking about it.  If that’s the case — if you’re not comfortable talking about what you’re doing — then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it?
  2. You’re worried they’ll say no.  Meaning you’re not sure they want this, and you’d rather risk committing rape than risk asking and being told no.

Discussion welcome, as always.

False Rape Reports

After my Rape and the Police post, I said I’d do a follow-up on false reports of rape.  I do this for two reasons.

  1. False reports do happen, albeit rarely.  Rare or not, they’re worth discussing.
  2. By posting this discussion here, the next time I talk about rape and someone starts to derail the conversation by talking about false accusations, I can redirect the commenter to this post.

The issue of false accusations used to come up every time I spoke to men about rape.  It’s come up in almost every rape-related blog post I’ve written.

I worked with one rape counselor who told me flat-out she didn’t believe anyone would ever falsely accuse someone of rape.  However, I find there’s nothing so heinous that someone, somewhere, hasn’t done it.  (After all, look at the number of people who commit rape.)

I’ve been told only 2% of reported rapes turn out to be false, but I’ve never found a reliable source for that statistic.  A 1996 FBI report found that “Eight percent of forcible rape complaints in 1996 were ‘unfounded’ …”  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 those in the legal system don’t feel there’s sufficient evidence.  That doesn’t mean the accuser lied.  Likewise, is “baseless” the same as “false”?  How do we categorize or even identify cases where victims are bullied or intimidated into retracting their statements?

Playing fast and loose with definitions is how you get “Men’s Rights” groups reporting highly inflated numbers of false reports in order to show that rape is exaggerated and used as a weapon against men.

I believe false reports of rape are rare, but they do happen.  I wrote about one case in Michigan, back in 2004.  A student falsely accused a teacher of rape.  The teacher’s name was published in multiple newspaper articles.  The accused teacher’s fiancee was quoted as saying the false charges “took their toll on him,” and he later died of a heart attack.

I can’t imagine the fear and the anger and the stress he must have experienced.  The fact that he was exonerated and his accuser was arrested and sentenced for filing false charges doesn’t undo the pain he went through.

Here’s another example from Maine, which was reported only yesterday.  A woman allegedly made up a story of being raped by five men after a fight with her partner.  I can’t help noticing this line…

“[Police Chief] Craig said he plans to have the woman charged with filing a false report and plans to push for the maximum penalty.”

… and thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if police departments took real rape cases this seriously?

Lying about rape is a horrible thing.  It hurts the one accused, and it hurts victims of rape by giving fuel to those who would use false accusations to deny the reality of rape.  I have absolutely no sympathy for someone who deliberately and maliciously makes up an accusation of rape, for whatever reason.

I wonder though, how many anecdotal stories of false accusations are truly false.  When someone comments how a friend’s cousin’s buddy was falsely accused of rape, what does that mean?  Were charges filed and dropped?  Did the accuser retract her (or his) accusation?  Did the accused say “She’s lying!” and everyone simply chose to believe him?

False accusations are in many ways the reverse of rape cases.  Rape as a crime tends to be underreported and disbelieved.  Stories of false accusations, on the other hand, seem to be both widely believed and incredibly common … which makes sense, in a way.  After all, the first thing someone’s going to say when accused of rape is, “Oh, she’s lying.”

Discussion welcome, as always.  But as with other rape-related discussions here, I’ll be watching the comments and will moderate as needed, so please keep things respectful.

Rape and the Police

It’s one of the first things most rape survivor hear when they talk about what happened.  “You have to report it to the police!” or “Why didn’t you go to the cops?”  Yet rape is one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S.

There are a lot of reasons for this.  Shame is a big one.  So is fear.  Fear of being blamed, of not being believed.  In Baltimore, police have been hard at work turning those fears into reality.

The Baltimore Sun reviewed FBI statistics and found that in Baltimore, the number of people reporting rapes to the police has plunged, while the number of rapes thrown out as unfounded is now the highest in the nation: more than five times the national average.

“[W]omen continue to report that they are interrogated by detectives, sometimes questioned in the emergency room or threatened with being hooked up to lie detectors.”

Can you think of another crime where victims are routinely threatened with lie detector tests?  That’s assuming the reports even make it to the detectives.  40% of Baltimore’s 911 calls to report a rape are simply dismissed, often without documentation to explain why.

The response from one of the detectives in the department is a masterpiece of victim-blaming:

“Many reports of rape are made for ‘ill gain, in order to gain assistance or cover up not coming home,’ said one of the commanders of the unit, Lt. Thomas Uzarowski … ‘It’s not an opinion. It’s not anything other than where the facts fall.'”  (Emphasis added.)

Where the facts fall?  Here’s an interesting fact.  Of the 50 detectives who work sexual assault and child abuse cases, one detective by the name of Anthony Faulk Jr. was responsible for 20% of the department’s “unfounded” rape complaints.

To me, this sounds less like facts and more like some of these detectives decided women are liars, and they’re not going to let the bitches get away with it.

I’m not going to argue that false reports never happen.  They’re rare, but they happen.  They’re also the first thing people bring up when they want to silence rape survivors, twisting logic beyond the breaking point to portray rape as a weapon women use against men.

Do people occasionally recant their statements?  Yes … especially when the detective is in their face, treating them like the criminal.  What would you do if you reported a rape and the first words out of the detective’s mouth were that he could throw you in jail for filing a false report?

The police have a difficult, stressful job, and many of them do that job admirably. But this is a problem that exists on two levels.  At the core are people like Uzarowski and Faulk, who take a “Guilty until proven innocent” approach to rape victims.

Then you have the larger group who watch and do nothing.  You think nobody noticed Faulk’s record of dismissing rape complaints?  You think nobody overheard these detectives harassing victims?  Yet it took a report in the paper, and visits from the mayor and the president of the city council to get the police department to admit maybe they should look into their practices.

Baltimore is an extreme example of a problem that exists everywhere.  People attack and harass and blame rape survivors, and most everyone else just ignores them.

And you wonder why rape victims are hesitant to talk about their attack, let alone report it to the police?

Writing About Rape, Part II

In April of last year, I did a post on writing about rape, and how we as authors often do it badly.  Recently, I received an e-mail from one of my readers asking if I could do a follow-up on how to write about rape in fiction and do it well.

I’m not going to sit here and proclaim The Right Way to write about rape.  What I can do is talk about how I’ve written about rape in my fiction. I’m not saying I did it right, but maybe this can be a starting point for discussion.

~Spoilers for some of Jim’s fiction beyond this point~

More

The Great Rape Conspiracy

comrade_cat posted about an article by Heather MacDonald called The Campus Rape Myth, which takes on the “campus rape industry.”  Warning: reading the article is likely to significantly raise your blood pressure.

MacDonald spews more than 6000 words to “debunk” college rape as a ridiculously overblown myth fueled by false reports, radical feminist research, and slutty college girls.

She’s not alone in her beliefs.  I remember a response to one of my own rape posts, in which a man said he liked what I was saying, but thought I was making up the part about how many of my friends had been raped, because he didn’t believe it happened that often.

As pissed off as I was by this response, I couldn’t help appreciating the parallel … after all, how often do rape victims share their stories, only to be told they’re lying?

MacDonald targets a single article in her attempt to reveal the falsehoods of the great rape conspiracy:

“The campus rape industry’s central tenet is that one-quarter of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years … This claim, first published in Ms. magazine in 1987, took the universities by storm.”

She goes on to point out that many of these “so-called” rape victims didn’t identify the experience as rape, and didn’t even report it!  She also refers to a 2000 study by the Department of Justice.  I assume she means The Sexual Victimization of College Women, which studied rapes over six months and estimated that “Over the course of a college career — which now lasts an average of 5 years — the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions might climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter.”  (As everyone knows, the U. S. Government is a just hotbed of radical feminism.)

Page 23 of the study lists some reasons women chose not to report:

“…common answers included that the incident was not serious enough to report and that it was not clear that a crime was committed. Other  reasons, however, suggested that there were barriers to reporting. Such answers included not wanting family or other people to know about the incident, lack of proof the incident happened, fear of reprisal by the  assailant, fear of being treated with hostility by the police, and  anticipation that the police would not believe the incident was serious enough and/or would not want to be bothered with the incident.”

Gosh, where could they have gotten the idea that people won’t take them seriously if it was friend or date raped them?  How could they think that if they were raped after partying or drinking, that they might be mocked and treated with outright hostility?  Who taught them that unless it was a black stranger with a knife, it doesn’t count as a “real” rape?[1. From MacDonald’s article, “Like many stranger rapists on campus, the knifepoint assailant was black, and thus an unattractive target for politically correct protest.”]

Buried in MacDonald’s article is a valid point.  When working in rape education and prevention, I saw a tendency to toss statistics about without being able to back them up or explain where they come from.  Given how many people refuse to accept how common rape is, I believe it’s important to back up the numbers when possible.

Mostly though, MacDonald’s article is crap.  Sadly, it’s crap a lot of people choose to believe.  Because we don’t want to admit rape can and has happened to people we love.  Because it’s easier to ridicule the numbers — and the victims — than to accept we have a problem.

I’ve mentioned sitting in my college dorm with several female friends when two guys walked by, mocking the 1-in-4 statistic.  “If that were right, it would mean one of you had been raped,” said one.  Unstated was the assumption that this was utterly ridiculous.  How absurd to think that someone he knew had experienced such a horrible crime?

Of course, he was right.  MacDonald does the same thing in her article:

“The one-in-four statistic would mean that every year, millions of young women graduate who have suffered the most terrifying assault, short of murder, that a woman can experience.”

Well, yes.  That’s the point.  And you can either turn your back on those women, or you can open your eyes and try to do something about it.

Fundraising for Rape Crisis Centers

Welcome to my not-a-raffle to raise money for rape crisis centers.

April is sexual assault awareness month. I had planned to raffle off an autographed advance review copy of Red Hood’s Revenge [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] with the only requirement being a donation to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. As it turns out, Michigan law may or may not make that illegal. (I’ve been told both, and the office stopped answering my e-mails.)

So I’m doing things a little differently. I am asking you to make a donation, either to RAINN or to your local rape crisis center. Many places will allow you to donate online. But donations are not required. (You hear that, Michigan Charitable Gaming Office?) Anyone can enter to win the book by e-mailing me at endrape@jimchines.com.

If you do make a donation, please mention that in the e-mail and let me know how much you gave. I don’t care if it’s $1 or $1000, and it makes no difference to the drawing, but I’d like to be able to post a running tally of how much money we’ve raised.

The winner will be drawn at random from all entries on April 16. One e-mail per person, please.

If you’d like to spread the word, you can copy and paste the following into your blog. Feel free to modify as needed.

If you prefer a smaller version of the graphic, replace 1-in-4.jpg with 1-in-4-Sm.jpg for a 175 x 243 copy.

A few statistics:

The Sexual Victimization of College Women, Page 10: “Over the course of a college career — which now lasts an average of 5 years — the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions might climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter.”

World Health Organization report on Violence Against Women: “In a random sample of 420 women in Toronto, Canada, 40% reported at least one episode of forced sexual intercourse since the age of 16.”

Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey, page 3: “1 of 6 U.S. women … experienced an attempted or completed rape.” (14.8% reported completed, 2.8% reported attempted only.)

Reporting Rape

When writing about rape in fandom two weeks ago, I included the following:

“I’m not saying there’s never a time to talk about criminal prosecution of rape and why people might choose not to endure the ugliness of a rape trial.  I’m saying this is not the time.

Thank you to everyone for not derailing the conversation.  So often when someone talks about rape, the immediate response is some form of “You have to report it!”  I saw this at a few other blogs: “You have to get the asshole arrested!”  Or on the other end of the spectrum, “If you didn’t press charges, you have no right to complain!”

Rape is a crime that rips power and control from the victim.  You know what doesn’t help you regain that sense of control?  When everyone jumps in to tell you what you have to do.  Especially if you add a heaping pile of guilt: “If you don’t press charges and he rapes someone else, it’s your fault!”

Bite me.  Rape is the fault of the rapist.  No matter how hard some people try to pretend otherwise.  Most of the time, when people talk to me about rape, they’re not looking for me to fix it or solve things.  They might be looking for someone to believe them.  They might be looking for support.  Often they’re just looking for me to shut up and listen.

That’s hard.  I feel pissed off and hurt and powerless, and I want to do something.  I want to fix it, and I want to make sure the bastard who did it gets punished.  But that’s not something I have the power to do.

Not helpful: You have to press charges! (More about satisfying my own need to punish the guy and to stop feeling helpless.)
Might be helpful: If you decide to press charges, I’d be more than willing to go to the police with you, and to court if it goes to trial.

So why would someone choose not to report rape?  Rosefox linked to this blog post explaining some of the reasons.  Some police officers are wonderful about sexual assault, but not all.  I’ve known people who reported a rape, only to have the cop refuse to believe them and threaten to arrest them for filing a false report.  Then there are the stats on how few rape cases go to trial, and how few of those result in conviction.

As for the trial itself… I’ve been through the court process for a custody issue.  It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and it dragged out for close to a year with hearings, appeals, rescheduled dates, meetings with attorneys, and so on.  Imagine going through that experience as a rape survivor, having to relive the rape again and again in front of strangers, hostile attorneys, and the rapist himself.

Do I want rapists locked away?  Of course.  So what’s more likely to help that happen?  Trying to bully a rape victim into doing what I want?  Or trying to support her (or him), letting her make her own choice and offering to support her in whatever choice she makes?

I also wonder if this insistence on “You have to report it!!!” is another facet of our attitude that stopping rape is women’s responsibility…

Discussion is open and encouraged, but once again I’ll be moderating as needed to keep it respectful and on-topic.

Jim C. Hines