“Vulnerability scares us, very deeply. To feel your body being forcibly penetrated by another human being is an experience of such utter, terrifying vulnerability and helplessness that most people recoil from the thought. To overcome that resistance, to actually identify with the experience and the person who suffers it, is an act of profound empathy, and considerable courage. Most people, frankly, are not up to the challenge; certainly not without a lot of support…” ~ David Lisak
Rape is Rape successfully shines the light on widespread, harmful misconceptions about rape using detailed high profile cases of the likes of Julian Assange and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, emotive real-life victim accounts, and analysing the opinions and rulings of influential people.
Defining rape itself is the first major problem. Many have strict and narrow opinions on its meaning. Just checking the most widely used online dictionaries proves how restrictive, stereotypical and gendered official definitions are. Strangely, Wikipedia has one of the best:
‘Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent.’
The spreading of misinformation and the resulting confusion hurts victims because they’re less likely to report a rape if they (a) are ignorant of the legal definition of rape and sexual assault, (b) ignorant of how to report it, (c) believe they lack proof, (d) are embarrassed and don’t want anyone to know, (e) fear bad treatment by the police, (f) think the accused will be able to retaliate for reporting them, (g) don’t see high profile rapists convicted, believing they’ll have less chance of justice.
A CDC study concluded more than 1 in 10 American women aged 18+ are raped, 620,000 in the last year. In the UK, 1 in 20 women aged 16+ is raped (1 in 5 including other sexual offences), averaging 85,000 per year for women and 12,000 for men. University campus rape appears the most prevalent type no matter where you live. Disturbingly, one study on marital rape showed 5% of women ‘said their partner has forced their children to participate in the rape, and 18% reported their children has witnessed an incident of marital rape at least once.’
“Rape is not about sex at all. This isn’t just bad sex … How could anyone think that? It isn’t even sex. Sex is consensual and rape is not. This isn’t sex. Is it sex for the rapist? I don’t think rapists know sex as sex. This is using sex as a weapon.”
Rape is the exertion of power and control to humiliate, possessively take ownership of the victim’s body and treating it as less than worthless. ‘Society’s responses to rape further the rapists’ humiliation of victims.’
Rape deniers attack statistics and studies, like that of Mary Koss, for using ‘overbroad definitions’ for what they perceive as ‘bad sex’ when those studies follow the legal definition. In effect, they’re challenging the law itself. Feminists caught minimising the importance of rape, Raphael posits, are fearful of the reversal of women’s liberation, sexual and otherwise, yet by not acknowledging the seriousness of this crime they’re not supporting the majority of its victims: women, hurting the very people they wish to empower.
‘Denying rape makes society unsafe for women and allows predators to go free.’
Perhaps those that deny and minimise rape should put themselves in a victim’s shoes and look to feel the empathy Lisak speaks of in the opening paragraph of my review. After reading the personal accounts of victims’ experiences of the rape and the journey afterwards, you can’t fail to sympathise and gain some understanding of post-traumatic stress and problems with the institutional processes and practices victims encounter when reporting their attack, and the changes required to prevent further traumatization.
80-90% of victims know their attacker, quashing the notion of the much hyped and stereotyped ‘stranger danger’. We strongly believe the people we trust the most aren’t monsters and vehemently deny what very well may be the truth. Accepting we’re not at fault for not knowing about the accused’s behaviour and that being connected to them does not necessarily reflect badly on the type of person you are, are the first steps in working past the disbelief and seeking the facts.
The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women (my review) is referenced several times (which prompted me to pause my reading of Rape Is Rape to read that before continuing), Raphael whole-heartedly agreeing with Valenti’s views on this subject. Anyone can be raped, not just women, and not just virgins. Both see the “All men are rapists” line is unnecessarily inflammatory, but it’s possible the rapists believe this. Everyone has the potential to rape, that doesn’t make everyone a rapist. Using men’s testosterone-infused, cliched high sex drives as an excuse for rape belittles men and assumes they possess no self-control and don’t know right from wrong.
In the same breath as alleviating the accused (i.e. men) of guilt, the victims (i.e. women) are blamed, and yet ‘forgetting to set the antiburglary alarm or getting robbed despite “neighborhood watch” does not exculpate the thieves.’ If we’re not criticising them for their supposedly risky behaviour (‘she was asking for it’ responses for: the way the victim was dressed, being drunk, walking home alone at night, etc. part of the victim blamer’s philosophy), we’re subjecting them to polygraphs (unreliable as stress increases the chances of failing), scrutinise their sexual histories (slut shaming), carry out (sometimes gratuitous) rape exams with rape kits that are never analysed despite taking four hours in which one victim describes it as follows:
“After undressing in front of strangers, I was poked, prodded, scraped, swabbed, combed and photographed. I wouldn’t wish it one anyone.”
Then having those colour photos of their genitals passed around jurors and shown on television screens to the entire court. A judge threatening an amnesiac rape victim with jail for contempt of court for failing to agree to watch the footage of her own rape so she could be questioned about it, is evidence of harrassment and an attempt to humiliate the victim. ‘That members of the community would blame an eleven-year-old child for her own rape shows the extent to which victim blaming has become accepted in our culture.’ I completely understand why more don’t come forward or decide to recant their statements when they’re seemingly punished for being violated by a rapist.
If victims aren’t blamed then their met with indifference or they’re accused of lying, vindictively making false rape claims to punish a man. Women have been demonsied as seducers and liars since Eve was perceived to have corrupted Adam.
The media often publish more column inches and attribute more importance to false rape claims, sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of readers when presented with accusations, driving ‘out compassion for real victims.’ The media also tend to use euphemisms for rape rather than calling a spade a spade, deliberately confusing the issue, for example ‘Paedophile, 25, had sex with girl, 12′ should be ‘Paedophile, 25, raped girl, 12.’
‘A rape report cannot be considered false if the person describing the crime is unable to provide corroboration that it happened or if investigators decide it did not occur based on their own views of that person’s credibility. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Handbook, this is an inconclusive or unsubstantiated report and not a false one.’
Police are often criticised for failing to report accurate figures of rape, hiding cases or dismissing them as false. ‘Institutions such as churches, schools and colleges, social organizations, and the military, among others, provide a steady source of victims for predators.’ By ignoring or supporting the perpetrators, these institutions are validating and encouraging this behaviour by facilitating its continuance. They might want to keep in mind that failure to report the crime is illegal in some places. Failure to charge a perpetrator by a prosecutor for what they perceive to be a low chance of conviction or their own prejudices, denies victims a chance of justice and puts the larger community at risk by allowing a predator to prey on more individuals. Alternatively, if criminal prosecution doesn’t work, civil litigation may scare a rapist enough to prevent further rapes.
“If you don’t fight tooth and nail and be on the verge of death, it is simply unbelievable. Compare that with someone who goes to the police and says someone she met in a bar broke into her house to steal something. Under no circumstances would anyone question a victim who makes that type of report.”
One victim account says she wished she could relive her rape so she could ‘do it right’ and fight back more or that she’d been killed so people would believe her. Not fighting or stopping resistance does not equal consent; it’s another survival instinct -less chance of serious injury or death. Unfortunately, “society doesn’t believe the woman until she takes a step to harm herself.”
One study on the vulnerabilities of rape victims including: aged under 18, mental health issue(s), currently/previously intimate with offender, had consumed alcohol or drugs prior to the attack. 87% of victims had at least one vulnerability. This proves opportunism -rapists calculating how likely they are to succeed in raping their victim, and getting away with it. Of all of the factors noted, consuming alcohol or drugs are the only things a victim can control.
Ideally, I wished the following had been included:
✻ Male rape. Apart from the brief mentions of a rape victim’s partner who’d been raped in the military, of prison rape, and one CDC study of child victims, male rape isn’t discussed. Perhaps this is due to few studies on male rape and the low number of reported cases to the police and in the media. However, I don’t see why the reasons for this and societal perceptions of male victims couldn’t be examined. Why not look at prison rape? Prisoner-on-prisoner (‘don’t drop the soap’) and guard-on-prisoner which is more prevalent than authorities like to admit.
Children raping children
. An intricate dynamic I’d have liked the author to have addressed. It’s shocking how young some of the aggressors are, and their victims.
✻ Rape victims raped again. I believe rape victims are more likely than any other group to be raped again because the first rape compounded the vulnerabilities they original had beforehand, making them even easier prey. And again, this isn’t discussed.
✻ Rape in entertainment. Raphael doesn’t explore positive and negative depictions of rape in TV (e.g. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), movies, and books. Nor is rape fantasy, a highly controversial topic which I myself recently came to terms with after reading two Feministing articles criticising Katie Roiphe’s views on female fantasies of sexual submission.
While I wish a little more was included, what’s in these pages is pure gold for unveiling the truth and prevalence of rape in the West and suggesting improvements to the way we perceive and report rape. It’s imperative and supremely relevant that we pursue justice for victims and protect our more vulnerable members of society, and this is supported by recent global events.
My request for the ARC was accepted on the day a 23-year old gang rape victim died of her injuries in Delhi. Six men were arrested for raping and murdering her on a moving bus. Soutik Biswas responds with an article on How India Treats its Women, showing why it’s the ‘worst country in which to be a woman.’ Sympathy is scarce for the accused after it was alleged “They were beaten most bruatally. They were forced to drink urine and from the toilet. They were sexually assaulted with sticks in their backside. Whatever statements they made were made under duress and worthless.” While this has sparked anger at the victim blaming, Feminist Spring protests have been male dominated ironically due to the risk of rape, which was followed by another rape on an Indian bus and an Indian school. This prompted proposals for change.
Meanwhile in the UK, reports from Metropolitan Police and NSPCC and the Crown Prosecution Service were released on the prolific paedophile and celebrity charity fundraiser Jimmy Savile. Over six decades from 1955 he sexually assaulted more than
450 victims as young as 8 years old
, male and female from all over the UK, and remained free due to institutional failings and left to ‘groom the nation’, and died before his crimes were made public.
‘Savile got away with it because we let him, and he knew we would let him. He knew his victims would be trapped between horror and a twisted sense of privilege at being hit on by someone famous. He conferred chocolates on favoured victims to normalise his abuse, and he made resistance appear abnormal. If it came to his word against some starstruck minor’s, he knew who would be believed. When, latterly, standards began to change, he counter-attacked with the threat of libel lawyers.’ (Source)
*One Billion Rising is an annual global campaign for the one billion beaten and raped to protest on February 14.
My thanks to NetGalley and Chicago Review Press for providing me with the eARC in return for an honest review.