I’m thrilled that we are having such honest discussions about and confronting the issues in our society about rape. However, it is such a large part of our society, that discussions about it are fraught with struggles.
We struggle to be heard. We struggle to point out that when our justice system actually makes a conviction, we still have to face the reality that too many people are acting as if it were just “young person’s poor choices.” Like it is the same as cow-tipping or mailbox baseball (I may have lived most of my life in urban areas, but even I’ve heard of these kinds of “high school hi-jinks”), we don’t want to ruin a “poor, deluded young man’s life.”
But, there are two parts of our rape culture that we are still not actually talking about, unless the people discussing it are involved in the psychological profession.
- Rape is NOT NOW, nor ever will be about the sexual attractiveness of the victim.
- NO ONE should be considered “guilty until proven innocent”
Relative Sexual Attractiveness of the Victim
We talk a lot about what the victim was wearing, whether or not the victim was drunk or in some other way incapacitated, or any other issue that pertains to the idea of “they were asking for it.” We DO NOT, however, discuss in public forums about those victims who do not conform to the societal ideal of body size, shape or age. Oh, we have small, theoretical (almost comical) anecdotes about some 80 year old woman getting raped (usually used as a way to point out that rape is about power and control rather than actually about sex — which means it usually ends up only in discussions of psychological communities).
We rarely, if ever, discuss someone who is fat getting raped or sexually harassed/abused. We are uncomfortable talking about heterosexual men who have been raped by women (we seem to be more comfortable when the victim is a homosexual man, or when the perpetrator is a male [regardless of the predator’s actual sexual orientation]). We don’t discuss the rapes of individuals who are smaller than the ideal shape, women who have had any form of mastectomy, or even women of an ideal size but who is scornfully identified as “coyote ugly.”
I know I have discussed on this blog that I have been sexually harassed (everything short of rape) multiple times over the years, since I was 13. I was, frankly, lucky that none of those escalated into a full blown rape. And, sadly, a few of them were technically rape, but it took years of therapy to understand why they were rape. You see, I too fell into the assumption that I, as a fat woman, should feel thankful that a “conventionally attractive man” wanted to have sex with me. One in particular was waking up in my tent in the middle of the night, to find the male, so-called “friend” actually with his penis already inside me, with him claiming that I had woken him up caressing his genitals. I blamed myself for that for DECADES. And that is the one and only actual penis-in-vagina rape I experienced. Another was waking up in the middle of the night, in the van of a different male friend who had let me sleep in the back with him because my tent was full of water. I had had sex with him previously, and he wanted to have a repeat experience but I was exhausted and sticky, having worked a full day at the Renaissance fair, and refused. That time I woke up just in time to have the back of my clothing become wet. He had used my sleeping body as a physical masturbatory aid.
So, NO. It is not just “pretty, young, innocent girls” who make the bad choices and somehow “deserve” to be raped. But it is often difficult for those of us who are not conventionally ideal to be taken seriously when we accuse someone of rape or even sexual harassment. There are only two places I can think of (outside of my friends and family) that I know for a fact I would be believed if I reported someone for even just sexual harassment.
These kinds of choices muddy the waters for those of us who have REALLY been attacked. It encourages people like me to keep their mouths shut, because we think no one will believe us.
‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent’
We have swung the pendulum too far in some cases, particularly those of us who identify themselves as intensely feminist. I’m not discussing those people out on the fringe who somehow think that any penis-in-vagina sex is ALWAYS rape. I’m talking about women who automatically believe that any report of rape, sexual harassment, sexual assault, or just plain old male chauvinism is a valid report.
And it is not just men who are considered “guilty until proven innocent” although a larger percentage of those who have been accused tend to be male.
Now, having been in a position of authority in a social group (voted leadership), I understand the need to investigate accusations. But, it must be objective investigation. One cannot look into a report assuming one side is guilty, and try to prove your assumptions of guilt.
There are sometimes people making the accusations who claim to have either themselves or personally witnessed others making police reports, claims of convictions of previous assaults or rapes, and other easily verified issues. Yet, when someone makes a perfectly legal request for the public record of someone, the story changes. It becomes some other jurisdiction in which the convictions or reports were filed. Or they change their story to some other socially disapproved behavior, such as spousal abuse.
There are even people (most I have heard of are women, but I can see certain men doing it as well) who seem to find a way to make a living off of prosecuting a civil case after accusing someone of molesting their child.
It destroys the lives of the people being accused when the accusers rally smear campaigns. I know people who have lost jobs, lost living space and even lost their children to false accusations. You may blow it off as simply being “nasty gossip,” but there are situations in which just the gossip alone was able to destroy someone.
In both of the situations I talk about above, what is going on is a travesty of justice, just as bad as letting a REAL rapist go free (or only receive minimal sentencing). It is time we stop ignoring these issues as we fight for a more just world.