Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Empowering Women Or Blaming The Victim

In response to the post Alas, a blog: Isn't it Good We Have Men To Tell Us What To Do several commenters have argued that certain scenarios aren't rape because the person who claims to be a rape victim had the power to get away from the person trying to use them. They go even further and say that those of us who disagree with them are robbing girls and women of their power.

This approach to understanding what is and isn't rape feeds into dangerous myths about rape and can lead to boys and men taking the attitude of "if she doesn't leave when I know she could have, what I do to get sex from her cannot be rape as long as I don't use overt physical violence."

The intent may be to empower girls and women to get out of bad situations but by combining the discussion about how to escape with discussions of the definition of rape the result is to blame the victim who didn't respond to exploitive behavior properly and to let the rapist off the hook.

The denial of an exploiter's control that doesn't involve overt physical violence actually disempowers victims in those types of situations by making the victims responsible for the actions of those who victimize them.

The patient who doesn't realize how her doctor can use the dynamics of the doctor/patient relationship to facilitate rape is likely to wonder what was wrong with her that she didn't run screaming into the street when something first felt off kilter.

The ignorant response is to decide that she had low self-esteem or other problems which led her to consent to actions she didn't want. But the truth is that she never consented to those actions. The problem which leads to unwanted sex does not belong to the person who didn't initiate sex. The problem belongs to the person attempting to get sex.

The key to breaking abusive control is to acknowledge it, not to deny it.

This type of control is why states such as Minnesota make it a crime for counselors or pastors to have sex during counseling sessions and why "it was consensual" is not a valid defense. This doesn't treat those counseled like they are infants, but protects them from a very real and systemic danger. It reduces the danger and reduces the number of attempts to coerce sex out of patients.

That's good for patients and it is good for ethical counselors. It is only bad for unethical counselors who want to get away with sexual exploitation.

The same abusively controlling patterns can exist in personal relationships and the key to breaking those patterns is to acknowledge them and not to blame the victim for being controlled.

When we go to the doctor we need to drop our defenses and our normal boundaries and we expect the doctor to uphold his or her sworn duty not to abuse patients.

Often when it comes to rape we expect women to drop their defenses (don't view all men as potential rapists) and to keep their defenses on high alert (if you don't react as if your life depends on it, you consented) and be fully responsible when it comes to sex.

No wonder so many rape victims feel crazy even when people aren't calling us liars or delusional.

That leads to nonsense like this:

A study which reveals many sexually assaulted women may have had too much to drink rather than been drugged has sparked a debate over how much the victims themselves are to blame. [...] And it is argued that these women are behaving irresponsibly and putting themselves at risk of being sexually assaulted or raped.
Again while the intentions might be good (wanting fewer rapes), the message that comes across is that rapists of intoxicated women are not to blame for their decision to rape and that men who are around women who drink don't need to act responsibly.

It is the potential victims who are at fault if they are raped. This is flat out victim blaming and also ignores all of the rapes committed when the victims are not intoxicated. This shows apathy at best toward men's treatment of women under the influence. The responsibility for rape does not belong to the men willing to exploit women as it should and the implication is that men who exploit drunk women are never rapists.

Abstaining from alcohol is no guarantee of safety from sexual assault as the polygamist Warren Jeffs case shows:

In court documents, prosecutors say the bride, identified as Jane Doe No. 4, objected to the marriage and later begged to be released. The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual assault.

The ceremony at a Nevada motel in 2001 was "one of the most painful things I've ever been through. I just want to move on with my life and forget it happened," the woman testified.

She said she refused to say "I do," take her groom's hand or kiss him. Finally, she relented, submitting to a "peck" and then locking herself in the bathroom. "I felt completely trapped and defeated," she said.

If we truly want to empower women we must stop making them responsible for other people's actions directed at them and we must stop blaming them when their exploiters succeed at reaching their goal.

The full responsibility for rape must always be put on the rapist whether he uses a knife or manipulation to control the person he wants sex from. To call a rapist who uses tools other than brute force anything but a rapist is to disregard the harm done to that person's victim.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:50 AM   2 comments links to this post


At November 22, 2006 2:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think it is rape if a female schoolteacher molests a male student?

At November 22, 2006 8:09 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, yes it is rape if a female schoolteacher molests a male student. The same dynamics are at work irregardless of the gender of the person exploiting their power or the gender of the person being exploited.


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