Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Rape Blindness

I've read the following definition at various places by people who clearly don't understand why it creates big legal and emotional problems for many rape victims:

Rape is a violent sexual assault, where one person forcibly makes another do sexual acts through either the threat of injury or actual harm.
This definition is NOT the definition of rape. It is blind to all rapes where stereotypical violence is absent.


The crime of rape (or "first-degree sexual assault" in some states) generally refers to non-consensual sexual intercourse that is committed by physical force, threat of injury, or other duress. A lack of consent can include the victim's inability to say "no" to intercourse, due to the effects of drugs or alcohol. Rape can occur when the offender and victim have a pre-existing relationship (sometimes called "date rape"), or even when the offender is the victim's spouse.
The only possible flaw in this second, broader definition is "sexual intercourse" since that might exclude sexual assaults committed by one man against another man (where no vaginal intercourse = no rape) or rape which uses foreign objects to sexually violate the victim. This becomes a bigger problem when people don't see rape as a possible descriptor because the rapist wasn't charged with rape due to the limitations of the rape statute which have nothing to do with the severity of the sexual assault.

Many people assume that rapes which fit the first, incomplete definition are automatically more traumatic than rapes which only fit the second, more complete definition. If that assumption is entrenched enough, it can prevent people -- including jurors -- from seeing all rapists for what they are.

This rape blindness can cause people who know the facts of a rape case to call the rape victim a liar who made a false accusation of rape. They do this when it is in fact them who has carelessly made a false accusation against a real rape victim.

Because of the frequency of rape blindness, many rapists decide that the best thing to do is to exploit this phenomenom. They hide their criminal activity in plain sight. Rather than jumping out of the bushes to rape a stranger, they introduce themselves to their potential victims and sometimes go so far as to become part of their eventual rape victim's circle of trusted friends.

Their defense will be 2-prong:
1) "It was consensual."
2) Relying on those who say rape cases between people who know each other are a "he said, she said" case where the truth can never be determined.

Note: This, "It's a he said, she said situation" is another form of rape blindness which acknowledges the possibility of rape (like the possible existence of the unicorn) so as to not seem like a rape apologist, while denying that anyone except the rape victim and rapist will ever know what really happened and therefore we must all act as if no rape could have happened.

Here's an example that doesn't fit the first, limited definition of rape:

Two hours later, McCoy allegedly approached a 17 year old girl on Union Turnpike
in Hillcrest and identified himself as a police officer a third time. He told the teenager that he needed to question her before driving her to a Jamaica Avenue motel. There he wrote notes and spoke into a walkie talkie before allegedly forcing her to have sex with him. He threatened her with arrest if she didn’t comply.

McCoy faces charges of predatory sexual assault, first degree rape, criminal sexual act, coercion and first degree criminal impersonation. If convicted, he faces 25 years to life in prison.

Even though this man used a non-violent threat and coercion through deception (not included in the first definition of rape), what he did was clearly considered by the police to be a real rape.

Many people also reject this full definition of rape because they want to believe if they were in any situation where there wasn't a threat of physical violence or an actual physical assault -- which rendered them physically powerless to fight back -- that they would escape without being raped. Because they imagine they could have escaped, they have trouble viewing the victim as a completely innocent victim. "Duh. If only the victim had ___, nothing bad would have happened."

Once they do that, they can fool themselves into feeling disgust for rape victims' bad choices instead of the sympathy they say they feel for all "real" rape victims.

The rape blindness is complete if they feel any sympathy for the rapist and decide that feeling is proof that the rapist isn't a rapist because real rapists would make them feel nothing but disgust.

There's only one cure for rape blindness. The willingness to set aside monster myths and myths about what we'd do if we were in a particular situation and look at whether it meets this definition, including the follow up paragraphs:

For sexual contact to be considered consensual sexual interaction, the action must be committed free of physical force, threat of injury, control, duress, manipulation or threat of retaliation.

Consent cannot be given if there is any inability to say "no," especially due to the effects of drugs or alcohol. Consensual sexual intercourse cannot happen when one person has physical, spiritual or legal control over the other. If one party asks the other to leave or to stop and that person does not do so, any sexual contact which follows shall be considered non-consensual.

Once a negative response has been given to a request or an attempted action, the person who gave the negative response must initiate that action or request it verbally without prompting from the person who made the request.

Consent may be withdrawn at any time for any reason or for no reason. Consensual sex is a mutual act and must not harm or distress any participant.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:03 AM   6 comments links to this post


At January 17, 2007 8:02 PM, Anonymous joe said...

I don't know how rape and sexual assault should be differentiated from each other. (I've been thinking about it from a post you made earlier and don't have an answer, best I can come up with is "Who cares if it's legal rape if it's clearly sexual assault?")

I do think that grouping a woman without her permission is criminal and should be punished by the justice system. I also think that having sex with a woman who's passed out from alcohol should be punished more severely. In other words all sex crimes aren't equal.

Finally the example you showed was obviously serious sexual assault with the threat of force. IANAL but it seems that since arrest is force that the case you used was forceful.

At January 17, 2007 8:38 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


Different sex crimes aren't equal, but that's not the problem behind rape blindness. The problem is that people refuse to see criminal behavior for what it is, the commission of a real crime and not miscommunication or a mistake or morning-after regret.

In the example I gave with the man impersonating a cop, many people don't recognize an arrest where the person cooperates as an act of violence. Therefore, they see the victim's "cooperation" as consent or foolishness.

The same perception problem exists for so-called consensual sex between a female inmate and a prison guard. The power differential makes full and free consent impossible.

At January 17, 2007 8:55 PM, Anonymous Joe said...

In the example I gave with the man impersonating a cop, many people don't recognize an arrest where the person cooperates as an act of violence. Therefore, they see the victim's "cooperation" as consent or foolishness.

That's dumb. (Them not you)

At February 03, 2007 3:03 PM, Blogger Professor Zero said...

"The problem is that people refuse to see criminal behavior for what it is, the commission of a real crime and not miscommunication or a mistake or morning-after regret."

Yes. And they use the reference to "he said - she said" as a copout.

Tape and sexual assault are actually underreported. But then there is all this worry about false accusations!

At June 10, 2007 9:27 PM, Blogger Sicily Sue said...

I linkes this post to tie into a post I just wrote on Sexual Harassment I am experiencing... it hasn't even been a year since my rape and I am back at work getting sexually harassed!

I am also prosecuting my rapist and I heard the "he said, she said" bullshit from the first prosecutor who refused to prosecute.

I went over her head and got another prosecutor.

This rape blindness is a huge problem. Just as sympathizing with the perp is a backwards concept.

When will they learn? Once they get raped. Then they will understand...

...oh also I am going to link you to my blog if that is ok :-)

At June 10, 2007 10:07 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Sicily Sue, I'm glad you persisted in your case and am saddened to hear that you are experiencing sexual harassment. Links are welcome with no advance permission needed.


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