Monday, March 24, 2008

Speaking Around Rape

Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Professors found a recent letter to the editor in the Daily Pennsylvanian difficult to read and comprehend, but when I read the letter I immediately understood the anonymous author's words and experiences. More importantly, because of my experiences with rape I understood why the anonymous author used descriptions which left so many gaps.

Here is some of what Bartow found confusing:

During my junior year [of high school], I found myself suddenly thrust into a relationship with a reasonably attractive and yes, popular athlete from a neighboring high school. Obviously, it didn't last (and neither did my virginity). But what should have ended neatly instead turned into weeks of mute suffering and months of extreme depression.

The facts were simple. He came over after the breakup, wanting gratification, which I was less inclined to provide. I was the weaker sex. He apologized. I forgave. Pause, rewind, play. Repeat for three months.

I told no one. The traditional aspects of my heritage dictated that dating without intention of marriage was tantamount to prostitution, and so I decided that any alternative was preferable to having my parents discover the truth.

As a result, word spread that I was a willing participant in these acts, that I was a straight-A whore. I did nothing to dispel the rumors; if anything, I condoned them.

The gaps relate to sexual contact and they are there because of trauma. Not just any trauma. Trauma from multiple rapes.

In the first quoted paragraph the word thrust indicates coercion or a failure by this boy to even ask her if she wanted to be his girlfriend. A truly mutual relationship isn't something you are thrust into. From reading the entire letter I believe she lost her virginity through rape and that is why she was no longer in the relationship.

A commenter on Feminist Law Professors made the incorrect assumption that this woman gave her ex-boyfriend pity sex which assumes legal consent, but that is wrong. This ex-boyfriend raped her repeatedly. And he knew it -- otherwise there would have been no apology and no request for forgiveness.

For anyone who doesn't acknowledge it already forgiveness is not consent and does not nullify the crime of rape.

Look at the second quoted paragraph without the euphemisms:

The facts were simple. He stalked me because he wanted sex from me even after I thought I'd escaped the relationship, sex which I didn't want. He was bigger and stronger than me and I couldn't stop him from taking the sex he wanted. He apologized. I felt obligated to forgive him. I endured this for 3 months.

This was no lovelorn suitor, but a socially-acceptable predator who picked someone he was sure would feel so much shame that she would confide in nobody and who would blame herself for his crimes because she didn't know how to stop him.

As extra insurance against accountability if she ever found the words to report him this boy deliberately smeared her reputation so she would be called a liar if she went to the police. This smearing of her reputation would also increase the chances that she would be targeted by those boys and men who take this sort of smear campaign as the only form of sexual consent they need. If other boys raped her and bragged about their conquest then she would have even less credibility if she reported him or another rapist to the police.

Her refusal to explain that she was raped after rumors were spread about her comes from the same trauma that has her talking around rape. She likely believed that her best defense was to appear like nothing anybody said about her character could hurt her. Confirm nothing. Deny nothing.

She wanted the girls who knew her best to know that the rumors were false without having to relive her trauma and without giving any of those girls information which could be twisted into a confirmation of the rumors. But they didn't stand by her.

If she rightfully claimed to be a victim of rape, the rumors weren't likely to stop and the attacks against her would have doubled or tripled. When there has been any dating relationship -- abusive or otherwise -- many people refuse to believe that a report of rape should be treated like a report of a real crime.

Because of the harmful power of these types of rumors many girls know that if they stick by the target of these rumors that they will also be targeted. Hearing, "Are you Rumor-Girl's friend?" from some boy and then answering yes can be very dangerous in an environment which actively denies the danger and which refuses to tackle that danger head on.

Too often in these denial-rich environments the best protection for girls is to be as close to invisible sexually as possible. This explains why boys may not abandon the girl who is the target of these types of rumors the way girls will. They have no safety fears which are triggered anew because of those rumors.

I've lost count of the number of times somebody has said or written, "If it happens more than once it was consensual." These people don't know or don't care that they are encouraging rapists to never stop at one rape per victim. This also directly explains why if this dating relationship ended after one rape that her ex-boyfriend would not leave her alone or take a firm no as her final answer. The more times he could take her sexually, the more protection he would have against rightful charges of rape. This reality is inexcusable.

Yet people keep excusing it and they keep denying it.

So for those who see these gaps and find them confusing, please understand that there is serious trauma involved.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 1:29 PM   5 comments links to this post


At March 24, 2008 4:15 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Quite right the teenage boy committed multiple rapes against this young woman because he knew he could get away with it. Sadly, like child sexual abuse, once a female victim has been subjected to rape by the male she believes she is responsible for the male's actions and because she is unable to stop him, she blames herself.

As you rightly said, this relationship was not mutual, this boy used coercion and I've no doubt he targetted her for his own sexual gratification. Male sexual exploitation can and does happen even when girls and boys are peers. This boy knew that after his first rape of her he knew he could repeatedly rape her because she felt shame and was not able to prevent him. Without a supportive non-judgemental network far too many girls and women continue to experience multiple rapes by the same male predator, because society still believes once a girl or woman is supposedly sexually active she is a 'slut/whore' and hence is fair game to any boy or man who wants to sexually abuse her. The sexual double standard reinforces this misogynstic belief and it is true the more times an ex-boyfriend or male acquaintance can rape a girl or woman the more likely society will refuse to accept he had in fact committed rape.

Add on the fact this young woman was experiencing severe trauma because this boy had abused his position of trust, it subsequently made it much easier for him to commit repeated rapes against her. Far too many male rapists tell the female victim they are sorry for their actions, but it is in fact a deliberate strategy by the male rapist to excuse or deny his accountability. It often causes the woman rape survivor to feel confused because the rapist apologies.

Just because the girl and boy are peers should not negate the fact this boy used his power to continue raping the girl. Too many girls continue to be socialised into believing they alone are responsible for limiting male sexual coercion, whereas boys are socialised into believing they are entitled to sexually coerce or force females into unwanted sexual acts. This boy like so many male predators deliberately spread lies about the girl and given the continuing sexual double standard it is not surprising the girl remained silent about this boy's multiple rapes. If she had spoken about her trauma of having been raped repeatedly, her peers of both genders would probably believe she had caused her own rapes because she is a 'whore or slut.' Male sexual activity confirms the male is a 'stud' whereas female sexual activity consensual or not supposedly defines the girl or woman as a 'slag or slut.' Such beliefs serve to justify and exonerate males who commit rape.

Finally, by committing multiple rape against the girl the boy knew his likelihood of even being charged with rape would be minimal. After all commonsense tells us no woman or girl would allow a man or boy to rape them on multiple occasions. The fact women and girl rape survivors experience trauma after being raped by a man or boy they know makes it much easier for the man or boy to commit multiple rapes against the woman or girl.

Trauma is real and it cannot be faked but society still refuses to accept how male sexual predators operate.

At March 28, 2008 10:15 PM, Blogger mistharm said...

Excellent post; very informative. There's no excuse for rape; and, I honestly have to wonder how people can live with themselves after making just those kinds of excuses. It boggles my mind.

At March 29, 2008 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All very true. I lost my virginity without being consulted in the matter nearly 29 years ago to a classmate and his older brother. I felt responsible for a long time, despite being nine years old at the time, and outnumbered and outweighed. A year or so later, i went from just seeing them at CCD classes to joining them in middle school--a turn of events I was not happy about, but could not stop, since my mother wanted to save me from seeing pregnant girls in the public school. (I didn't tell her about this until many years after the fact.) I was sure they told everyone they knew about it, and I was miserable through the next seven years of junior high and high school, but I didn't like to rehash the memory, and I was haunted by the prospect of a recurrance. To this day, I need valium to get a pelvic exam, and my sex life is basically nonexistent.

Just call me another statistic.

At March 29, 2008 1:09 PM, Blogger Amelia said...

Great post. A lot of debate about rape has been going on at my blog, but no one who either reads or writes there has the same kind of insight that you do.

I think I will bookmark you.

At March 29, 2008 3:46 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, my heart goes out to you for the rape you endured and for the torment those rapists inflicted on you for years and for the lasting trauma you face.

Your experiences are a needed reminder of why speaking out is so important.


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