Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What Really Fuels Rape Denial? - Part 3

To read the questions which led to this series, check out part 1 which focused on the motivations and weaknesses of hardcore and softcore rape denialists.

In part 2, I focused on the marketing of rape denial.

In part 3, I am focusing on understanding why some people are passive rape denialists.

Passive rape denial is often the most notable and puzzling for people when it comes from rape victims themselves. Once you understand what it feels like to have your experience of rape not match what you've learned about rape or to have people who seem trustworthy fail to accept that you could be a real victim, this is not puzzling at all.

Most rape victims who practice rape denial focus their denial upon themselves rather than choosing to attack other rape victims for allegedly making false claims.

However, there are rape survivors who do deny the reality of other rape victims. For some of these survivors others who have been raped but who don't seem like they suffered equally may be a safe target for that survivor's rage which rightfully should be directed at rapists and those who make excuses for most rapists.

Rape survivors can buy into the idea that a huge percentage of reports of rape are false and it is all those lying women who cause the backlash against real rape victims like them. When a woman who has been raped finds herself being included in the rape denial blast from someone close to her, that rape denialist may backtrack quickly. "Those false rape victims made me say all those awful things. I know you are nothing like them."

If these types of statements come from someone well-loved it is easier to blame those unknown women -- even if they are just as innocent -- than it is to accept that someone you care for willfully attacks real rape victims like you.

A rape survivor who followed all the rape denialist rules but who still got raped may hold great anger toward rape survivors who didn't follow the rules. This is the "your rape was preventable, mine wasn't" sort of rape denial.

A rape survivor who got slammed for being of bad moral character may want to deny the rape reported by a virgin. This type of rape denial is likely a reaction to the public near worship by rape denialists of the "truly innocent victim."

I'm not the only rape victim who felt crazy even before the shock of being raped wore off. Nothing about my boyfriend/rapist fit with what I knew about rapists or how rapes were committed. I had never heard about a rapist who talked about love while justifying the rape he'd just completed.

I had never heard about a boyfriend ever raping his girlfriend, but I had heard about girls who didn't protect their chastity and who ruined themselves for life. I had heard people talk about "those girls" who any guy could have if they wanted them. There was a clear binary divide for girls. The pure and impure. And the rules of conduct for boys and men was clearly divided according to that binary.

I had heard, "boys have to respect girls who are virgins" so that too gave me reason to try to pretend that my rape never happened.

If I had answered a survey shortly after being raped which asked the questions on Koss's survey, which gets attacked repeatedly by rape denialists, I likely wouldn't have felt I had the right to check the box indicating that I had been raped. However, because the other questions in Koss's survey addressed specific behavior rather than the labeling of behavior, I would have checked all the boxes which applied because of my rape.

My response if I had been surveyed would not have been contradictory at all and it would not have been proof that I hadn't been raped or that my rape was non-traumatic. Yet the natural result of rape denial on rape victims gets used by rape denialists to prove that their rape denial is accurate.

Fortunately, in the years after I was raped by my boyfriend the official discussion about rape stopped being limited to stranger rape. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misinformation being circulated about non-stranger rape.

People who don't want to deny any rapes are likely to have read headlines like this: Esai Morales Did Not Rape Elizabeth Mazzocchi, District Attorney Rules and assume that this is a proven fact.

The reality is that the DA's ruling did not make this claim and there is no evidence that this claim has been proven.

From the AP:

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office rejected the case on Feb. 13, citing lack of evidence, spokeswoman Shiara M. Davila said.

According to Morales' attorney a primary issue was that Mazzocchi didn't immediately move out of the home she shared with Morales after the alleged rape. However, this "failure to move out" does not match any part of the sexual assault statutes in the state of California.

From California Penal Codes 261-269 on sex crimes:

261.6. In prosecutions under Section 261, 262, 286, 288a, or 289,in which consent is at issue, "consent" shall be defined to mean positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved. A current or previous dating or marital relationship shall not be sufficient to constitute consent where consent is at issue in a prosecution under Section 261, 262, 286, 288a, or 289.

The current relationship isn't sufficient to constitute legal consent, but that's what many people are assuming when an alleged rape victim doesn't leave immediately.

They are putting too much significance into their lack of understanding about why a real rape victim wouldn't move out immediately. Just because people can't understand something doesn't mean that something isn't true.

It isn't California law which caused this case to be shelved before Morales was even interviewed. It is the popular perception about rape within an ongoing relationship. Just because a jury -- or a DA -- doesn't believe that the alleged rape happened doesn't mean that it has been proven that no rape happened.

This lack of understanding and false assumptions about rape are common and occur partly because of rape denial marketeers' efforts to shut down conflicting views. In many venues -- offline and online -- the only people who speak out are those who deny the reality of rape by claiming that all reports of this type are nothing more the vengeful lies from bitter women.

This monopoly of message doesn't happen because the denialists are the only ones who care.

I've had these denial marketeers swarm to my blog and use the comment feature to try to drive me into silence. They were like termites intent on chewing my blog into non-existence. They were the reason I had to move to moderated comments in order to continue blogging.

Of course when they discovered what I'd done, they were outraged at the injustice I had done to them. How dare I try to silence them.

If I couldn't take their sustained verbal assaults then something was obviously wrong with me.

For many people who would like to speak out in direct opposition to the denialists, these swarms serve as a deliberate silencer. The swarming denialists want their voices to be the only ones which are heard clearly and they want their domination to be mistaken for universal agreement.

If the members of these swarms and their allies repeat, "women who weren't raped at gunpoint or knifepoint are demeaning real rape victims" there will be unsuspecting people who accept this because the flaws in this argument have been effectively blocked in many places.

When someone does counter these claims that person is often angry about the harm these swarms are doing to real rape victims with their lies. Many denialists have learned that they can sell their lies much easier if they sound calmer than those who have had what was done to them flatly denied.

An observer who doesn't understand what's going on may choose to reject the truth from the "angry woman" and accept the rape denying lie from the "reasonable man."

The reasons for passive denial aren't always so innocent. Some of those who never speak up about all those "lying women" use other people's active and passive denial as a weapon. All they have to do to get away with rape is to select their MO and their victim in such a way that their rape victims are likely to be scorned or disbelieved if they report.

For a different way to understand how the passive denial of non-violent people can be used to the benefit of the violent, I'll point you to this ABC News What Would You Do segment.

It compared bystander's reaction to 3 young men vandalizing a car -- once with the 3 young white men and once with 3 young black men.

The reactions were much stronger to the 3 black men yet when they asked those who did something about the young black men if they would do the same if the men had been white the answer was yes -- in direct contrast to the results. I believe those answers were truthful in relation to those people's perception. If they perceived 3 young white men vandalizing a car in the same way they did the black men they would have had the same reaction.

This power of expectations also explains why there was the same number of 911 calls (1) to report 2 black men napping in their car at a public park (who were not part of the experiment) as there was to report 3 young white men vandalizing a car.

This experiment was done according to one of the bystanders interviewed "in a white neighborhood" which creates the expectation that all non-whites are out of place. For many of us out of place equals doing something suspicious.

The actions of both groups of 3 young men were identical yet the perception by most people was not. Likely some people who saw the young white men committing vandalism classified what they saw as a prank rather than as vandalism. Or they may have assumed that one of the young white men owned the car being vandalized.

This same difference in perception when someone is out of place impacts perception of identical sex crimes.

College students could witness a rape in progress which they would clearly identify as rape if the rapist seemed out of place because of his age and clothing and they would call 911 or they would take direct action.

But if those same college students saw the identical behavior from a guy they know from Chemistry 214 their perception might be that a college couple was simply getting carried away. The rape victim's identical cries of "stop" could be seen as proof of a rape in progress in the first case and nothing more than coyness in the second.

Both rapists are likely to have premeditated their attacks and decided on the level of physical violence they want to inflict, but the rapist who attacks in a place where he belongs can deny premeditation and can often deny committing any act of violence. "I really thought she was into me. What a tease!"

This difference of perception comes into play even when the crime is undeniable. Think about the descriptors which are used to describe those who are raped and murdered.

We have at one end the victims "who did nothing wrong" like Dru Sjodin who was kidnapped in a mall parking lot by Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. and at the other end we have nameless hookers and junkies who become nothing more than the simplistic label slapped on them because of their "risky behavior."

The actions of the rapist/murderers are the same, but for many people their judgment of the victim determines their perception of the criminal and their decision about what punishment, if any, that rapist/murderer deserves. This also can determine how much resources should be applied to catch a rapist and murderer who is at large.

The public's passive rape denial about most sex crimes directly contributes to the continued success of serial criminals. That's a truth which many people find too uncomfortable to accept.

Rape denial often makes people who aren't on the receiving end of that denial feel better about themselves. Letting go of rape denial can be painful because these people then have to consider the harm they have done to real crime victims through their rape denial.

If people expect those who have been raped to report those rapes despite the discomfort which will follow then those same people need to understand their own rape denial and rid themselves of this denial despite the discomfort which will follow.

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