Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why Gendered Warnings About Safety Hurt Men

I've lost count of the number of times that I've seen or read men calling women who are abducted after accepting rides "stupid" or "asking for it." I've seen the same labels applied to women who are sexually assaulted after going out drinking.

These comments almost always come with a feeling of smugness from the man making this judgment. This man might drink or even get drunk, but he and other men like him aren't putting their safety or their lives at risk. They are never "stupid" or "asking for it" like these women who identify themselves as "innocent victims" do.

Sometimes a woman who did something which gets described as "stupid" or "asking for it" is judged harshly enough for the man to decide that no charges should be filed despite undeniable evidence. To these men it was the woman who caused what she describes as a crime. If she hadn't been "stupid" or "asking for it" no crime would have occurred.

By getting into a car with a man or by drinking she has consented to whatever was done to her. If she didn't want to be hurt, she wouldn't have taken the action which got her labeled as "stupid" or "asking for it." This response directly feeds the rationalization of rapists. It allows the sexually violent to tell themselves and others that they were not the true instigators of the sex crime they are accused of.

Because of negative judgments against women who are alleged or proven victims, whatever story the alleged rapist comes up is given more credibility than it deserves by those who harshly judge women.

These judgmental men listen to the stories provided by accused men and their lawyers with sympathy and a desire to see this person as wrongfully accused. Most of these men will be quick to remind people, "women lie about rape," and, "innocent until proven guilty."

If a defendant claims that the alleged victim's undeniable injuries happened not because there was a violent assault but because the alleged victim consented to a rough sex game those who rush to judge women will consider the story plausible or at least cause for reasonable doubt.

After all, since there were no other witnesses, it's a "he said, she said" situation so we can never know what really happened. This excuse can get used even when there are multiple victims. This occurance often serves to do nothing for these judgers except to allow them to complain about man-hating conspirators.

If this sort of victim-blaming comment came only from men who have no relationship to the criminal justice system it would be bad enough, but this sort of comment can come from a judge about the victim in a case he is overseeing. These types of comments can also come from women -- even women who claim to be feminists.

Implied in all of these types of comments I've encountered is that men who drink and men who accept rides are not stupid because those actions are not making them vulnerable to violent criminals. Sometimes this idea isn't implied and is stated boldly.

However, once this premise can be disproven then all of the judgments made against so-called "stupid" or "asking for it" women who report being crime victims must be made against men who report being crime victims after taking similar actions.

If the double standard remains then this double standard has been shown to be illogical and it exists for no reason other than to excuse men who are violent toward women.

Here's a case from the AP which disproves the gendered premise:

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (AP) -- Authorities in central Wisconsin are re-examining unsolved missing-persons cases to see if any are connected to a man accused of kidnapping two young men and sexually assaulting them.

Wood County Sheriff Thomas Reichert said his agency will dig into Edward Lanphear's past and cross-reference him with other missing-persons cases. Other law enforcement agencies likely will do the same, he said.

Lanphear, 46, of Saratoga, is being held on $1 million bond after police said he held two men in his house, stripped them, beat them and sexually assaulted them several times. Police say that after one of the men managed to escape, officers found the other in Lanphear's basement.

Either these 2 men were "stupid" for getting in Lanphear's vehicle -- one was then allegedly hit in the head and the other soon allegedly passed out -- as the victim blamers call many women who are abducted in similar ways or people need to acknowledge that there are dangerous people out there who will use any opening they can in order to commit acts of sexual violence.

The decision to search missing person records is interesting because I have not seen announcements of similar actions being taken when the victim who escaped and/or rescued from a similar abductor and rapist was a woman.

The gender of these 2 victims seems to have given their account of what happened more initial credibility with police. The negative stereotypes about women who drink and get into a man's car aren't there to distract investigators.

That in turn causes the police to view Lanphear as more dangerous than other police forces have when the victims were 2 women. Too often the police see their assessment as being based on unbiased credibility and don't see how gender stereotypes can influence their assessment. From there the police can under respond to similar abductions of women or they can assume that the report is a hoax when it is not.

Men who take the same actions as "stupid" women are safer only because they are targeted in this way at a lower rate by sexual predators than women and because of attitudes about these predators which can help get certain criminals caught and prosecuted.

Make no mistake, men can be wrongly assumed to be non-credible if their reports are assessed based on stereotypes about them.

All reports should be taken seriously and investigated fully so that no predators are provided with external reasons to view themselves as having done nothing wrong.

The problem is with the predator not the prey. But every time someone focuses on characterizing or judging victims they deny this reality.

Those who describe certain women as "asking for it" directly support the rationalizations and projections of predators who want to view themselves as people who are doing nothing really wrong.

Update: Lanphear has been charged with 12 felonies.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 7:59 AM   0 comments links to this post


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