Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Helen Mirren's Comments On Date Rape

While I strongly disagree with comments made by Oscar winning actress, Helen Mirren, about when date rape shouldn't be prosecuted, I cannot and will not condemn her personally. I applaud her willingness to talk about her experiences as a victim of date rape. She had to know that saying anything would cause a backlash.

"I love the fierceness of young girls nowadays, and the way they just say, 'fuck off', because I wish I'd been taught to say 'fuck off' when I was younger.

"I wish I'd had those words in my arsenal of self-defence. Instead, I was polite and didn't have the courage to say that to men who wouldn't accept 'no' for an answer."

I agree with this, but this tool isn't a reliable rape prevention tool. Some rapists will give up on a particular intended victim if the intended victim recognizes danger in time and responds fiercely, but because rape isn't caused by victims' failure to communicate these rapists will just go looking for other victims.

The other possibility is that a date rapist who won't accept "no" for an answer will not accept "fuck off" for an answer. A rape which wasn't overtly violent can become brutal.

What Mirren says which I don't agree with are reflections of long-standing dangerous attitudes and misconceptions which were so ingrained in my upbringing that it took me decades to work my way out of them.

She said that if a woman voluntarily ended up in a man's bedroom, took her clothes off and engaged in sexual activity, she still had the right to say 'no' at the last second.

If the man ignored her, Dame Helen said, that was rape. But she continued: 'I don't think she can have that man into court under those circumstances. I guess it is one of the many subtle parts of the men-women relationship that has to be negotiated and worked out between them.'

Before I was raped at age 15 I accepted this idea and that acceptance contributed to my lack of awareness that my boyfriend was showing signs that he was willing to rape me.

I was coerced many times by my boyfriend before he raped me and accepted that behavior as normal and not a danger signal because I'd learned that all boyfriends naturally would try to change their girlfriends minds about having sex or allowing sexualized contact. Strangers were potential rapists, family friends and/or boyfriends were not.

Because my boyfriend was a nice guy (as far as I could see) and not a stereotypical shady character I believed that what happened would be limited to what was negotiated between us.

The final coercion -- using isolation as a key lever -- before my rape resulted in my taking my clothes off. Because of the beliefs which Mirren expressed I assumed that my boyfriend was not acting as a logical predator and I felt largely responsible for my own rape.

Like Mirren, I was wrong. What happened to me was not a relationship issue. My only contribution was not seeing the trap being set around me.

While my boyfriend said he just wanted to see me and he repeated his understanding of my longstanding refusal to "go all the way" he acted with premeditation and self-control.

He was intent on getting what he wanted in a way which could be spun to his advantage and so my lack of consent would be dismissed as a lie or a last second change of mind. Any respect he expressed for me and my boundaries were a sham.

Part of him expected me to sigh after being raped and say, "Thank you for making that decision for me." Part of the reason for his expectation was the general societal belief that what he did couldn't be rape even if it met the legal standard for rape. If what he did wasn't truly rape then it followed that I couldn't validly respond like a real rape victim and should respond as if we'd just had fully consensual sex.

The belief that certain rapes shouldn't be prosecuted contributes to those types of rapes in the same way that Mirren realized that her limited cocaine use helped all those who profited from the cocaine trade.

Date rapists will only stop viewing themselves as being law abiding people when the criminal justice system and the public stops inhaling date rape denial like it is a mind-altering drug.

From the Mail On Sunday:

"I was (date raped), yes. A couple of times. Not with excessive violence, or being hit, but rather being locked in a room and made to have sex against my will."

Asked if she reported the incidents, which took place when she was younger, to the police, the 63-year-old replied: "No, you couldn't do that in those days. It's such a tricky area, isn't it? Especially if there is no violence. I mean, look at Mike Tyson. I don't think he was a rapist."

I believe that those who locked Mirren in a room and wouldn't take "no" for an answer were real rapists who premeditated their crimes and who deserved to be prosecuted and convicted. The only thing that makes her rapes tricky is the pervasive victim blaming.

I cannot and will not stand in judgment of Mirren because I couldn't completely stop seeing other date rape victims through this distorted filter until I realized that I had been viewing my own date rape through a distorted filter which caused me to wrongly blame myself.

It was the Mike Tyson trial which started me on my journey toward breaking my silence and my self-blame. That case resulted in me hearing anew all the garbage which years before led to me holding myself partly responsible for my own rapes.

I have been as vulnerable as I was when I was first raped at age 15 many times after that but I haven't been raped since I reached the age of 18. As a teenager and as an adult I have at the very last second changed my mind. At times it would be more accurate to say that I broke free from the pressure to have sex at the last moment.

None of those disappointed guys raped me.

Each time I was raped there was no change of mind on my part. There was also no change of mind on the part of my rapists. They wanted sex from me and my lack of consent didn't deter them in the least. None of these guys were caught in the throes of their hormones.

My date rape -- and all date rapes -- happened because someone decided to rape and hoped to get away with it. What it takes for someone to rape is completely internal and has nothing to do with the specifics of the relationship.

The how is what varies.

Some rapists enjoy picking potential victims out of a crowd and enjoy stalking them carefully. Of these stranger rapists some are no more violent than date rapists -- and some are less violent than most date rapists -- since they wait until their victim of choice is asleep. Other rapists need to have their victims trust them to give that type of rapist a maximum rush of power and a feeling of utter superiority.

All sorts of crimes are committed both by strangers and by those who have relationships with their victims. Most of those crimes are enforced and prosecuted whether the alleged criminal was a stranger or a friend or family member of the victim.

The stark divide in rape cases happens overtly through laws which protect some rapists such as spouses and it happens through the uneven enforcement of rape laws. Pervasive denial and minimizing of certain rapes are the core problems.

Helen Mirren's comments are a reminder about how pervasive rape denial and rape minimizing really are when the victim knows his or her rapist.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:43 AM   4 comments links to this post

4 Comments:

At September 03, 2008 2:32 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

One of the central issues with regards to acquaintance rape is how boys are still socialised into accepting and believing it is their right and entitlement to use pressure and coercion in order to sexually penetrate and/or instigate any unwanted sexual act(s) on a woman. It is still presumed 'natural' for men to use sexual aggression and is not seen as a deliberate and calculated abuse of their power.

Far too many men believe 'rape' is not 'rape' if they just use pressure and refuse to accept 'no' since obviously a woman will submit or give in eventually. This is still rape because it categorically denies the woman her right of ownership of her body.

Unfortunately here in the UK these myths and acceptance of male sexual entitlement and access to women continues to be used against women and girls. We still have a very long way to go before society even begins to accept that womens' and girls' sexualities and bodies belong to them not to men and boys.

This is why acquaintance rape is so difficult to prosecute let alone convict. Women and girls are not supposed to express their sexual desires or state they wish to engage in certain sexual activity but not others. Instead the widespread belief continues to be that if a woman so much as shows a smidgen of sexual interest or the male interprets it as sexual interest, he is then entitled to perpetrate any sexual act on a woman or girl. The reason is because 'she asked for it.' Therefore acquaintance rape could not have occurred.

These skewed myths and lies are used to deny women and girls their right of sexual autonomy and cause immense harm to women survivors of rape. The emphasis must be on challenging belief in male sexual entitlement and promoting the view that women like men own their bodies and sexualities. Which is why so many women and girls blame themselves, because society continues to teach girls, expressing or even acknowledging female sexual desire is 'bad' because only males are allowed to initiate and control any sexual interaction. The damage these biased messages does to women and girls' beliefs and rights is immense - yet it is still dismissed as irrelevant because sexual activity is supposed to spontaneous, with no communication or respect for the other person. Instead the one with power has the right to set the agenda and sadly, society has given males the power and law reinforces this belief.

 
At September 15, 2008 10:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't reject anything either of you two said but I am not convinced that you are interpreting Dame Helen correctly. Her statement is vague in a few areas, so I'm not even confident that I know what she means. To me, she is not condoning date rape at anytime. Rather, what I hear her saying is that the *timing* of consent is problematic. For example, there are some people who are into sadomasochism. There may be an element of consent outside the room, if you will, that is not present inside the room by the very nature of the fetish.

Now, I don't know that is what she means. But I can't say for sure that she means what you think she means either. I just think her remarks are vague and I would like her to explain them more fully before I leaped to any conclusions.

 
At September 16, 2008 1:35 AM, Anonymous That Lawyer Dude said...

Let me begin by saying that I think you have written a thought provoking peice. Nevertheless I am concerned that you are confusing the reality of Date Rape with the ability to prove actual rape without undoing the very basis of our legal system, proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

From a trial lawyers point of view, how can one who is raped expect a jury to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged rapist forced sex on someone who already agreed to go to a bedroom, disrobe and engage in sexual play if not intercourse?

This does not change the fact that a rape may have occured. Nor does it change the fact that it may not have. However to teach women that they can engage in such behavior, and then expect a jury to convict a man on their say so is just not good policy.

Without his agreeing that he in fact forced himself on her, the alleged rapist is not, on the facts presented guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and should not be convicted.

I think one would be hard pressed to even think that those circumstances would in and of themselves be sufficient proof in a purely civil trial.

I think Mirren is simply pointing out the obvious difficulty one would find themselves in if bringing a charge and making it stick.

She is not denying the rape, but she is saying that the situation leaves too much to speculation in the mind of a fact finder to haul a person into court on such a serious charge.

Without blaming the victim, is it not a better idea to suggest to women that if they do not intend to have sex with their date, that they keep their clothes on, not because to do otherwise would mean they are aI think you have written a thought provoking peice. Nevertheless I am concerned that you are confusing the reality of Date Rape with the ability to prove actual rape without undoing the very basis of our legal system, proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

From a trial lawyers point of view, how can one who is raped expect a jury to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged rapist forced sex on someone who already agreed to go to a bedroom, disrobe and engage in sexual play if not intercourse?

This does not change the fact that a rape may have occured. Nor does it change the fact that it may not have. However to teach women that they can engage in such behavior, and then expect a jury to convict a man on their say so is just not good policy.

Without his agreeing that he in fact forced himself on her, the alleged rapist is not, on the facts presented guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and should not be convicted.

I think one would be hard pressed to even think that those circumstances would in and of themselves be sufficient proof in a purely civil trial.

I think Mirren is simply pointing out the obvious difficulty one would find themselves in if bringing a charge and making it stick.

She is not denying the rape, but she is saying that the situation leaves too much to speculation in the mind of a fact finder to haul a person into court on such a serious charge.

Without blaming the victim, is it not a better idea to suggest to women that if they do not intend to have sex with their date, that they keep their clothes on, not because to do otherwise would mean they are asking to be raped, but because it would be far harder for signals to be mixed and easier for the non-rapist boyfriend to understand the parameters of the assignation?sking to be raped, but because it would be far harder for signals to be mixed and easier for the non-rapist boyfriend to understand the parameters of the assignation?

 
At September 16, 2008 1:43 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

To That Lawyer Dude,

I'll respond to your assertion about proof in date rape cases in a separate post.

I start by saying that I disagree with your dismissal of rape victim testimony.

 

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