Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Expanding Rape Prevention To Actively Involve Men

The opening of an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Pam Louwagie begins by getting to the heart of what men can do in situations where women are usually lectured about what they can do -- or could have done -- to prevent getting raped.

Tyler Jones [University of Minnesota Senior who had recently gone through sexual assault prevention training] was tipping back a couple of beers with friends at a Dinkytown bar when he suddenly had to take a stand.

"Hey, see that girl over there?" Jones recalled an acquaintance asking, nodding toward a woman he wanted to take home. "She's almost drunk. Not quite drunk enough. ... What shot should I buy her?"

There was a time, Jones says, when he might have laughed off the remark. Not anymore.

"You want to buy her something really strong to like, basically knock her out?" Jones, a University of Minnesota senior, recalled saying. "Man, that's not right. That's rape. That's sexual assault."

This message from Jones, which left the other man stunned, in the moment when someone is contemplating a sex crime is an example where peer pressure and informal peer education are positive forces. Laughing at this remark would have been taken as support that the planned action was okay or not so bad as to cause anyone to be sickened at the idea or to consider it a real crime.

That man who talked about trying to incapacitate a woman is better off being stunned at hearing his planned actions called rape before he goes through with his plan rather than being stunned afterwards if he were to face criminal charges and swearing to his defense attorney that, "It was consensual."

This situation also highlights another problem with rape prevention advice directed at girls and women since that advice usually assumes that drinking causes boys and men to be confused about the lack of consent. Hence Laura Sessions Stepp popularizing of the term gray rape.

Good education needs to be accurate information and the victim blaming rape prevention advice is based on inaccurate assessments of what causes rape.

This situation described in the article shows that there was nothing gray or foggy about what that man wanted to do. He had a clear goal related to someone he might not have even talked to previously and he had no confusion related to alcohol. His planned actions were clear and premeditated.

He had no interest in trying to gain genuine consent and wasn't even going to try to go after a mockery of consent until his target was sufficiently impaired. That is not a drinking man out of control, it is a man in complete control who wants to deceive and manipulate a woman into a trap.

More than one in five female students reported that they had experienced an actual or attempted sexual assault, according to a 2007 survey at 14 Minnesota colleges and universities.

This statistic indicates that there are a substantial number of men who refuse to respect legal and moral sexual boundaries.

Jill Lipski Cain leads that conversation about five times a month, sometimes in front of Jones' fraternity. The violence prevention education coordinator at the University of Minnesota's Aurora Center, which focuses on sexual assault, she opens the discussion with a slide show of jaw-dropping statistics, images and sounds.

One magazine advertisement features a gaunt teenage-looking girl in a bikini top, a tube of perfume placed in her cleavage. "Apply generously to your neck," the text reads, "so he can smell the scent while you shake your head 'no.'" [...]

Overhead, music thumped while the lyrics coached, "Pop a little champagne and a couple E's. Slip it in her bubbly."

Lipski Cain asked: "Is it really sex that is being sold or are there elements of rape in it that's presented to you as sex?"

This education about where some of these dangerous beliefs come from and how they are supported is important to seeing real change in attitudes and behaviors happen so that potential rapists become people who would never rape under any circumstance.

If the core problem of people wanting to take someone with no concern for legality and genuine mutuality isn't reduced then the frustrated rapists will just get creative if their current pool of intended targets follow so-called rape prevention advice which is aimed at potential victims.

Rape prevention aimed at those most likely to rape -- and their immediate peers -- is the only way to reduce the rate of attempted sexual assaults. This is better not only for women it is better for men who might otherwise rightfully face conviction and imprisonment and a lifelong spot on the sex offender registry.

In the comments someone made the excellent point that this type of rape prevention work needs to begin long before boys become men and go to college.

Not surprisingly several men used the comments to unintentionally demonstrate exactly why the rate of sexual assault on college campuses is so high.

beegeez1 wrote this comment:

The narrow focus of these campus awareness programs generally ignore the reality of these sexual interactions. While some incidents are truly sex crimes, the vast majority fall into the far more fluid "gray rape" category where unintended sexual intercourse by mutual agreement becomes a "crime" upon sober reflection. To categorize these types of unwanted incidents with actual crimes committed by vicious sexual predators is naive and ultimately minimizes the real victims of criminal sex assaults. All sexual assaults (rapes) are not equally egregious, and not should all sexual "offenders" be treated on an equal basis. Victims, indeed all people, must recognize that behavior has consequences.

The problem here for beegeez1 is not that these described programs ignore reality, but that they address reality in a way he rejects. His last sentence demands that most rape victims see rape as a consequence of their behavior which fits perfectly with his desire to see most rapists treated as if they have not committed a sex crime.

If you follow his warped logic then in those non-egregious rape cases which are reported it is the rape victim who is the perpetrator and the non-egregious rapist becomes the victim.

The reality is that sexual intercourse cannot be both unintended and by mutual agreement. If sex is unwanted then there was no genuine consent and at most coerced cooperation. Beegeez1's premise that all people must recognize that behavior has consequences is contradicted by his dismissal of non-egregious rapes.

Men who think and speak like Beegeez1 are providing informal peer education to other men right now on most if not all college campuses. That's why the rape prevention training described in this Star Tribune article is so urgently needed.

Rather than being honest and excusing most rapists for the benefit of those rapists, beegeez1 excuses most rapists from all legal accountability for the benefit of "real victims of criminal sex assaults." This is nonsense. His desired action benefits only those who ignore genuine mutuality and don't bother to get genuine legal consent.

Excusing non-egregious rapes provides moral support for all rapists, even the egregious ones.

Denying that there are, or should be, consequences for non-egregious rapists sets those rapists up to commit a serious crime. Rapists who were incorrectly led to believe that they were within the limits of the law have been set up for a rightful report of rape. That those who gave them this dangerous advice will likely champion them as wrongfully accused will be small compensation for the personal and legal consequences for having committed a non-egregious rape.

If beegeez1's logic is sound then it must be applied to all non-sex crimes.

Currently non-egregious bank robbers are still criminals. This is true even when the bank robbery is an inside job and classified as embezzlement where nobody ever feared for their safety.

The existence of bank robbers who murder bank employees in cold blood doesn't in any way excuse the crime of stealing from a bank when that crime is not accompanied by physical injury or murder or the fear of these. Yet that is exactly what many people want to see happen when rape isn't accompanied by other crimes like kidnapping, physical assault or attempted murder and doesn't cause the victim to fear for her life.

If property crimes aren't nullified when they aren't accompanied by other crimes then there is no valid excuse for wanting a personal crime like rape to be nullified for this same reason.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:11 AM   4 comments links to this post


At November 13, 2008 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think so many people have the mistaken idea that in the heat of the moment, both parties are fine with sex, then the next morning, someone wakes up and says, "Oh, I didn't want to do that. I was drunk. That must be rape." That's not the way it works! Regretting sexual activity is very different that being sexually assaulted. Consent has to be given and the person has to be capable of giving consent (not impaired by drugs or alcohol). Regret sex and rape are two very different animals, and I think people like beegeez1 do not understand the difference.

Do people wake up the next morning after consuming a few too many and go, "gee, I made a bad decision by having sex with the guy I barely know"? Sure. The next "logical" thought isn't, "You know, since I had been drinking, I could say that I was raped." That's not the way it works. You might give consent, despite having had a few, and the next morning maybe wish you had done things differently, but you don't wake up from that incident and "decide" that it must have been rape. I don't think rape is something that you decide happened. It's something that someone decides to do to you to take power and control over you and your body. Feeling regret about sex and being sexually assaulted are very different.

And the term "gray rape" is a cop out. If you didn't have clear, sober consent, there's nothing gray about it. Someone doesn't have to say no, fight back, scream, run, bite, kick in order for the crime of sexual assault to occur. Without consent, it's sexual assault and it's against the law and as a society we should say, "This is unacceptable, no matter what." There's nothing gray about it. Consent is black and white.

At November 19, 2008 12:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that consent is not black and white at all. If you operate on the basis that sexual consent requires a clear, explicit statement of consent, the number of people guilty of sexual assault, both men and women, skyrockets drastically.

This is only allegorical, but I have heard it said that when such an argument came before a Court in the United States, the lawyers asked around. Every single person in the courtroom, by that definition, had committed sexual assault- the judge, the defendant, the victim, the lawyers, the bailiff, and all the people observing.

Why? Because the vast majority of consent between human beings is implied, not explicit. Do you ask your significant other if it's okay before you lean in to kiss them goodnight? I don't know anyone who does- and yet, as there was no explicit statement of consent, such an act is sexual assault. If you sit down to a restaurant and order a meal, you don't explicitly inform the restaurateur that you are entering into a contract... and yet the statement of ordering is sufficient to do so, regardless of the lack of explicit statements.

Creating such a black and white line between what sexual assault really is and what it really is not is not only dangerous but it does demean the harm done to those who have been raped.

At November 19, 2008 8:32 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous #2,

You are either obtuse to the point of being dangerous or you are deliberately ignoring the reality that when you are seeking to have sex with another person it is your responsibility to ensure the other person is giving you genuine legal consent. The same is true when someone is actively seeking to have sex with you.

That means getting verbal verification when you are using generic non-verbal generic signals to determime consent. One person who flirts with you might also be willing to have sex with you while another will not.

It is your responsibility to ensure that you proceed only when the other person wants to have sex with you and is capable of giving legal consent at that moment.

It is your responsibility to ensure that you are not coercing or manipulating someone who doesn't want to have sex with you.

If you know another person well enough to accurately read that person's specific signals then you don't need to talk in order to verify legal consent.

In that scenario, that person also doesn't need to talk in order for you to know when you do not have consent so if you proceed anyway a lack of "no" from that other person is not a valid defense against rape charges.

If you genuinely know where the boundary is between legal consent and non-consent with a specific person in a specific situation then you know it both when the other person consents and when they don't consent.

If the other person is seriously impaired or you don't know whether that person is impaired or not then that means no verification is possible and you have to wait until the other person is clearly no longer impaired.

Many people have played Russian Roulette with consent by proceeding without ensuring that they have legal consent. Most who do this call most rightful accusations of rape wrongful accusations.

Verbally verifying consent is better than taking a chance and finding yourself rightfully charged with rape and possibly rightfully convicted of rape.

Consent is black and white in the fact that the other person has either given you legal consent or they haven't. That person's consent or lack of consent isn't based on your assumptions or your feeling that what you are doing isn't rape.

At January 10, 2009 11:51 AM, Blogger amandamills said...

How is "I want the chicken" not an explicit consent in the restaurant scenario? Besides, you can hardly compare ordering at a restaurant to intercourse. And, as stated above, you have a legal obligation to make sure the sexual consent is explicit, so it's (fortunately) not up to you to decide what's appropriate


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