Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Through A Rapist's Eyes: Part 3

In the comments of part 1, Sophie sent me a link to a post on the blog Cows gone Wilde which quotes a comment by Dr. Mark Cowling on the blog Too Much To Say For Myself.

Here is part of that comment:

Therefore, in my 1998 book, Date Rape and Consent, I discuss the idea of communicative sexuality in the context of an example of date rape offered by Andrea Parrott. It comes from her introduction to Acquaintance Rape: The Hidden Crime (New York, John Wiley, 1991, p. 9):

Mary and John had been dating for two weeks. Both Mary and John had slept with people in the past but they hadn’t had sexual intercourse with each other. On their fourth date, after John took Mary out for a lobster dinner and then to a wild party to meet some of his friends, the couple went to John’s apartment. Mary was wearing a sexy, provocative dress. She had spent a lot of time getting ready, because she wanted to look her best for a special evening. After they got to his apartment, they shared a bottle of wine, listened to music, talked, laughed and kissed. Mary told John what a wonderful time she was having with him. John suggested that they move to his bedroom where they could get more comfortable. She nodded in agreement. In the bedroom, they started dancing erotically and kissing passionately. John caressed Mary’s breasts, and Mary moaned. When he started to unbutton her blouse, Mary asked him to stop. He kissed her gently and continued to undress her. She begged him to stop. She told him ‘No!’ emphatically and said that she was not ready for sex with him. He continued anyway, telling her that he knew she wanted it. He told her to relax and that she was really going to like it. John assured Mary that he loved her and that he had been thinking about this moment ever since they first met. He pulled up her skirt and pulled down her panties. While holding both of her arms with one of his hands, he unzipped his fly, took out his erect penis, and penetrated her.

Andrea Parrott is making the point that this is rape, even though many people, possibly including Mary herself, would not recognise it as such. I agree that it is rape. (An interesting point about the example is that John’s motive is presented as a desire for sex, not domination or revenge. This seems to me to fit the survey evidence about date rape, which finds little violence and is more a case of the man ‘just carrying on’ when the woman has asked him to stop. However, it doesn’t fit with many accounts of rape where the motive is said to be anger, domination, revenge etc.) I would also agree that this was rape even if things had gone considerably further and Mary had consented to John having sex with her, but had subsequently asked him to stop and he had simply gone on.

However, I have some sympathy with John. Why has Mary allowed him to get so far if she does not want things to go any further? There are 12 choices that Mary makes where she chooses to do things which, while not being consent to sex, point in that direction. This is why I suggest that it would be appropriate for her to offer some kind of an explanation. Hence my suggestions about headaches, illness, forgotten appointments etc. I am not suggesting that she has to give such an explanation, merely that it would be better not to treat John as an automaton whose sexual desires can be switched on and off instantly and at will.

The only way for Cowling to have any sympathy with John (who is fictional but reflective of too many real rapists) after this list of actions is if Cowling has the same mindset as John. This mindset disregards women in sexualized interactions. This is reflected in the minimizing of rapes where the man is "just carrying on" when there is no consent or when consent has been withdrawn.

John forcibly raped Mary, he wasn't "just carrying on" without her.

This concept of "just carrying on" effectively erases the rape victim since it eliminates the fact that rape is something done to another person. This erasure falsely makes consensual sex and rape on a date indistinguishable experiences. Under this erasure, the only difference becomes a matter of labeling.

No wonder rape conviction rates are so low.

Sexual desire does not equal sexual actions. A man can be bursting with sexual desire and not grab the nearest target and try to rape that person. A woman can expect sexual actions to stop or to not escalate without treating a man like an automaton or bringing rape upon herself.

This erasure is what allows many rapists to claim that what they did wasn't "real" rape. Genuine "just carrying on" would have been if John let go of Mary, walked into the bathroom and masturbated until he had no more sexual desire.

If John didn't like the fact that Mary wasn't ready or if he was hurt by her refusal, he had many options besides rape. Cowling blames Mary for creating this situation with her, "No," which fails to consider the likelihood that John himself was to blame for that, "No," or for getting it in the way he did.

In the bedroom before Mary said, "No," John abandoned mutuality and went for what he wanted with no regard for anyone but himself. That decision to rush Mary could be as effective of a turn off as if John had thrown ice water in her face. In both cases, what had been wonderful and anticipated could instantly become uncomfortable at best.

Instead of even considering that John's actions played a role in that, "No," Cowling effectively positions John as a completely innocent victim of Mary's late announcement that she wasn't ready. This assumption falls back on the stereotype of women as cruel teases. This rape then becomes nothing more than a biological response to a woman's unreasonable actions.

If John's referral to "getting more comfortable" was meant to be a request for sex and it wasn't received in that way, John has nobody but himself to blame for thinking he had agreement when he did not. Someone who refuses to be clear in the process of getting someone else's consent because being direct is not romantic has no excuse for rape since rape is even less romantic than direct communication.

Unfortunately, for too many people consent -- or assumed consent -- is the point where the person who believes they have consent can stop caring about what the other person wants, likes or hates and can do whatever they want to that other person.

If this view of consent were applied beyond sex crimes, that would mean allowing someone inside your home gives them legal permission to do whatever they want in your home and if you try to stop them then you are the one who caused that person to assault you. Few people would sympathize with a guest who ran roughshod over another person in their own home and who assaulted that person when they objected. Yet many people who will always sympathize with the homeowner will always sympathize with the assaulter if the home being overrun is their body.

In this example John absolutely decided to dominate Mary -- and to abandon the pretext that they had any sort of genuine relationship -- when the evening didn't proceed exactly as he hoped it would.

Yet Cowling fails to see this domination. He also fails to see the decision to rape as possible revenge for a date saying, "No."

John decided that it was okay to rob the woman he "loved" of her right to decide what she was ready for or how far she was willing to go that night. He decided that it was okay to subject the woman he "loved" to the trauma of forcible rape. Not only is that criminal, it destroys the very thing that John claimed to value.

Any claim that John's actions were irrational or purely hormonal are contradicted by his words which show that he was rational and had non-hormonal reasons for committing rape.

That makes John a liar.

Believe me, hearing "love" used as an excuse for rape cannot in any way reduce the trauma of rape. But John and Cowling aren't interested in this rape or this relationship from any perspective other than the rapist's.

This is beyond dehumanizing. A man will not intentionally harm the car he loves and wants to keep. Yet people continue to sympathize with men who intentionally harm girls and women they "love" through rape as long as they do it in the right context.

The only questions are, "When can John or other rapists rationalize rape?" and, "When can those around rapists also rationalize or minimize rape into something that shouldn't be treated like the crime it is?"

Would John have rationalized rape if Mary had said no before they entered the bedroom? Would he have rationalized it if Mary said no before she entered his apartment?

Cowling's suggestion that Mary should lie to John rather than telling him "no" is bad advice. It wouldn't have prevented this rape. However, it could result in real men like John claiming that Mary's lack of consent was unclear and therefore what he did was consensual.

It doesn't matter how many actions a woman takes that point toward consent. In fact this concept of "pointing toward consent" as mitigating rape is a dangerous concept that helps rapists rationalize rape. It also helps them escape rightful conviction.

A woman who is raped by someone she was considering having sex with or even hoping to eventually have sex with is still raped. The physical trauma is not reduced and the personal betrayal is far greater than in a stranger rape.

Men who bemoan women's sexual stinginess, lack of clear communication or distrust of them related to sex need to blame rapists who rape women who seem to be up for it.

The impact of those rapists is real. It doesn't matter if their rape victims never feared for their lives or if their rapists were only thinking about themselves and didn't spare a thought for the trauma they created.

Being raped by those who seem like decent human beings can make recovery more difficult because those rape victims lose their sense that other decent people can be relied upon to act like decent people. This is magnified by every person who denies or minimizes rape under these circumstances or who focuses most of their criticism on the rape victim.

Too many people who think of themselves as being firmly against rape cling to their belief that rape under these circumstances causes no harm and that these rapists are not dangerous criminals.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:08 AM   6 comments links to this post


At January 22, 2009 4:01 PM, Blogger polly said...

Thanks Marcella. The scary thing about this dude, who I discovered through a comment he left on another blog, and a bit of judicious googling, is that he is presented to the media by the university he is employed by (Teesside University) as an expert on 'date rape'.

Yet he quotes the words of rapists themselves (who anyone working in the field would tell you are usually in complete denial) as 'proof' that 'date rape' is just uncontrollable desire. They didn't want to rape, they just got carried away.

The royal college of psychiatrists say that one of the main characteristics of sex offenders is 'beliefs supportive of rape'. Doh!

At January 22, 2009 5:48 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Polly, I appreciate the additional information about Cowling. His POV is a familiar one from many of those who are positioned as experts.

At January 22, 2009 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John as an automaton whose sexual desires can be switched on and off instantly and at will.

And here he's conflating desire with action - that if desires can't be turned off immediately, then neither can actions be moderated or conscience exercised.


At January 23, 2009 2:48 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

Guess what this post proves. Go on, guess.

It's 2009, and we're still trying to convince men that women are not objects.

Can we please give up on them nooooooooow?

At January 26, 2009 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not all men are would-be rapists...that's something that radical feminists have a hard time understanding. Any man that is sick enough to rape is completely fruitloops and no more indicative of men than al-Qaeda is of Islam or the Inquisition is of Christianity.

At January 26, 2009 8:30 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


Your claim that anyone who will rape is completely fruitloops is provably false.

Your rape denial -- if you really believe what you write -- means that for rapists who are not completely fruitloops then you go straight to false accusations against all those who rightfully report rape committed by these non-fruitloops men.

If that is indicative of all men then it doesn't speak well of men's research and reasoning skills. Fortunately, I don't believe you are indicative of all men.


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