Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Stop It Before It Starts: Part 2

Wednesday of last week I attended the seminar Stop It Before It Starts: Preventing Sexual and Domestic Violence presented by: Minnesota Men's Action Network: Alliance to Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In part 1, I gave my thoughts on the first session which was about the dynamics of domestic violence.

This post is a recap of the second session, Introduction to Sexual Violence, given by Lindsay Gullingsrud of Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA).

I'll begin with the definition of sexual violence she used (from MNCASA):

The use of sexual actions or words that are unwanted by and/or harmful to another person.

This is a broader definition than any legal definition can be since what harms people is often debated. But when it comes to primary prevention this is a perfect definition. Sexual harassment is included under sexual violence and rightfully so.

I won't include all of the statistics, but one statistic that is telling is that in Minnesota, 93% of victims who used advocacy services were assaulted by someone known to them. This statistic means that those who dismiss non-stranger sex crimes as not worth investigating are dismissing the majority of sex crimes in Minnesota.

With the common attitudes which dismiss or minimize non-stranger sexual violence it is no wonder this percentage is so high.

The next part of the presentation was on undetected rapists who use psychological weapons -- power, control, manipulation and threats -- backed up by physical force. They almost never use weapons such as knives or guns. They do use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack or to cause their victims to become unconscious. They test prospective victims' personal boundaries.

Undetected rapists plan and premeditate every element of their attacks and develop strategies to achieve their goals. They use physical violence carefully and exhibit strong impulse control. They use only as much violence as needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission.

Some undetected rapists are not serial rapists, but many of them are serial rapists.

We saw a related video which is a recreation of a real interview with a fraternity man (never prosecuted) who described to a researcher his regular pattern of behavior which met the legal definition of rape. Girls and women were referred to by this serial rapist as targets. Premeditation and minimization were both present and not just in the moments before rape. Premeditation was present in selecting who to invite to the fraternity party and it was present in the creation of high-octane punch which was mixed to make it seem non-alcoholic or low octane. Even the rapists manner after giving his target the spiked drink was premeditated so that the girl or woman would drink more than normal. His actions were supported by his fraternity brothers.

When this fraternity man demonstrated how he completed his plan he indicated that during the last step of his strategy he used his forearm to control his target. By the placement of his forearm that would mean he was pressing down on his target's windpipe. When he was done he just left with not another thought about the girl or woman he'd just used (raped). I suspect he did not want to see the trauma he inflicted.

I'm reminded of those who refuse to judge rape cases by the experience of the rape victim and who assess allegations based on comparing the alleged victim's testimony to the claims of the alleged rapist. This dismissal of the victim's experience is done in the name of objectivity, but rapists like this fraternity man are not going to respond with honesty.

Just as those rapists set out to manipulate their targets they are going to set out to manipulate investigators, peers and the public.

This type of rapist isn't attempting to get genuine consent and the only misunderstandings are deliberate. It took me decades to fully understand this about my boyfriend/rapist.

This description contradicts those who talk about non-violent rapists. This is violence that is just as real as the violence from rapists who use a gun to gain submission. The difference to me comes down to strategy. The undetected rapist is using a strategy where violence can be hidden in plain sight.

Because these types of rapists use vulnerability as a weapon it isn't just alcohol which can precipitate rape. Various undetected rapists will use vulnerability to rape children, the elderly, the disabled, those with credibility problems, people with substance abuse issues and others.

Many of these vulnerabilities are completely outside of the victim's control so lectures telling people to not be vulnerable aren't effective prevention. Worse is that these lectures often feed into the rationalization of the sexual violence. Vulnerability too often becomes an acceptable substitute for consent.

There are 5 norms underlying sexual violence.
  1. Violence is acceptable

  2. Male gender roles/norms

  3. female gender roles/norms

  4. Power -- power over

  5. Private matter
These norms must change for primary prevention to succeed. I'm sure there will be people who will see the first item on this list and claim that sexual violence is not acceptable. However, the acceptability of violence is all around us.

I believe that when people refuse to consider date rape as sexual violence and when people support police not investigating these rapes they are making sexual violence acceptable -- as long as the sexually violent stay within certain limits. And these limits are working. When someone, adult or child, is forcibly abducted off the street by a stranger rapist the reaction is unequivocal.

When any type of sexual violence is allowed to continue on a practical basis it is acceptable even if a law or a school policy states that sexual violence is not acceptable.

Just as norms influence the decisions made by the sexually violent, norms influence the impact sexual violence will have on the victim of that violence and the choices that victim makes afterwards. The norm of victim blaming definitely has a major impact on survivors.

Gullingsrud closed by talking about the cost ($8 billion in 2005) of sexual violence in Minnesota.

Next, Addressing the Sexually Toxic Environment.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:25 AM   4 comments links to this post


At May 05, 2009 6:54 PM, Anonymous oldfeminist said...

Thank you so much for this.

Rapists are predatory. The techniques sound familiar because they're very similar to the techniques child molesters use.

At May 05, 2009 10:31 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

Somebody recently said that you were on fire and had written an especially great post. I thought at the time that the comment was inaccurate.

Because good god Marcella, you are on fire every single day.

At May 06, 2009 12:17 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

m Andrea, thanks for the praise, but I can't take credit for most of the content of this post.

This is the quality of training that is being done in Minnesota.

At May 06, 2009 3:04 PM, Blogger Holly/Admin said...

Hi Marcella,
Your truly making a difference, yes your on fire! Take care Holly


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