From Is there a rape switch? by Greg Laden:
I won't go into depth on the issue of how many of those peacetime non-rapists are actually rapists who have never been reported or viewed as rapists because of their choice of victim and their methodology for peacetime rape. However, failing to label all peacetime rapes accurately can make it seem like the rate of rapes has risen more than it actually has once a country or region is at war.
This question is shorthand for a larger and more nuanced set of questions that has emerged over the last 24 hours here and here as people engage in this very interesting and important discussion about rape, especially wartime rape and related post-apocalyptic rape cultures.
"The switch" is a term I first heard from Victoria Brandon, who wrote a term paper for me on this in 1993. The basic idea of a switch would be supported if more or less randomly (though age biased, likely) selected men, put into a certain situation, tended to commit rape on a much larger scale ... or more exactly, a much larger percentage of the men rape under those circumstances ... than would ever be predicted based on anything anyone knows about these men before or after the circumstances prevail.
In other words, when all the young men stay home, they are mostly not going to rape anyone. In contrast, when the same exact men go off to war, an alarming percentage of them rape. Switch off, switch on.
A society which ignores spousal rape will have a very different idea about those same rapists when the spouses they rape are not their own.
If the meaning of switch is that individual men can be switched by external circumstances then I don't believe in a rape switch. But if the meaning is that circumstances can make it easier for men to flip the switch between not committing rape and committing rape then I do believe in a rape switch. This is also true of women, but in peacetime and wartime the rates of female perpetration are much lower than they are for men in similar circumstances. It's more than biology which accounts for this difference of perpetration by gender.
This second idea makes flipping that rape switch something people do prior to committing rape. It does not mean that the circumstance causes the rape, only that the circumstance can be conducive to rape and to rapists. This can be a lack of punishment for rape and it can also be a reward for rape such as peer approval for joining in on a brutal gang rape of someone considered to be the enemy.
One way men can more easily flip the rape switch in peaceful circumstances is to duplicate the switch and then to rename the new switch. It might be thought of as a "this isn't a real rape switch." Many of these rapists are aided in pulling the switch when their actions are dismissed as nothing more than insensitivity. These rapists will point to that original switch called the "real rape switch" and swear honestly that they have never and would never jump out from behind a bush and flip that switch.
Greg Laden's question about whether there is a rape switch led another man to ask a related question.
Are-all men capable of rape? was asked by Duwayne Brayton.
But what about the other end of this discussion? Because the question is not; "Are all men capable of rape, if their social context is one wherein rape is a cultural norm?" The question is; "Are all men capable of rape?" which implies all men, as we exist within any social context. This is a much tougher question - not because it doesn't have a very simple answer, but because that simple answer rides atop a rather complex set of variables and because it is extremely difficult to approach this question objectively. The simple answer? Yes, all men are capable of rape, all men, regardless of the social context or cultural norms they were raised in.
Brayton later changes the question to, "Are all people capable of rape?", but removing gender from the question can cause people to ignore the reality that the commission of rape is highly gendered in peacetime and in wartime. He continues:
But no matter how abstract my thinking, no matter how creative I can be, no matter how actively I try to conceive of it, I simply cannot conceive of a situation in which I would rape anyone.The problem with this as an answer to the question he asked is the word, "would." There is a clear difference between what people are capable of doing and what they will do. The other issue is about his definition of rape. Some people define rape as something only strangers do.
I am capable of picking up a gun and firing it into the flesh of someone I don't like, but I choose not to do so and this choice is deeply ingrained in who I have chosen to be. My ethical choices were definitely influenced by the ethical beliefs of my parents and my community, but I had the ability to reject those influences. I did reject some of those general ethical beliefs since they allowed harm which I view as unacceptable. As part of this choice related to guns I reject any rationalization for firing a gun at another human being except in self-defense.
For me the most important question is, "Are all men capable of refraining from rape no matter what circumstance or environment they occupy?" I believe the answer is yes.
Much of the so-called rape prevention advice directed at potential victims on the other hand is based on the premise that the answer to this question is a firm no, not all men are capable of refraining from rape.
Some people will flat-out say that all men are animals who cannot control their sexual behavior once they are sufficiently sexually aroused. This puts girls and women in control of boys and men's rape switches. The only prevention under this model is for girls and women to never do anything which could sexually arouse a boy or man, thereby flipping his rape switch, unless that girl or woman is willing to accept that boy or man's mindless sexual aggression.
This is a handy way of thinking for boys and men who don't want to be held responsible for their own actions because they will only rape under specific circumstances. This can also give girls and women a false sense of safety since their choice to leave what are labeled as boys and men's rape switches in the off-position actually controls nothing.
In wartime, gang rape can be a deliberate strategy which means that the choice not to rape may alienate the non-rapist from his rapist allies and fellow soldiers. But that choice not to rape can be made.
The rate of sexual violence after war or after widespread violence depends on what it took for wartime rapists to flip their rape switch. If finding a girl or woman alone and vulnerable was all it took a wartime soldier to rationalize rape that rationalization will outlast the war. If, on the other hand, wartime rape was about bonding with fellow soldiers by gang raping someone considered the enemy that rationalization will come into play less often once that rapist is no longer a soldier. If rape is only justified as an acceptable stress reliever when a soldier fears being killed in battle, the rate of rapes will drop as soldiers fear of death drops.
All men are capable of refraining from rape because committing rape is a choice. We can influence an increase in the rate at which men refrain from rape by deciding to not accept any excuses for rape and by not accepting or minimizing rape even when it is packaged under a different label.
Labels: Violence Against Women