Friday, June 05, 2009

Are All Men Capable Of Refraining From Rape?

In response to the Silence is the Enemy campaign many bloggers are discussing why someone who didn't rape prior to a war will rape during a war or even after it.

From Is there a rape switch? by Greg Laden:

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.

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.

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.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:03 PM   8 comments links to this post


At June 06, 2009 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I completely agree with what you have said.

I wonder if the apparent increase in rape rates during war can be grouped in with other atrocities. By that I mean are the same triggers at work?

We are all ultimately responsible for our own actions. Sometimes our choices may be between a rock and a hard place, I imagine war and a military command structure can throw a lot of those up. But in such circumstances you can always choose the rock and this is not an excuse.

The only thing that remotely approaches an excuse is mental illness - where your ability to reason and make decisions is impaired through no fault of your own (by definition). Now there are different forms of mental illness, and different people are affected in different ways. We know that extreme stress can be a trigger for mental illness (and that war veterans often suffer from said).

That said, I would like to point out that it would be a pretty (extraordinarily!) rare form of mental illness that would drive someone to rape.

At June 07, 2009 11:53 PM, Blogger Lauren O said...

Some people will flat-out say that all men are animals who cannot control their sexual behavior once they are sufficiently sexually aroused.

And it's interesting how those are the same people who claim to support "personal responsibility" above everything. If a woman gets pregnant, she can't get an abortion, because she should have kept her legs shut. If a man rapes a woman, well, men have very strong urges, you know, what was the woman expecting wearing a skirt like that?

At June 08, 2009 9:40 AM, Blogger gregladen said...

That is a very interesting way of putting this question.

At June 09, 2009 12:53 AM, Blogger DuWayne Brayton said...

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.

I am starting from the base assumption that all men are capable, so I fail to see why the difference between would and could are relevant to this statement in context. Of course there's a difference - all men are capable, so the question then becomes "what would make me rape?"

The other issue is about his definition of rape.

Funny, because I didn't even define rape in my fucking post.

...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.

No. The incidence of reported rape is highly gendered - though I dare say that you're right about wartime rape, which is a very different context.

And this coming from someone who claims to get rather pissy when rape is defined as something only a stranger can do - something I agree with you on. Is it really that hard to consider for a moment, that guys might - might just happen to experience it too and have some serious issues with the idea of telling anyfuckingbody?

Or is it not rape when some fucking bitch who was pissed that I wanted to use a condom and who after she decided she was done after she got hers, even though I hadn't gotten there yet - thus I was really irritated, does that bitch then deciding to ride the hardon most guys get when they sleep not count as fucking rape?

I didn't like her and was only spending the night, because I was drunk. I also was adamantly apposed to not using condoms - which she didn't respect when she decided to take advantage of my being passed out, to fuck me.

I didn't report it. Didn't even consider it. When I woke up with her mounting me, I shoved her the fuck off me and left. The feeling of violation being nothing, compared to the intense fucking rage I felt. It wasn't until I was discussing the women who, with her husband, owns the bar I frequented in St. Louis, that the word rape entered the equation - and then only when she explained to the bitch that rapists aren't welcome in her bar.

Was it a big fucking issue in my life? No, not at all - not at the time. But then I never really delved into how I felt about a lot of things, until recently. This discussion about rape has brought a lot to the surface - especially in conjunction with research I've been doing into the ways men deal with their emotions - or more to the point flat refuse to.

Fact is, I suspect that a lot of men don't even recognize something that happened to them as rape. And of those who do, probably a very few can actually grasp how it made them and makes them feel about it.

Now if you want to substantively address what I actually said, I am game for a debate. Or if you are willing to actually consider that pretending that rape is only something that can happen to women, then lets talk.

At June 09, 2009 9:30 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


I'm sorry you interpretted something I wrote here as an attack on you. That was never my intention. As you point out in your comment you didn't define rape in your post which made your definition unknown which in turn can be problematic when talking about the boundary between committing rape or refraining from committing rape especially when contrasting wartime and peacetime rape.

I did not mean to communicate that women cannot rape (they can and do) in peacetime or wartime only that when gender is erased from the discussion that it ignores the role of gender within society in enabling the decision to rape.

You seem to disagree that the rate of committing rape is gendered in peacetime which I assume means that you believe gender plays no role in the rate at which people decide to rape in peacetime.

Your personal experience being raped by a woman is exactly what I was talking about when I raised the issue of how people define non-wartime rape. For many people once a rape victim agrees to be alone with someone -- or has any consensual sexual contact with that person -- a subsequent rape doesn't count as a rape and becomes nothing more than a relationship issue or one person being a jerk.

If that woman joined the military, was sent to Iraq and then raped a man (an Iraqi prisoner in Abu Ghraib for example) that move would not have flipped a rape switch in her. It would not be the environment which caused her to rape, it would be the environment which would cause her to be seen as a rapist.

This is why I emphasized the difference between couldn't and wouldn't rape. It's good that if you were surrounded by rapists urging you to join in on the fun and knew you could get away with rape that you still wouldn't rape.

At June 09, 2009 12:55 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

DuWayne, I assumed by your comment that improperly assuming consent, context and prior relationship never excuse proceeding when there is no current active consent to a particular activity and qualify an action as rape or sexual assault.

Is that assumption correct?

At June 10, 2009 10:16 AM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

That was outrage porn. While it is possible for a man to be raped and to suffer from that rape, part of what makes rape so incredibly terrible for women is that it's used as terrorism.

It has the same effect as lynchings did on black people. Sure, white doods could be lynched, but hearing about another white dood being lynched didn't result in most white people driving themselves crazy trying to be the kind of "good white" who wouldn't be targeted for stepping out of the box they were supposed to stay in.

Most of the time I hear a guy discussing male rape, they always talk about how terrible it is "for all victims" but almost never acknowlege that for females, rape is a form of terroism.

They only understand how terrible rape is, from their own point of view.

At June 10, 2009 11:39 AM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

It is important to remember that when we magically equalize that which is not equal, then we only minimize and ignore the inequality.

In other words, we do not live in a society where males and females are equal. So to act as if a woman assuming consent is just as terrible as when a man assumes consent, ignores not only the motivaton, but the result, within the larger framework. A man is using socially approved entitlement and privilege when he doesn't ask first, while a woman is simply acting upon what would be considered normal in a completely just world -- or when someone is dealing with the default human.

Two people had sex, and neither one left the room. Instead, they went to sleep. It would be normal, in a world without a genderized power imbalance, to assume the person didn't mind a second sexual advance a few hours later. It is ONLY because of the unequal power difference that men need to be extra careful when assuming consent.

Sorry, I probably didn't explain that very well, but the reasoning is sound. That wasn't rape, that was one person making an unwelcome sexual advance after other welcome advances.


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