Thursday, October 08, 2009

"When a woman says 'no' she doesn’t mean it"

Many of my readers have heard someone who had previously seemed respectable and sensible make the claim in the title of this post when talking about date rape. A woman's no is too often nullified or considered as not enough to overcome reasonable doubt when the woman who said no then reports having been raped by someone she dated because, "women say no when they mean yes."

This meme and the related failure to view no as meaningful legally has been the subject of research, including in the study Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in 'Acquaintance Rape' Cases by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University Law School which found that a hierarchical worldview was correlated to rejecting a woman's repeated and undisputed no as legal proof of non-stranger rape.

Those who have repeated the claim given in the title of this post may think they are protecting the innocent. If they acknowledge that their dismissal of a woman's no is imprecise they are likely to believe they are correcting for that imprecision by telling girls and women to always avoid certain situations with their dates so that this statement can never be applied to them. Problem neatly solved.

Or so they assume.

From Down River Sunday Times:


[Mark J. Semkiw] was arrested recently in Texas for peeping through a 23-year-old woman’s window.

“When a woman says ‘no,’ she doesn’t mean it. She just doesn’t want to come off looking like a tramp.”

This statement from a man arrested for a non-contact crime may not sound too bad. Lot's of creepy men say stuff like this. However, Semkiw isn't just some creepy man.


Semkiw upped the criminal ante in 1986 when he committed his first of several rapes and robberies. According to a police profile, Semkiw’s modus operandi was to identify single white women living alone and force his way into their houses at night. He would rape them, rob them and then flee.

The attacks were carefully plotted. Police said Semkiw would often unscrew motion sensor lights at a victim’s house days prior to the attack and carried a “rape kit” of gloves and a mask.
The statement I quoted above about women saying no because they don't want to come off as tramps was given shortly after Semkiw served 2 prison terms, first after a rape conviction and then after peeping into a neighbor's house. He was matched by DNA to several other rapes and agreed to talk as part of a plea deal.


During his admission to Dearborn police at the time, Semkiw described himself as “unstoppable” and said he relied on his imposing physical stature to coerce women into sexual acts.
The fact that a man convicted of multiple stranger rapes describes what he did as coercion rather than force should send chills down the spines of everyone who has ever said that it's not real rape unless the victim is forced or who has ever minimized rape done through coercion.

Semkiw's disturbing views did not form in a vacuum. He is the personification of what too many people who view themselves as opposed to rape have said. I'm reminded of a quote from education I've had on primary prevention: "Toxic decisions seem rational in toxic environments," Dr. John Briere.

Because Semkiw targets strangers, not his dates, the true meaning of his statements cannot be dismissed and we can all see that his thinking, his decisions and his actions are toxic. That thinking is deeply embedded and helps explain why after multiple prison terms Semkiw was arrested again for behavior which most likely was a precursor for burglary and rape.

Yet the only significant difference between him and date rapists who refuse to believe that women don't mean it when they say no is his approach to finding and isolating his intended victims. His thinking is the same, but other rapists who share his mindset are often considered to not be real rapists and therefore not deserving of a rape conviction.

Rape victims who report those non-stranger rapists who think like Semkiw are often accused of trying to ruin men's lives or may be asked by a police investigator, "Are you sure you want to ruin his life like this?" If Semkiw's victims are not responsible for ruining his life then neither are victims of non-stranger rapes responsible for ruining their rapists lives.

Those who want to lock Semkiw away for the rest of his life while not wanting similar date rapists to even be charged teach other stranger rapists who haven't been caught yet that the smart move is to introduce themselves to their intended victims prior to attempting to rape them. The common dismissal of a rape victim's no also teaches rapists who know they don't have consent, and who may prefer to not have consent, to pretend to everyone that they are clueless.

The parts of the criminal justice system which contradict Semkiw's toxic beliefs can't help but get undermined each time he hears someone echo his confessed beliefs. The toxicity may have such a hold on him that no amount of prison time and no offender treatment will make the public safer from him than they were on the day he was last arrested.

The statement in the title of this post entitles men to ignore women when they say no. And that means everyone who makes that statement is entitling men to ignore women when they say no. That there was and is a need to remind people that no means no demonstrates how toxic many people's attitudes are about rape.

That many people continue to view no response at all especially from girls and women as meaning yes is another demonstration of how toxic our cultural attitudes are about rape.

Semkiw started off with just burglary and according to him began to consider rape when he watched women as he was casing their homes. All the common rape denial and victim blaming statements were likely easily recalled as Semkiw considered his first rape and each one of those statements he'd heard and accepted as truth would have helped make his transition from non-rapist to rapist easier.

Imagine however, if Semkiw and other sex offenders had never in their lives heard anyone make the statement in the title of this post or any other statement of denial, minimization or victim blaming.

We can only imagine this for Semkiw, but we can do more than imagine this for young children. We can work toward it by thinking carefully about what we say and by challenging those who make these types of statements and by talking to children and teens about these types of statements before they internalize them.

When people claim to be truly opposed to all sexual violence they need to follow up that claim by committing to detoxing their beliefs and their discussions so that nothing they say or do can be used to help anyone rationalize any sexually toxic action.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:42 AM   1 comments links to this post

1 Comments:

At October 11, 2009 4:13 PM, Anonymous Melissa said...

I found this story through a link at Ginmar's , be warned it's disgusting; http://jezebel.com/5378743/man-propositions-his-13+year+old-estranged-daughter-via-facebook. Luckily , this monster was arrested. He had FIVE other men with her so there is no telling what planned to do to this child.

 

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