Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It Takes 2 Not To Tango (Rape)

A comment at The Sexist: On the Difficulty of "Saying No" by J.M. caught my eye:
Amanda [Hess]: “It’s not the victim’s duty to stop a violation, it’s a violator’s duty not to violate.”

Nice theory, how’s it working for the thousands of women who are raped every day across the globe because the violator’s sense of duty is either temporarily or permanently on hold? In the real world, it takes two not to tango.
This view of the sexual assaulter and the person being sexually assaulted as dance partners is almost as pervasive as rape itself. Many times in this so-called dance the victim is the one presented as leading. We see this in terminology like inviting trouble.

If this analogy is accurate then it takes 2, the victim and the potential murderer, not to murder someone. How dare we say that it is someone's duty not to murder J.M. and it is not J.M.'s duty not to be murdered? Don't we know that if we view murder victims as having a duty to stop their own murder that the murder rates will go down?

Using his analogy if he makes someone angry for any reason or goes into a high crime area, even unintentionally, he is beginning a tango which could end with someone trying to murder him and he should be held responsible for his contribution to the attempt on his life. That would change the dynamics of a criminal trial and would introduce the same fundamental problems victims of sexual assault experience after they report.

Once people buy into the false premise that rape victim and rapist are doing a tango it gets hard for those people to view rape as an intolerable crime. Rape becomes something victims opt into. This directly contributes to helping people turn off their sense of duty not to rape, either temporarily or permanently.

No wonder as J.M. mentioned thousands of women are raped every day across the globe.

In reality, if it takes 2 to keep rape happening, or not happening, then those 2 would be rapists and those who refuse to put complete moral and legal responsibility for each rape onto the rapist thereby helping that rapist put his (or less often her) sense of duty either temporarily or permanently on hold.

This faulty view of mutuality in sexual assaults is pervasive even in those who are opposed to sexual assault. On Twitter recently a man tweeted about seeing a sexual assault on a bus and in addition to seeing the assault as bad he found fault with the victim as well.

@abyss2hope I didn't equate anything, I simply said its wasn't good he had his hand in her shirt and it wasn't good she let him.
The problem with this response is that semantics matter and using identical labels does equate 2 unequal actions. This supports people like J.M. who evaluate the actions around rape and sexual assaults using the tango analogy.

In areas where it is rare for people to actually equate the actions or inactions of victims to the actions or inactions of perpetrators this semantic equality may not matter, but in sexual violence it is far too common for victims to be viewed as equally responsible or even more responsible (she led him on until it was too late for him to stop, for example) for sexual violence than the person who committed that sexual violence.

I challenged SupremeDonuan on his assumption that the woman actually let that man do anything to her and pointed out that the most common response to sexual assault is paralysis.

What many people see as a choice of someone being assaulted to do nothing is actually a physiological freeze response (pdf). When the victim is later able to describe what happened this is frequently called morning-after regret or retroactive non-consent by those who either don't know or don't care about the reality these labels deny.

So when he wrote: "she could've spoke up if she felt in danger" he is making a baseless assumption which again contributes to the idea of sexual assault as a mutual responsibility. If an observer who noticed something wrong believed that the young woman being assaulted could have spoken up easily then the man assaulting her could buy into that same narrative and tell himself that what he is doing is consensual when it is not.

No matter how popular the tango narratives or similar ones are they are not a valid substitute for the freely given consent of the other person and these narratives should never be a valid defense.

Those who say that these narratives are valid must support their use in evaluating all non-sex crimes or they don't truly believe in the validity of these narratives. If a teenage boy having his iPod stolen by a much larger man who sits next to him on the bus freezes those people must treat that non-response in the same way a girl's non-response to being groped is treated. It can't matter if those people know of a case where another boy was stabbed when he struggled to keep his iPod. The narrative is either valid for all types of crimes or it is completely invalid.

Just as non-violent thefts can escalate to physical assault or even murder so too can sexual assaults escalate. Not all sexual assault victims survive.

Being sexually assaulted in the presence of witnesses is often described as a safer situation than being assaulted in private, but that isn't the case for many rape victims who are also assaulted by some of those who witnessed the initial assault while the remainder of the witnesses do nothing to stop the violence such as the gang rape victim in Richmond, CA.

The potential risk that keeps many sexual assault victims from speaking up or seeking help is not limited to stranger rapists.
Flor Medrano, 30, told officers at the LAPD's Wilshire Station on Wednesday that the man, with whom she had an off-and-on relationship, had raped her and had been abusing her physically, according to police officials. [...]

Then, as officers watched for the man from an unmarked patrol car, they heard screaming and when they failed to reach Medrano by cellphone, they rushed to her apartment. Inside, they saw a man stabbing her. One of the officers fired and fatally wounded the man.
Medrano didn't survive this stabbing. She turned down the option of going to a shelter so she may have assumed that her rapist would not escalate and for that assumption some people will blame her. Yet the tango analogy encourages the minimization of the violence she reported as being relationship issues which barely cross the line into criminal behavior.

If the tango analogy is valid then if a man who witnesses a murder is himself murdered to prevent him from testifying he must also be viewed as failing at his duty.

The reality is that the tango analogy helps rapists and it helps murderers. It does not help keep anyone but violent criminals safer.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:32 AM   2 comments links to this post


At November 18, 2009 4:22 PM, Blogger mags said...

Really good dissection, thank you.

At November 19, 2009 8:47 AM, Anonymous Kali said...

Agreed with mags. I read/hear comments like that J.M. made and it just makes me incoherently outraged. But your post explains why we should be outraged so calmly and logically.


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