Monday, November 30, 2009

Why Demanding Communication of Lack of Consent Is Dangerous

I've challenged other feminists who under certain conditions support placing some legal responsibility onto the person who doesn't want sex or sexual contact. Too often those feminists assume I'm being artificially nitpicky when I talk about the dangerous legal consequences of ever placing any responsibility onto the person who isn't consenting.

To these feminists the idea that the person who isn't consenting can do absolutely nothing and be completely passive seems irresponsible and may be seen as contributing to someone who doesn't have the other person's consent proceeding with the assumption that no response is acceptance.

Because they view clear communication in personal interactions as good they don't see what is bad in including this good idea in sex crimes laws.

Now there is an overturned sexual assault conviction in Connecticut which shows the danger I see in the position held by some of my fellow feminists.
The state Appellate Court in Hartford on Tuesday set free a Bridgeport man convicted last year of sexually molesting a severely handicapped woman.

Although the woman cannot speak and testified by using a special computer device provided by the state, the appeals court ruled she is not physically helpless, as defined by the state law under which a Bridgeport Superior Court jury convicted Richard Fourtin. [...]

The woman has severe cerebral palsy and cannot verbally communicate. She is so physically restricted that she is able to motion only with her right index finger.

In order for the woman to testify during the trial, a small video camera was placed over her and a tray affixed to her chair. On the tray, the prosecutor placed a board printed with the letters of the alphabet along with the words "yes'' and "no'' on top.

After each question, the woman's left hand would push her right hand, with the index finger forward, across the board to either spell out a word or answer yes or no. It was an exhausting process that lasted four days.

But the appeals court said it was not convinced that the woman is helpless.
And why wasn't this woman helpless?

Because the woman could screech, bite, kick and scratch. Unfortunately, this belief that if someone can do something even once then they could do it instantly when sexual contact or activity is unwanted. None of these actions would help her get away from Fourtin so the assumption needs to be that any of these would repel him or any other sex criminal.

This idea goes back to the idea that most non-stranger rapists are merely failing to understand someone else's lack of consent. If their victims were better communicators these rapists allegedly wouldn't be rapists.

Implicit in this ruling is the assumption that if the victim didn't screech, bite, kick or scratch that she must be assumed by the criminal law to have consented or there must be reasonable doubt about whether or not she was consenting even though there is no evidence that she communicated actual consent.

This goes directly back to the position that many people defend as being reasonable when that position is not reasonable and directly helps sex offenders get away with sex crimes that those people recognize as sex crimes.

If you go to a car dealership and test drive a car, say wonderful things about that car, you have not consented to buy that car simply because you didn't say, "No, I'm not buying this car." It would be absurd to demand that all car shoppers' absence of consent must be clear.

Nobody who goes to a car dealership needs to be empowered to always say no in order to avoid unwanted car ownership or car ownership which comes at too high of a price.

If a shopper says, "maybe" or "I'll think about it" or says nothing everybody gets that there is no consent. So this concept is not a difficult one. Yet many people -- including those who vocally oppose rape -- continue to have trouble with this concept when it comes to sex or sexual contact.
Too many people, including judges, seem to need a reminder that the basic concept of consent is a positive agreement not just the lack of an extremely negative response. The backwards view of legal consent when it comes to sex and sexual contact needs to be abandoned by everyone who doesn't support sex crimes.

There can be no excuses allowed for continuing to support a view of consent which leaves those who did not consent so vulnerable to sexual abuse and then to being abandoned by our legal system.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:58 AM   6 comments links to this post

Friday, November 27, 2009

Carnival Deadline Tonight

Just popping in from my holiday week away from blogging for a quick reminder.

Tonight at 11 pm is the next deadline for the Carnival Against Sexual Violence so please take a few minutes and nominate a post you've written or a post you've read.

For anyone unfamiliar with blog carnivals, these are collections of blog posts on a variety of topics. You can browse the list of carnivals some of which are active and others which are not.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:07 AM   2 comments links to this post

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday Week Plans And Questions

My blogging this week will be light to non-existent because of my plans for this holiday week which include working on turning the work I've done on this blog and putting it into book format. Right now the tentative title for my planned book is: They Serve Beer to Rapists.

In this book I will be focusing on:

1) Helping people see where our society supports a victim-critical, rapist-sympathetic view of rape and how this view is grossly ineffective at preventing rape and causes survivors extra trauma.

2) Helping people reject this view and replace it with a healthier model which puts the responsibility for sexual violent actions back where it belongs.

Are there certain posts or portions of posts on Abyss2hope which people have found particularly helpful in these 2 areas of focus? Any other ideas related to this book are welcome.

Feel free to email me privately at
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:31 AM   4 comments links to this post

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fundamental Conflict Between Rape As Crime Second Only To Murder And Proceeding When Other Person's Willingness Not Certain

Since I started blogging over 3 and half years ago I have watched many people who claim that rape is a crime second only to murder or who use some other way of expressing that they find rape to be horrific quickly shift the focus away from this belief to finding most victims of rape to be at fault for their own rapes.

This gives us statements such as inviting trouble, deserved rape and many other statements which put the responsibility for rape prevention and most rapes onto potential victims.

The claim that rape is second only to murder if mentioned again by these people is used only to dismiss certain rapes because they don't seem horrific to that person. But there is a fundamental problem with this maneuver.

If a person truly believes that rape is horrific and is absolutely opposed to rape then that person will be sure never to commit rape and won't leave their fate as a rapist or non-rapist to chance or probability or within another person's control.

If something when done to a stranger is horrific (stabbing, for example) then it will still be horrific when done to a non-stranger. When this is not the case then the crime itself is not considered horrific at all by that person.

Even so-called non-horrific rapes have measurable long term consequences to the victim beyond STDs and pregnancy. Rape has serious physical health (pdf) and mental health consequences including the increased risk of the victim later committing suicide. This contradicts statements frequently made by rapists and their defense attorneys that being convicted of felony rape is an unjust punishment for an act which was over in minutes or a little longer. The act of murder can be over in seconds, but that doesn't mean the impact of this crime is over just as quickly.

If people truly believe rape is horrific they won't dismiss it as if it has no real consequences for certain victims.

Because of my rape at age 15 I like many rape survivors abused alcohol in an attempt to cope with my trauma and at around the first anniversary of my rape I came dangerously close to dying of alcohol poisoning. The events of that night would not have happened if I hadn't been raped. My boyfriend's decision to rape me twice almost killed me. But many people still dismiss the seriousness of my rape because, "it was just date rape."

People who believe rape is horrific will never be dismissive about the consequences of rape and will hold onto their belief that rape is horrific no matter what. Even the possibility of committing rape will be absolutely horrifying.

When people truly believe that rape is horrific then guessing that proceeding won't be rape will be seen in the same way as guessing that a gun is unloaded before aiming it at another person's heart and pulling the trigger.

Few people would ignore all those who "accidentally" shoot someone they know while looking for any excuse to blame the person who was shot. But many people excuse those who rape someone they know and don't care if that rape victim later commits suicide because of that rape. "The date rapist didn't mean to kill her he just wanted sex that she was withholding unfairly," would be an intolerable excuse if rape was truly believed to be horrific.

They wouldn't need to view the person holding the gun or the person who rapes as evil to condemn that person's behavior and demand that this practice stop immediately. They wouldn't limit themselves to teaching children what to do the next time someone tries to rape them or points an allegedly empty gun at their heart.

When another person seems likely to consent someone who truly believes that all rapes are horrific will find it imperative to make absolutely certain that the other person has freely consented before each sexual action. Miscommunication will not be a possible cause of rape for these people because if rape is even the slightest possibility that will be enough to stop them.

Losing out on potentially consensual sex will be an acceptable price for ensuring that nothing they do harms someone else. Learning later that in an iffy situation that someone was freely consenting will be fine because that is better than learning later that in an iffy situation that someone was NOT freely consenting.

Living with a missed opportunity will be better than living with the reality of becoming a rapist.

This belief doesn't lock boys and men into fear anymore than understanding the importance of treating every gun as if it is loaded locks people into fear. This belief means that the person will not interact with anyone else sexually as if they are an object. Instead they will learn to integrate verbal and non-verbal communication into their sexual interactions and will learn to avoid situations where another person's freedom of choice is limited. Sex will be something they do with another person and never to another person.

When rape, with no exclusions and conditions, is truly believed to be horrific then those people don't need to be sold on the importance of them making sure what they are doing is fully and freely consensual.


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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Homelessness and Sexual Assault

From Homelessness Info (Australia) I found a paper on this often overlooked topic of homelessness and sexual assault:

The paper shows the significance of the issues of sexual assault and abuse to the issue of homelessness. It describes the high prevalence of sexual assault of people who are homeless, particularly of young and adult women. It documents ways that standard homelessness "solutions" may be unsuitable for homeless people who have experienced sexual assault. It suggests ways an explicit recognition of sexual assault could be incorporated into Australia's new approach to homelessness.
There are 2 main issues: the increased risk of sexual assault against people while they are homeless and how prior sexual assaults can impact homelessness.

The second issue is something that many service providers aren't fully aware of and because of this lack of understanding survivors can lose access to important resources including crisis accommodations.

The report suggests taking a trauma-informed approach and to have trauma-specific services to meet the needs of the homeless and in services designed to help people with long-term housing and employment.

This is important because in too many cases where the helping systems themselves fail it is the person who isn't helped who is incorrectly given the responsibility for the failure.

Read the entire report Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault (pdf).


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:48 AM   1 comments links to this post

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Trouble With "Inviting Trouble"

Some of the most dangerous statements I remember from childhood were often spoken in the context of trying to help me stay safe as I got older. Too many of these dangerous statements are still repeated and they are just as dangerous as they ever were.

In comments from the story: NOLA: SUNO basketball player arrested after alleged date rape about a college student accused of rape, I found some good comments which make it clear that those commenters understand what is and is not consent, but I also found familiar dangerous statements based on their judgments about the setting and context in which rape was reported.

What seemed to the most important detail for some people was that the young woman who reported being raped was going to watch a movie with the college basketball player in his room.

Darlinnikki: she laid down on his bed!!!!!
ladies, this is an open invite for trouble.
ladies, we must STOP putting ourselves in situations that could easily turn out bad.
The needed premise for this described action to be an open invite for trouble is for men to know that if they rape someone who laid down on their bed for any reason that their actions will almost certainly not be the central focus of many people's reaction and they will just as likely get away with that rape.

In reality a multitude of situations which Darlinnikki and others would view as safe could just as easily turn out bad. The biggest difference isn't the reality of safety but the perception of victim risk taking and who people focus on as the root cause of the sexual violence.

In some situations where the same sex crime is committed the victim is much less likely to be lectured and the rapist is much more likely to be held legally responsible and lectured.

Contrast the reaction quoted above with what a judge told a man sentenced to life in prison for attempted rape of a sleeping woman:

Today, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary S. Paer chastised Vicente, calling the crime a "complete invasion."

"You can't just go into people's homes and do what you (did),'' the judge said. "Basically, you scared the hell out of this woman."
This woman was in a situation which easily turned bad, but her would-be rapist was a stranger who entered through an open window and not an acquaintance who could lie and claim consent.

The defendant was drunk which is frequently used to excuse non-stranger rapists from full responsibility for their crimes and to explain why even if they are convicted they shouldn't be sentenced to life in prison.

Those who talk about accidental rapists aren't likely to rush to this man's defense even though the context of this rape attempt supports that definition much better than the non-stranger rapes it is usually applied to.

This crime truly was one of opportunity. If there hadn't been a bowl of Cheetos on the open windowsill Paer might not have looked to see what or who was on the other side of that window.

When all rapes are taken seriously, the context doesn't matter. What matters is what crime was committed.

When common excuses are used selectively they are shown to be just that: excuses. Every time men rape women, even women they know, they should get this type of response. "You can't do what you did. You harmed a woman and that will not be tolerated."

Instead it is common to read:
Uptown NOLA: Why did she agree to go to his bedroom?
Why did she agree to lay with him on his bed?
Sounds like she had opportunities when he showered and when he walked to the dresser to leave. Why didn't she?
I am a woman and believe rape to be a heinous crime. However [...]
This however nullifies the claim that she believes rape to be a heinous crime. The reality is clearly different. The implication after the however is that the woman must be a liar in labeling what was done to be rape because the description of the alleged rape don't fit Uptown NOLA's vision of how a heinous crime like rape is committed.

If she truly believed that all rapes are heinous crimes, it wouldn't matter why a girl or woman agreed to go to a man's bedroom and didn't leave when observers who know how the story ends believe she should have or could have.

The only question should be: Did the suspect proceed in the absence of consent? It is really that simple when the dangerous cycle of warnings and denial and "inviting trouble" aren't swirling like a dense cloud over the evidence in a sexual assault case.
Uptown NOLA: I totally agree that no means NO! But as women we must take responsibility for our own actions too. If she continually said no, then she should have had the good judgement to leave when it was clear that he wasn't hearing the word no.
This follow up comment more directly and openly contradicts itself. No does not, according to this comment, mean no consent. In addition to having to say no, the woman or girl had to leave once the rape attempt has begun with no consideration for any barriers to leaving. If someone you would have trusted with you life suddenly reveals he is a rapist, you are not allowed to experience shock and if you do that reality will be ignored in the name of personal responsibility.
playboy225: I[f] she meant no, then she should have left. Look, nobody deserves to be raped, but going to a guys apartment, then to his bedroom, then laying in the bed with him, LEADS HIM ON! Why did she not just scream or leave...

Again we get a comment which contradicts itself. He fails to expect the man in this situation to not commit rape and ignores the possibility that the man led the victim on by asking her to watch a movie with him when that wasn't what he wanted at all.

Playboy225 gives many boys and men an old, lazy excuse for committing rape. The message he ends up sending to many rapists and to many who are tempted to rape is, "Nobody deserves to be raped, unless ___." As long as rapists properly fill in the blanks their actions will be excused.

The commonality of these comments is that danger must be avoided at all costs if you are a girl or woman, but not if you are a man or boy in danger of committing rape.

The problem with this one-sided demand goes beyond a gendered double standard. If girls and women are truly expected to avoid danger at all costs then many of the activities girls and women are not criticized for must be avoided.

Going to the hospital, for example. The vulnerability of being a hospital patient is immense and far beyond the vulnerability of sitting on a bed with a man to watch a movie.
A 32-year-old laboratory technician working for Mission Hospital, in Mission Viejo, California, has been convicted and sentenced for raping an incapacitated woman in her room.
If vulnerability is the cause of rape then this type of case should be happening almost on a daily basis. The reason it isn't has nothing to do with vulnerability and has everything to do with the collective response to these rapes.

Darlinnikki, Uptown NOLA and playboy225 aren't likely to focus on the decisions of the victim which made her vulnerable like they did in the date rape case. Instead their focus would be on the decisions of the rapist with no excuses allowed.

Those who regularly excuse rapes of women who are unable to resist due to intoxication aren't likely to do that in this case even though she was unable to resist due to intoxication. The story doesn't say whether the intoxicants were administered by medical professionals and for most people this won't matter because the rape happened in this woman's hospital room.

The normal excuses that the victim likely consented and just doesn't remember doing so don't fly when the accused rapist is an on-duty EMT.

Vulnerability is the reason people who decry becoming vulnerable view vulnerability as a non-issue in this type of case. Any one of them could become an incapacitated hospital patient while each of them clearly feels removed from the vulnerability where the college basketball player allegedly committed rape.

If they can easily imagine how the victim could be them then their focus is on the rapist, but if they believe the victim could never be them or someone who behaves according to their standards then their focus is on the rape victim.

They most likely do not consider the possibility that the EMT rapist may have developed his taste for rape in scenarios where they excuse the rapists and disrespect rape victims. He may have taken the types of statements they made and internalized those statements so that he could rationalize that he was doing nothing wrong by raping a woman in her hospital room.

If these people could understand how rapists can use their words as the source of the evil voice in the rapists' heads telling them why their intended victims were inviting trouble, they might stop providing rapists with words that make rapists' hearts sing.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:24 PM   3 comments links to this post

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 82

Welcome to the November 15, 2009 edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence.

Quick FYI for those unfamiliar with blog carnivals and who wonder about this terminology, the term refers to collections of related blog posts. Check out for more information.

I'm now on Twitter as Abyss2hope so if you Twitter please follow me and then let me know you arrived from this blog through the @ reply or DM.

Thank you to everyone who nominated a post or who wrote a post against sexual violence whether it was nominated/selected or not. Nominations that came in after the nomination deadline will be considered for the next edition of the carnival.

If you support the purpose of the carnival, you can help get the word out about it and all of the posts included in the carnival.

Here are the selections for this edition of the carnival against sexual violence:


In Our Culture Has Failed Us: Gender, Violence, and Advocating for Change posted at Josh Anastasia, we get a discussion of how often violence is interwoven into what is considered normal male behavior and how “female fault” is supported along with other gender traits.

Canada Will Not Repatriate Woman in Saudi Arabia posted at Informed Vote Keeping Canadian Voters Informed, we get a discussion where a woman from Canada is not being allowed to leave Saudi Arabia without her husband's permission.


In Bill Passed in the House on Sexual Assault In the Coast Guard; on Cruise Ships posted at Change Happens, we get a discussion of legislation which would push the 125 to 150 cruise ships that enter U.S. ports to do a better job of preventing or responding to sexual assaults on passengers.

In Another Step Backwards For Women’s Rights in Italy posted at Gender & Sexuality Law Blog, we get a discussion of 2 recent cases of sexual violence in Italy where certain sexual assaults are strongly punished while others require less punishment because of opinions about the victims.

In Legal Consent, Morning-After Regret, and "Accidental" Rape posted at The Sexist, we get a discussion about how popular beliefs which minimize or deny certain rapes are contradicted by surveys asking men about using force or ignoring lack of consent.

In But It Was Only A Fantasy: North Carolina Opinion Reveals Troubling Exception to the State's Rape Shield Rule posted at Feminist Law Professors, we get a discussion of a recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of North Carolina in State v. Oliver.

media watch

In Movie Review: Playground. posted at Choices Campus Blog, we get information about a documentary on child sex trafficking with an emphasis on the US's contribution to this global injustice.

In Teacher accused of forming 'secret society' to have sex with teen girls posted at, we get a brief discussion of a teacher who also taught Bible classes at a Christian school.

In Rape and Victim-Blaming: Then and Now posted at Change Happens, we get a discussion of part of Joanna Bourke’s book Rape: Sex, Violence, History which explores the legal and professional history of rape myths (in England, Australia, and the US).

In Is rape sex? posted at Rape Me Please, we get a discussion of the definition of rape on a children's health website.

In "To Protect" or "To Support"... posted at The Guy's Guide to Feminism, we get a discussion about advice given by Salon columnist Cary Tennis to a man whose wife was a victim of rape some twenty years ago.

In "Your husband has a right to expect regular sex" posted at Too Much To Say For Myself, we get a discussion of claims made by “sex therapist” Tracey Cox.

personal stories

In My recurring dream: meeting my aggressor - a feared nightmare or a secret desire? posted at One woman, many truths, we get an attempt to put into words the recurring dream about meeting a survivor's rapist again, and what it all means.

In Richmond Rape Rhetoric Reminiscent of "Boys Will Be Boys" posted at AAUW Dialog, we get a discussion of a school's response to 3 boys who cornered a girl where the required action did nothing to punish the boys and publicly humiliated the girl.

In Love Letters: The Rapist, & His Enablers posted at Small Town Wren, we get letters which focus on finding the positive after rape and in making the conscious choice to move on.

In My Friend Called To Say She Was Raped posted at Womanist Musings, we get a discussion of how supporting a friend brings up a survivor's own trauma.

raising awareness

In Drug-facilitated sexual violence: It's still traumatic posted at Tufts University Survivors of Rape, we get a discussion about the incorrect assumptions many people make about rapes which happen when the victim was semi-conscious or unconscious.

In Where Did Those Gang Rapists And Their Cheering Section Get Their Ideas? posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss beliefs which are appallingly easy to find.

In Not The Man I Know posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion about a common statement of denial when people learn someone they know was accused of rape and how their experience with that person is seen as trumping a rape victim's experience.

In So where did the rape culture at St Paul's come from? posted at In a strange land, we get a discussion of a group of university students living in a college (university residential hall) who set up a Facebook group called, "Define Statutory", promoting rape.

In Rapists and Abusers posted at Jim C. Hines, we get a discussion of the mindset that views rapists and abusers as completely separate from the rest of the population and how there is no neat boundary separating good guys from bad.

In 'new' survivors posted at Writing Ourselves Whole, we get a discussion about wanting sexual violence to end so there will be no more new survivors.

In Sexual Violence and Mental Health posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I recap information from a presentation given at the Minnesota Sexual Violence Prevention Network meeting.

In Inappropriate Word Use: Don't Do It posted at this ain't livin', we get a discussion of the misuse of the word rape including how both women and the natural environment have been historically viewed as property without rights or autonomy.


In New U.S. Crime Reports: Flawed Methodology Sharply Underestimates Rape Rates Against Women and Persons with Disabilities posted at Legal Momentum Briefing Room, we get a discussion of how victim surveys can miss data because of who isn't surveyed and how survey questions are worded.

In Examining Evidence Behind Spiking of Drinks With Date-Rape Drugs Urban Myth posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss the serious flaws in any claim where absence of detection is conflated with absence of spiking.

In Meet The Predators posted at Yes Means Yes Blog, we get a discussion of the findings of two large-sample surveys of undetected rapists. Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists (Lisak & Miller 2002) and Reports of Rape Reperpetration by Newly Enlisted Male Navy Personnel (McWhorter 2009).


In Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Prevention Meeting posted at What Do I know?, we get a discussion of work being done in Alaska.

In Sexual Assault and the Aging- Ninth Annual Caregivers Symposium posted at Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault Blog, we get a discussion of an often overlooked group when it comes to sexual violence victimization.

take action

In Real Bikers Ride in the Rain, But not on Purpose posted at The Arkansas Biker Witch, we get a discussion of a ride which supported abused children by adopting them before accompanying them as they moved from a shelter to a foster home.

That concludes this edition of the carnival against sexual violence. Thank you for taking the time to visit this carnival and thank you to the authors of all the posts included in this edition.

To nominate a post (your own or someone else's) to the next edition of carnival against sexual violence, use the carnival submission form. If you have any problem with the form, please let me know so your submission can be considered for the next edition.

Links to everything related to the carnival can be found on the blog dedicated to this carnival,

Marcella Chester

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:06 AM   2 comments links to this post

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rape Kit Backlog and Systemic Problems In Rape Investigations

On Monday and Tuesday's CBS Evening News a 2-part piece titled Rape in America: Justice Denied.

Nearly 90,000 women reported they were raped in the United States last year. It's estimated another 75,000 rapes went unreported. But while rape convictions are up - a five month CBS News investigation raises questions about just how many rapists are actually being brought to justice. [...]

Rape in this country is surprisingly easy to get away with. The arrest rate last year was just 25 percent - a fraction of the rate for murder - 79 percent, and aggravated assault - 51 percent.

"When we have talked to victims, they very much so doubt that it was worth it for them to go to the police," said Sarah Tofte, US Program Researcher for Human Rights Watch. "They're incredibly disillusioned with the criminal justice system, and that sends a terrible message."
Funding was only 1 of the reasons given for why thousands of rape kits around the US have not been processed and why many of those unprocessed rape kits are not in line to ever be tested. However, in one case highlighted by the CBS investigation the victim was told that her rape kit wasn't processed because of money while the prosecutor gave a different reason to CBS. To the prosecutor the rape kit analysis was meaningless.
Psychologist David Lisak from the University of Massachusetts has spent twenty years studying the minds of rapists. "Somehow all we can do is take the statement from the victim. Take the statement from the alleged perpetrator and then throw up our hands because they are saying conflicting things," he said. "That's not how we investigate other crimes." [...]

"Predators look for vulnerable people and they prey on vulnerable people," Lisak said. And if, as a criminal justice system, we're going to essentially turn from any victim who was drinking or any victim who was in some way vulnerable - we're essentially giving a free pass to sexual predators."

What's worse than this type of non-investigation is when people assume or falsely claim that all reported rapes are competently and completely investigated and declare that lack of charges means that there was no merit to the original report. This contributes to false rumors and harassment against rape victims.

If the number of current rape cases is overloading the capacity of law enforcement then the common statement that all rape victims should report would bring these systems crashing down if all rape victims from this day forward immediately went to the closest hospital which does forensic exams. Yet many criminal justice spokespeople still publicly hold rape victims who don't report their rapes responsible for the continued success of serial non-stranger rapists.

This story highlights the faulty assumptions behind the excuses given for unprocessed rape kits and too low conviction rates. Considering the number of stranger violent crimes where the prosecution have the DNA from the person who committed the crime but no name, processing rape kits with known suspects has the potential of solving cases which are widely considered winnable.

Since many non-stranger rapists who don't commit other types of crimes are repeat offenders processing rape kits may provide a solid link between multiple cases which can be used to prosecute a series of non-stranger rapes together. The defense claim that the defendant just made an honest mistake is harder to sell when the identical honest mistake was made over and over and over again.

I recommend going to the CBS site and watching videos from this investigation.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:01 AM   1 comments links to this post

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Carnival Deadline Tonight

Tonight at 11 pm is the next deadline for the Carnival Against Sexual Violence so please take a few minutes and nominate a post you've written or a post you've read.

For anyone unfamiliar with blog carnivals, these are collections of blog posts on a variety of topics. You can browse the list of carnivals some of which are active and others which are not.

A few people have had trouble with the official nomination form, if this happens to you, please let me know by email (my address is in my profile) with a subject line of carnival nomination or leave a comment with a link to the nominated post as soon as possible.

Together we can help reduce the acceptance of rape and the myths related to sexual violence which support rape and injustice against rape victims.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:41 AM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Interconnection of Rape Denial and Minimization Statements

Amanda at The Sexist highlighted these 3 claims which she then debunked:
- “Yes means yes” is dangerous in a world where “no means no”
- Women exploit rape laws to criminalize consensual sex they later regret
- Some rapes just happen on accident
As I saw these theories grouped like this something clicked which led me to write the following comment:

Thanks for taking on these 3 statements. I believe they are tightly interconnected in many people’s thinking and behavior.

“Yes means yes” is the most dangerous to rapists who work to prevent victims from saying no or who lie when their victim did say no. They want the public and the police to believe that their victims are the exploiters and the rapists are the victims of a crime which happens when rape victims go to the police. And they need the belief in accidental rapists in case all that denial fails to hide the truth.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:27 AM   6 comments links to this post

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sexual Violence and Mental Health

Last Friday, Nov. 6, I attended the quarterly meeting of MN's SVPN (Sexual Violence Prevention Network) in St. Paul.

We got a quick reminder about The first Minnesota Summit to Prevent Sexual Violence scheduled for Dec. 3 - 4.

The Minnesota Summit will engage Minnesota leaders in identifying actions to prevent the losses caused by sexual violence.
This is an important event and I am looking forward to finding out what actions will come out of this summit.

Before the main presentation began, Lindsay Gullingsrud, the Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator at MNCASA, gave a brief overview of the spectrum of prevention. The spectrum levels are:

influencing policy and legislation
changing organizational practices
fostering coalitions and networks
educating providers
promoting community education
strengthening individual knowledge and skills
I won't go into more detail here other than to say that this spectrum is very useful for ensuring that a plan of action is truly comprehensive.

Our main presenter was Phyllis Brashler Ph.D., MDH Suicide Prevention Coordinator, who gave a presentation entitled: Promoting Health and Healing: Addressing the mental health impacts of sexual assault from an advocacy perspective.

Brashler highlighted that this effort takes a public health approach and that everything starts with advocacy and movement. We need to keep in mind that our ultimate goal is helping sexual violence survivors.

Brashler highlighted definitions of mental health.

Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. -- World Health Organization

Our goal is to foster environments where everyone has an opportunity to live, learn, work, and fully participate in communities where they experience joy, health, love and hope

Brashler then went on to discuss the mental health continuum and the understanding that mental illness is mediated by the brain. To illustrate this point she showed P.E.T. brains scans of a mentally healthy person and one of a person suffering from depression which were significantly different from each other. She talked about the limitations of the medical model and how a diagnosis can create or alleviate sigma.

The data on the intersection of sexual assault and mental illness is limited and most of the data available gives researchers a snapshot of a small sample. This data is an important addition to what experts learn through their work either in the mental health field or the sexual assault advocacy field. Without data needed funding may not be offered.

Individuals who live with serious mental illness are at higher risk of experiencing sexual violence and sexual violence can contribute to mental illness.

Studies of mental health consumers found between 28% and 71% were sexual abuse survivors. A research review done by Mary Koss in 2003 found the lifetime prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder to be 2-3 times higher for women who have experienced sexual assault than for women who have not. The age of first victimization and the number of assaults impacted the depression rate.

When people talk about PTSD they may overlook that many who suffer these symptoms are not in fact beyond the source of their trauma. These people are described as experiencing complex trauma.

PTSD affects the ability to seek help, make decisions and access resources. Women who experience sexual assault in the context of physical and/or psychological abuse experience a greater number of PTSD symptoms.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a mental process which separates out an individual's emotions, physical feelings, responses, actions, or sense of identity and while it is viewed as negative this disorder provides victims a way to survive violence they cannot escape.

A history of sexual assault is closely linked to suicide attempts. In Minnesota the number of people who died by suicide was nearly 5 times higher than the number of homicide victims.

Brashler talked about the study of 9th grade students: Youth Risk Behaviors and Social Factors Associated with Suicidal Thoughts and Attempts, 2007 (pdf) which found that 34.6% of those who reported attempting suicide also reported experiencing unwanted or forced sexual touching. 30.2% who reported suicide attempts also reported being forced to have sex or do something sexual against their will by a dating partner.

Sexual assault in the context of domestic violence increases the mental health risk. In addition to this combination, domestic violence victims can also suffer from traumatic brain injury.

Common experiences of sexual trauma survivors can include, self-loathing, hypervigilance, impulsiveness, anger, sleep disturbances, feeling disengaged and low stamina. The difficulty with thinking and processing can involve screening out stimuli, processing information, disturbing thoughts, a sense of restricted options and low tolerance for stress. Survivors can have difficulties in interactions, a strong response to negative feedback and a sense of urgency.

These issues related to sexual violence and mental health are personal and they are political. The goal of those who are committed to prevention and appropriate responses is to work together towards healing and recovery from trauma.

Brashler gave information about general suicide risk and protective factors, warning signs and suggestions about what we can do. Rather than summarizing this general information I'll link to MN's suicide prevention resources.

Those interacting with sexual assault survivors need to understand the difference between self-injurious behavior and suicidal behaviors. The main difference is that those who are self-injuring are seeking ways to relieve their pain while those who are suicidal want the pain to end and see no hope for other methods of relief.

Programs that serve survivors need to be trauma sensitive. This includes the importance of letting survivors know that the impact of trauma they are experiencing is normal and not a sign of personal weakness. I can speak to how much of a difference this would have made to me after my first boyfriend raped me. I didn't learn this until 2 decades later when other survivors related experiences and reactions which mirrored my own.

When programs are evaluated this needs to include the perspective of those who have experienced trauma. This goes beyond what people say to survivors. The physical environment can make a huge difference.

When those wanting to help survivors see survivors not reaching out for help, reframe the response from "Why won't this survivor do __?" to "What is preventing this survivor from ___?"

Ask survivors about what makes them feel less safe and offer alternatives when possible.

By understanding the link between sexual violence and mental health issues a primary prevention approach can help prevent the development of serious mental illness and can help survivors have a reduction of symptoms. This can also help prevent revictimization.

Victims of domestic violence are already encouraged to create safety plans but mental health issues are often not included in these safety plans.

This presentation was a strong reminder about why those who tell sexual violence survivors to "get over it" are not only wrong but contribute to survivors not being able to get over sexual violence.

Here are some trauma and mental health resources Brashler provided in a handout:

ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study: Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults

American Association of Suicidology

Growing Beyond Survival: A self-help toolkit for managing traumatic stress by Elizabeth Vermilyea (Sidran Press)

Helping Sexual Assault Survivors with Multiple Victimizations and Needs: A guide for agencies serving sexual assault survivors by Jill Davies (2007)

National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health
Curricula: Access to Advocacy: Responding to trauma & domestic violence in lives of women with psychiatric disabilities, and risking connection -- DV: A curriculum for working with survivors of domestic violence and lifetime trauma (incomplete)
See also: Mental Health and Domestic Violence: Collaborative initiatives, service models, and curricula.

Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder: One woman's experience by Olga Trujillo.
Video: A Survivors Story

Peer Support Resources:
Mary Ellen Copeland
Shery Mead:
Minnesota Consumer Survivor Network

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) based in Minnesota.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Using Trauma Theory to Design Service Systems edited by Maxine Harris and R. Fallot. (2001) Jossey-Bass Publishers. (Maxine has written a lot on trauma and trauma-informed care and I'd recommend any of her books/articles.)

Brashler also included a research bibliography (doc).

Not included in the references but related to this topic is a World Health Organization report that calls for improved health care for women and girls.
"The biggest shortcomings relate to mental health problems and sexual violence, which women suffer more than men, and which many societies prefer to brush aside than confront head-on."


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:35 AM   0 comments links to this post

Monday, November 09, 2009

Pro Rape Culture At University of Sydney And Those Who Oppose It

Note: Trigger warning for graphic and violent language used by university students.

I am including what can be triggering because excluding it would soften the unacceptable reality and once reality is softened it becomes easier for many people to deny.

I will begin by highlighting the portion of the article in the Sydney Morning Herald about how some colleges and college leaders in Sydney are recognizing the scope of pro-rape beliefs, the related sexual violence and how the actions of administrators relate to this violence.

Of course, not everyone experiences college life in this way [with sexual violence]. Many thrive on it and love the social life, the instant family that residential living creates. ''Friends for life'' is often used to describe the most valuable, tangible thing many get out of college. Many more will experience outrage and disbelief reading this article, such is the faith in the inherent goodness of college.

Yet behind the scenes there is deep concern about a culture that at times appears out of control. As the outgoing master of Wesley College, David Russell, says: ''These places generate and perpetuate a form of tribalism, which could be and is probably well described as sexist.''
When people resort to denial to maintain their desired image of college life they are working directly against everyone having this type of experience.

While the culture described by Russell may be out of the administration's control that doesn't mean the behavior itself is truly out of control or that the administration is powerless to do anything about this behavior.

Whenever tribalism is involved in violence that is by its very nature a cohesive behavior. What is called tribalism is often a view where others are viewed as outsiders who will not be treated according to the intratribe rules. If this tribalism is sexist that means girls and women are viewed as outside the tribe and therefore beyond the protection of the tribe. Too often this belief system goes far beyond not protecting certain people and instead glorifies harming them.

This contradicts the idea that violent behavior is out of control behavior. This is more than semantics. It is important knowledge needed by those who are serious about preventing violence.
If the assailant is a Wesley boy, he is not invited back to the college next semester, Russell says.

''In 2007 there were a number of boys who were not invited back … They sit in front of me and lie to my face about certain behaviours, and I hear from police reports and other sources completely different stories and I say, 'Sorry you are not coming back.' ''

The new master of Wesley College - its first female master - Lisa Sutherland, says she plans to tackle the problem head on. ''That is what I will be doing from day one. It is hard … You can be winning the battle and you have a whole new group come in and you almost have to start again.''
This incoming master's statement might seem too severe to some. To understand why it is not, I will quote from earlier in this article. (trigger warning)

'They can't say no with a c--k in their mouth'' read the hand-drawn graffiti in the Salisbury Bar, part of St Paul's residential college on the University of Sydney campus. It has since been painted over, but the sentiment remains.
This attitude which boldly celebrates rape while simultaneously expressing disdain for women is why college administrators in Sydney must not wait for the next assault. While this type of graffiti sends a clear message that message is often dismissed because offensive graffiti has been normalized and is often dismissed as meaningless. When the content of this graffiti becomes public it is often dismissed as reflecting only on 1 individual in 1 isolated moment.

This can change when the graffiti and the ideas behind that graffiti moves online.

Some students and alumni at the University of Sydney's St. Paul College all-male school were members of an anti-consent pro-rape Facebook group which Facebook allowed to stay up for months. St. Paul College is described as an elite school, but this Facebook page turns elite from a compliment into an insult. The terms anti-consent, pro-rape are not tags given to this group by their critics, but tags chosen by those in control of the group.

The attitudes expressed by the graffiti and the Facebook group are why those who take immediate action make serious mistakes when they focus on the behavior of women college students who are seen as most vulnerable. These lectures directed at women reinforce entrenched and dangerous negative attitudes held by those who commit this type of violence and by those who tolerate this type of violence.

When women are told to change their behavior while men are told nothing about their harmful and likely illegal behavior this positions the women who have been raped as being in the wrong while the men who rape them are positioned, through silence or systematic failures, as being in the right in the minds of those who approve of rape or view victims as being responsible for what others do to them.

Any educational effort needs to focus on teaching all students enough about violent behavior so that all students can realize when words or actions are supporting violence or indicating a willingness to be violent and understand that these words or actions will not be tolerated and those who support harming others must change or leave.
Russell says there is disagreement between colleges about the inter-college harassment policy, and that one college in particular is quick to reach for a legal team to get its boys out of trouble rather than force them to face the consequences.

Indeed, the only college to respond to the Herald's inquiries via a letter from its lawyers was St Paul's College.
This is a systematic attitude which many people don't recognize or haven't been shown clearly. As more of us around the globe demand that colleges and other organizations address this type of violence in their midst the responses or lack of responses will communicate where different administrations really stand.

Since St. Paul is described as an elite college many of those students who support violence against women are likely to move into powerful positions and they are unlikely to grow out of the core pro-rape beliefs even if they discard specific actions when they graduate from college.

This has practical ramifications for all of Australia. If a judge as a student wrote pro-rape graffiti, which reflects on the actions that man took against women, he takes that with him to the bench. When that judge is assigned a sexual assault case which reflects his college behavior the judge is unlikely to fully support the law.

Boys are not born to be rapists and sexual predators, they learn to rationalize this behavior and when rapists are protected officially or unofficially this helps the next batch of boys or men who have not yet crossed the line into sexual assault to do so and to be praised or protected by the previous batch of rapists.

Sometimes diplomatic approaches in efforts to prevent violence are best, but sometimes the only appropriate response which will be taken seriously by those standing in the way of primary prevention is intolerance of everything which support rape or rapists.

For those outside of the college administration this may include lawsuits against institutions which maintain a hostile environment for women and a welcoming environment for rapists. Some people will only stop harmful practices when failing to stop them leads to serious and negative consequences.

Those who don't like any non-diplomatic approach need to either not be taken seriously when they complain or they need to work to find a more effective approach which reduces this type of violence.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:04 AM   2 comments links to this post

Friday, November 06, 2009

Nov MN Sexual Violence Prevention Network Meeting

I'll be leaving in a few minutes for the next Minnesota sexual violence prevention network meeting where the topic for today will be:

Promoting Health and Healing: Addressing the Mental Health Impacts of Sexual Assault from an Advocacy Perspective. The speaker will be: Phyllis Brashler, Ph.D., Minnesota Department of Health Suicide Prevention Coordinator.

Here's the description:
Sexual assault and abuse can have serious mental health consequences for women and children. Understanding the range of potential mental health needs of survivors and how to address them within an empowerment-based framework is an important part of providing services for survivors that enhance their safety and wellbeing. This presentation will provide an overview of current research on mental health, violence, and abuse and will offer steps that advocates and other professionals can take within their agencies and organizations to address mental health issues in sensitive, appropriate, and empowering ways.
With the failure of well-meaning mental health professionals I reached out to near the 1 year anniversary of my rape, I understand how important this topic is.

There's no wifi available at the meeting location so I can't live tweet, but I'll be taking notes.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 7:54 AM   1 comments links to this post

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Accidental Rapists?

The idea of accidental rapists has been around as long as people have acknowledged rapes other than violent stranger abductions and violent intruder rapes. This concept often comes up when people accept the experiences of girls and women who have been raped but reject the idea that a real rapist must be involved.

I've seen the term used for 2 reasons. The first is to intentionally minimize the responsibility and culpability of certain rapists. The second is because of cognitive dissonance when something about the rapist doesn't fit into people's ideas about who rapists are and how they interact with their victims prior to raping them and those experiencing dissonance choose to end this dissonance by denying the full reality of rape or rapists.

The most recent use I've seen of this term is in the comments on The Sexist's On the difficulty of saying no which began to move toward this idea when a commenter named Victor defined who he sees as rapists:
Rapists are predators, and like any good predator they will go where prey is at its most vulnerable, and they will stalk it. They will find ways to make themselves seem “safe”. These guys aren’t that hard to spot.
These would be the non-accidental rapists. Anything about them which seems safe to potential victims is nothing more than a thin facade.

Fuchsia responded with a comment which contained the following:
[friend or acquaintance] can suddenly turn around a try to rape you and the reason for this is, as far as I can tell, that they don’t actually realise they’re doing anything wrong. They don’t name their actions “rape”...
Victor's response included:
do you think rape is usually “accidental”? Because what you describe certainly sounds like it. A guy who is genuinely nice, respectful etc suddenly rapes a girl? What, did he have low blood sugar that day?
This jump from what Fuchsia described to the label Victor is using is troubling. Once someone tries to rape you what they are doing is no accident. If you are trying to do something and you succeed that's a goal met not an accidental outcome and it certainly isn't something caused by low blood sugar.

It doesn't matter if a man didn't try to rape someone the day before and wasn't plotting this rape for days, weeks or months. People who are not ongoing predators commit all sorts of crimes against those they know. Employees who never thought about stealing from their employer or committing any crime may respond to what they see as an unfair performance review by stealing electronics and selling it online. Or they may decide to eliminate their boss from hell.

Yet when it comes to rape many people cling to the idea that what is true and understood for all other crimes is not true and is instead incomprehensible for the crime of rape.

A man who believes sex happens after the 4th date and who believes if a woman doesn't want to have sex then she shouldn't accept that 4th date may not rape or even try to rape unless or until he gets to the end of a 4th date and his date doesn't consent. If the woman talked to him prior to that date about not being ready for sex, and he let her know he understood, this may do nothing to change his belief or his behavior. Sex happens after the 4th date.

Instead of seeking specific consent from the girl or woman and respecting whatever decision they get from that specific individual, many rapists get their permission generically from any number of sources. And when these come into conflict those who rape will ignore the specific lack of consent in favor of the generic permission.

This is not an accident.

As I highlighted in an earlier post about advice given to girls about how to avoid being raped, much of the generic safety advice to girls can be misused to give rapists generic permission.

Being willing to rape isn't just about seeking out victims. It has to do with the ethics of personal interactions. Some rapists may never try to rape anyone but their wives. To these rapists their marriage license is generic permission.

To dismiss any of these rapists as accidental rapists is to feed their rationalizations and to help keep the numbers of rapes committed each year appallingly high while contributing to the post rape trauma of those raped by these rapists.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:08 AM   4 comments links to this post

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Understanding The Diversity And Limitations Of Rape Statistics

I've blogged about a variety of statistics related to sexual violence and will often highlight individual reports such as the National Crime Victimization Survey which estimated the number of sexual assaults against those in the US aged 12 and above is over 200,000 and a survey of women in Utah which found 29% of women had been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

In many of my posts I don't reference these estimates because there are people who take one look at even the most conservative estimate and assume it must be false because they don't know anyone who has been sexually assaulted and set out to derail any discussion away from the topic of the post or they simply stop reading.

People who attack numbers provided in official reports based on their personal perceptions ignore the fatally flawed methodology of their own estimates. Some of these negative responses to statistics on sexual violence come from entrenched and intentional denial, but some of it comes from people who mistake their lack of understanding in a variety of related areas for proof that all the data must be disregarded.

A post titled: New US Crime Reports: Flawed Methodology Sharply Underestimates Rape Rates Against Women and Persons with Disabilities on the blog Legal Momentum does a great job of highlighting why the National Crime Victimization Survey results need to be viewed as an severe underestimation of the data they are trying to measure rather than as a true estimation.
Yet a 2007 study by some of the most highly regarded researchers in this field sharply disagrees. Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated and Forcible Rape: A National Study was conducted by Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, Director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, along with colleagues from the Medical University of South Carolina. Professor Kilpatrick and his colleagues concluded that in 2006, approximately 800,000 women were subjected to forcible rape, 300,000 women were subjected to drug-facilitated rape involving drugs or alcohol deliberately administered by the perpetrator, and 300,000 women were victims of incapacitated rape, rape committed when they had voluntarily ingested drugs or alcohol and were too high or drunk to consent.

The reason this survey got more positive responses is the exact reason many people will attack it. The questions didn't ask about victimization by label, it asked about victimization with behaviorally-based questions which are a closer match to the contents of criminal statutes.

This survey data highlights that dismissal of rapes after victims are drugged is incorrect. Unfortunately, many people will assume the 300,000 number must be wrong and only measure women's paranoia or refusal to take responsibility for their own behavior based on faulty analysis of what toxicology tests don't show.

According to some of the critics of this type of survey if you don't correctly label what was done to you as a rape or sexual assault then it must not have been traumatic or a real violation. This response ignores the pervasiveness of people who will tell rape survivors that the violence done to them doesn't count as a real rape because they waited too long to say no or because by calling what was done to them rape that they are minimizing the harm done to real victims.

By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of different data sets we can get closer to understanding the actual scope of sexual violence in the measured populations. This can help us know how much we don't know and that can lead to important new research. This research is critical not only for awareness, it is critical for primary prevention of sexual violence.

The more people who understand why the same crime-related facts can be estimated with statistics which are so different and seemingly contradictory without any falsification of data the more buy-in we are going to get for changing the facts of sexual violence.

Many people incorrectly assume that crime reporting statistics are not estimates and should be viewed as an actual measure of the number of rapes which were reported. These numbers are underestimates since they do not measure the raw data on what people reported. Earlier this year, the reporting statistics from New Orleans came under fire since over half of the rape reports were classified as non-criminal complaints.

The issues are two-fold: who is excluded from having their experiences measured and how closely do answers match the reality of what researchers are trying to measure.

These issues can be especially important for sub-groups of our population who may be at higher risk than the general population. For example, the National Crime Victimization Survey only surveys regular households which has a greater impact on statistics for persons with disabilities since none of the crimes committed against those who are institutionalized were included.

I highly recommend that everyone who uses rape statistics or has seen them used to deny the full reality of sexual violence read a recent publication by Dr. Kilpatrick called, Understanding Rape Statistics.

H/T: Feministing


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:38 AM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Sometimes It's Too Late To Say You Aren't A Rape Apologist

When people wonder why most rapists are non-strangers, the answer can feel complex. However, sometimes the answer is contained in so-called rape prevention advice. This is the case in an article on an Irish interactive educational site called skoool which was published in 2002. The article is titled Dealing with the reality of teen sex by Kathryn Holmquist.

This article is important to examine carefully because what this woman expresses impacts the assessment of rape cases and it impacts the thought processes of rapists.

She begins with:

Boys are expected to act like gentlemen. That's the politically correct view. Even when a girl has deliberately got drunk, flirted, engaged in heavy foreplay and ended up sprawled naked in a boy's arms, the boy is expected to have the self-control to stop if she suddenly says "no". Otherwise, he's a rapist. Such lofty expectations of human behaviour appeal to the best in our nature.
By gentlemen, what she referring to here is non-rapist. The politically correct view expects boys to not rape no matter how much they want to and how little effort it would take them to cross that line from non-rapist to rapist and how many people would rush to sympathize with them for being prosecuted when they just lost their self-control.

Despite the closing sentence quoted above not raping under any circumstance doesn't seem to appeal to Holmquist's best nature and instead seems sour.

Holmquist conflates gentleman with non-rapist and then demands that girls abide by this same standard which would mean that girls must also be non-rapists. But this isn't what she demands of girls and the article goes further off the rails from here. She then talks about sexualized and consensual behavior of girls only, directed at boys, inside Irish discos after mothers drop their underage daughters off unsupervised.

She bemoans girls becoming as sexually aggressive as boys but in her descriptions the boys and men inside that disco are described so passively and so vaguely that those boys and men seem like they aren't quite there. They continue to be described as completely passive non-entities until a girl says no.

The only people she describes as being coercive to girls are other girls. Boys and men are therefore presented as never coercive. Then of course these passive boys and men should be expected to immediately turn into aggressive rapists once a girl who has behaved at all sexually toward them says no. Because that's boys' and men's nature.

The issues of peer pressure on teens to be sexually active and to consume significant amounts of alcohol are important issues, but Holmquist glosses over these in her single minded quest.
When the action moves to the uncontrolled environment of a car, a park or a private home, the rules blur.
This is where Kathryn Holmquist crosses the line from indulging in stereotypes to presenting a statement that is dangerously wrong. But the danger she is promoting is not to her, the danger she is promoting is to others who do not deserve this disrespect from someone who claims to be promoting respect.

The rules do NOT blur.

Promoting this idea that the rules in fact do blur contributes to rape and helps those who would never do anything they self-define as rape to commit rape.

This type of advice helps create rapists and then it "helpfully" warns girls and woman against the rapists this advice helps to create. Pardon me if I don't thank her for this "help."

If a boy or man cannot understand the rules of consent in an uncontrolled environment then he is the one who must always say no to those situations and he is the one who must avoid the risk of getting into a situation where he could become a rapist.

When a boy goes “too far”, this is date rape. It can be devastating, with the girl feeling betrayed and no longer trusting her own instincts. She may live with the emotional pain of it for years. And all because she believed that it’s never too late to say no.
Not "because she believed it's never too late to say no," but because others believed it can ever be acceptable to ignore no. There is a huge difference between these beliefs.

When a boy goes "too far", this is rape.

The reasons girls who are raped in this type of scenario cannot trust their instincts is because people like Holmquist have stepped in and tried to nullify basic rules of consent. Victims may live with the emotional pain for years, but it will be because Holmquist and others who agree with her believe they have the right to declare it too late to say no.

Holmquist has no right. Legal or moral to do this.

The emotional pain of rape is not fixed and is magnified when the victim feels blamed or internalizes the blame others put on certain victims.

The worst advice you could possibly give would be to tell her that she can always say no, even when she is no longer in control. Girls, just like boys, need to be told about the likely consequences of their actions.
The only way for this to be the worst advice is when you know a girl or woman is surrounded by rapists. Being raped is not the consequence of a victim's actions. But it can be seen this way when boys and men have been told that becoming a rapist in certain circumstances doesn't reflect on them as a person and is instead the fault of the girl or woman they rape.

If a girl who goes to a disco is surrounded by boys and men willing to rape her then better advice is not let that girl go to that disco and to not let any boys go to that disco either since it is helping to create rapists.

Unfortunately, this effort will be ineffective since Holmquist's opinion helps rapists rationalize rape and they can take that rationalization with them no matter where they go.

This is not to say that “ladies” don’t get date-raped.
Holmquist's advice directly helps those who rape "ladies" to rationalize this violence. Once being raped becomes a natural consequence of a girl or woman's behavior then the door has been busted wide open to rape any girl or woman if her behavior crosses a line in the rapist's mind.

When Holmquist believes it is too late to say no and when a rapist believes it is too late to respect no may be very different. This is a natural and uncontrollable side effect of this belief system.

Once you see rape as a consequence of the victim's actions and choices, you let rapists do the same. And if the standard of ladylike behavior is higher in the minds of the men around Holmquist than it is in her mind then she is in danger of being raped when she believes she is absolutely safe.

Nor am I saying that girls who behave in a certain way deserve what they get. What I am saying is that girls, if they want to act like boys—getting drunk and being sexually predatory—have to understand that a boy, if he is that way inclined, may take advantage. And boys, for their own protection, need to understand that a drunk girl who he thinks wants sex, may turn around the next day and accuse him of rape. Both are responsible for this tragedy.
Girls may not deserve rape according to Holmquist, but in this worldview they should expect it from even the most trustworthy boys and men. We must, according to Holmquist, assume all boys and men are rapists who only stop for their own protection.

Her advice to boys which presents their thinking that a drunk girl wants sex as being the same as a drunk girl actually wanting sex is dangerous. If a boy proceeds under these conditions what he's going to face the next day if he is accused of rape is a true accusation. Thinking a girl wants sex is not the same as having her consent.

Rape is not a tragedy, it is a crime. If Holmquist is serious about not wanting this crime to happen she needs to drop the nonsense of both victim and perpetrator being responsible.

The bottom line is that Holmquist doesn't know Jack about genuine consent. She doesn't know where it is and she doesn't know where it is not. No wonder she needs tight controls.

Her definition of what it means to be a boy is nonsense. Boy does not equal being a drunk sexual predator unless adults are teaching boys that's what they need to be in order to become men. If this is happening then these boys and men need to be avoided until they reject the garbage being fed to them by people like Holmquist.

Holmquist was likely fed this toxic thinking by others but the spread of rape-excusing toxins must stop.

H/T: The Sexist

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:15 AM   7 comments links to this post

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 81

Welcome to the November 1, 2009 edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence.

Quick FYI for those unfamiliar with blog carnivals and who wonder about this terminology, the term refers to collections of related blog posts. Check out for more information.

I'm now on Twitter as Abyss2hope so if you Twitter please follow me and then let me know you arrived from this blog through the @ reply or DM.

Thank you to everyone who nominated a post or who wrote a post against sexual violence whether it was nominated/selected or not. Nominations that came in after the nomination deadline will be considered for the next edition of the carnival.

If you support the purpose of the carnival, you can help get the word out about it and all of the posts included in the carnival.

Here are the selections for this edition of the carnival against sexual violence:


In PA Superior Court Overturned Troubling Ruling On Adult Alleged Victim Competency posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss a lower court ruling which would have allowed a competency hearing for an adult victim based on the idea that being under the influence of prescription drugs and alcohol at the time of a crime makes someone incompetent to testify while sober.

In Attorney Uses “Boys Will Be Boys” Defense in Alleged Sexual Assault posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion of a case where a freshman at the University of Maryland allegedly sexually assaulted women as they slept in their dorm rooms.

In Richmond High Gang Rape Update: The Kids Are Pissed Off posted at This Black Sista's Page, we get a discussion about how responding to negative assumptions about an entire community should not be done in a way that ignores serious dysfunction in order to justify the normalcy of everyone else.

In The pace is glacial posted at Gusts Of Popular Feeling, we get a discussion of a court in Korea which applied the lowest sentence to a man in his 50s accused of raping a mentally ill elementary school girl.

In Additional Background on Megan Williams Case You WON'T Read From the Associated Press posted at What About Our Daughters, we get a discussion which goes beyond the easy stereotypes about reports that a victim of a brutal attack had recanted.

In Judge Refers to Convicted Rapist’s Actions as “Rough Play” posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion of a case where the injuries done to a woman who was drugged are minimized by describing the actions which left those injuries as nothing more than play.

In And people wonder why Coruscating Feminist Jo gets angry... posted at Head Nurse, we get a discussion sparked by the gang rape in Richmond, CA about the paradigm that lets men and boys see women and girls as things to be used, rather than as full human beings to be respected.

In Lawyer Claims Rapist “Misread the Situation” posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion of a case where a man raped a woman while she was unconscious.

In The cost of living in a patriarchal society posted at Stop Street Harassment!, we get a discussion of the view of girls and women as conquests which helped a group of teenage boys to rationalize the brutal gang rape of a 15 year old girl for two-and-a-half hours outside a high school homecoming dance.

In Montmorency Football Club & The Legal System posted at The Dawn Chorus, we get a discussion of the charges against three junior members of a suburban football club in Victoria, Australia after 2 young women reported being sexually assaulted.

In We Made These Boys The Way They Are. posted at Fitful Murmurs, we get a discussion about why even though it’s natural to look at the gang rape in Richmond, CA as an isolated incident this is a mistake and why instead we need to examine where our society fosters the attitudes behind crimes like this.

In The Underinvestigation of Sexual Assault: The Statute of Limitations Ticks Away While Rape-Related Evidence Just Sits On Evidence Room Shelves posted at Gender & Sexuality Law Blog, we get a discussion about the neglected rights of victims to have DNA evidence used effectively and what it will take to have a system which works for all.

In Insurance Company: Rape Survivor? Nope, We Won't Take Her posted at, the official blog of the National Women's Law Center, we get a discussion of what insurance companies in Florida said when asked whether they would provide insurance coverage to a hypothetical applicant who had survived rape and undergone treatment to prevent HIV infection.

media watch

In 13-year-olds are fair game, according to William Saletan posted at I am the Lizard Queen!, we get a discussion of statements made which minimize the seriousness of sexual violence of teen or preteen girls when discussing the arrest of Roman Polanski.

In What Passes for Prevention in Rape Culture posted at Gender Across Borders, we get a discussion of poster sponsored by the Community Safety Unit Northern Ireland Office; Northern Ireland Police Service; and the Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety.

In It's not "sex", it's rape: teen girls and "unwanted sex" posted at Hoyden About Town, we get a discussion of Melanie Christiansen’s article in the Courier Mail titled, “Unwanted teen sex tied to binge drinking“.

In Rape Victims Are To Blame For The Continuance Of Rape posted at (Wo)Men Speak Out's Blog, we get a discussion of a YouTube user who posted a video called Rape Scot-Free containing a short monologue where a young man blames rape victims for the continuance of rape in their communities.

In Pepsi Releases iPhone App To Help Men "Score" With Women And Brag About It On Twitter - Amp up before you score posted at Jezebel, we get a discussion of an application released to help market the drink Amp to young men which reinforces the idea that men are succeeding when they take a dehumanizing approach to women.

In Freakonomics Fail posted at Shakespeare's Sister, we get a discussion of the deep and highly sexist flaws in the way 2 authors puzzle over why more ladies aren't high-end prostitutes.

In Mary Murphy Shares Her Story of Domestic Abuse With Ellen DeGeneres posted at mjsbigblog, we get a discussion of the disclosure of abuse made by So You Think You Can Dance judge.

In Bell Bajao ties up with NDTV Imagine's Jyoti posted at Bell Bajao, we get a discussion about how domestic violence will be addressed on Indian television.

In If you were my sister or brother… posted at After Silence, we get a project that collected responses to: If you had a brother or sister that was sexually assaulted, what would you say to them?

In Rape in the Ranks: The Enemy Within posted at the writer's muse, we get a synopsis of the 28 minute French film by Pascale Bourgau who interviewed US military women raped on duty.

In Steps To Prevent Rape Poster posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I present a poster and it's updated version to counter rape prevention posters which focus on changing the behavior of potential rape victims.

personal stories

In Rape Culture and Me posted at Ms Femme Anon's Secrets, we get a discussion of realizations after a survivor stopped asking: What was wrong with me?

In "Hey-- I have something I want to tell you..." posted at Defying Gravity, we get a discussion about the process of telling a friend about personal experiences with sexual violence, and how to make it easier for them but still get the word out. This post also asks for people's suggestions.

raising awareness

In A Refresher on Consent and Safe Sex posted at Feminists For Choice, we get a discussion of concepts which need to be understood and respected in order to prevent sexual violence.

In Book Giveaway Celebrates Defiant Women! posted at Ogo Ogbata's Blog, we get a discussion about how defiance can be the quiet commitment to truth and progress against all odds.

In Schrodinger's Rapist and Why it doesn't say what you thought it did posted at California NOW, we get a discussion about responses to a discussion about women not knowing which men around them are rapists and how shocking it can be to discover that a man you knew and trusted holds view which dismiss women's personal boundaries.

In Honoring Women Veterans Who Served and Suffered posted at Healing Combat Trauma, we get a post focused on the memory of Colleen Mussolino who was raped in 1965 and who eventually co-founded Women Veterans of America to offer support and attention to the issues facing women in the military.

In Angry feminist Tuesday posted at Penny Red, we get an impassioned discussion about how various people approach the issue of prostitution and how these approaches often hurt those who are the most vulnerable.


In Review: Does Acknowledgement as an Assault Victim Impact Postassault Psychological Symptoms and Coping? posted at Anti-Violence Advocate, we get information about an article by Caroline Clements and Richard Ogle in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence which found that women who do not acknowledge victimization report greater problems across the scope of their lives.


In Race and Rape: Keeping Racism Out of Your Campaign posted at Change Happens, we get a discussion about the importance of examining how media campaigns can reinforce racist messages and some practical tips for how to create a more inclusive and respectful campaign.

In Laurel House and Cabrini College: Teaching Tomorrow's Educators About Domestic Violence Today posted at Laurel House Blog, we get a discussion of students who selected to work on domestic violence as a class project.

In Date Rape Drug Testers As Deterrence posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss different ways in which instant testers can be used and highlight the approach which is often overlooked in the media.

That concludes this edition of the carnival against sexual violence. Thank you for taking the time to visit this carnival and thank you to the authors of all the posts included in this edition.

To nominate a post (your own or someone else's) to the next edition of carnival against sexual violence, use the carnival submission form. If you have any problem with the form, please let me know so your submission can be considered for the next edition.

Links to everything related to the carnival can be found on the blog dedicated to this carnival,

Marcella Chester

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:02 AM   0 comments links to this post