Monday, April 26, 2010

At What Point Is A Rapist No Longer Responsible For The Harm Caused By Rape?

The title of this post would be a more honest question than the questions asked on a forum entry entitled At what point is a rape victim responsible for helping themselves? by a person identified only as guest.
Rape is a horrific crime that stays with the victim, we all know this.

My question is, when do you stop blaming the rapist for the emotional disturbances caused by the event?

Say a woman is raped at the age of 18. If she’s still having emotional problems at the age of 70, is it OK to blame her problems on the rapist from 52 years ago?

At what point does the "victim card" expire? Or does getting raped once entitle you to a lifetime scapegoat for all your problems?
Great answers everyone, thank you!
The introductory disclaimer is proven false by the questions which follow. This disclaimer like many others is there solely to remove all responsibility for the dismissiveness of the questions from the person giving the disclaimer. This is so common that whenever I read a disclaimer I'm shocked when the disclaimer isn't proven false by the words which follow.

These are tainted questions and not genuine questions about emotional healing from sexual violence. They might as well be questions asking when the person asking the questions is no longer considered a complete jerk for dismissing the impact of rape and considering the remaining impact as if were self-inflicted.

Unfortunately this dismissive phrasing is so common that many people accept it as normal as several responders to these questions have done. And of course there is a man who uses these questions to dismiss many rapes as nothing more than regret.

Not surprisingly some rape survivors use their own lack of emotional trauma to dismiss more severe emotional trauma of other survivors. Their premise falsely assumes that rape has a generic impact. This premise also makes the false assumption that if someone doesn't experience trauma in the moment that there will never again be an emotional impact from rape.

When I read questions like these I always wonder why the person asking these questions is seeking an expiration date for rapists' responsibility. If the crime were stabbing or poisoning or shooting someone I doubt people would be use dismissive terms like "victim card" when evaluating the emotional impact of those violent crimes.

If everyone truly knows that rape is always a horrific crime that stays with the victim then the answer to how long the rapist is to blame is a given. The rapist will be forever to blame for the disturbances caused by the rape. If everyone knows that rape is horrific then nobody would minimize rape into a description as bland as "the event."

If there is a question about someone being to blame for the emotional impact of rape other than the rapist then the list of those to be considered must expand far beyond the rape survivors. It must include all those who learn about a rape. Did they ease the survivor's emotional trauma or add to it? And what about the police if the rape was reported? And the prosecutors?

Lastly, how about anonymous people on the internet? Do their words related to rape increase or decrease the emotional harm from that original rape? Are they helping survivors or are they doing follow up emotional harm which would make rapists smile?


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:20 AM   6 comments links to this post


At April 28, 2010 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's an insensitively worded question, I agree. However, the heart of it is little different than what most of us question ourselves as we move through our own recovery process: How do I regain my own control and power and NOT allow what he/she did to me to affect me?

I've come to the wisdom that, were this another type of assault or car accident that left me injured, my recovery is entirely up to me with the support of those who I invite in to support me. Holding my assailant responsible only holds me back from making myself as whole as I was prior to the assault.

At April 28, 2010 11:14 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, I disagree with you that the problem is only in the wording.

If you were injured by a physical assault your recovery would not be entirely up to you. It would depend on much outside of your control including the severity of the injury and the medical care provided to you. There would be fewer people who would actively interfere with your recovery or who would declare you to be delusional or a liar.

There is a difference between taking control of the process of recovery and declaring that at some point rapists are no longer responsible for the impact of their crimes.

Many people who are physically assaulted have permanent injuries which prevent them from returning to their prior physical state. We don't expect them at some point to snap out of it.

At April 28, 2010 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a difference between the societal accusation/question of not "snapping out of it" versus blaming my rapist. I agree with you on the first. I have known several people with permanent injuries from physical assault and accidents and, sadly, I have often seen them get the "why aren't you over that already?" treatment. Especially when some time has passed. Victims (survivors?) of physical injury are also subject to the "exaggerator/liar" claim. Where have we heard that before?

On the second point, I believe that the more blame I lay on my rapist, the harder it is for me to fully recover, to whatever extent I can.

At April 29, 2010 8:49 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


What you are talking about is your coping and recovery methodology. Refusing to focus on your rapist in order to enable your recovery doesn't take the moral responsibility for the lingering harm done by the rape away from that person.

Without the actions of your rapist there would be nothing for you to recover from related to rape.

This distinction of responsibility is important. Taking control of your recovery is different from being responsible for the remaining impact of rape.

At April 30, 2010 8:51 AM, Anonymous Kali said...

This distinction of responsibility is important. Taking control of your recovery is different from being responsible for the remaining impact of rape.

Absolutely! I really don't understand the logic of equating "the rapist is responsible for all the consequences of rape" with "the victim has no power or agency over her life and/or recovery". They are two separate things, people.

At May 04, 2010 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I was hit by a car and lost the use of my legs as a result, the person responsible for that injury would be the driver. This would not change the day after, a week after, or two decades after.

If someone has, say, PTSD as the result of a rape, it is the fault of the rapist. It doesn't matter if the survivor is now 70 and still dealing with the fallout. If there had been no rape, there would have been no fallout.

Jeez. This isn't rocket science.



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