Rape is about POWER AND control, not sex

142

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

201503-stuff-learntpg

It could have been me. She could have been me. She could have been anyone of us millions of bright, ambitious, perceivably fiercely independent, on the way to a wholly successful life, women. She, the unlucky one, by some inhumane twist of fate entangled with the wrong man, the wrong night, the wrong drink, the wrong split second in a lifetime of inconsequential seconds. She the victim, the rape victim, the gang rape victim. The statistic, the accuser, the irresponsible, naïve, shameful, lesser than but somehow still human, being. Me, us, the lucky ones?

Or maybe she was the lucky one. The one who got the chance to meet justice head on, to give voice to utter degradation, debasement, humiliation. Lucky enough to not only share her pain, but also let her pain be the necessary fuel to public rage, shame and indignation that should be felt by all. She, by some humane twist of fate, was armed with irrefutable evidence and didn’t have to defend her victimhood like many do. She got to rise above the ghosts of mistakes made, innuendos, ‘he said she said’ testimony and character assassination.

Lucky indeed!

Immersed in the details of her case the bitter waves of repulsion and nausea are undercut by rip tides of question marks. Why? How? Why would anyone do such a thing? To another human being? Not even a stranger, someone real, someone they even claimed to care about. And how? Just, how? Yet the scenario is so familiar, it’s no longer that ‘oh so scary there’s no way it can happen to me’ story, but the ‘did it, could it, will it happen to me’ reality.

And so the story goes. Girl goes out, girl gets drunk, girl blacks out, girl ends up in the wrong hands, girl gets sexually abused by a man, or multiple men, girl wakes up, girl doesn’t remember, girl questions what happened, but finds no conclusive answers. And life goes on, for all involved. Only in this case the wrong hands belonged to a man she had been dating for a few weeks. In this case the multiple individuals were friends of the man, fellow football players and dorm mates. Most importantly, in this case there was indisputable evidence. In fact, there were multiple images and videos, thanks to an environment equipped with surveillance cameras and the vile, idiotic pride of the men involved compelled to document and boast about their conquest. In this case technology and the irrational nature of the human ego intervened where her memory failed her.

It used to be assumed, and perhaps still often is, that the perpetrators of sexual crimes are always the deviant, sociopathic outliers that haunt our decent, God fearing communities. The spooky stranger in the black trench coat. The shaky junkie in the park. The tattooed, motorcycle riding thug who keeps to himself. Them, the scary ones, the disheveled, dirty looking ones, the ones who probably grew up in an unstable environment, the children of divorce or abuse, the uneducated, jobless, lowlifes. They were the ones who did such unspeakable things. So avoid the dark corners, don’t walk alone, stay away from the strange men and you should be just fine. Oh and dress appropriately, just in case. And don’t get drunk.

It’s much easier to imagine why or how a scary hooded criminal could do something so vile; it’s simply in their nature. They have no empathy; they merely act on selfish desire, allowing their base human instincts to drive behavior without thought or rationale. Hence the act of rape is about uncontrollable sexual gratification. Except in the two thirds of cases it isn’t.

Perhaps there was a time when the equation did have two clear variables: deviant, outcast man plus unlucky, sexually attractive woman. Anthropologist Don Symons, author of 1979 classic ‘The Evolution of Human Sexuality,’ reviewed forensic evidence to show that victims, as a class, were more likely to be young physically attractive women (as opposed to older, more successful women). Meanwhile, convicted rapists were disproportionately  young disadvantaged men whose low social status made them undesirable as dating partners, or husbands.

Furthermore, according to sociobiological theories, rape could have evolved as a genetically advantageous behavioral adaptation. In 2000 Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig T. Palmer released their controversial book, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, in which they state: “Human rape appears not as an aberration but as an alternative gene-promotion strategy that is most likely to be adopted by the ‘losers’ in the competitive, harem-building struggle. If the means of access to legitimate, consenting sex is not available, then a male may be faced with the choice between force or genetic extinction.” In other words, do or die.

But we’re obviously no longer living in simple times, and what could have started as necessary behavioral adaptation has evolved into something far more complex and sinister. Because it’s not only the sketchy strangers us women should be fearing but also the acquaintances, the buddies, the dates, the boyfriends, the partners. It’s also no longer merely about the sexual act itself, it’s also about power, control, terror, violence, privilege and misogyny.

And it’s no longer just born from the ill will of a single individual but from deeply ingrained cultural norms and patriarchal societies. As journalist Jill Filipovic states: “Rapists are particularly abetted by cultures in which women are second-class citizens, where women’s bodies are intensely politicized, where social hierarchies outlandishly privilege certain members and where there’s a presumption of male authority and righteousness.” (‘Rape is about power, not sex’, The Guardian, August 29, 2013). In other words, it’s on all of us.

When the girl woke up, all bleary eyed, hangover and inexplicably sore, she asked the man what happened. He told her that she was incapacitated and sick so he spent the night taking care of her, like any honorable gentleman would. Why wouldn’t she believe him? So when the authorities began to question her, having viewed the surveillance tapes on an unrelated incident, she adamantly defended him. There’s no way her knight in shinning armor could have caused her any harm. But the cell phone images and videos, captured shortly after, proved otherwise.

The hero not only proposed bodily harm, but recruited his teammates to join in the fun. The protector can be seen gleefully laughing as his cohorts abused her limp, unconscious body. The trusted friends revealed the ugly depths of their humanity. Why and how? What’s the difference between her chosen protector and the men who’ve protected me? Because these men are not the exception, they are not the outcasts, they are not the socially disadvantaged or uneducated. These men could have been my trusted friends in college.

Back in college I remember participating in various sexual assault demonstrations and protests declaring ‘NO means NO’, pushing for female students to know their rights, to report any form of assault and for administrators to do a better job at creating zero tolerance environments. But it’s never that simple, is it? Because rights, consent and reporting are almost irrelevant in a world of memory blackouts (whether induced unknowingly or consciously via drugs or alcohol). Creating a zero tolerance environment is extremely difficult when the most powerful members of said environment intrinsically believe they have the right to degrade and abuse, where such members may not see their actions for what they are but as an innocuous, frivolous expression of who they are. Alpha males, sexual Gods, indestructible physical beings, fearless leaders who can coerce, intimidate and dominate at will.

Either way, who’s to blame? In fact, forget about blame, what’s the solution? If sex is being used as a weapon should we be trying to dethrone the enemy, end the war, or somehow destroy or unplug the ammunition? Clearly dealing with the enemy and the war itself are enormous long-term battles that we have been and will continue to fight for generations. What about the ammunition?

Which leads us to the other aspect to sexual assault that hasn’t been stated here. It lies in the shadows of decency and not so good but not entirely bad intentions. It’s the murky grey area that no one wants to talk about because it’s too difficult, too uncomfortable, too confusing. It pokes at the very definition of consent. It asks us to not only question, but to also explore the limits of our sexual desires. It forces us to confront what we understand sex to be, what sexual intimacy means to us, how we define a healthy, sexual relationship, and perhaps most dauntingly, what we are teaching our kids about the convoluted realities of being an adult.

Maybe, just maybe, shinning some light on these uncomfortable grey areas could help illuminate the path towards understanding and deterring the darker, more sadistic acts that occur so frequently. Maybe, by openly discussing what it means to be a natural, healthy, sexual human being, by bringing to the forefront the truths about sexuality, by being honest about wants and desires, by creating space to communicate without shame or judgment, by allowing ourselves to be seen for who we are, as opposed to who we ought to be. Maybe, by addressing the thin line between pain and pleasure, between consent and coercion, between physical desire and emotional refuge, maybe we can dissolve some of the power of weaponized sex by increasing the motivation towards emotional, pleasurable sex. Maybe?

(To be continued next month.)

Published in March 2015

Comments are closed.

x

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

I accept I decline Privacy Center Privacy Settings