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Readings for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in the U.S. It’s been a while since that hasn’t been the case on this blog, but now is a good time to pull some of my posts together in one place.

Of course, if you’d like to do more than read this month, there are opportunities. Claudia Lefeve is dedicating the proceeds of the sale (from April 15 to May 15) of her novella, “The Fury,” to Pandora’s Project (Twitter), which provides resources to survivors and researchers. Wrestler Mick Foley is targeting an unusual audience in his fund-raising efforts for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Tax-deductible donations to RAINN during April are also being matched up to a total of $30,000. Neil Gaiman is also supporting RAINN through the purchase of his story, “Blueberry Girl.”

If you want to help out but don’t have funds to spare, or have donated and want to do more, RAINN also provides information on how to get involved in shaping public policy. Currently, they’re asking people to support the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act, which will require better tracking of DNA evidence in rape cases. You can follow them on Twitter for news.

Now for posts. Note that a lot of these were written in the context of ongoing discussions. I wrote many of them, however, so I wouldn’t have to keep making the same points over and over.

U.S. Rape Statistics

As part of the ongoing discussion regarding Silence Is the Enemy (go read, click, donate), there is a commenter, Thomas, in this thread who is terribly concerned that rape statistics in the U.S. are inflated. He’s citing this article by Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers (PhD in philosophy) suggesting that several studies on rape prevalence shouldn’t be quoted because, well, you can read the reasons if you feel like it.

However, one helpful thing that Sommers does point out in this 2004 article is that the Bureau of Justice Statistics annual criminal victimization survey was revamped to ask about rape and sexual assault directly. It hadn’t before 2004. Really. This means that the numbers are available, although Thomas didn’t go out to find them himself.

So I did.

Why “No Means No”

The way that our culture talks about sex–or, more importantly, doesn’t–is fundamentally screwed up. We’re not really talking, most of us. We’re role playing. We’re taking the things that we’re supposed to think and feel about sex and repeating them to one another in the place of figuring out and talking about our own feelings.

Religion hasn’t helped, of course. The inequality between the sexes and mistrust of pleasure that the dominant religions of our society have promoted place particular pressure on women to deny enjoyment of sex, to deny desire. That means that “no” has frequently meant something other than “no.” This is not a new concept.

However, it is a concept that came to be used by men as a justification for rape. As a means of excusing nonconsensuality, it came to be accepted and enshrined in a not insignificant portion of our media and our cultural mythos. That acceptance had to change.

Caring About Abuse

To those implying* that your friendly local atheist is taking some new-found interest in fighting child sexual abuse because it involves the Catholic church or because Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are supporting the effort to explore legal options:

Oh, there are plenty of things I could say here. Short, pithy, pointed. Angry. Satisfying…but unhelpful. So I’ll settle for this: Are you listening to yourselves?

Do These Social Skills Make My Ass Look Creepy?

A while ago, over at Skepchick, Elyse asked for suggestions for dealing with the “creepy dude factor” as a barrier to women’s participation in skeptic and atheist events. A (thankfully small) number of guys asked whether their geeky lack of social skills or someone else’s would be classed as part of that problem. I would love to be able to say that if you think to ask, then no, you’re not part of the problem. But…

Yes, guys, sometimes your social skills are part of the problem. However, it isn’t in the way that you think it is. It isn’t because you’re awkward or not sure how to manage your body language. It isn’t because you don’t say the same things everyone else is saying.

It’s because you can’t set aside being self-conscious long enough to notice that someone just asked for your help with something really damned important.

Assange and the Presumption of Innocence

The presumption of innocence is a standard that’s incorporated in many, if not most, Western, industrialized legal systems. It is, in fact, a good thing, allowing people to retain most of their rights while allegations are being examined. I say most, because people are generally required to cooperate to a certain extent in determining the truth behind an accusation–to participate in trials either directly or through a representative, to be subject to certain questions, whether they answer them or not.

Even here, however, there are procedures in place that require a generally independent judiciary to make some preliminary evaluation of the credibility of the accusation before cooperation can be compelled. Whether you agree with the decisions of judges in Assange’s case, those procedures are being followed in Sweden and in the UK.

However, the presumption of innocence has also been adopted, to varying degrees, as a social standard for protecting the reputation of those accused of a crime. It’s in the conflation of the legal and social standards that the problem arises here.

Assange and Real Rape

Before I get into more substantive matters, I do have to take a moment to note that I personally can’t conceive of a better way to trivialize rape and its victims than to turn the whole thing into some kind of contest. Right. Onward.

This version of the “real” rape argument requires two things. (1) There is no confusion about what rape is. (2) All rape is the one thing or it isn’t rape.

I’d like to think this whole discussion would be evidence for the widespread confusion over rape and leave it at that, but I believe it’s important to understand the ongoing change in legal and societal definitions of rape that has happened within the lifetime of many people discussing this
situation.

Should Have Known

I want to return to one of those stupid things that people are saying about the sexual assault of Lara Logan. It’s the idea that “I’m not saying she deserved to be assaulted, but she should have known that her hair/her clothes/traveling to a country where (insert Middle Eastern or Muslim stereotype here) would make it more likely that she’d get raped.”

Of course she knew.

We all know. Women can’t avoid being aware of any of the standard trappings of rape, real or fictional. That’s what living in a rape culture is all about. There’s no escaping this.

Transcription “Journalism” Fails on Rape

We know that. We’ve known for decades that most people get things wrong about crime, and we sure as hell know that they’re worse on the topic of rape. We know that people misassign blame. We know that they tend to treat perpetrators as something short of criminals. We know that there’s a lot of special pleading that goes on that makes what happened “not really rape.”

That, my dear friends, is why we employ experts. We employ them in training law enforcement personnel, because they don’t get rape on their own. We employ them to talk to juries in rape cases, because juries don’t know what constitutes evidence of consent or trauma on their own. We employ them to set up programs to prevent rape and to deal with the aftermath, because rape is so entwined in our culture that very few of us really understand all of what we’re looking at when we look at rape.

We don’t–I emphasize–do not let any old schmuck off the street do any of that. Never. We just don’t. Because they get it wrong, as this article demonstrates so thoroughly.

This “reporter” did just that, though.

Rape Myth #1: She’s Probably Lying

It doesn’t happen. We’re not told that people lie about these things. We’re told that women lie about rape.

The implication in the “women lie” narrative is that we must be particularly on our guard against false accusations of rape, that any particular accusation is unlikely to be true. But is it?

The Rate of False Report
The standard figure passed around by victim advocates suggests a rate of false reports of 8% based on FBI crime statistics from 1997. This is comparable to rates for other crimes. However, citations can be found for rates as low as 1.5% and as high as 90%. In other words, huh? How do we deal with a range that big?

Luckily for those who want to sort out the truth of the matter, two papers came out in 2010 that shed considerable light by examining how false rape report rates are generated.

Skepticism and Rape Adaptations

Now, the problem is not that Dr. Shackelford is an evo psych researcher. There are people doing good work in evo psych. The problem is that Dr. Shackelford isn’t doing good work on this topic. In particular, the work he is presenting, relating female infidelity to rape of female partners by male partners, doesn’t tell us anything that the already robust scientific literature on rape hasn’t already told us.

In the 2006 paper that Shackelford will be presenting tomorrow, “Sexual Coercion and Forced In-Pair Copulation as Sperm Competition Tactics in Humans,” (pdf available) Goetz and Shackelford demonstrate a correlation in heterosexual couples between the likelihood of female infidelity (past or present, rated by the male or female partner) and the likelihood of male sexual coercion, up to and including rape via physical assault. This isn’t news. We already know that men who endorse rape myths and the acceptability of sexual violence against women under certain circumstances are more likely to rape. One of the common attitudes that predicts rape is that “sluts” lose the right to say, “No.” (“Nice girls don’t get raped.”) Non-monogamy is used to excuse rape, and not merely rape by prior sexual partners.

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