“If you think rape is a problem, talk about it right.”

[Content warning: discussions of harassment, sexual violence, domestic abuse and victim blaming, both here and in the OP.]

Jonathan Lindsell of the Haywire Thought blog has a post about rape, and how we discuss it. If you’ve heard the phrase “rape culture” and been mystified by it, this post is for you.

It says a variety of essential things, like…

We don’t hear about perpetrators. Headlines always read “Woman raped in Hartlepool”. “Government statistics show 24% students victims of abuse”. Unless the perpetrator is famous or politically sensitive then reporting is passive – such and such a molestation was committed. Such and such a sexual assault was reported. Potential victims are at risk of abuse – no men are at risk of raping.

This gives the impression rape is something that ‘just happens’. It comes out of the sky and ruins lives like a fair-weather thunderbolt. It’s a freak event. Abuse occurs in the same random nature as tyre punctures. It sneaks up on you like cancer – the unlucky woman ‘suffers rape’. You look through history – whole races and cities find themselves in this unenviable but actor-absent situation: The Rape of the Sabine Women, The Rape of Nanking. Nobody in day-to-day life ‘does’ rape. Rape just happens.


Most rapes (up to 90%) are committed by people the victim knows – family, neighbours, friends, colleagues.  Reporting doesn’t acknowledge this, let alone address it. We ignore that men and [people of other genders] are sexually assaulted. The media have a narrative, a nice easy story. You, the reader, already know the framework. It’s a fable in a way – a morality tale: Young attractive woman goes partying, drinks too much and walks home alone in the dark and is attacked by a stranger. Or in the club by the man she’d just met, with whom she flirted outrageously. Or in the park where she was out running in her tight sports-shorts and push-up bra.

… We know that’s a myth. A realistic narrative might read: Irritable husband comes back from work and shouts at his children then when they are in bed rapes his wife. Or: At a family celebration the elder cousin touches the younger cousin and forces them not to tell. There is no easy-to-follow fable. In reality, sex crime doesn’t fit neat patterns.


We don’t consider whether or how much we ourselves contribute to a rape-friendly culture. Only a tiny percentage – as low as 6.8% of recorded rapes and 1.1% of the estimated total end in conviction. Whether the way we (and I’m addressing all sexes, genders and persuasions) discuss bodies, actions and preferences contributes.

… The only times we hear a lot about the criminals are when they are in minorities. They are comfortably far away, They are explicitly ‘not us’ when ‘us’ is the white middle class largely male cadre that dominates Fleet Street, Westminster and the law. So it’s fine to talk about celebrities like Jimmy Saville or Garry Glitter – you might have harboured misgivings about them even before Operation Yewtree. They form the opposite case – all we hear from victims are titillating/grizzly details that prove the celebrity’s monstrosity and unique Other-ness. … These vile men lived lives so glitzy and removed from our own that we need not see their actions as a reflection on our own lifestyle. It’s fine to talk about Catholic Priests and public school masters. … Crucially, they are monsters totally unlike me and my friends. … It’s fine to talk about the Rotherham child abuse ring. “They’re immigrants, aren’t they? … It’s equally fine to talk about India then – India is comfortably far away.

We need to understand that rapists are not unspeakable monsters. They are like you and me. If we can only imagine rapists being unhinged psychopaths, then in court all that the defence barrister needs to do is show what a nice, normal human being the accused is, and the jury accepts that the accused cannot be guilty.


When we read a passive verb, we’re linguistically programmed to look for a reason. … We’re desperate for clues: Was she a virgin or a slut? (There’s no middle ground.) Did she kiss him? Has she ever kissed anyone? Is she married? Is she an atheist? Was she sexually active? Was she partying? Had she taken all necessary precautions not to be raped, including but not limited to: telling a friend she was leaving, asking a Man to chaperone her, calling home, calling the police, carrying a whistle, carrying pepper spray, practicing Taekwondo, wearing an electrified girdle, carrying an automatic machine gun?

OR. Was she basically up for it? Was she like the Steubenville girl? Did she have condoms in her purse? The pill? Perfume? Why was she in the club/field/festival in the first place if she didn’t want it?


Statistics exist. You almost certainly know a rapist, unless you are a recluse. Several, actually. That’s a nice thought. Cycle through the mental facebook of your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours, then people you interact with in tiny ways, commuters, supermarket customers – consider how many of them might have sexually assaulted. I hope you don’t know any molesters, but you probably do.


If you think that gender violence is a problem, talk about it right. Demand equal focus on the criminal. I don’t mean we should ignore the victim, but that we need to keep the whole situation in mind. Not just to aid convictions and support victims to understand that their ordeal was not their fault, but so we learn to ignore the enablers of rape culture and construct a society where the current brutality is unacceptable.

Read the whole thing. Trust me, it’s worth it.


  1. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    The media does love the passive construction with rape. It was someone at Hoyden About Town, I think, whose article made that point when I read about it first and introduces the question:

    If a woman was raped, raped by WHO? Elves?

  2. Edward Gemmer says

    There does seem to be a pervasive thought that the criminal justice system is easy on rapists. The law on rape in the United States is extremely harsh and very much focused on the offender. There is no support for victims inherent in the justice system, though some places have victim advocates. In the Steubenville case, there were witnesses, videos, pictures, etc. that made the case easy to prove. Most cases of that type are not very easy to prove. Rape involves acts between people that occur all the time (sex), making proving the case at trial difficult when there is no other evidence besides the words of the victim. Conversely, because the punishments are so harsh, pleading to lesser charges is very attractive, even if the offender feels they did nothing wrong.

    In other words, the criminal justice system has not been a very good way to deal with this and never will be.

  3. says

    Edward: The laws are harsh — on paper. The implementation of those laws — not so much.

    You don’t even have to leave the confines of FtB to find numerous stories from women who were raped as to how their claims were dismissed, minimized, not believed, outright denied by the officials designated to investigate those claims.

    It takes a LOT to have a claim of sexual assault 1. be taken seriously by investigating authorities 2. be taken seriously enough by prosecutors to bring a case 3. be proven in a court of law sufficient to find a defendant guilty.

    The statistics somewhere are appalling – 95% of sexual assaults result in ZERO consequences to the assaulter. Zero. Consequences.

    If some sexual predators are in prison for a long time — well, I’m not shedding one tear for them due to the system of justice that gave them that sentence. What would you offer as an alternative — have the predator marry his victim?

  4. Edward Gemmer says

    @ Jonathan Good stuff thank you.

    @ Kevin I understand that, I’m not necessarily offering other alternatives but I do think alternatives besides make penalties even harsher merit some suggestion. A system where offenders aren’t punished and victims aren’t investigated seems worthy of discussion.

  5. AnyBeth says

    So much this.

    Various people have committed a number of crimes upon me, the first in my early childhood, the last in my early 20s. Nothing young was ever acknowledged and I was never taught what, say, “sexual assault” meant, so it was easy for people charged with my protection to deny anything was wrong. (Mind you, the very denial was itself a crime. Many of these people were mandated reporters.) It took me years to realize what exactly the offenders did to me.

    I’d like to posit that this change in language, from passive to active, naming (or at least referring to) the actors does good for the survivors of crime themselves. For the past few years, I’ve made an effort to give each act an actor, not just an acted-upon. For example (serious trigger warning):
    When I was a small child, my uncle raped me (as defined by the local law).
    When I was 15, at school a peer sexually assaulted me (groping) and threatened me with rape, this in full view of dozens of schoolmates and at least two teachers charged with our care.
    When I was in college, my boyfriend assaulted me, kidnapped me, battered me, and held me against my will.

    This brings me to my least favorite relevant phrase: got raped. Maybe it just happened like you get a cold, but maybe it’s more that you’re an active participant, like getting a speeding ticket. Very wrong. I didn’t “get” raped or assaulted or kidnapped, those were things people did — it wasn’t me. It’s important, even if just for me to know. Be totally cool if the rest of society would see to fit to join me in this world where people take action rather than one where people are only acted upon.

  6. Pteryxx says

    Be totally cool if the rest of society would see to fit to join me in this world where people take action rather than one where people are only acted upon.



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