Spouses are more dangerous than terrorists

Content Notice: Sexual assault.

There’s this obsessed guy who runs around on every political article that pops up in my feed screaming at the top of his lungs about “rapefugees.” It’s an immediate red flag–I noticed a long long time ago that most people can’t be arsed to give a shit about the violence committed within their own communities but holy shit what changes when the perp is brown!

This is where it is useful to lean back and look at big picture statistics. Sexual assault is sexual assault regardless of who does it to whom, so if our justice systems weren’t massively flawed we would expect roughly the same outcomes across the board in terms of what is reported and what is prosecuted. Except with sexual assault, when you look at the big picture, you see a pretty big gaping hole between reporting and prosecuting under certain specific circumstances.

A ridiculous proportion of sexual assaults are accounted for with these three components:

  1. Targeted an acquaintance, not a stranger;
  2. Used alcohol rather than force or drugs;
  3. Denied allegations of sexual assault should they be raised;

YesMeansYes breaks it down further: (emphasis original)

So without quibbling over the precise statutory definition, this equates to rape or attempted rape. 120 men admitted to raping to attempting to rape. This is actually a relatively slim proportion of the survey population — just over 6% — and might be an underreport, though for part of the sample, the survey team did interviews to confirm the self-reports, which tends to show if there is an undercount in the self-reports, and found the responses consistent. But the more interesting part of the findings were how those rapists and their offenses broke down.

Of the 120 rapists in the sample, 44 reported only one assault. The remaining 76 were repeat offenders. These 76 men, 63% of the rapists, committed 439 rapes or attempted rapes, an average of 5.8 each (median of 3, so there were some super-repeat offenders in this group). Just 4% of the men surveyed committed over 400 attempted or completed rapes.

The breakdown between the modus operandi of the rapists also tells us a lot about how wrong the script is. Of all 120 admitted rapists, only about 30% reported using force or threats, while the remainder raped intoxicated victims. This proportion was roughly the same between the 44 rapists who reported one assault and the 76 who reported multiple assaults.

And now our big picture starts to crystallize. If we really are concerned with sexual assault, as the “rapefugee” types often claim, we need to recognize that the lion’s share of completed–and unprosecuted–assaults are committed using the above formula.

The other clarifying observation is that it’s much more predictable than stranger danger. Stranger danger is difficult to prevent by its seemingly random nature, and while there are certain behaviours in repeat stranger-assaults that one could potentially flag, there’s not usually any policy changes that can be made to prevent it. But that formula? Plied with alcohol, the two parties know each other, and an allegation is made but denied by the other? Greater-than-even odds the accusation is sincere.

That’s without taking into account queer-perpetrated assaults, in which the proportion of stranger danger is considerably lower and the proportion of acquaintance assault considerably higher.

This is one reason why I view the “rapefugee” call as rather insincere–these are not the people who are present for the conversations about criminal justice reform and acquaintance rape, or the victims who fall through cracks like men (straight or queer) or women whose perps were other women. The other reason, of course, is that when stranger-perpetrated violence does occur and the perpetrator is a man of colour, the police suddenly do their fucking job (warning: autoplay). That’s more than we can say of the general-population survey, the majority of which would be white men who’ve committed a staggering proportion of the sexual assaults, from the Lisak & Miller article discussed in Yes Means Yes. Yet the reactionaries will continue to scream long after the brown perp is behind bars.

What is their actual complaint? Something unpredictable happened, people were hurt, the police did their job, and the only open question is what supports are available to the victims–why obsess over the who did it then? Wouldn’t the actual concern be making sure the victims are connected with social and community resources since justice has presumably been served?

The answer is rather obvious–it was never about sexual assault. If it were we’d see them asking about how often it occurs in refugee camps. It’s about keeping “our” women safe from “their” men, an infantile cocktail of fear and racism.

Which brings us around to the other topic today: The parallels between “rapefugee” tropes and “terrorist threat” tropes.

Once again, if we lean back and look at the big picture of deliberate acts of violence (I don’t much like the comparisons to natural causes of death or accident), we find out that intimate partners murder each other in the United States at a rate just shy of 9/11. Every year. That’s without considering assaults and sexual assaults–which occur at a rate that dwarfs 9/11 a hundredfold. Around three quarters of these acts of violence are by men. All of which is to say that if acts of deliberate violence are your concern you’d be paying attention to matters of policy regarding intimate partner violence, something much more predictable and widespread; and not terrorism, which is likewise to stranger-danger random and next to impossible to anticipate.

Yet once again the reactionaries quivering in their boots would rather ignore the obvious.

I understand that it can be difficult to grapple with the random and uncaring nature of the universe and that the idea of certain devastating occurrences being near-unpreventable and totally random is terrifying, by why on Earth are people fixating on the problems that actually have the fewest institutional barriers? A victim of a stranger-assault on the street perpetrated by a person of colour is more likely (far from guaranteed, just more likely) to have their case taken more seriously by police, especially if they’re white. And as far as I am aware, no terrorist has ever been let off the hook for their actions, unlike abusive spouses. So why is it that the scenarios with the least amount of institutional barriers are the ones reactionaries fixate on?

Again, it’s never been about “national security.” It’s been about protecting “our” people from “their” bad guys. That’s why you’ve barely heard a fucking peep from these reactionaries over ISIS’ #1 target: Other Muslim sects. That’s why you have all the hand-wringing over the genocide committed against Christians in their occupied territories but hear little from them about the Shia or Yazidis or Kurds who were subject to the same or worse.

As for me, I’m going to keep actually addressing the issue of sexualized violence here in Canuckistan. And I’m going to make the uncontroversial statement that as far as brown-skinned perpetrators go, they’re the least likely to get away with their activities.