Friday, April 29, 2011

Rape Myths, Part III

Welcome to the third post in our series examining rape myths for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Click on the number to read posts 1, 2.1, 2.2, & 2.3.

In this post, we'll finally talk about that stat we've been teasing you about, because in this post we shift past the constant focus on victims and actually talk about rapists. Consider this your trigger warning.

The last myth that we talked about in our HLN interview is the myth that rape is just about sex. It's not. In any given sexual encounter, there are countless moments when one can determine whether or not one's partner is consenting. What you are looking for is enthusiastic consent. It should be clear that your partner is ready and willing and excited about where this encounter is going. If your partner is hesitant, confused, or unable to say yes, you haven't received consent. At best, you are coercing them into doing something they would rather say no to (still rape). Probably, you are moving forward explicitly without their consent.

So, in our imaginary encounter, if a person realizes they do not have enthusiastic consent, they have options. They can stop what they are doing and then go find someone else who will consent to have sex with them. They can stop what they are doing and take care of their sexual needs on their own. Though illegal, they can hire someone to consensually provide them with sex. Or, they could just give up on sex at that time, which countless people do every day.

Instead, a rapist decides to move forward anyway. Regardless of what the victim is wearing, regardless of where she has been, regardless of whether she has been drinking, regardless of a host of factors, the responsibility for the rape lies with the rapist, because he is the one making the decision in that moment to move forward.

The problem is, we don't label so much of that scenario as rape. Women come through our doors every day who have been sexually assaulted by husbands or partners, but they don't label it as such. If someone holds you down and forces you to have sex, that is rape. If someone gets you too drunk to say no and then has sex with you, that is rape. If someone talks you into having sex when you initially didn't want to, makes you feel too guilty to say no, or makes you feel too scared to say no, that is rape.

Slightly over 1 in 20 college-age men will admit to raping someone in anonymous surveys, as long as the word "rape" isn't used in the description of the act. If you ask, "have you ever raped a woman", of course they will say no. But if you describe one of the scenarios above (i.e., have you ever made a woman feel too guilty to say no to sex), 6% of men will say yes, they have. And that's a conservative estimate. Other sources double that number.

So why do 6% of men rape? Because they can. If you don't respect women, you don't care if you have their consent. If women are nothing but glorified sex toys to you, you don't care about their enthusiasm or their pleasure. You don't care if they get anything out of the encounter. You don't care if they really want to be there, so long as they are there. If society has taught you that women aren't real people whose feelings and opinions matter, then their feelings and opinions about sex don't matter.

But even with all these factors as true, fewer men would rape if they thought there would be a consequence for doing so. If they thought that it would hurt their relationships with others or their careers, if they thought the would be arrested, if they thought that some privilege or power that they value would be taken from them as punishment, they wouldn't rape. It is a choice. Men are not neanderthals who are ruled by their libidos. 94% of men make the decision not to rape. It is a choice, and if we took rape seriously and punished rapists, it wouldn't happen nearly as often.

Instead, only 6% of rapists ever see a day in jail, which leaves them right out in the world where they can rape again.

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