The General and Rape Myths

Oh, finally, finally, the military is being held accountable. Ruth Marcus, Washington Post, leans into Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh at a hearing this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He’s on the defense about comments he made regarding sexual assault in the military, blaming the hook-up culture. His words are essentially cries about dates gone bad, “hook-ups” with miscommunications. Perhaps General Welsh believes women in the military just change their minds, a woman thing.

Nothing to do with the reality of power, or the need to dominate the gender that deigns to join ranks with men. Nothing about aggression and a need to protect one’s turf, or gender role conflict, beliefs in sex roles and rape myths.

Bad dates, that’s it, a product of our very sexual, permissive society — not an issue with an institution that covers up, minimizes its liability, rather than protects its servants, first and foremost. My goodness. Have they learned nothing in the past four months?

General Welsh, and other military men in a position to do something, must know about that 35th annual symposium of the Tailhook Association, back in September 1991. Over a hundred marine, naval, and air force officers, drunk for days, sexually assaulted over 83 women, all vulnerable attendees, officers, and 7 men. Women testified that they needed to hide, because no matter where they were in the hotel, hands grabbed at them, men pushed, forced them into sex everywhere, in the hallways, at the pool, out in the open or forced behind closed doors. Gang rapes. Officers in T-shirts: Women are Our Property. They stalked, blocked, tackled, over-powered our women in uniform at that conference. And heads did roll, the careers of those of the highest of ranks —who were in attendance — ended, fFor good reason. They should have stopped it.

The General’s blaming society, our promiscuous world, indicates he really doesn’t understand, after over a quarter of a century, rape.

A quick lesson, with all due respect, a universal lesson, not just for generals. We must talk about rape myths. There are dozens. Those chosen below are thought to be the ones that military men probably still believe.

  1. MYTH: Women send signals that they want to have sex, and then they say no. But it seems clear that they want it, despite what they say. FACT: This is a male fantasy, mind-reading, and an egregious misinterpretation of social cues.
  2. MYTH: True sexual assaults are rare. FACT: Sexual assaults are common, and many victims, perhaps most (despite the #MeTOO movement), are reluctant to discuss their experiences because they fear disbelief, blame, and retaliation. Some statistics say that every 90 seconds a woman is sexually assaulted, globally — far from rare.
  3. MYTH: Women fantasize about being raped. FACT: If they do, and most say they do not, they still do not want to be raped. Rape, a physical violation, hurts. Men can only empathize if they imagine being castrated or similarly abused.
  4. MYTH: Women want their men to be stronger, tougher — rough is exciting — they want men to take control of sex. FACT. Most people want and need control in their relationships. Women fear losing theirs to a more physically powerful person with the strength to hurt and violate them. Consistently studies have found 1 of 4 female college attendees report having been raped by an acquaintance in those years, and 1 of 3 (perhaps more) are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Still, only 5% report, no matter where or when it occurs.
  5. MYTH: Women easily get over rape in a day or two. FACT: The aftermath of rape for women and men, the physical and mental ordeal is likely to include: (a) depression, anger, and anxiety, post-or acute-traumatic stress disorder or rape-trauma syndrome; (b) social withdrawal; © future problems with intimacy and trust; (d) an inability to work and concentrate; (e) nightmares that persist for many years; (f) flashbacks during the day and night, memories of what happened, or haunting thoughts in the even that a date-rape drug was used, wiping out memory; (g) medical problems, including STD’s, infections, and pregnancy; (h) self-blame and lowered self-esteem; (i) loss of innocence, faith in law enforcement, and others, confidents, family and friends who were not supportive; (j) occupational loss; (k) financial loss in court; (l) humiliation. The person who rapes justifies and rationalizes his behavior, rarely feels guilt.
  6. MYTH: Rape is caused by uncontrollable sexual urges. FACT: All men can control their sexual urges, they simply don’t want to, would rather assert themselves in this way for many reasons, including a need to feel powerful to battle with their own low self-esteem. Motives for rape are complicated, but include anger at women, at men, and anger towards oneself.
  7. MYTH: Rape is a one-time thing and men learn from it, feel badly later and don’t do it again. FACT: It is an act that is repeated, almost always, sometimes over and over again.
  8. MYTH: Women lie about rape as retaliation for being rejected, or to blame a man for consensual sex that embarrassed them or they regret. FACT: Only .02 percent of reported rapes are found to be false reports. Women can and should be believed.
  9. MYTH: Sexual assault is a woman’s problem. FACT: The latest statistics from the EEOC find traditional reports from heterosexual women on the decrease (this before October, 2017), and yet the LGBTQ community is increasingly reporting sexual harassment and assault. Men report at least 10% of all sexual assaults, and their experiences, too, are thought to be vastly underreported.
  10. MYTH: Women are capable of stopping a rape if they want, they just don’t want to stop it. FACT: Even if the rapist is not carrying a weapon, the shock, surprise, fear, and threat of bodily harm is overpowering, paralyzing, and men who rape are capable, usually, even when women are fighting, of physically overpowering them.
  11. MYTH: Women say No when they really mean Yes because they are taught that only bad girls want sex. FACT: When a woman says No, that is what she means — No. No Means No. The idea that men must pursue them and take control, because this is what women want, is and always has been a myth. Women, children and men of every age, every physical type and demeanor, from all walks of life, are sexually assaulted. Opportunity is the most important factor determining when a given man will use his power aggressively and/or deceptively to rape.
  12. MYTH: Women like sexual attention, are asking for it, which is why they occupy places already dominated by men — they choose their profession to get sexual attention. FACT: Women choose their occupations for the same reasons men choose theirs, and sex has nothing to do with it. They don’t like sexual attention on or off the job by acquaintances, and fear that unwanted touch, attention, and solicitations for dates, will lead to sexual assault. Even flattery can be interpreted as a sexual overture. This hyper-vigilance can interfere with concentration on the job, one of the legal definitions of sexual harassment.
  13. MYTH: Rape is an impulsive act. FACT: Rape is planned, premeditated — always.
  14. MYTH: If a person doesn’t “fight back” she/he wasn’t really raped. FACT: Women fear that if they fight back they will be hurt more, beaten, which is often the case, maybe even killed.
  15. MYTH: Real rapists are clearly psychopaths. FACT: Most men who force sex function very well on the job and in social settings. Some appear to be model citizens. They learn sexual violence, advance behavior, from peers as normal , the very thing, the most important lesson, that female and male violence prevention activists, are trying to change.

Okay, that’s enough for today, and it isn’t even everything. One would think that this is enough rape education to dissuade a man from touching a woman without asking permission, or alluding to sex in conversation, certainly deter them from assault. But it isn’t. Men, we’re learning, only hear this well from other men, it turns out, or from their daughters, following a rape.

Perhaps the military higher ups, still mostly male, would hear it better from one of the men’s groups working to change male attitudes towards women, such as Men Can Stop Rape. Studies find that men listen better, learn to empathize better, when men tell their stories. Their mantras are accessible, too, like My strength is not for hurting (so when she had too much to drink I said, Let’s not.)

Any kind of continuing education will be better than nothing.

Meanwhile, those of you who are male and in the military, yes, of course:THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. But now, please, go yet one more mile, do it for your country. Do your best to really listen to what women are telling you about what rape, what it is, how it affects them. And tell us all, General Welsh, tell the citizens who pay your salaries, that you are sorry for minimizing the situation, for ignoring institutionally sanctioned criminal behavior. You didn’t get it before, but now you do. Tell us that, and then promise to do your part to stop it.