Will the Legal System Protect Women From Rape?
Note: I am aware that rape happens to men and that many of the same issues discussed here cross over. Because I work primarily in the area of male-on-female violence, that is what I have chosen to focus on in this particular article. Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault.
Part I: What is rape?
So can the justice system protect us from predators who commit this most horrific act? Of course. Rape is a crime. The only way to fight crime is with severe punishment for criminals. Simple enough. Right?
Well, I guess that depends on your definition of rape… and whether that matches the legal system’s definition. I guess that depends on what kind of evidence police are using to prove rapists guilty. I guess that depends on how much the legal system is willing to steer clear of the usual victim blaming. I guess that depends on whether the victim feels that reporting the incident is the best thing for her. Hmmm…
So what is the definition of rape? I’ve been working on this for quite a while. Verbal consent is the key. Black and white. As simple as tea. Right? Just watch this video it explains everything. But lately I’ve encountered examples that are way less black and white.
A man and a woman go once a week to a hotel and have sex. They have been doing this for a year, same day of the week and same hotel. They enter the room, don’t say a word to each other and have sex. No verbal consent there. Should the man be punished for a crime? For that matter, should the woman?
Being too drunk to give consent and mean it does not equal true consent. Rape. But people have drunk sex all the time right? Is every one of those cases rape?
What if the victim gave consent but she was threatened? Blackmailed? Pressured? Guilted? Underage? Mentally Handicapped? Senile?
What if she gave consent to intercourse, just not that type of intercourse? What if she consents, initiates, and then changes her mind without verbalizing it? If she’s physically forced to finished, most would agree it’s still rape. I hope.
Verbal consent does not define rape.
That is tricky. It cannot be defined by society or the legal system or anyone else. It depends on the woman’s personal boundaries. These types of boundaries, like anything precious about us humans, are individual and unique to each woman. They can vary depending on the day, time of day, and the person involved. They aren’t necessarily stable regarding what happens, because they can vary regarding the way things happen.
I’m no expert on male sexuality. I know that for women, sex can be sensitive, emotional, and vulnerable. It doesn’t matter what the boundary is or where it lies with her. It doesn’t matter what she agreed to beforehand or what signal you thought was sent as a sexual invitation. Once a woman sets a boundary, it needs to be respected.
Part II: Reporting to the police, working toward a solution.
A man once argued to me that unless a rape kit is used to prove a man is guilty, he should not be convicted of rape. These cases don’t have witnesses. They happen behind closed doors. Often violence or forceful physical coercion is not even used (For a deeper understanding of this watch this video). Of course I fired back at him with statistics- 92 percent of accusations of rape are true according to the FBI!. We need to take the woman by her word! Who is protecting those women?! But essentially… he was right. Living in a society where people need to be considered innocent until proven guilty means that someone needs to protect that 8% of men who are falsely accused. The ramifications of falsely convicting a man of rape can have just as detrimental of an impact on a man’s life as rape can have on woman’s life.
According to the Justice Department 68% of rapes go unreported. Why? Mostly due to the victim’s self-blame. Slap on the fact that the process of reporting is difficult, often degrading, and many times builds on the immense amount of shame that the woman already feels. Police tend to focus on the actions of the woman, rather than those of the attacker. “Witnesses saw you flirting, kissing, go into a room alone with him” , etc. None of these things are invitations for rape. NOTHING is an invitation for rape. But what other evidence do the police have to go by?
I used to advocate for and even pressure women to report past incidents. That 68% of unreported rapes isn’t helping to protect us women. Come on- be a team player and give that guy the justice he deserves. Lately I’ve changed my views. Yes, justice is important. Yes, maybe in a certain light she has an obligation to protect other women. But the thing about self defense is… it means defending yourself. And if pressing charges is not the best thing to help a victim recover from a trauma through love and support, then that is not something she should do. If she feels that it is, then by all means. But the decision needs to be left up to her. After a sexual assault, survivors more than anything need to feel in control. Giving them the choice of how to handle things is key.
So… as I have made sexual violence prevention my main life’s focus, I’m just not looking to the legal system to be the primary solution. Ok so what is the solution to the huge epidemic of gender based violence?
The issue must be tackled on two fronts.
First and foremost, is a total revamp in education for young boys and men. The issue of consent MUST be a main focus of sexual education in schools. Men need to be educated about rape culture and bystander intervention leadership. This movement is already well underway and hugely successful. Just ask Jackson Katz or Neil Irvin of Men Can Stop Rape- two unbelievable men who are changing men’s views of healthy masculinity on a huge scale. Men need to feel strong and peaceful.
The second front of the battle field is women and young girls. Girls need concrete tools for stopping sexual harassment and assault in its tracks way before things even get messy. This involves a huge revamp of education about girls’ rights and roles in social constructs. They need to know that they have the right to be rude, to change their minds, to say no assertively, to decide where their personal boundary is on their own, to make a scene, and to cause physical damage if needed. They need to feel strong enough to stop a violent man. Girls need to be given a voice and they need to be heard. And for any of this to happen they need first and foremost to love, respect and cherish their bodies.
Basically, they need empowerment self defense workshops built into their schooling. We’re getting there. A long road ahead, but we’re getting there.