Thursday, June 22, 2006

On Rape and "Precautions"

This is something that has come up over and over again on the forum on Smith's Jolt, and while my stand on it still isn't completely clear, I feel like it's something I should blog about, because it's something that causes some factioning within the feminist community.*

The issue is rape. And what responsibility women should take for their actions or what precautions she should take. (The "rape threads" on the forum at the Jolt have become kind of dreaded because of this incessant, seemingly unresolvable argument.)

The argument usually goes something like this:
1. Someone posts something vaguely related to rape. (Most recently, it stemmed from a post on the recent WaPo article claiming that rape rates have drastically declined in the past few decades.)
2. Someone replies and brings up the problem with rape prevention based solely or mostly on "teaching women to avoid unsafe situations." (Ok, I'll admit, this time, it was me.)
3. Number 2 inevitably opens up the can of worms, with an equal number of people arguing either that taking precautions is simply logical or that creating a prevention strategy based on women's actions is victim-blaming.
4. The thread eventually devolves into what is pretty typical of the Jolt, with people arguing ineffectively and making no logical point whatsoever. It starts to become an O'Reilly-Factor-style argument, at which point the people seriously trying to argue the point just sit back and watch the stupidity take away their credibility.

It seems that I always get pulled into these arguments, because some of the things people say under the anonymity of the Jolt make me so angry that I can't just stay quiet (some say it's an endearing quality...but sometimes, I fear that I'm going to have a heart attack from the stress by the time I'm 27).
Thing is, I can never make my point eloquently or succinctly enough on the Jolt to make a difference, so I'm going to try to do so here.

What started all of this recently was this line in the article, attempting to explain the reason for the supposed 85% drop in rapes since the 1970s:
Another, more hopeful, explanation is that Americans have actually changed the way they think about sexual assault: Women have been taught to avoid unsafe situations, and both boys and girls have been drilled to understand the rules of consent. (emphasis mine)

The whole sentence is just a little inaccurate, and I could devote an entire blog post to that sentence. But the thing that bothered me the most was the bolded part of the sentence: "Women have been taught to avoid unsafe situations."

In a nutshell, my issue with this is as follows: It is not a woman's job to decrease sexual assaults perpetrated against her.

Now, of course, that is highly oversimplified, and needs expanding.

In theory (if one were to subscribe wholly to the rape culture ideology), it would make sense to not put yourself into a situation where a crime is "likely" to occur.
But that theory itself is inherently flawed, and has very few practical implications.

For one, the majority of rapes are acquaintance rapes, not stranger rapes. These "precautions" (not going out alone after dark and so on) are only even theoretically applicable in stranger-rape scenarios. Not going to help you if you're going out after dark with the person you're trusting to accompany you after dark to protect you from the man waiting in the bushes to rape you, the person who ends up being your rapist.
And then, of course, there's the issue of undue, burdensome limitations on women's mobility. If you can't go out alone, but you have nobody to accompany you, you just can't go out. So much for empowering women. "Ending" and "preventing" rape isn't really going to do much for women's upward mobility if women have to worry about who they're doing what with every second of the day (or, at least, every second of the night).

The argument that continually comes up is the analogy to a mugging. You don't go down a city street that you know to be prone to muggers with a wad of bills in plain sight. So, logically, you would not go into a bar by yourself, flash some guy, and expect not to get raped. Same thing, right?'s so not.
Mugging and rape are not comparable crimes.
That seems like such an obvious statement, but apparently, it's, um, not.

Even if you were to talk strictly about stranger rapes, these "precautions" that women are supposed to take are, I would argue, nothing more than victim-blaming techniques dressed up as "protecting women."
You can have the best intentions when telling a woman to make sure she doesn't walk home alone at night, but what are you going to say when that woman doesn't heed your well-intentioned advice and is raped as she's walking home alone? It is very straight logic to go from "You shouldn't walk home alone," to "Well, I told you to not to walk home alone."
The latter, of course, is telling the woman that she put herself in that situation, and is therefore at least partially accountable and responsible for the actions that resulted from her "allowing" that situation to arise.
a.k.a. Blaming the victim.

Unfailingly, the pro-"precaution" crowd then argues that of course the man is culpable...but (and here comes the victim-blaming) she should have been more careful.
Or, even better, "Well, now you know not to walk home alone." Or "Bet you won't get that drunk in mixed company again, eh?"
The latter two are very thinly veiled examples of the victim-blaming, but they are all cut from the same cloth. All rely on using the victim's lack of "precautions" to not only blame the victim (non-maliciously, for the most part) but to make themselves feel better about their own actions; specifically, to make themselves feel safer, like they do enough to make sure they won't "get themselves raped" like Susie over there.

And going back to the mugging example...rape, given the reliance on it to uphold the patriarchal culture and the gender/power element, is simply an inherently different crime. Mugging undoubtedly has socio-economic undertones, but rape has centuries and centuries of gender oppression built into it. So much so that people don't even question the basis of it anymore, which is where the biggest problem with this "precaution" prevention line of reasoning comes in.

Saying that women should take precautions because of the hostile, dangerous environment does nothing to question or undermine that hostile, dangerous environment in the first place.
And rape is not going to end until said hostile, dangerous environment is obliterated.
The man's responsibility and motive - especially their motive - is almost never questioned. Rape, for men (as perpetrators), is highly eroticized -- obviously, they're doing it to get their rocks off. Or something like that. The question of power or motive is never addressed. This assumed motive -- that they're doing it because they "can't help it," because they need the sexual release -- simply plays into the perpetuation of the threat and culture of rape. If you assume that men do it because they have to, then rape is inevitable, and nothing but women taking (often ineffective) immobilizing precautions even has a chance of decreasing the numbers.

So yes, in theory, given the current dominant ideology, telling women to limit their lives according to precautions will decrease the rape rates.

But how is anything going to change if you base all of your theories on the current
dominant ideology?

*NOTE: This piece deals specifically with male-perpetrator female-victim rapes. Of course, there are instances where women rape other women, men rape other men, women rape men, and everything in between and above and beyond. The most prevalent, however, is male-perpetrator female-victim rapes, and the gender dynamics and social implications of other instances of rapes are far too complex to delve into here.

Ireland and Women's Rights

For a long time now, Ireland has been seriously lagging behind the rest of Western Europe in regards to women's and reproductive rights. I'm inclined to believe this seemingly out-of-place oppressive ban in Ireland is probably due to the overwhelmingly Catholic population, but despite their Catholicism, recent polls have shown that the majority of Irish people are pro-choice.

The Irish Family Planning Association has been mighty busy lately, trying to get Ireland out of the repro rights doghouse, so to speak. That fact in itself is perhaps not so noteworthy, although it's fabulous. What I love most about this is their strategy. A strategy which we seriously need to start thinking about here in the U.S. (even if it is currently not so feasible due to the U.S. being a collective jackass).

The IFPA is tackling the abortion ban from a human rights standpoint, arguing that the denial of access to abortion is a violation of the human rights agreement (the European Convention on Human Rights) that the Irish government has signed. They have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the Convention, arguing the following:

Ireland's restrictive abortion law violates their human rights on four grounds protected by the convention:
"the right to privacy in all family, home and personal interests, and entitlement to no public interference from any public authority in exercising this right;
the right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment;
the right to protection of the law to safe-guard the life of an individual"
and the provision that affords
"rights and freedoms without discrimination on any grounds.

(via PPFA's choice! magazine)

Too bad the U.S. doesn't really believe in human rights and such....

Sunday, June 18, 2006

classifying trauma

New York, being my home state, will always hold a place in my heart. Even though I hope to never ever return there after I graduate and move out into the "real world," the things that happen in New York, politically and socially, still concern me, and probably always will.
(Please note: By "New York," I do not mean the city. I have never been to the city, don't particularly want to go to the city, and don't particularly like the city. Contrary to what legislators in Albany or people residing in the city may think, the rest of New York State does exist, and the people in those areas deserve consideration by the state too. /rampage)

By reading pretty much any group of five posts on this blog, you will also realize that I am equally, if not more, concerned with the rape culture in our society and the lack of sufficient legal or other recourse and support for rape victims/survivors.

It follows, then, this potential repeal of the statute of limitations thing in New York strikes a rather resonant chord with me.
(Yes, I know this is about a month old. Sorry.)

It seems that the push to repeal the 5-year statute of limitations on the prosecution of rape has finally garnered some serious support.

The statute of limitations is, quite simply, stupid and, as the Women's eNews article puts it, an archaic remnant of a fucked-up, (more) misogynistic past.

Rape, at most, can be considered a Class B Felony. Other Class B felonies? Kidnapping and robbery that don't result in physical injury. Kidnapping and robbery that do result in physical harm are automatically bumped up to a Class A felony -- and Class A felonies cannot be subject to a statute of limitations, because they're seen as Very Serious crimes.
Not so serious.

Thing is, this legislation doesn't address that part. This legislation simply repeals the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases in particular. This legislation is only symbolically acknowledging that rape is a (sort of) serious crime.
Even though the Manhattan DA, Robert Morgenthau, had the following to say: "After murder, the crime that causes the most permanent damage to the victim is a rape."
Sadly, this well-informed Manhattan DA cannot change the felony classification of the crime, even though he seems to understand it far better than those who do have that power.

I know, I know. Repealing the statute of limitations is a good thing, and it's more than we've been able to get accomplished in a long, long time. I'm not saying that we shouldn't do it, because we absolutely should.
But it would just make more sense to make rape a Class A felony. Then we wouldn't have to go through this whole statute of limitations debate at all, and you'd have the added bonus of actually acknowledging the damage that rape causes.

Because I'd like to see a New York legislator try to make the case that rape Isn't Really That Serious and then try to get re-elected in the next election cycle.
(At least, I'd like to think that said scenario would be impossible...)

i heart (former) n.j. gov. christine todd whitman

For this, my first post after a looong time, I'll try to get back into the blogging groove with a woman who I've recently fallen a little bit in love with.

Christine Todd Whitman.

I don't know what it is with my penchant for kickass Republican women lately. Maybe it's because most of the Republicans I hear about make my skin crawl, and these women don't, and so their lack of heeby-jeeby vibes is just astonishing to me.

Christine Todd Whitman, former two-term governor of New Jersey, is a Republican. She used to be the GOP's "It Girl"...until the party realized that she had a conscience and supported things like same-sex marriage and reproductive rights and other similarly evil, hell-raising atrocities. Now, the GOP kind of hates her/ignores her, but she's been making some waves lately despite their priggish dislike for/fear of her.

Women's eNews (specifically, J. Trout Lowen) recently did a story covering Whitman's work on taking back the GOP for the moderates. (And, awesomely enough, mentions the conference call that WCF held with her last week, which should be up on the new website in a bit. The relevance here is that this conference call is totally what made me fall in love with her.)

See, most Republicans aren't priggish douchefaces who hate women and gays and (shh don't tell anyone, this one's on the d.l.) those awful dark-skinned devils. A lot of Republicans are socially moderate and fiscally conservative. And while I still disagree with a lot of their fiscally conservative politics, these "socially inclusive" Republicans are actually decent people who I wouldn't mind in our political environment. As it stands now, those wielding the power in the Republican party are far from decent, blatantly misogynistic assholes. And dealing with them or watching other decent people have to deal with them kind of makes me want to vomit. Projectile. Onto their ugly shoes.

Ahem. Moving on.
Back to Christie.
She started this PAC, It's My Party Too, or IMP-PAC (and, btw, also wrote a book by the same name, which is one of the first books on my reading list this summer). Said PAC supports non-crazy extremist Republican candidates, since these candidates are the ones that are so often pushed out of the race due to lack of funding. The Republican "base" isn't all crazy fundies, and she's trying to get the moderates and centrists to actually grow some metaphorical balls and not let the extremists take the party somewhere frightening. There are already about 25 chapters of IMP-PAC in different states, and the PAC is rather new, so that's great progress for her and, therefore, for the Republican party. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not a Republican, nor will I ever be, but I do like it when the good kind of Republican tries to move her party back to a more decent, less hateful place.

And thus, I'm slightly in love with Christine Todd Whitman.

(Ok, so she's not perfect, and her actions as the head of the EPA leave a bit to be desired. But hey. It's all about bipartisan cooperation on important issues. Specifically with this, important issues like reproductive rights. You're never going to like every single elected official or follow them on every issue. And since there are going to be Republicans in office who have to work with my (New York, so they're almost bound to be Democratic) elected officials on a federal level, I'd prefer to have people (women, specifically) like Christine Todd Whitman sitting in those Congressional seats, people who will at least protect basic human and civil rights.

still alive

Just a quick post to say that yes, I'm still around. I've got about 10 things saved in my email that I want to blog about, and I keep meaning to do so, but I just haven't gotten around to it quite yet. Things have been kind of crazy, what with the end of the semester (ok, it was like 4 weeks ago, but it's taken a while to recuperate) and settling in down here in Washington, DC for the summer.
My internship (at the Women's Campaign Forum) has also been providing lots of things I want to blog about...and I will, soon. I swear.

For now, though, I'll leave you with something I've gleaned thus far from said internship; some Republicans aren't all that bad. Like Martha Rainville, who's running for Congress from Vermont. She's one of our endorsed candidates, and I met her (well, kind of. I gave her a name tag and found her a cab) at the event we had a couple weeks ago, and she's awesome.

Pro-choice and fabulous, of course. Sometimes (not often, but sometimes), I really love Republicans. Specifically, Republicans named Martha Rainville. Oh, and Christine Todd Whitman is pretty fucking awesome too.