So, yesterday I was accused on Twitter of making excuses for rapists. Me. A friend of the rapists. Well, I know that’s not true, but it did get me thinking.
It all started with reading these two blogs.
http://www.xojane.com/issues/nice-guys-commit-rape-too by Alyssa Royse of The Good Men Project and,
http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/12/08/what-in-holy-hell-is-this/ by Jill of Feminste.
The first is an account by a SlutWalk speaker of what happened when a male friend was accused of rape. When he told her what had transpired, she confirmed to him that, yes, he had raped the woman. (Girl is flirtatious, drinks, ends up in bed with man; he ‘has sex’ with her while she’s sleeping. Pretty clear-cut. She wasn’t conscious to give consent). The writer tries to make sense of the ‘social intercourse’ that had seemed destined to become ‘sexual intercourse’ and how a ‘nice man’ could make such a mistake.
The second blog dismisses the first as attempting to make excuses for the ‘nice man’ and is clear that the situation could only ever have been rape.
I agree. It was rape. The ‘nice man’, however ‘nice’ he might be in other aspects of his life, should have known that to have sex with a sleeping person who has not explicitly said ‘hey, I’d love it if whilst I’m asleep you woke me with your cock inside me, that’d be really hot’, is rape.
But, what I said on Twitter was this:
[Original tweet linking the Feminste blog] was really shocked by that story too. Having “sex” with a sleeping person is NOT SEX!
[Me] agree. But also agree that it's a problem that so many men seem to not understand what rape is
[Twitter] a woman’s body as a thing to use. Lots of men get that, why make excuses for those who don’t?
[Me] not making excuses. But there's a lot of education to be done to stop men raping. Too many don't >
[Me] don't seem to know when they've raped. That has to stop
[Twitter] another person’s body. Not sex. Not cooperative. Never ok. Not due to lack of education.
[Me] I agree. Never ok. Was rape. But he apparently didn't know that. Hence need for education.
[Twitter] you believe a rapist when he says he didn’t know it was rape? This must be a joke, seriously.
[Me] I am not defending a rapist. I am saying there is a societal problem in understanding what rape is
The conversation was brought to a halt only by my admitting that I wondered if the man who raped me had realised he’d done it at the time. (As an aside, I think he must have known. Not only was I mostly passed out comatose, but the violence was extreme (over 4 years on I can still see the remains of the bruising on my thigh) and the vaginal & anal penetration by espresso machine hub isn’t on the menu for your normal, run of the mill, drunken fumble). But, I did spend many years wondering about it, and when I wrote about it on this blog (see, http://musingsofemilyrose.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/triggered.html Triggered), a Twitter friend RT’d with the words, ‘this man doesn’t know he’s a rapist.’ (As a further aside, it was interesting that the other party pulled out of the conversation, and very civilly, telling me to take care and sending hugs, only when I revealed myself as rape survivor. Does that make my opinion count for more? It shouldn’t, I don’t think).
And perhaps the medium of 140 characters is really not enough to engage in a conversation on this. But I absolutely, totally, think that one of the only ways out of this rape epidemic where somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 8 women will experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetime (dependent on which study you pick) is to educate men and society at large as to what rape is. To be really clear, so there never is any doubt. So that, instead of the adverts that tell us not to get into an unbooked minicab, there are adverts that spell out, in the simplest of terms, that having sex when consent isn’t enthusiastic & explicit is rape.
‘She kissed me. Now she’s asleep next to me. That means I can have sex with her? NO! That’s rape.’
‘If I get her drunk, she won’t be able to say ‘no’. NO! That’s rape.’
‘She’s wearing a really sexy outfit, that means she wants me to, right? NO! That’s rape.’
Now, these messages may be clear to most of you already. But, the evidence is that a lot of people simply don’t believe them, know them, or understand them. Politicians, the media, and much of society do not appear to understand rape. If they did, there would not be an apparent hierarchy of types of rape, from ‘bad sexual etiquette’ (George Galloway), to date rape, to marital rape, to legitimate rape (Todd Aiken), to forcible rape (pretty much any fundamentalist republican), to stranger rape (which is the minicab ad’s target). But, rape is rape is rape. And that’s not because of the circumstances under which the rape happened. That’s because the impact of the rape on the victim takes no account of the circumstances in which it happened; whether the rape happened at knifepoint by a stranger in a dark alley, or in your own home by someone you knew, from a mental health point of view, the impact on the victim can be just as severe and long-standing.
I believe there are two types of rapist, but not two types of rape. I believe there are some people out there who are sociopaths (and this isn’t to say that all sociopaths are rapists), but there are some people who intend to rape. They choose a target, and they engineer circumstances to get what they want. These are the people who we can try to protect against by attempting not to be in harm’s way (i.e. not walking down a dark alley alone, not getting into an unlicensed cab), but who we may not be able to avoid, no matter what we do to protect ourselves. These people truly are monsters, although they probably don’t appear that way to the rest of the world. Some of them probably do appear to be ‘nice guys’.
But, I don’t believe that there are that many monsters in the world. Not enough to justify the statistics of between 1 in 3 or 1 in 8 women experiencing rape or sexual assault in their lifetime. Either each monster is raping several hundred women, or there is another factor at play.
And I think that is the other type of rapist. This is the rapist who if he stopped and thought about it, would realise it was rape. The rapist who is not so much after power, but after sex. If he questioned the rape culture around us which makes jokes out of rape ‘it’s not rape if you yell surprise first’ (!!!), or the recently pulled Virgin Mobile US ad ‘is it a necklace or chloroform?’, or the ‘it is never acceptable to wear your girlfriend/mothers/victim’s socks’ (courtesy of FHM), if he questioned his behaviour, then he would know that what he was doing was rape. Perhaps these are the accidental rapists, who try their luck one night, who think they are entitled to sex, who cross the line without consent. They did not perhaps set out to rape, but they did rape. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not making excuses for them, rape is rape is rape. And the impact on the survivor can be just as debilitating, sometimes more so, because when it appears that there are mixed signals it is hard to forgive yourself for possibly giving the wrong signal, as well as a break-down of trust. I am not attempting to diminish the crime. What I’m saying is, perhaps this is the type of rape that as a society we can work together on getting reduced, happening less often, becoming more rare.
When I spoke at SlutWalk this year, I said we need to have an open, honest dialogue about sex, and about enthusiastic consent. Rape, and rapists, do deserve to be demonised. But, it’s happening too often to just demonise the act and the perpetrator. We have to work towards a solution, and I believe that solution lies in education – not in the education of telling women how to protect themselves, but in the education of telling men how to be certain of consent, and in the education of being really clear that when enthusiastic consent is not explicitly given, that then it is rape.
But, perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I am being manipulated somehow. The Twitter conversation ended as follows (after I outed myself as a rape survivor):
[Twitter] look, I’m very sorry for that, and I wish the best for you, but men have to do their own work to…
…be good people and they are fully capable of it. Pointing the finger at lack of education is…
…great in some ways because we have a shitty system for that, but also we need to acknowledge…
…that men often manipulate perfectly in order to get away with things. I’ve been there
anyway big hugs to you and all the best. Signing off now, take care.
I remember also though, this Jezebel article from July 2012 http://jezebel.com/5929544/rapists-explain-themselves-on-reddit-and-we-should-listen?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_twitter&utm_source=jezebel_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow which had rapists explaining what had happened. It’s a difficult read, but it seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that a properly thought-through campaign of re-education about sex & consent really could do some good in preventing many from being rapists, and preventing many from being raped.
I know that some will think I am a rape apologist. But I know that I am not.