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Let's not wink at 'rape lite'--or blame the victim

November 12, 2010 12:36 am

I'm sorry but this does not sound like a violent rape. She knew the attacker and in most cases when the attacker is known it is a situation of very poor and a total lack of good judgment on all parties involved. With sobering second thoughts about things that have happened can come the claims of rape.

--Free Lance-Star blog response to a reported acquaintance rape on the UMW campus

REACTIONS LIKE this are all too common and represent an implicit story. They were drinking at a party. She seemed to like him; he seemed to like her. At some point, they ended up alone together. Somebody kissed somebody.

Then, there are two versions in the continued story.

Story No. 1 is that she didn't want to go further, and he did. She didn't say no, and he didn't ask. He thought she was consenting and the whole thing went bad because of miscommunication. Since communication involves two people, each holds some responsibility for this unfortunate unwanted sex.

Still, it's not "violent rape" (which I assume means that there was the presence of a weapon and/or injury), it's no big deal, and we don't have to have any sympathy for this "victim."

Story No. 2 is even more troubling. She was a little drunk, had sex with him willingly, and later regretted her behavior. Maybe she has a boyfriend and he would find out that she cheated on him. Maybe her friends would think less of her knowing that she had sex with someone she barely knew. So rather than be thought a slut or face the wrath of her boyfriend, she decides to report to police that this guy she hooked up with actually committed a felony for which he could spend years in prison.

In this version of the story, all of the responsibility goes to the "victim," who is all too willing to destroy a man's life and reputation so that she can save face.

I wish I could say that this response is an atypical reaction to the report of an acquaintance sexual assault, but unfortunately, too many people equate a sexual attack perpetrated by someone the victim knows as "not really violent," "gray rape," or "rape lite," with no small measure of victim-blaming. She drank too much, "led him on," dressed too provocatively, etc. Victims are real experts at blaming themselves; they don't need any help from you.

If we look at the research on acquaintance sexual assault perpetrators, a very different story emerges. Rather than the guy who drank a little too much, miscommunicated, and found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong woman, these men are serial offenders (with an average of seven rapes), meticulously plan their attacks, and associate with other men who hold sexist and rape-supportive attitudes. They have more consensual sex than other men; they are not sex-deprived.

ONE WAY OR THE OTHER

Their primary motive is sexual conquest. If the woman consents, they are fine with that. But unlike normal and healthy men, if she does not, they are willing to exert as much force as is necessary to reach their goal. Often it doesn't take a lot, especially if he is big and strong and has reduced her resistance with intimidation and/or the No. 1 date-rape drug, alcohol.

Why are people so willing to blame victims? One major reason is so that we can feel safer. Because, after all, if she was assaulted because she behaved badly, I won't be assaulted if I don't.

One prosecutor told me that in jury selections in rape trials, she avoids empaneling women who are around the victim's age because of this motivation to separate themselves psychologically from the victim. Rather, she prefers men who have daughters similar in age to the victim.

And if you believe that women callously and casually cry rape when they've had regretted sex, ask yourself when the last time was that you falsely accused someone of a felony because your behavior was embarrassing, and if you continued to be willing to tell the lie over and over again to investigators, judges, and juries.

Of course, we do not know what happened in this particular incident, and that's what police investigations are for. But consider these sobering estimates: Only about 5 percent of rapes are even reported to police. About 2 percent to 4 percent of crime reports are considered unfounded. This doesn't mean that they didn't happen, only that there isn't enough evidence to go forward in the legal process.

But just for the sake of argument, let's take the higher number, 4 percent, and assume that it represents false reports. That means that for every 1,000 rapes, 50 are reported and two of those 50 are false. In other words, for every false report, there are about 475 unreported rapes. You tell me which is the bigger problem.

A small number of men commit a large number of violent assaults behind closed doors, and the rest of society shows little willingness to try to stop them. Only about 1 percent of rapists ever serve a day in jail.

Those of us who work within the movement to reduce sexual assault know that "violent rape" is a redundant term, like "free gift." One of the most important factors in survivors' recoveries is the sense that people believe them. Don't revictimize them by suggesting that they are misguided at best and dishonest at worst.

Christopher Kilmartin is professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington and co-author of "Men's Violence Against Women: Theory, Research, and Activism."





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