December 22nd, 2002

drac emu

Myths about rape; the beginning

Several people have been having very interesting discussions about rape, and I finally found the material that I was looking for, so here goes:

These are the myths about rape. Seeing as how I have yet to see this discussed, I'm quoting from Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes, by Helen Benedict. Go buy it immediately.

" Rape is sex.
This is the most powerful myth about rape lies at the root of all the others. It ignores the fact that rape is a physical attack and leads to the mistaken belief that rape does not hurt the victim any more than does sex. The idea that rape is a sexual rather an aggressive act encourages people not to take it seriously as a crime---an attitude frequently revealed in comments by defense attorneys and newspaper columnists. (My emphasis: What, you mean newspaper writers aren't totally neutral and pure?)

The assailant is motivated by lust
Because rape is seen as sex, the assailant is assumed to be a hot-blooded male driven beyond self-control by lust. In fact, research has shown that far from being frustrated men with no other sexual outlet, most rapists have normal sex lives at home, and many of them are married. The motivation to rape stems most commonly from agner, the need to dominate, and terrify, or more rarely, from sadism, not from pent-up sexual desire.

The assailant is perverted or crazy
Teh image of a rapist as perverted, ugly, seedy, or insane contradicts the preceeding hot-blooded male myth, but it is held in reserve, as it were, for times when the sex crime is extremely grotesque or when the victim cannot easily be pegged as having provoked it. Yet repeated studies have found that rapists usually have normal psychological profiles compared to other criminals. The majority of rapists are known to their victims---they are relatives, boyfriends, husbands, teachers, doctors, neighborhood friends, colleagues, therapists, policemen, bosses----not seedy loners lurking in alleyways.

The assailant is usually black or lower class
This essentially racist perception leads to the widely held misconception that most rapes are committed by black men against white women, or by lower class men against higher classe women---a conception bolstered by the press, which tends to give these stories more play than other kinds of rapes. It is true that proportionally more rapes are committed by the urban poor, but the majority of rapes occurr between members of the same race and class. According to a U.S. Department of Justice study conducted between 1973 and 1987, 68 percent of white women and 80 percent of black women are raped by men of the same race. The study also found that 57 percent of all rapists are white, 33 percent black, and the rest are either of mixed or other races.
drac emu

More myths, part two

More myths about rape, coming from author Helen Benedict:

A sexual attack sullies the victim
Because rape is seen as sex rather than violence, and a womans' sexuality is still seen largely as the property of her present or future husband, a rape victim is seen as having been 'spoiled' or 'dirtied' by an assault. Among Muslims, for example, a woman who has been raped is sometimes disowned by her fiance or family for having brought them shame by becoming sullied and thus unmarriageable. St. Vincent's Hospital Rape Crisis Center in New York has had to shelter rape victims from the threat of murder by their families for these reasons. Victims of nonsexual crimes are never seen this way.

Rape is a punishment for past deeds
This myth applies to all sorts of vicitms, both of crime and accidents. It is as ancient as the idea of fate itself, yet plays a living part in people's thinking about tragedy. The myth may be a defense mechanism; if we believe that victims bring on their misfortunes because of past bad behavior, then we can convince ourselves t hat we are immune by virtue of having been 'good.'

Women cry rape for revenge
The idea that women like to use accusations of rape as a tactic for revenge has been popular for thousands of years. In Susan Brownmiller's definitive history of rape, Against Our Will, she pointed out

The most bitter irony of rape, I think, has been the historic masculine fear of false accusation, a fear that has found expression in male folklore since the Biblical days of Joseph the Israelite and Potphar's wife, that was given new life and meaning in the psychoanalytic doctrines of Sigmund Freud and his followers, and that has formed the crux of the legal defense against a rape charge, aided and abetted by by the set of evidenciary standards (consent, resistance, chastity, and corroboration) designed with one collective purpose in mind: to protect the male against the scheming, lying, vindictive woman.

The tendency of women to lie about rape is vastly exaggerated in popular opinion. The FBI finds that 8 percent of reported rapes are unfounded, but other researchers put the figure at only 2 percent.

One function of all these myths, and perhaps the reason they persist to this day, is to protect non victims from feeling vulnerable. If people can blame a crime on the victim, then they can find reasons why that same crime will not happen to them. A way to do this is to subject the victim to a set of old-fashioned moral standards for more rigid than are normally applied in everyday life, so that the victim is bound to fail and look like a 'bad' woman.
...from Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes, by Helen Benedict.