Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Get the Facts: Rape, the Crime Every Woman Fears

In discussions of women's safety and self defense, rape is always on everyone's mind, whether it's discussed openly or not.

Rape is what people mean when they say it isn't safe for women to go out alone at night. When universities and businesses set up escort programs for women, they do it to prevent rapes. While armed robbery and other kinds of assault may also be a problem -- and a danger to both men and women -- an unarmed escort is no real protection against that.

The most frightening thing about rape is that it can happen anywhere and anytime. It doesn't just happen to women who walk down dark alleys late at night and it isn't always committed by strangers who jump out of bushes. In fact, date rape and other attacks by acquaintances are not uncommon.

Recently The New York Times City Room blog wrote about a phenomenon called "gray rape." They were following up a report in Cosmopolitan by Laura Sessions Stepp. According to the articles, gray rape is:
sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing than date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what.

Though I respect the work of Sessions Stepp and am interested in the ideas presented by experts in the Times piece, I think these people are finding more complexity than actually exists. Basically, if one person -- and it's usually the woman -- doesn't want to have sex, it's rape.

  • If you're too drunk to consent, it's rape.
  • If you were physically coerced, it's rape.
  • If you were threatened, it's rape.
  • If you were manipulated by someone who plays head games, it's rape.

Now it may not be possible to prosecute the rapist in all those circumstances. Even threat and physical coercion may be hard to prove, and when people are drunk, it is hard to find the facts. In the case of someone who manipulates others with complex head games, it may not only be impossible to prove rape, it may take the person who was attacked some time and reflection to even realize what happened. But that doesn't mean these situations aren't rape.

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from most date rape situations:

  • Trust your instincts: This is probably the most important rule. Do not end up alone with anyone who gives you the creeps.
  • Drink responsibly: I'm not going to lecture anyone about getting drunk -- I've been known to do it myself -- but learn to stop before you get so blasted you don't know what you're doing. And if you're unwinding after a particularly stressful week, do so with people you trust.
  • Say "NO!": If you don't want to have sex, don't be quiet about it. Make it clear. Don't just go along because you're afraid the guy will call you names or damage your reputation.
  • Learn to fight: If you know a few fighting skills, you can get away from a date rapist just as you can from a stranger.
  • Be creative: The lore of self defense abounds with stories of women picking their noses or doing other things that can change the circumstances. If you're calm, you'll be able to come up with some ideas.

By the way, in the Times report one expert said rape is among the crimes least likely to generate a false report, while another said 9 to 10 percent of acquaintance rape reports are false, even though date rape and its cousins are underreported in general. Those facts may not actually be contradictory, but they need investigating. I'll let you know what I find out.


KellyMac said...

I agree with your stance completely. However, in today's political climate, it's a hard sell. When you suggest that a woman should take some responsibility to not put herself in a dangerous situation, there is a great crowd who will tell you that you are blaming the victim. This is not only silly; it's dangerous.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

I'm never in favor of blaming the victim and I don't want to lecture too much about responsibility -- I get tired of being told to do things the right way as much as anyone.

But the truth is, no one else cares about your personal safety as much as you do! In fact, sometimes when women report rapes, they are treated as if they're the ones at fault, which is wrong.

I'd really like to see more people develop the skills to keep themselves safe, without feeling like they have to stay behind locked doors.