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Deluding yourself into rape

29/08/2013

I’ve met a few rapists in my time. We all have.

It’s estimated that about one in four Australian women will suffer a serious sexual assault at some time in her life. That figure comes from victim surveys and may be wrong, but we can be certain that police statistics massively underestimate the incidence of rape.

The overwhelming majority of rapes are not reported to authorities. Of those that are, less than a quarter result in an arrest and barely six percent in a conviction. When you consider the extra trauma a rape victim goes through if she reports and the unlikelihood that anyone will be imprisoned as a result it is pretty obvious why so few call the cops.

Statistics on rapists are harder to come by, but of those who are caught the majority look to be very infrequent offenders. Most rapists in Australian prisons have only ever been arrested for one incident of rape (though it will likely have resulted in multiple charges) and once released few convicted rapists are ever arrested for rape again – whether or not they undergo sex offender rehabilitation courses.

Though there are serial rapists, the popular view of rapists as intractable recidivists is largely a myth.

The other big myth about rapists is that they are malicious strangers lurking in alleys or sneaking in through bedroom windows at night.

The overwhelming number of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. A ‘friend’, family member, partner or former partner, work colleague, etc.

It is almost certain that the vast majority of rapists are walking free, undetected and unsuspected by all except their victim. But that’s not as scary as it sounds because most will probably never do it again.

So if you have an average number of male friends, family members, acquaintances and colleagues then you know some rapists whether you realise it or not.

But that’s not what I meant when I said I’ve known a few rapists.

I mean that I know people I know are rapists, because they have been convicted in courts or called out by their victim and don’t deny it.

I used to do voluntary work with sex offenders and victims. It was a stupid thing to do because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I doubt I did anyone much good but I messed up my own head pretty badly.

Because I learned two really disturbing things.

The first thing I learned was how seriously rapists can damage their victims, even in the majority of cases where no extra violence or overt threats are involved. Not all the time, but a heck of a lot of the time. Probably more often than not. I’m not talking about their ‘feminine virtue’ here, but of their self-image and their ability to interact with other people – sexually or otherwise.

The second thing I learned was far worse and I learned it not from victims, but from offenders.

It’s the fact that rapists aren’t all that different from me.

I’ve written a few things about my sex offender work on this blog before.

One autobiographical piece refers to an incident between myself and a very close female friend who used to do the same sort of work as I.

Another details why I can’t look at myself in a mirror and say for certain I am not a sex offender.

The third is a fictionalised, compressed, composite of the stories several sex offenders told me. That’s the topic I’m returning to in this post.

As I mentioned above, most rapes are not violent – beyond the act of the rape itself. The offender does not beat the victim or threaten her with a weapon. The victim does not scream or fight back – beyond repeating “Please stop”, “No, don’t”, “I don’t want this” or just sobbing.

Often she is too shocked and frightened to fight back, too confused and ashamed to call for help. Sometimes she won’t even initially think of it as ‘rape’, blaming herself or finding other excuses for her rapist until the first wave of trauma has passed and realisation begins to sink in.

The rapist himself rarely sees it as rape – even if he is told in no uncertain terms it was. The first step in dealing with rape and rehabilitating victim and offender is usually to get the rapist to understand he is one – and that can be a very big step indeed.

Contrary to an oft repeated claim, reputable research¹ does not indicate most rapists plan to commit rape, though they often do intend to have sex. When they do commit it they will find all sorts of rationalisations as to why it wasn’t really rape. The obvious one is usually along the lines of ‘she was asking for it’ – but that phrase can hide a wide range of self-justifications.

Sometimes it’s used to mean ‘she was giving me the come on’ but all too often it reflects a profoundly misogynist mindset and actually means ‘she was getting out of line and needed to be put in her place’.

More than a dysfunctional expression of lust, rape is an oppressive expression of power.

The rapist may start out imagining that his advances are welcome – or would be if the victim would just relax and loosen up a bit – but the signs of rejection enrage him. It may be his sexual ego has been affronted but more likely it is that he thinks he has some kind of right to have his unwelcome advances tolerated. Maybe he thinks paying for dinner or buying a gift was part of an implicit transaction that should be repaid with sex, or maybe he just thinks he somehow ‘owns’ his victim.

But the rapists who really frightened me were the ones who seemed to honestly misread signs at the early stages then continued in a state of denial because to stop would have been tantamount to admitting they were committing a sexual assault.

It can be distressingly easy to misinterpret the passivity of shock for the passivity of acceptance and despite the anti-rape slogan ‘no means no’, the fact is some people do like to put up a token resistance to consensual sex.

Women in particular are often socially conditioned into the notion they cannot request sex and must instead be ‘dominated’ by the powerful sexual urges of men before they can ‘surrender’ to it. To do otherwise is to be ‘easy’ or a ‘slut’ and will cause their partner to lose respect for them. Fortunately this attitude is much less common in the West than it once was but it still exists and is still being reinforced by stereotypes in the media.

Having had experience with sexual partners like that and seen the trope so often in the media some men will assume all or most women expect to be ‘aggressively persuaded’ into having sex.

When the victim makes it clear the rapist’s behaviour is inappropriate and unwanted that can be when outraged denial kicks in. “I am not a rapist and I will prove it by continuing until she starts enjoying it”. In one conference I attended a rapist told a room full of shocked people “If she’s going to go around telling people I raped her anyway then I’d better give her something to complain about”.

It was the rapists who committed rape to prove they weren’t rapists who did my head in more than anyone else.

The thought that I am or could be a rapist was a horrifying one I had never confronted before and some of these men had been in exactly the same position as I. Some considered themselves gentlemen or even ‘feminists’ and the thought of being every woman’s worst nightmare was simply too much for them to bear. They would go to extreme lengths to deny it or to punish the person they felt was unjustly accusing them.

Under the wrong circumstances, could I have done the same?

So I started to deliberately confront the possibility I could become a rapist. Pretty soon I was wondering if I already was one.

I became afraid for my female friends. Afraid of my own sexuality and what I might do to protect my self image.

I became afraid of myself.

There are no excuses for rape.

Whether or not miscommunication was an important factor, I am pretty certain misogyny or the wish to control or dominate the victim is at the heart of most, if not all, rapes.

But how many of us can look deeply into ourselves and honestly say there is no misogyny or desire for power there?

How many of us are either rapists or rapists-in-waiting?

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(¹ Surveys of prisoners undergoing sex offender programs are generally not good sources of data about the attitudes and histories of sex offenders. Prisoners quickly learn they must agree with everything forensic psychologists suggest if they want a chance of eventual parole.)

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22 Comments
  1. Trying to hold back the desires is the real task after all !

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    • Well that’s true.

      But the point I was trying to make in the post is that in my experience rape doesn’t seem to be mainly about sexual desire as it is about the desire to control.

      Mostly it’s about the desire of the rapist to control the victim – and I’ve always thought I was pretty good at keeping my desire to control others in check – but what frightened me was when I realised that for some it was about their desire to control their own self image. That you could be driven towards rape by your need to not see yourself as a rapist.

      That was scary to me because a lot of my self control has always come from my desire to not see myself as a bad person. It had never occurred to me that was also a desire that could drive you to do things that were bad.

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  2. Another fascinating discourse. I’ve been thinking about why I like your long analysis of issues, and it’s because you will use reason/logic and insight to shed a different light on your topic. You allow the reader to benefit from your having tried to examine the issue from multiple angles, and over time. Often it seems you find bits and pieces that just don’t fit into the official completion of the puzzle. Also, because you are willing to accuse yourself, you are not thinking from the standpoint of a bias. some philosopher once said that the truth is indifferent to the seeker of the truth. I get the impression you don’t care if the truth you discover is in your own best interests or not.

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  3. again something I cannot relate to. Well in your society or lets say a society where male female mixing is normal and like too much, you may think of yourself as rapist.
    but you probably have heard about Indian rape stories. well its the same in Pakistan. and its not the desire to be powerful or the reason that she is asking for it or if i push more she will start moaning, she will enjoy it. No

    Here rapists know clearly in their head that they are rapists. and the reason they rape is because their dick has been asking for it. you see sexual frustration is so high here, in my part of world, that in some places, for example, a brick making home factory or coal mine, men look for victims like animals hunt for food. they look for any girl, who doesnt belong to influential or rich family, and then they plan the rape. yes they do. they monitor the timings, figure out the opportunities, think of add ons, like can we gang rape her, can we rape her multiple times, can we do this and that and then they execute their plan.

    and sex offenders here, male sex offenders here, in prisons, are thought of as super heroes. male misogyny all over, they are thought of as some one who is a true male and is full of male sensuality and sexuality. and that was illiterate prisoners who seldom see girls in their daily life.

    My own maternal uncle today remarked that Army Chief of Pakistan is a transgender because he is clean shave. he doesnt keep a mustache like Men do. and my maternal uncle is a Ph.d in Civil Engineering and has 4 kids including a 18 year old girl.

    what fucks your mind now?

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    • I’m sure what you’re saying is right about the majority of rapes that you hear about in Pakistan but I still bet there’s a lot you don’t know about that aren’t planned as rapes that never get reported.

      Most rapes here are never reported and unlike Pakistan we don’t usually charge women with serious offences if they report a rape they can’t prove.

      I’d guess that you’re right that there is a higher proportion of carefully planned ‘stranger rapes’ and gang rapes in Pakistan but I bet there’s even more rapes being committed by the very men in the victim’s family who are supposed to be protecting her. And I bet not even 1% of those are getting into the media or courts.

      What fucks my mind the most is, in a broader sense, what fucked my mind then. That people who think they care about each other can still hurt each other so much. Especially when one of the people is me.

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      • well again you are right to an extent. Yes there a lot of cases of familiar rapes too, but again, the major cause is sexual frustration. An uncle, cousin , even brother, seeing the victim as finally the gateway to heaven. the sort of rapes you are talking about are very few.
        well I don’t know why it fucks your mind so much. I have always known it that people I care about the most are also the ones whom I can if I want or unintentionally hurt the most and I do, sometimes intentionally, sometimes without noticing.

        The first rule of Chanakaya man. the best way to hurt is by making them your friend, not enemies. remove their defenses. though you might get hurt in reverse.

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        • Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s stopped fucking with my head.

          And it’s not just hurting – many murder victims are killed by someone who ‘cared’ about them.

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        • yes, that I plan to do myself.

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        • What?

          You care about yourself enough to kill yourself?

          Could have fooled me.

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        • i have a plan to kill someone whom I also care about.

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        • Nice one dude.

          Because I’d never dog you you’ve now made me into an accessory before the fact if you actually do it.

          There goes my chance of ever getting a Pakistani visa.
          I hope Australia doesn’t have a strong deportation agreement with Pakistan.

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        • oh I have told this to almost every one, including the potential victim. and don’t worry, you don’t require a vise to visit Pakistan 😉 also Australia doesn’t have a strong deportation agreement with Pakistan. Pakistaniz dont deport foreigners.

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  4. Wow. I came over here to throw into the mix a video out of India about rape there, because I thought it didn’t fit in with what you are saying, and then there’s this guy from Pakistan talking about gang rape from strangers.

    Allow me to go ahead and throw this info into the mix anyway. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRp6seV9pYs

    So, in short, in India, a lot of upper caste Indian men and boys rape lower caste women and girls. They may be familiar with them but it’s not the kind of rape you were talking about, where the “rapist” wouldn’t necessarily even think he had committed rape. These guys plan to do just that, and might throw in some torture for good measure. There’s no question of consent.

    So I am thinking that you are addressing rape in one culture or group of cultures, but that it may be something very different in still other cultures.

    I disagree with Fahaad that people gang rape out of “sexual frustration”. In the case of upper caste Indian men and boys, should we suppose they can’t find girlfriends. In the case of poor males, should we assume they can’t find girlfriends and/or can’t use a prostitute?

    Pent up sexual energy is no excuse for violent assault. If men or boys are conniving to rape it’s also about peer pressure, male bonding, overcoming their own feelings of powerlessness… If he was right there would be violent gang rape all over the world because men have pent up sexual energy everywhere. China has a vast shortage of females, but the men aren’t going around gang raping the girls (at least as far as I know of).

    I believe what you were talking about is more of a Julian Assange style “rape”, in which recourse to brute force and violence, especially by multiple assailants, is far outside of the picture. There may be some confusion on the part of the male, especially if he is a bit dim or has an over-inflated view of his own mojo, as to whether the female in question was willing and consenting but just pretending to resist, or if she was really having none of it.

    Oh well, good to see a bit of a debate, even if it got really weird up there. I guess you are used to that sort of thing, given your background as an activist…

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    • Yeah, as I say in the post I think most, if not all, rape is about power more than sex.

      I’ve certainly dealt with a few rapists who were just trying to put their victim in her place.

      It’s just the ‘date rape’ type ones that freaked me in particular, when I realised that the sequence of events and attitudes reflected in some cases wasn’t that far from my own life experience. Rapists had always been very much the ‘other’ to me and it gets scary when you realise the other is that close.

      Regarding the Indian rapes in the news lately it seems to me that they’re mostly low caste guys attacking high caste educated women with a high caste educated boyfriend rendered a helpless spectator. Educated high to mid-caste Indian women have been emancipating themselves very quickly in recent decades and I think there’s an element of payback by men who think they’re getting above themselves as well as the caste hostility dynamic at work here.

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      • Whoa, that’s the opposite of what was said in the video. Perhaps it’s happening in both directions. But in the video it was definitely privileged males raping powerless females, hence the difficulty of any prosecution. The rich and connected families tried to bribe the victims, and the perpetrators threatened to kill them if they reported the crimes. Check out the video if you have a chance.

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        • I’ll check the video, but with my internet connection it’s an overnight download.

          The two rapes that have recently made world headlines – in Delhi and Mumbai – are the ones I was referring to. I’m sure you’re right that most stranger rapes in India are upper caste rapists and lower caste victims – though I think Phoolan Devi may have given them pause for a while there.

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        • Gotta’ get a better connection bro. I’ve been obsessed with those Journeyman News videos today. Good stuff, it seems.

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        • See this post for why that’s much easier said than done. (explanation begins almost halfway down the rather long-winded post).

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        • Read it. Great stuff. Anyway, I just kinda’ figured that if I can have a good connection in Thailand, and before that in China,er, people oughta’ be able to have one in Australia.

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    • But yeah, I’ve definitely got to defer to Fahaad’s cultural expertise here.

      He’s a complete nutcase but actually a pretty smart, sensitive and plugged in guy.

      If he says sexual frustration drives a lot of rape in Pakistan we need to take it seriously – even allowing for the high likelihood that even a smaller proportion of rape gets reported there than here.

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      • I won’t defer to it. If I’m horny I don’t want to gang rape a girl and beat her to a pulp. I say it’s about their feeling of powerlessness, perhaps resentment of the girl in question, their wanting Patriarchy to establish themselves as above women, and shit like that. There’s no justification for rape, torture, and murder, and the “sexually frustrated” line is just that, an excuse. It’s right in there with the one about the girls dressing too provocatively. I call bullshit, and stand by it.

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  5. Doesn’t seem any better excuse to me than ‘putting them in their place’.
    Or trying to protect your ‘non-rapist’ ego.

    Sexual frustration may be a motive, but to imagine it’s appropriate to take it out on a non-consenting human being is still the core of the crime – regardless of motive.

    Like

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