There’s been a lot of talk about raped women in the Australian media recently. Mia Freedman kicked it off on her Mamamia site by arguing that girls shouldn’t drink too much if they don’t want to be raped. Susie O’Brien in the Herald-Sun joined Mia’s call. Feminists on Twitter called out such comment as victim-blaming and the subject went viral from there.
Good. It’s an horrific conversation, but a necessary one. This country, after all, does have the highest reported number of rapes by men of women per capita in the world.
There are those who will downplay the significance of this statistic, given that the crucial word in it is “reported”. It is highly likely that the actual rape rate of Australia per capita is far less than that of Turkey, for example, where 33% of police in a recent study agreed that, in some instances, women “deserve” rape … or, say, Mali, where 70% of women believe that husbands have the right to beat wives who do not submit to forced sexual penetration.
But do not, for one minute, believe that the hate crimes against women in other countries absolves Australia from its reality of physical and psychological mutilation which is the prolific crime of sexual assault. Whichever country you go to, whatever the laws are, raping women always constitutes the same thing: the woman-hating violation of a female body without that woman’s consent. It can be violent, bruising and tearing. It can be insidious, psychologically coerced and mentally sadistic. That it is a gendered crime is undeniable.
We know that 93% of rape victims are women. We know that of the 7% victims who are male, the motivation of their sexual assault is to humiliate them by “feminisation” through forced penetration. We also know that more than 99% percent of perpetrators are men. Those who want to invoke hordes of shadowy anecdotal female rapists lurking in murky prisons to denigrate the gendered experience of rape take note: a recent study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics proved that women are actually safer from rape when they’re in jail than when they are out of it.
The problem with any social discussion about rape is that those who are most qualified to talk about it are those with the understandably least willingness to do so. Outing your experience as a rape survivor involves reliving the trauma of the assault. There are those who are capable of discussing their experience publicly, but in the age of the internet troll where feminist writers like me wear insults from detractors like “you’re too ugly to rape” with diurnal predictability, exposing your intimate experience of sexual violence to a waiting horde of anonymous woman-haters becomes unthinkable.
The voices that tend to emerge in these debates are, therefore, often the most ignorant, with the confident bravura of those who can pronounce what rape is and isn’t, who gets raped and who doesn’t and why rape happens at all without the accompanying graphic memory of a violation. Rape trauma is not a qualification that anyone who has it wants questioned – not when the horrors can involve experiences like being skull-gripped and forced to perform a blowjob, tied up in teenage bondage play with their boyfriend but then offered, bound, to his friends or accepting a lift home “to stay safe” and being anally raped in the car.
There is a very good reason that actual, real-life female rape survivors do not agree that it’s the responsibility of girls who go out to prevent their own rapes by not drinking; or drinking or staying with friends; or wearing a burka or a bikini or never leaving the house. It’s the scarifying experience of knowing that the only way their rape could have been avoided was if the rapist had not raped them.
There are writers still insisting this week that there’s a correlation between girls drinking and rape of which all parents should be aware. There’s a higher correlation of rapists wearing trousers, and victims of rape already knowing their rapists: as advice, parents issuing edicts to avoid all men who wear trousers or eschew all gender-mixed social events is just as good. That is, not at all – because there are countries where there is no alcohol and no gender-mixed social events … and yet in these countries, women are still raped.
What parents – or any member of the society we live in – can do to prevent rape is not to lock up their daughters so they don’t get raped but to proactively raise sons not to rape.
We actually know quite a lot about rapists through research, but as many of the values that help create a rapist are traditions of the prevailing status quo, the insights we’ve gained are often forsaken for the convenient habit of victim-blaming that was played out in the media this week.
One of the things we know, for example, is that the woman-hating that universally defines rapists begins in early childhood in households with authoritarian father figures and subservient mother ones. Unsurprisingly, boys who grow up in egalitarian households are spared the messages that women are lesser and undeserving of respect that go on to underpin the gender hatred of sexual violence. Additionally, boys are less likely to become rapists in societies that extend gender egalitarianism to social parity outside of the home, where women are visibly equal to men in social position and in where women are not culturally depicted as of being of lesser status.
Conversely, boys are more likely to become rapists if they grow up in societies that blame women’s behaviour for provoking rapes rather than condemning and punishing men for raping. This week’s slew of articles telling girls how to behave explicitly vindicates the rapist worldview that women are more responsible for their crimes than they are – and that as men, rapists are justified in punishing those “misbehaving” women with acts of sexual violence. We also know that discussions of rape predicated on the belief that there are “just bad guys out there” powerfully normalise the existence of rapists to rapists.
Contrary to popular belief, feminists do not believe that all men are rapists, but rapists do: studies have shown that men who do rape women are convinced that all other men share their woman-hating values and enact the same violent behaviours. Rapists read the denigration and disrespect of women in media, literature and public discourse as both cues for rape behaviour and also social acceptance of it.
If suggesting egalitarian households, egalitarian social leadership, social gender parity and an end to culturally reductive depictions of women sounds like a feminist agenda to you, you’re right. We become feminists because our lived or witnessed experience of gendered abuse or disadvantage tallies with the real, statistical horror of what happens in a world that treats women as socially lesser and more physically expendable than men.
Feminism does not exist because it’s a club to join, or a themed bar to hang out in. It exists because gender disparities in society create systemic inequalities and vile monsters. As long as public focus remains on the behaviour of victims, rather than what’s causing the perpetrators, those monsters will continue to destroy the lives of women, emotionally ruin families and weaken entire societies with the menace of violence.