Possible trigger warnings within:
I was reading this article on Huffington Post, about Angie Epifano, the girl who blew the lid off Amherst College’s tradition of silencing rape victims, back in October. This was one of the instances that really kicked off my article for my paper, for my class, at my school. (I attend the large public university next door, who some weeks before her story was published, had to cope with the gang rape of a freshman girl by four young men from her town. A story that made it all the way to the UK’s Daily Mail, which I had not known.)
In the HuffPo article they mention,
The Victim Rights Law Center in Boston told Epifano they’d been trying to change Amherst for years, citing 10 sexual assaults on the campus in 2011, and in the past 15 years, reports of multiple serial rapists who have raped more than five girls.
And there was a very important word in that quote that stood out to me, particularly with regards to the critique of the graph that went viral (here at the Washington Post), called “The Saddest Graph You’ll See All Day” (about rapists, arrests, convictions, and false accusations).
The critique points out that
The graphic assumes one-rape-per-rapist.
And that that isn’t true. She quoted a number (6% of men are rapists) which she got from here, which adds that the repeat offenders in the surveys tended to average around (and it’s this fun!) around 5 repeat offenses.
So, either you become a serial rapist at 5 instances of sexual assaults of another person, or people tend to go for it 5 times before they decide that either it’s a) not nice or b) not very much fun.
My favorite part of all these surveys is as follows: it doesn’t matter which side of the situation you’re polling if you use the “R-word” (“have you been raped?” “have you ever raped someone?”) the answers come out negative. If you ask about physical, emotional, or chemical coersion? The answers come back positive.
I just want to know on what planet you would ever admit to:
(3) Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force (twisting their arm; holding them down, etc.) if they didn’t cooperate?
And then think, “Nope, never raped any body.” (I wonder what the numbers are for those specific questions, though.)
I do wonder about the following question:
(2) Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated (on alcohol or drugs) to resist your sexual advances (e.g., removing their clothes)?
The phrasing becomes interesting, and the behavior becomes immensely disturbing, because it says “someone who did not want to” and I’m curious how you judge how much someone else wants something.
As always, statistics are difficult, but then beyond that, our culture is deeply perplexing, because the rules are simple and everyone knows them, (if you say, “So-and-so held me down and had their way with me,” to most people, they’d be like, “That’s appalling!”) but then at the same time, people still do it (in various situations, to varying degrees) and think nothing of it.
A friend of mine was on the receiving end of sexual advances by an inebriated woman on an airplane (she’d had a few drinks prior to take off to calm her nerves as it was her first time flying), who offered to join the mile high club with him, she showed him pictures of herself naked that she had on her cellphone, she talked about her past as a stripper. He did not take her up on her offer because he felt there was no challenge, and didn’t feel that it was a worthy act because it was to be done in passing and easily (the slut shaming undertones of this were frustrating, but understandible for a “romantic” young man, who was raised in a Catholic environment). Due to our frustration with his approach to intimate relationships (he won’t just go for it when the opportunity presents itself, and then whines about it when the girl loses interest/decides he’s not worth the effort no matter how much she likes him), we criticized him endlessly for not going for it with this girl. On the other hand, I can tell you that if he had gone for it, I (and some of my other female friends, and maybe even some of the boys) would have been disappointed in him, because taking her up on her offer would not have been within the bounds of our definition of “consent”. And just like that, I’ve set up a catch-22, and I don’t like that. Furthermore, I can’t tell you if this girl would qualify under the categories of “drunk girls who were taken advantage of” because he never flirted with her, in the first place. (“Have you ever had sex with someone who didn’t want to when they were too inebriated to resist your advances?”)
How do we reconcile this? There are plenty of times when people acquire some Dutch courage to dance, talk to other people, wear a short skirt, overcome their academic inhibitions, &c. do we allow people to decide for themselves whether kissing/touching/sex can be added to that roster of behaviors?
One guy I interviewed, whom I respect quite a bit, kept returning to the question of consent and wanted to find the balance between dictating consent for other people in any situation, and empowering people to define their own measures of consent (i.e. “No you don’t have to ask about every little thing, but if I say stop you stop” or “Don’t surprise me with anything, I want to talk about it first” or “Yeah, you can have sex with me when I’m asleep, I’m cool with that”). How do we find that balance?
(Good, this post started as one about serial rapists, and ended up with The Big Question… Well done, self. /sarcasm)