Is there any point in trying to understand how rapists view the world? Funnily enough, I’m starting to believe there is. Perhaps if we were more willing to engage with the rapist perspective, we’d all stop doing those things which increase the prevalence of sexual assault. And no, I don’t mean wearing high heels or drinking too much. Because that’s just silly, isn’t it? I mean seriously, why don’t we actually stop doing those things which make rapists believe that the rapes they commit are acceptable?
According to research quoted by Jil Filipovic in response to a Alyssa Rose’s claim that “Nice guys commit rape, too“, “cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely”. I find this interesting, but not at all surprising. Indeed, it just makes sense. If we define certain rapes as worse than others – if we suggest certain attacks involve “grey areas” – if we perpetuate the idea that most “real” rapes involve violence, strangers and dark alleyways, then we are telling most rapists that they’re not like all the others. We encourage them to believe their situation is different. I’m not saying it’s therefore our fault that they rape, just that maybe, just maybe, some of us should think first before offering supposedly sensible advice to those we’ve chosen to define as potential victims.
Today I came across the Facebook post which asks its readers to see the world “through a rapist’s eyes“. Except it doesn’t. It asks readers to see the world through the eyes of “a group of rapists and date rapists in prison” i.e. not most rapists, many of whom may well be sitting comfortably in the homes they share with their victims, reading posts which reassure them that “rape” and “date rape” are two entirely different things. So the title of the post is wrong for starters, as is the very understanding of what rape is. But still, it set me thinking – how might a rapist (a real one, that is) respond to the rest of the post? If the cultural acceptance of rape myths makes sexual assault more likely, what might a rapist make of myth after myth being promoted as common sense?
According to the post, rapists “are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun , braid or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed”; they “look for women using their cell phone, searching through their purse or doing other activities while walking because they are off guard”; they “will look for women whose clothing is easy to remove” and some of them “carry scissors around to cut clothing”; the top three places from which they abduct women are grocery stores, car parks and public toilets. Hmm. So what does this tell your average rapist, if not that he is not a real rapist? He’s not lurking around a grocery story with a hidden pair of scissors, waiting for a distracted pony-tailed stranger to appear. He’s just having sex with a woman he knows without her consent, and there’s no particular drive to prevent that from happening.
We also learn that rapists – or rather, “these men” – “are looking to grab a woman and quickly move her to a second location where they don’t have to worry about getting caught”. If you are someone who rapes the woman with whom you share a bed, or the woman who invites you into her home, you’re probably thinking “that sounds an awful lot of hassle”. You’re probably also thinking “what terrible, awful, criminal men”. You have the headspace in which to think these things because you’re not worried about getting caught for whatever it is you do (which, whether or not you identify it as rape, you’re sure isn’t the same as what these men do).
The advice that then follows is mainly self-defence. If at this point the post had been titled “things you might be able to do if you’re attacked by a complete stranger, providing you’re not too terrified to do anything at all”, I may have been willing not to take offence (despite the fact that this has happened to me and I was indeed too terrified to do anything at all). But no, this is still all about all-round rape avoidance. And when it reaches the point at which the potential victim (who’s by now cut her hair and is desperately trying not to need the loo while out and about) is being told that she is “better paranoid than dead”, you’re seriously starting to wonder what kind of a life women are meant to have. At least, if you’re a “potential victim” y0u’re wondering that. If you’re a rapist, you’re probably thinking “jeez, some rapes are pretty violent. And to think I had moral qualms about waiting until a person’s too drunk to say no!”
Clearly, when it comes to keeping individuals safe, this advice is not very helpful. On the other hand, when it comes to reassuring your average rapist that he’s alright, really, and that victims are safe in his hands, it’s bloody brilliant. All of which leads me to conclude that we do, more than ever, need to try and see things the way a rapist would. After all, if we could see things through a rapist’s eyes, perhaps we’d be more reluctant to promote victim-blaming rape-myths yet again.