Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Rape Culture: What Can We Do To Stamp It out?

Cartoon of Wendy Cockcroft for On t'Internet
Following the revelations about disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, sex abuse victims are coming out of the shadows to tell their stories and as a result, more bad guys are going down. Can we talk about this?

Warning: I don't pull my punches so if you're easily offended, get off my lawn blog.

When I wrote the post "Who Has A Lock On Morality — The Left, The Liberals, Or The Right?" I pointed out that no one has full possession of the moral high ground and that membership of a particular group doesn't necessarily grant one access thereto. This bears repeating in the light of the partisan hypocrisy surrounding the scandal of America's Roy Moore.

People, if we're going to effectively take on the pervasive attitudes that enable, encourage, and entrench abuse we're going to have to address a few hard truths:

  • It's very common
  • It's a patriarchal thing
  • The main targets are young and vulnerable women
  • The sexuality of abusers
  • We need an effective approach

Okay, let's dig in.

It's very common

I know it's easier to comfort ourselves with the idea that abuse is rare and doesn't happen where we live but the truth is it seems that everyone knows someone who has been raped or sexually abused, even as children. I know many.

It happened to my family

My grandmother and disabled aunt have also reported sexual assaults against them, and these were multiple in both cases.


She's been flashed any number of times. On one occasion a local farmer danced a jig in the front parlour. She knew he was commando under his trousers because his lad kept popping out. There's no way he couldn't have known he was flashing her. She also told me that one time a visitor to the farm had basically done a Trump — grabbed her by the privates. She passed in 1989, taking those memories to the grave.


My aunt has learning disabilities and has problems with mobility and speech due to a botched forceps delivery that crushed her head. One day she came back from school with her clothes torn and muddy after a neighbour had thrown her to the ground and tried to rape her. She was taken to the hospital in great distress but they determined her attacker hadn't got very far. Later on, a farm worker fondled her breasts; this is a woman with the mind of an eight year old. I know that in both instances she was believed but I'm not aware of the perpetrators ending up in court or anything. There was a big stink about it, though.

It happened to people I know

Many of the people I know on and offline, both male and female, have told me they have suffered sexual abuse in some way, shape or form. I know a black girl who was raped in Kidderminster by two work colleagues. She went to the police covered in mud and blood but they dismissed her as having had a row with her boyfriend. When she returned to Handsworth and reported the incident there, the police there said it was out of their jurisdiction. I watched her struggle with an unwanted pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage as her eczema went nuts. She suffered terribly from PTSD.

Many of the girls I know in church have been abused. Their responses vary; there's not a "correct" way to react to it. Abuse is really common so if you, reader, have been abused, take comfort in this: so have we. It's okay, you can tell us about it. We won't judge you or blame you for it. We're going to have to face this, people: we all know someone who has been abused and most of them know their abusers; it's common and it's where we live. But why?

It's a patriarchal thing

Rape culture is embedded in the Patriarchy because it's about controlling women via their bodies. We are effectively forced to accept the roles assigned us as either Madonna or Whore. Sex is always about gratifying the male either sexually or by providing him with children to demonstrate his virility. Our bodies are chattels that belong to our masters, and in the absence of a master, the state. This is why, when bad behaviour is identified, the victim, however young, is obliged to take one for the team. This is not okay, though it has always been the case. Heck, even Sigmund Freud was on that boat.

How authoritarianism entrenches rape culture

Placing one gender group above another and demanding unconditional surrender thereto is at the root of rape culture. Think about it: every time a sexual abuse victim is silenced or forced to apologise for her own rape it's to preserve the status quo. The message to other females is clear: "You have no rights, so if you've been abused shut up, already. We don't give a damn about you or your well-being. You exist to solely serve us, end of." Authoritarianism is usually compounded with religion, which gives it a seal of divine approval. This is what enables the most appalling people to do the most appalling things to the most vulnerable people — with the full knowledge and acceptance of the community.

Keeping it in the family

Stranger rapes are the "legitimate rapes" beloved of the right; they're straightforward and uncomplicated: total stranger lurks in the proverbial bushes, leaps out or breaks into a bedroom at night to prey on an unsuspecting, virginal victim to satiate his infernal lust, kind of thing. Statistically, the most common rapes are perpetrated by people known to the victim. This is where patriarchal authoritarianism does the most harm: to maintain the apparent integrity of the family unit or the reputation of an authority figure the victim is expected to shut up and accept the situation. It's even worse when women (and maternal figures in particular) join in. Worst of all is when victims are expected to put consideration for the reputation of their abusers ahead of their own need for justice, and they do it without question because they've bought into the notion of their own inherent inferiority.

The role of feminism

This is the reason why pro-patriarchy groups hate feminists: it's the feminists who first drew attention to the real harm sexual abuse causes to victims and to society itself. You see, sexual abuse self-perpetuates when the people involved believe it's normal behaviour. Therefore, it takes an external group to say it's wrong, to correctly identify the perpetrators and victims, and to work on strategies to put an end to abuse; we can't expect societies where rape culture is endemic to self-regulate effectively. They can't and won't because they literally don't see what the problem is, and besides, it's none o' your business. Meanwhile, can we really blame the radical faction for declaring that all men are either actual or potential rapists when rape and sexual abuse are so damn common? I'm not saying they're right but I get where they're coming from.

The main targets

Women and girls aged 12-24 are the main targets, and as I have already said their abusers are usually people they know. I have some questions about this: why the hell does anyone WANT to assault another human being in such an intrusive way? Sexual assault of any kind changes the way you think about everything, it changes your behaviour and makes you prone to further abuse by destroying your self-confidence so that you either present as shy and retiring or as brash and "looking for trouble."

How can a child be "Asking for it?"

Take a look at "Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse, And The Erasure Of Child Sexuality," by Steven Angelides. It's a challenging read but basically he states that feminism has done as much harm as good by pretending that children are not sexual beings and that they have no sexual power. A brief perusal of Yashar Ali's sexual abuse stories feed proves the feminists right, but I digress. Among the points he makes is that before the feminist theories started being taken seriously academically, it was widely believed and accepted that due to sexual precociousness among children, it was fine and dandy for adults to have sexual relationships with them — even incestuous ones. Then those mean ol' feminists stepped in and put an end to all the fun by pointing out the inherent inequality in such relationships. However, they have missed something that you'll find in almost every Judy Blume novel: kids are curious about sex; this is normal and ought to be acceptable — they're ignoring this to protect the kids.

The truth about power dynamics

He's a paedophile apologist who should have been chucked out of his job years ago. He slags off the feminists and is unwilling to mention that the pro-kiddie-fiddling factions from back in the day were part of a campaign to legalise and normalise paedophilia. To suggest that a child can seduce an adult is to deny the greater agency of the adult, who can easily deny the child and walk away. It's not so easy when the boot is on the other foot, is it? Also, kids can learn to drive vehicles and have jobs at age seventeen. Twelve-year-olds, not so much. Five years is a huge gulf when one person is pre-pubescent and the other is contemplating employment options or further education. Power dynamics exist in every sphere of interrelationships but they're perfectly ethical if the power is exercised for the benefit of the powerless. Ethical sexual relationships exist where free, informed consent does: I can turn my husband down if he wants a bit of fun and I don't, and vice versa: I'm about fifteen months older than he is, for the record. Try doing that when you're a ten year old girl married to a thirty one year old in a culture that demands you submit to him as if to God.

Child sexuality

Kids are often sexually precocious. Some girls like to test their attractiveness to men by flirting with them — they're just acting out what they see grown women doing and this is play: it's little different to walking around the house in Mum's lipstick and high heels: there's a hell of a difference between getting an admiring glance and getting a man's tongue down your throat when you're twelve. Where a child actively seeks out a sexual relationship, be sure that she comes from a broken home or has suffered some form of abuse to the point where she's using sex as currency or to pursue the affection she is lacking.

Pop culture 

There is also the matter of social pressure on young people to have sex: the sexual imperative and its evil twin virgin-shaming have a lot to answer for. It doesn't help that programmes aimed at young people often have characters whose attitude to sex is basically either "I don't want to die a virgin!" or "You're hot. Quick, let's get our kit off!" and ignores the emotional angle; sex is portrayed as easy and fun between youthful sexually attractive partners and there's little in the way of consequences: I've yet to see a programme aimed at young people featuring characters who have a physical relationship who discuss birth control, for example. The nearest they get to that is having inconvenient offspring popping up to embarrass absent fathers down the line to add a bit of drama. Needless to say the sex is always enjoyable for both partners; there's never a selfish "lover" who does what he wants, then rolls over and goes to sleep, leaving the girl thinking, "Is that it?" I've yet to see such a programme portray a character who either has a meaningful courtship or who says no to sex with the hot guy because she wants more than a quick fling; females are expected to put out for the hot guy sooner or later. The message is, "You show affection for others via sex. Love demands it." Look again at Mandy Smith's comment about why she slept with Bill Wyman aged 14. See what I mean?

Lasting harm

I should also point out that where an adult has sex with a child, particularly a young one, internal injuries will most likely occur. If the child falls pregnant, complications from that and from giving birth (or trying to) can damage their health, often catastrophically. How then can a child give fully informed consent to an adult? I can't imagine them having a conversation along the lines of, "Penetration will most likely cause internal injuries and pregnancy may permanently damage your health. So... wanna do it?" The truth is, the kid won't know about all this until after the fact. What I'm saying is, children may fantasize about sex (they sometimes post their fantasies online) out of sheer curiosity but that doesn't mean they know or understand the reality thereof. Wanting to know what a willy looks like and wondering what it would be like to Do It Wiv 'im From That Boy Band is not permission for the neighbourhood perve to put his hands up a fourteen year old's skirt. For every Lolita type there's an absent or irresponsible father, an emotionally unavailable mother, and an unstable home life. The man she "seduces" is supposed to take her away from that and give her a better life, per Mr. Nabokov. And Mandy Smith. And countless other women. But in case you haven't noticed, the promise doesn't quite materialise and all the child has been taught is how to manipulate, which results in self-destructive behaviours and a string of failed relationships due to an inability to bond properly with others.

The sexuality of abusers

I made myself nauseous looking up paedophilia on Wikipedia, etc. Basically, there is a whole spectrum with regard to sexual interest in children from hardcore rape to looking at pictures to refusing to act on impulse. I do believe it's worth looking at this as you don't want to be making death threats against a paediatrician for living on your street because you're too thick to tell the difference between a medical professional and a filthy pervert.
I've had my own experiences, which I won't detail here. Suffice it to say I've been flashed, grabbed, felt up, pinched, and subjected to inappropriate comments over and over again from an early age. Since I've always been fat and somewhat frumpy there's no way this can possibly have been about sexual attraction. What is it that makes a person desire sex in an abusive context?

They're "helping out"

In many of the articles I've read while researching this post, I've found that abusers like to think of themselves as good moral people and that what they do benefits their victims. This is as true of a victim of "corrective rape" as it is of Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith and the children of Fred and Rosemary West. This quote is particularly chilling:

"They took her down into the cellar, her hands already tied and her mouth gagged; Mrs. West sat on her face while Fred raped her. They told her that she should be grateful to have such caring parents and that it had all been for her own good. They kept her out of school for a few days and told her that if she informed anyone of what had happened, she would receive a severe beating. Thereafter, she was repeatedly and regularly strapped to a metal frame, erected in the cellar by Fred, so that his wife could indulge in lesbian sexual acts with her. At school, Anne Marie would often refuse to participate in sports, lest the injuries inflicted by her parents on her be revealed." - Victims & Survivors Of 25 West Cromwell Street

Now read that Angelides piece again. Do the parts about child seducers still ring true?

They're irresponsible

Look again at the story of Mandy Smith's relationship with Bill Wyman:

'With hindsight, he was quite an immature character. Even though he was a man, a dad, he wasn't mature. He didn't do responsibility either.

...The whole family were frequent guests at his home. He and Mandy started going out together. A sexual relationship was developing. 'I didn't sleep with him until eight or nine months after we started going out,' Mandy says. - Mandy Smith: I DID sleep with Bill Wyman when I was 14... but now the only man in my life is God, by Jenny Johnston for the Daily Mail

Look again at the other examples provided: older persons who have sex with minors are not interested in their personal welfare; they are interested in touching young flesh, and while they may develop some affection for them they're not interested in meeting their needs long term.

They're entitled

Read the Daily Mail article again:

'I think it was kind of expected that I would sleep with him. You know, you go out with someone for a while, you are boyfriend and girlfriend.' - Mandy Smith: I DID sleep with Bill Wyman when I was 14... but now the only man in my life is God, by Jenny Johnston for the Daily Mail

One of the most often-used tools in the pervert's grooming kit is gift-giving and going out. This then fastens in the victim's mind the notion that they owe their abuser something, so when he wants sex, it's hard to say no.

They're powerful

What makes the power dynamic so utterly overwhelming in any kind of relationship at all is when one person can literally dictate the fate of the other person: children rely on adults for food, shelter, affection, and protection. It's hard to say no for that reason. Had Mandy said no to sex with Bill the parties might have come to an end; he promised her a lot and to be fair he did deliver on much of it (how do you think Stock, Aitken, and Waterman "discovered" her?). He even married her. However, she suffered lasting harm and is currently deeply religious and celibate, having failed in other relationships. In my own marriage dynamic if Richard walked out tomorrow I'd survive; I earn enough to keep a roof over my own head. Indeed, it's the equality and respect we have for each other that makes our relationship work the way it does. We've been married since 2005. Abusers have the power to give and take away and often use the threat of withdrawing affection to keep their victims in line.

They're deluded

One parallel I've noticed in the relationships between Bill and Mandy and Roy Moore and his victims is that they sought the mother's consent for them.

...I'm saying that in their statements that they made these two young girls said their mother actually encouraged them to be friends with me. - Roy Moore’s shaky defense of the sexual misconduct allegations against him, annotated, by Amber Phillips and Eugene Scott for the Washington Post

In both cases, it turns out the mothers didn't realise that these "gentlemen" had taken a sexual interest in their daughters because they were so young. It seems that Moore's idea of "friendship" involves his hands in a young teen's knickers.

They're not interested in women their own age

Roy Moore's wife is 14 years younger than him. He was 38, she was 24. It's not that much of an age difference, to be fair, and the power dynamic seems to be fairly equal. However, he has historically always been interested in much younger women to the point where other people thought it was weird. It's the same story with Wyman, where the age gap is 33 years. While some people genuinely feel that age is just a number, where there's a power dynamic, whether it's psychological, sexual, or economical, there's the potential for abuse — or self-destruction. I'm not saying that age-gap relationships don't work out, but sometimes they don't work out.

Statistics are against large age gaps working. The divorce rate among people close in age (usually with the male partner two years older) is 3 per cent, while it is double that for couples 20 years apart. The bigger the age gap, the greater the fragility of the relationship, especially if the issue of having a family comes into play.

...That doesn’t mean that widening your horizons to include much older or younger people is a bad idea; just be prepared to enjoy it while it lasts. - Age-gap relationships: why all the bad press? by Kate Holmquist for the Irish Times

It seems to me that the older the younger person is in the relationship the longer it will last and the happier both partners will be. If the younger person is in their early twenties or thirties, their goals and desires might differ so much from their partners' that they end up derailing the relationship, even where the power dynamic is fairly equal. The point of marrying a very young girl, then, must surely be to exercise control over her. How can that be love?

We need an effective approach

Okay, we've got the people to accept that sex with kids is bad, particularly between adults and kids, and that abusive conduct should not be tolerated. Now, to get it over the line, we need to expose and excoriate the notions that make exceptions to the rule. The linchpin holding them in place is the oft-euphemised trope "Wimmin be ho's." We've made a great leap forward since Steubenville; the Brock Turner case changed the conversation on rape and sexual assault. He got six months in jail (served three) but for the rest of his life he's The Rapist. We're not gonna take it any more. However, we've got further to go; while rape rates are apparently dropping they're still pretty high, it seems there's one assault every 98 seconds. Oh, and rape rates seem to tally with poverty, lack of education, and lack of access to opportunities. In fact, the more conservative the area, the worse the problem is, which begs the question...

Is conservatism the problem?

I'm conservative — Christian communitarian edition. This means I'm all about traditional values for as long as they enable healthy communities. When they're harmful I reject them, which is why I'm not a big believer in the Patriarchy. Authoritarians are drawn to religion because it lends divine sanction to their efforts to control others and because it fosters elitism; the "blessed" get the best of everything because they deserve it. On the flip side... you can see where this is going. It's why I am profoundly anti-authoritarian — I'm sick of seeing hypocrites abuse their power and influence. Believe it or not conservatism can be a force for good, but only if it has the well-being of the community at heart. N.B. maintaining the status quo doesn't necessarily do that, people. Conservatives can help or harm by providing or denying access to information, opportunities, and equality.

Sex education

By now we should all hopefully agree that sexual contact with children or teenagers, particularly if we're five years or more older than they are, is not okay; it can cause severe emotional (and even physical) harm at the time and down the line. In my opinion we should talk to kids about sex but never actually do it with them, and we should encourage them to wait until they're over eighteen before they have sex. Having such a conversation with your kid can be awkward so it's better done by professionals. But how much is too much, and when should it start? Conservative opinion runs from "SEX IS TEH EEEEBIL!!!!" to "Teach 'em how to be responsible and make good choices."

Abstinence only: sex as sin

I'm firmly on the side of teaching people how to be responsible since trying to scare people straight tends to have the opposite effect. I'm not even joking:


Kids read that, then look around to see other people in physical relationships who haven't melted like the Wicked Witch of the West crying "What a world! What a world!" or like the Nazis did in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Belloq opened the Ark of the Covenant, when they got their ends away.

Nope, nothing like that happens when you play "Hide the sausage" with your partner. The funniest part of this is that sex is presented as poisonous. Non-sanctioned sexual encounters go something like this, kids, where apple = sex.

Mmm. Yummy. Wait...

I'll stop kidding around now. The trouble with well-meaning conservative approaches is the fetishisation of virginity and the promotion of marriage as a silver bullet for all a girl's woes. Come on, up hands if you believe that getting married (even in a church) will prevent you suffering DISEASE, PREGNANCY, GUILT, FEAR, DEPRESSION, HURT, PAIN, BROKEN HEART, SHATTERED DREAMS AND POSSIBLE, DEATH [sic]? Kids growing up in conservative communities see all of that unfolding in households where people are married all the time. Sooner or later the promise rings hollow and they can't take it seriously so they ignore the wisdom of waiting till later. So... is there any value in conservative teachings on sex?

Healthy boundaries

One of the reasons for the success of the Dutch model and the failure of the British model of sex education is that the Dutch are both liberal and practical about it while the prudish Brits just tick off boxes on a list of subjects, failing to teach healthy boundaries, etc.

Dutch campaigners say Britain's schools tick the box for sex education by providing biology lessons and free condoms, without arming teenage girls with the confidence to say no to unwanted advances, or to care for their sexual health. - Learning Dutch lessons on teen pregnancy, by Laura Donnelly for The Telegraph

Yes indeed, the campaign for enforced innocence insists that teaching kids about sex the way the permissive Europeans do will surely turn them into rampant horndogs. "It'll be like living in a Bonobo chimp reserve, you'll see!" cry the swivel-eyed loons. Okay, about that... I had a comprehensive sex education. I knew what my bits were for, what they did, what could be done to them, and all about contraception and drugs and stuff. And when I left my native Ireland at the age of eighteen I emphatically did not turn into Wendy Does Birmingham. You know why? I had made a choice to wait until marriage because that's what I wanted. And that is what happened. And liberals, I didn't turn into a repressed serial killer or develop an unhealthy interest in cats and the accrual thereof, nor was I particularly missing out on anything.

Competing moralities

I've been proved right over and over again. Heck, my cousin married a man who had shacked up with a woman for seven years because she was giving it away. Then he met Ellen. I'll leave that there, ladies; it's worth holding out, believe me. I often think about "Shackee." Did she ever hope that one day he would take her out, proffer a small box with a diamond ring in it and ask her to marry him? They didn't have kids, as far as I know. Did this leave it too late for her to find someone else and have children with him? It bugs me mostly because of the casual, dismissive attitude he had towards his former partner. Did those seven years mean nothing to him? Did she ever realise she wasn't The One and never would be, but maybe kept on going in the hope that if she loved him enough, he'd change? How did she feel when Jimmy ended their relationship after seven years then married Ellen after about a year? I dodged a bullet, folks. A flippin' hollow-point, at that. So while it's true that no one individual or group has a lock on morality, our attitude to sex does need to change. Conservatives, the Madonna/Whore dichotomy needs to end as a way of framing female sexuality and liberal/progressives, stop pretending that all sexual expression is always fun all the time and that there's no such thing as super-clap. There totally is. Deal with it.

What can we do?

If we're going to stamp out rape culture we need to address both patriarchal paradigms and sexuality. We need to discuss sex and relationships. We need to stop presenting sex as a free-for-all as freedom and start presenting it as best enjoyed in the context of a committed relationship with mutual informed consent. Above all, conservatives and liberal/progressives need to stop competing with each other for control of the social sexual narrative; conservatives aren't all bug-eyed morons and liberal/progressives aren't all effete blokes in tutus intent on Teaching Small Kids How To Do It. Can't we all just get along? Yes, if we learn to work together. There are aspects of liberal/progressivism that gel with conservative values where treating each other with respect is concerned, e.g. where the liberal/progressives advocate teaching consent, conservatives preach self-restraint. Honestly, if we stop seeing dissenters as the enemy and learn from them instead we'll move more quickly to a better tomorrow. Only when each faction agrees to leave its echo chamber and have a real debate about rape culture will we see real change. I, for one, can't wait to get started.

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