Monday, August 12, 2013

Rape Culture, Believing the Victim

UpdateGreta has a great post making the case that it's denialism, not skepticism, that those who don't believe victims are practicing.  If I had read Greta's post beforehand, I wouldn't even had bothered writing the below. :o)

One of the issues surrounding rape culture is that the default position is to not believe the claims of the victim of rape (or sexual assault or sexual harassment).  It's clear that those who have bought into this immoral meme don't hold the same default position when presented with claims of other violations (theft, non-sexual assault, etc).  Why do these people think that rape victims aren't to be believed?  The below are a few thoughts on why this is the case.  Obligatory trigger warning here, this is from my male perspective, and while I've tried to avoid specific situational language, I don't have the perspective to know that I've avoided it completely.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the nature of rape and other sexual crimes.  Sexual consent is usually a very personal transaction.  There can often be a lack of documentation or other hard evidence of consent, or the lack there of, save the testimony of the victim.  Outside of undocumented contract law (verbal "hand shake" contract, of which sexual consent is one), most other crime victims can more easily produce non-testimonial evidence of the crime.  This said, most people are fine taking the word of victims of other crimes without demanding that they provide all of the evidence presented to a judge/jury to simply believe the victim based on their testimony.

The second thing is ignorance of the prevalence of sexual crime.  Let's start with the facts; in the US one in six women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (  That's pretty staggering.  But why is rape culture seemingly ignorant of this?  The first thing is that the one in six number doesn't reflect most people anecdotal evidence from the women in their lives (friends, family, coworkers, etc).  This isn't surprising as most crime victims don't like to talk about it, for both personal and social reasons.  On top of the negative emotion that all (sexual or not) crime victims experience, there is added pressure from the rape culture itself for rape victims to keep silent; it's circular, self reinforcing.  A side factor here is the misconception that false rape claims are significant enough to warrant not believing the victims, of which there isn't great data to assume it's any larger than the rates of false non-sexual crime claims (read here

The third factor is the gender issue.  91% of rape victims are female and 99% of rapists are male (  The fact that nearly all rapists are men and almost all victims are female does highlight a rather huge divide in gender.  Regardless of the fact that an overwhelming majority of men aren't rapists (4-6%, which while small is still significant, the simple fact that the rapists are men can cause men to become emotional and defensive when the issue of rape is discussed.  If you're in denial that men are responsible for nearly all rape, not believing the victim fits the world view of that delusion.

The bottom line is that claims of rape, or other sexual crimes, aren't extraordinary and there is simply no rational reason to not believe a victim by default.  Rape culture is simply wrong about this and it's protecting rapists and further victimizing rape victims.

From Jim C. Hines:

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