Earlier this week, we ran a quote from President Obama. The President promised rape assault victims “I have your back.” In yesterday’s New York Times, the paper’s editorial team congratulated President Obama and Vice President Biden for Talking Sexual Violence Without Giving Offense. As with Mr. Obama’s empty promise to protect victims of rape after the fact, I found the remarks deeply offensive . . .
“Our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse,” Mr. Biden said. “No matter what she’s wearing, no matter whether she’s in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober — no man has a right to go beyond the word ‘no.’ And if she can’t consent, it also means no.”
No, not that bit. That bit’s fine, obviously. It’s what the pols said afterwards that’s wrong on all sort of levels . . .
He added: “Men have to step up to the bar here. Men have to take more responsibility. Men have to intervene.”
So close. No Joe, rapists have to take more responsibility. Well, they have to be forced to take responsibility. There are two ways that can happen: society can hold rapists responsible for their crime(s) (through arrest and incarceration) or their intended victims can hold rapists responsible for their assault (by attacking them at the point of attack).
Setting aside the completely ignored question of male rape (which gets one mention in the report released during the press conference), assuming that most law enforcement officials are men, the arrest and incarceration strategy is the current male “rape intervention” strategy. Effectiveness? Reliable stats on rape conviction rates are hard to come by. This much we know: post facto punishment for rapists is cold comfort to women who’ve been raped.
The female rape intervention strategy is clear enough: shoot the bastard. Or at least show him a gun and give him the chance not to continue his assault. We have no idea how many rapes are prevented by women using firearms in their own defense. Common sense tells us that preventing rape delivers a better outcome than punishing rapists. Not that the two approaches are mutually exclusive.
I know: I’m deliberately misinterpreting Mr. Biden’s remarks. Biden and the President were not calling on men to “intervene” through the criminal justice system. They were arguing for a cultural shift amongst males on rape.
Mr. Obama also emphasized male accountability: “We’ve got to keep teaching young men in particular to show women the respect they deserve and to recognize sexual violence and be outraged by it, and to do their part to stop it from happening in the first place.”
Mr. Obama’s remarks place the blame for female rape on men who are not rapists. Sound familiar? The post-Newtown push for civilian disarmament was fueled by the same [intentionally] misplaced zeal: blame and punish law-abiding gun owners for the actions of killers whom gun owners did nothing to encourage or support. Attack the culture (i.e. uncaring bitter clingers) not the criminal.
When it comes to sexual violence, tone matters. A new report on rape and sexual assault from the White House Council on Women and Girls notes that if men believe that their peers accept abusive behavior, they’re less likely to intervene. Conversely, “when men speak out against abuse, other men are more likely to step in to neutralize a risky situation and prevent an assault.”
I’m sure there are some “risky situations” where men could “speak out” to prevent rape, but is that the majority of sexual assaults? I assume that most rapes are surprise attacks where there are no witnesses. How does “men speaking out” prevent that? “Male intervention” – the rape solution offered by the Vice President and his boss – is bound to have no statistically significant effect on the likelihood of rape. Or its prevention. No wonder the report in question concludes with a classic straw man argument.
Sexual assault is pervasive because our culture still allows it to persist. According to the experts, violence prevention can’t just focus on the perpetrators and the survivors. It has to involve everyone. And in order to put an end to this violence, we as a nation must see it for what it is: a crime. Not a misunderstanding, not a private matter, not anyone’s right or any woman’s fault. And bystanders must be taught and emboldened to step in to stop it. We can only stem the tide of violence if we all do our part.
It’s certainly true that violence prevention is a group effort. It’s also true that society has come a long way from the days when [some] men thought it was OK to rape a woman if she dressed or acted in a sexually provocative manner. (Again, what of male rape?) But there’s no getting around the fact that rapists gotta rape. The best way to prevent rape – for both the intended victim and society – is to stop it at the sharp end. With a gun.