Monday, January 14, 2013

The Guy Who Thinks Rape Stats are Inflated

You know this guy.

He's the one who in any conversation about sexism, rape culture, or sexual assault against women, retorts "well men get raped too," and "women abuse men too," and prefers to focus on how false accusations of rape ruin men's lives instead of how the reality of rape ruins women's lives.

He insists that women do not have it worse than men; that it's not sexism at play when women are sexually assaulted, it's just some asshole, jerk or psycho. It's evil individuals, not a cultural pattern.

I have come across so many versions of this guy. I've met him in Cambridge, Austin, Poughkeepsie and San Francisco. He goes to school at Harvard, MIT, Vassar and UT Austin, among other highly respected schools. He is particularly talented at sounding the alarm whenever he hears a generalization, and uses individual anecdotes to supposedly refute that generalization.

He doesn't care that the generalizations you might make about sexual violence against women and sexism represent trends, supported by unambiguous data. Sexual violence is the most under-reported violent crime, according to the American Medical Association. One in four women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime, and one in five will be raped, according to the CDC. False reports of sexual violence are lower than those of any other felony. According to this Ms. Magazine article: "Research has shown that only roughly 2 to 8 percent of rape reports are untrue, (for car thefts, another felony offense, that number is about 10 percent)." Yet how often do we hear, "but you could be ruining this man's life with this car theft accusation!"

Despite what this guy believes, my goal is never to deny the fact that men are also victims of terrible abuse and sexual violence. The CDC found that one in seven men will experience intimate partner violence, which is unacceptable. But the existence of sexual violence against men does not negate or excuse the extremely high rates of sexual violence against women or the rape culture (great explanation of the term here) that pervades our magazines, tv shows, films, political dialogue ("legitimate rape" anyone?) and communities.

I still haven't figured out the best way to talk to this guy, because I have a hard time figuring out where he's coming from. Is it that he feels that discussion of male-on-female sexual assault is implicitly accusatory to him? Is it that rape is so disturbing to discuss that it's easier to just deny that it's a cultural problem? Is it that he only acknowledges the examples of sexual assault and violence that adhere to what he's already decided about it?

Perhaps I should explain to him that rape culture breeds hyper-vigilance, which reduces women's freedoms. It's in all of the little things: My mother doesn't want me to run on a popular Philadelphia running trail in daylight without pepper spray--a serial rapist has attacked many women there. It's not safe for my sister to walk alone in Manhattan, but fine for my brother to. While alone in a foreign country, I would never get in a car with a male stranger, but my male friend had a lovely time in Turkey being driven around by new friends he met. There are so many risks that women must weigh so often.

This guy is infuriating and sometimes insufferable. But he is exactly the kind of person we have to get through to if we have any chance of moving away from a rape culture.


  1. WAHH. My comment was lost.

    Basically I think in a type of situation where people are coming from different perspectives, the most important thing is establishing a common ground. Otherwise it is very easy to become defensive. If people feel like you are listening to them, they are more likely to listen to you. So in this particular setting, at the beginning it is important to acknowledge the validity that sexual/relational violence against men is real and is not okay. Emphasize that the seriousnes of one does not diminish the seriousness of the other. And mean it when you say it, not dismissively. Only then do you go on to talk about how it is qualitatively and quantitatively different for women, as you discuss in your post.

    Of course, there will always be people who will not listen to anything that conflicts with their worldview, and you can't really do anything about that, but I have found there are many people somewhere in the middle, who might shut out an opposing view if they feel threatened, but who may very possibly be open to new ideas if they feel accepted within the conversation.

    It is kind of a dramatic thing, changing one's worldview or paradigm. It can be painful, uncomfortable, and for most people it doesn't happen immediately. It doesn't seem fair that people in a position of power should be coddled and supported in that way. But the actual moment of admitting you are wrong is in reality a very vulnerable one, a different type of vulnerability, but it is still vulnerability. We - human beings - don't want to allow that vulnerability to surface unless we are feeling safe and ok. So that is why I think it's important to establish a common ground, a bond, a feeling that we are on the "same side" to begin with.

    Those are my thoughts on the matter at least.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Newt, much appreciated.