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“Meet the predators”

November 13, 2009

I’m away for the weekend, with very limited internet access, but I wanted to point you towards the Yes Means Yes blog, which has an excellent post about rapists’ behaviors: new research confirms that most rapes in the U.S. are committed by an extremely small number of men, reinforcing that public policy should focus on stopping the rapists, not encouraging women to “protect themselves,” whatever that means.

The sometimes-floated notion that acquaintance rape is simply a mistake about consent, is wrong. (See Amanda Hess’s excellent takedown here.) The vast majority of the offenses are being committed by a relatively small group of men, somewhere between 4% and 8% of the population, who do it again … and again … and again. That just doesn’t square with the notion of innocent mistake. Further, since the repeaters are also responsible for a hugely disproportionate share of the intimate partner violence, child beating and child sexual abuse, the notion that these predators are somehow confused good guys does not square with the data. Most of the raping is done by guys who like to rape, and to abuse, assault and violate. If we could get the one-in-twelve or one-in-25 repeat rapists out of the population (that is a lot of men — perhaps six or twelve million men in the U.S. alone) or find a way to stop them from hurting others, most sexual assault, and a lot of intimate partner violence and child abuse, would go away. Really.

Thomas has excellent advice for straight men about how to be allies for an end to rape culture.

Here’s what we need to do. We need to spot the rapists, and we need to shut down the social structures that give them a license to operate. They are in the population, among us. They have an average of six victims, women that they know, and therefore likely some women you know. They use force sometimes, but mostly they use intoxicants. They don’t accidentally end up in a room with a woman too drunk or high to consent or resist; they plan on getting there and that’s where they end up.

Listen. The women you know will tell you when the men they thought they could trust assaulted them; if and only if they know you won’t stonewall, deny, blame or judge. Let them tell you that they got drunk, and woke up with your buddy on top of them. Listen. Don’t defend that guy. That guy is more likely than not a recidivist. He has probably done it before. He will probably do it again.

This article reminds me of how important Bystander Education is, and renews my hope that Boston College and other universities will make it mandatory training for all incoming students.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2009 12:53 pm

    This article reminds me of how important Bystander Education is, and renews my hope that Boston College and other universities will make it mandatory training for all incoming students.

    How many people do you know who would testify that, though they were well aware of the evils of racism, witnessed someone say or do something vehemently racist and just watched it happen? I no longer know if the will to intervene is something that an institute like Boston College can teach. A big hurdle is that there are few ways to institute any sort of mandatory training that’s both efficient and effective. Would you really want to witness freshman males treating “bystanderEDU” with the same disregard that most treat alcoholEDU with?
    I’m no expert, but the statistic that always alarms me is the significant number of women who do not report it when they are a victim of sexual assault (note: when you isolate women of color, the number increases even more…but I’m sure you knew that lol). There’s definitely urgency in making dudes understand what role they have in stopping rape from going down, but let’s not downplay that perhaps a more practically important step worth investing resources in to stop guys from being repeat offenders is making sure they get caught and have the book thrown at them the first time.

    • November 15, 2009 1:07 pm

      I don’t disagree with you, and I think making anything mandatory automatically means that some people won’t take it seriously, which is a big risk to take.

      However, I’ll choose prevention over reaction any day, and if Bystander Education would give some people the skills to step in when they see a potentially dangerous situation, I think it’s worth it. The ones who wouldn’t take it seriously would probably never choose to go voluntarily either. Is it possible that it could do any harm?

      According to the study of effectiveness of Bystander Ed, the program had positive effects on education about rape myths and sexual assault, benefited men and women equally, and resulted in strong correlations between knowledge and behavior. The full study is here:

      Is it a perfect program? Of course not. But I don’t think that a greater emphasis on law enforcement is necessarily the answer. Check out this article for an awesome analysis of why relying on the criminal justice system for change is so problematic when it comes to violence against women, especially women of color. Here’s an excerpt:

      The Right has been very successful in using anti-violence rhetoric to mobilize support for a repressive anti-crime agenda that includes three strikes legislation and anti-drug bills. These anti-crime measures then make abused women more likely to find themselves in prison if they are coerced by partners to engage in illegal activity.

      When men of color are disproportionately incarcerated because of these laws that have been passed in part through the co-optation of anti-violence rhetoric, the entire community, particularly women who are often the community caretakers, is negatively impacted.

      So millsy, what do you think?

      • poff permalink
        November 19, 2009 11:45 am

        Meg, I was somewhat off-put by the total emphasis of the one author you cited on enforcement. When 8 million men in America could theoretically be categorized as serial abusers or rapists, the top solution mentioned should not be somehow “removing them” from the population. There are clearly better ways of addressing the problem.

        Aside from a lot of the excellent points you’ve raised about a universal rape culture, I’m also wondering what proportion of those 8 million are themselves individuals raised in poverty or situations of abuse? Perhaps that cycle doesn’t hold true for sexual violence to the same extent as it does with other criminal acts.

  2. November 17, 2009 10:04 am

    Hm. Well, that quote you used seemed to be referring to violence against women as a whole, when I was referring specifically to sexual assault, and I think they must be treated differently. I mean, even prisons have to board rapists separately from the general population because the violence that get committed against them by other inmates who find rape below their moral tolerance. It is not like battery or drug use where a perp could fall anywhere on the spectrum. As male deviance goes, sexual violence is on the margins, which I think your first post explained, and I think a lot of men know/knew that. So given the poor implementation of most mandatory programs (I can recall completely forgetting to hand out alcoholEDU forms to entire groups of freshman…more than once), if the money had to go to some form of rape prevention, I don’t know if we’d see the best return on investment there. Your study shows the effectiveness of the education, but it looks like there are a few questions in regards to it actually preventing rape.

    In terms of women of color in particular, I agree with the article about the double-bind, especially due to drug laws with harsh sentences for nonviolent crimes, but I think there is more to it. McGuffey has actually done a lot of qualitative research on this with black women and rape.
    (Sorry, I couldn’t find his actual paper online for free haha)
    He found that women across age, income, and education failed to report rape for numerous reasons, but many testified that they simply didn’t think they would be believed or that anyone would go out of their way to make sure justice was served. Some had gotten raped, reported it, and when no charges could be pressed, continued to get raped and decided to never report it again. And the DoJ stats that show how men who rape black women get menial (2 year average) sentences compared to men who rape white women (a decade) is living proof. If it’s just a little bit of drugs, let a brother out of prison, but I tend to stand on the side of throwing the book when it comes to rape.

  3. November 19, 2009 8:54 pm

    I love that I’ve got Mills and Poff, both pushing at me from opposite directions about how to deal with rapists, Mills on the side of “throwing the book when it comes to rape” and Poff wary of “removing them” from the population. Oh how I miss being able to fight with you two in person!

    Here’s where I’m at: always, always prevention first. McGuffey seems to agree: “‘In their own minds, in ‘their own appraisal, they do not perceive what they are doing as rape,’ said McGuffey. “How can we get the word out to men who do not even see what they are doing as rape?'” (from The Heights article you linked to, Mills).

    But, what does effective prevention look like? I’m still not sure (even though that’s my job?!). Maybe it’s less skill training (like Bystander Ed) and more consciousness-raising (awareness about rape culture, definitions of consent, etc). Mills, how would you seek to change rape culture without mandatory programming?

    If there is an effective prevention campaign in place, then what do you do with the repeat offenders? Sorry Poff, but I’m completely fine with removing them from the population, although I’m still skeptical of the criminal justice system’s ability to effectively deal with rapists. I don’t know if I buy the argument that their poverty/experiences of abuse could particularly lead them to sexual violence. Those factors could make it easier to get drawn into a life of crime, for lack of other options. But sexual violence is not a means of survival or livelihood. There should be mandatory minimums for rape, 10 years minimum, to show we take sexual assault seriously, regardless of the victim or perpetrator’s race, sex or gender.

    Love to both of you!


  1. Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009 « Planning the Day

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