The crime of armed assault is viewed as uncalled for and wrong. Thus the victim has unmitigated social support in recovering from the crime. The survivor of rape has much less support. The rape survivor is interrogated in a pseudo- or outright blaming manner: Where were you? What were you wearing? What did you say to him earlier?
What time was it? How much did you have to drink? And the answers to these questions are often used to discredit and shame if not outright blame the victim. A further reason rape survivors receive less support is that all of society tacitly or explicitly accepts rape as a fact of life. There is a sort of acceptance in our society of rape as a given. Rape is out there, like rainstorms, lightning, or the common cold. We tell the potential victims, in essence, wear a raincoat so you don’t get wet, and don’t step in any puddles: Wear a can of mace in your pocket and don’t go into any parking garages alone. If you don’t keep yourself safe, it’s your own fault.
The presence of rapists “out there” is accepted in a way that the presence of armed robbers is not. The tacit acceptance of the fact that rape exists has to do with the social construction of masculinity. Our social definition of a man includes the concept that men just have to have sex (read, sexualized dominance), and nothing can really stand in the way of that. Including, for example, the absence of women. That’s why the existence of rape in male prisons is also accepted and tolerated, just as male rape of women is tolerated in the rest of society. The rate of rape experienced by men in prison is roughly equal to the rate for women outside of prison (22%). For this reason it is useful to look at how prison rape (male on male) is addressed. In a major study of prison rape among male prison inmates, the Human Rights Watch makes a number of recommendations about how prison rape should be dealt with, including focusing on likely victims–small, young or gay men and helping them avoid victimization. The focus, as with mainstream and feminist discussions of rape, is again largely on the victim or potential victim.
What if instead of warning the potential victims, we singled out large men with a history of aggression? What if we told them, over and over, something like “Given your size and history, you are at risk for becoming a rapist. We don’t tolerate rape in here. Here are some workshops/brochures/warnings. We will not tolerate anything that even begins to rook like a rapist attitude in you.” What if we actually did not tolerate rape in prison? Now let’s take this out to the world. What if we really did not tolerate rape? Probably you cannot even understand what I am saying, because you probably think rape is illegal, and that that means we don’t tolerate it. I compare rape being illegal to underage drinking being illegal. But nearly everyone does some of that, you might say. Bingo. No. I mean what if we REALLY did not tolerate it. The way we don’t tolerate male frontal nudity in public.
The way we don’t tolerate shitting in the public hallways of commercial office buildings. The way we don’t tolerate peeing in taxicabs. It just isn’t done. Of course all of these things happen extremely rarely. And they are considered freakish, not the norm, not a matter of course. We don’t constantly have to be on the alert lest someone has shit in the hallway of the typical office building. If we REALLY thought rape was freakish and atrocious behavior, we would be asking the man, What were you thinking? How much did you have to drink? What were you doing there in that condition anyway? How well did you know her? Why didn’t you address your feelings in an appropriate way? And again, What the hell were you thinking? If we REALLY want rape to stop we have to give up the belief that men just have to have sex(ual dominance). We have to teach that rape is disgusting, like shitting in public. Even if you feel a need, you don’t do it. It would be shameful. It is shameful. Men are the perpetrators of rape. Male socialization enhances the likelihood a man will rape. Men are the problem. Men must change. We need to be talking far more to men about rape than to women. Yes, women need tons of support to survive rape, and lots of warning systems and protection right now. But we should take the amount of time, effort, and money currently being spent on rape crisis intervention, increase it by a factor of 10, and (while still providing the full services to women) spend that much more on making rape unacceptable for men. We should be treating rape as a serious crime, prosecuting the perpetrators, educating men, and developing a cultural aversion to the concept of rape instead of a tacit cultural acceptance.