The Myth of the Modern Rapist

{Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault}

By Ariana Javidi, Age 19

From the way people talk about rape, you wouldn’t think that men were involved at all. Rape happens to bad women who break the rules – women who dress “promiscuously”, who walk home alone late at night, and who have multiple sexual partners. In this world, women who get raped must want to get raped, for why else would they would they not adhere to these social codes of conduct? From childhood, little girls find themselves in a state of perpetual, nameless fear, inundated by cautionary warnings from parents and teachers which become compiled into a mental list of “How Not to Get Raped”. For victims, the scarce few who have the courage to report their assault are raped twice; first in the actual assault, and second at trial, where they face degrading questions attacking their character rather than the actions of their abuser. In short, women are forced to take responsibility for their own rape, and must face the consequences of their self-inflicted assault. This paradigm implies that women and other “at-risk” individuals (gender nonconforming, queer, disabled, people of color) should figure out to avoid sexual violence – namely, how to follow as closely as possible to patriarchal constructs detailing how not to get raped.

But why are we questioning why women get raped, instead of why men rape? Why are we attacking survivors, instead of the perpetrators and perpetuators of structural violence? Rape is the only crime that I know of where the victim is held accountable for the crime; for example, take theft. If someone steals a car and the owner reports the crime to the police, the owner isn’t going to be asked, “Well, what were you doing there in the middle of the night? What were you wearing? Prove that your car was stolen.” The idea is ludicrous. And yet rape, a physical and emotional attack that leaves survivors devastated by PTSD, mental trauma, depression, and numerous other serious health effects, is treated with less respect and seriousness than petty theft.

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In a recent Ted Talk, Jackson Katz, male feminist extraordinaire (and personal idol!) points to the ways patriarchal institutions have subtly manipulated our understanding of rape to blame victims and exonerate perpetrators of responsibility, even (especially) through language. The use of the passive voice in discussions of gender violence is key in transferring accountability from rapist to victim: “Y raped X” quickly becomes “X was raped”. This is part of a greater conspiracy – it’s no accident that rape is characterized as a “women’s issue”. By construing rape and other forms of gender violence as an issue exclusively relevant to women, men are not only excused from the responsibility of their crimes but are effectively removed from the conversation.

The danger of this approach is that it portrays women as the simultaneous victims and culprits of their own assault. Women are forced to spend their lives on the edge, wondering, “Is this the day I become a statistic?” We’re terrified by the mere threat of rape, to such a degree that we limit our actions and mobility to maximize our safety in a predatory environment that sees women solely as targets. Rape culture has effectively terrorized 51% of the population, with consequences for women’s interactions with both men and other women, our ability to assume leadership and financial autonomy, and in the broadest sense, the way we move through the world. How can we be truly equal to men, when we live in constant fear of becoming the next victim?

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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