Home > Uncategorized > The inevitability of sexual assault

The inevitability of sexual assault

August 31, 2015

Whose fault is it when a woman gets sexually assaulted? For most people I interact with, the answer seems obvious: the assailant is at fault. Otherwise we’re blaming the victim.

In spite of that commonsense logic, though, there seems to be a sustained argument on the other side of the debate, and not only from right-wing talk radio. For example, over on the Guardian there’s quite a discussion about how The Pretenders star Chrissie Hynde blames herself for previous sexual assault, with the following excerpt pretty much summing up her position:

She said: “Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t f*** about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges … those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do.

“You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say whose brush is this? You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive.”

In Bangladesh, we similarly see arguments for why people marry their daughters off young which rely on the inevitability of sexual violence:

“I photographed the wedding of Akhi’s 13-year-old sister last year, and when I asked her mother why she was marrying her daughter off, she described not feeling comfortable to let her walk to the corner store because she would be harassed by men and boys,” Joyce said. “She also said no boy wants to marry a girl older than 18. If a girl is still single past that age people will ask too many questions. She knew it was wrong to marry very early, but they weren’t from a wealthy family, and she told her daughter’s husband to wear condoms for a few years, so it will be OK. Marriage is seen as a cover of respect and protection for women. By not going to school, it reduces the risk of being sexually active outside the house or be harassed while commuting.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think sexual violence is outrageous and wrong. The last thing I’d want to do is to suggest acquiescence in the face of it. I don’t want to blame victims or make things worse for them in any way. But we hear arguments like the above from reasonable, thoughtful people, who have plenty to lose by being wrong. They’re coming from personal experience which we should listen to. We should, in addition, examine why the “logical” argument doesn’t seem to work with them.

I have a theory. It’s about what our cultural expectations about men are. I’ll divide it into cases.

  1. Men can more or less control violent urges and are not inherently sexual predators. In this worldview, women of all ages should be free to wear whatever we want and go wherever we want and expect only consensual sexual interactions. This is an ideal world, which one might call civilized. Mind you I’m not even talking about being bombarded with idealized visions of sexualized femininity on billboards (but that would be nice too). I think I more or less live in this world and that means I’m lucky.
  2. Men are divided into two groups: sexual predators and “others.” Just as it would be silly to ask a lion not to kill an antelope when it’s hungry, and similarly it would be ridiculous to think that (some) men wouldn’t rape a woman if they had the chance. That’s along the lines of the worldview of Chrissie Hynde. If you really think that there just simply are men out there who are uncontrolled and uncontrollable sexual predators, then of course it’s up to the individual to steer clear of them. And it doesn’t make her wrong and us right, it just means we have different expectations of what men are like.
  3. No man can be trusted, they’re all trying to take advantage of women at all times, and harassment is to be expected. This does seem to be more or less the expectation in certain situations, like in the above quote from a mother in Bangladesh as well as all the communities torn apart by war and insecurity and desperate poverty. If someone faces this kind of reality, they have to work within it, even if it means marrying off their 13-year-old daughter before she’s ready or willing. It’s a bad choice versus a worse choice.
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 31, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I don’t listen to is right-wing talk radio, nor any talk radio, so I wouldn’t know what they say about rape. But I’m willing to bet that the political affiliation of rapists spans the full spectrum.


  2. August 31, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this, but it has a good point beyond the humor and absurdity.



  3. Juanita
    August 31, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    How about another option?
    Haven’t we been told that rape is not necessarily about sex, it’s about power and control?
    Those who rape have been acculturated (as is the case in India) that they are superior to women and are ENTITLED to use violence and force against them.
    You see it all over the internet and in the media here in the west too.

    “It’s the misogyny, stupid…”


  4. Josh
    August 31, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    I think it is wrong to think of men as inherently being one way or another. Society teaches people what is acceptable behavior. Not that everyone will comply with social norms but they have a big influence.

    You live in a society that is less accepting of sexual assault than Akhi’s (though still much too accepting as shown by campus rape statistics).

    Great link Robert. Thanks.


    • Bilbo
      August 31, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      Sorry Josh, you are working with bad data hyped by the media.


      Compares the characteristics of rape and sexual assault victimization against females ages 18 to 24 who are enrolled and not enrolled in college.

      The rate of rape and sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents (7.6 per 1,000) than for students (6.1 per 1,000)

      That’s not to say that those numbers aren’t too high and there are likely to be lots of unreported rapes in all situations, but the idea that there is a rape crisis confined to college campuses is selection bias. When a Walmart cashier gets raped walking home from a bar, they aren’t likely to get written up in Rolling Stone.


  5. August 31, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    I do not think rape is an act of god, except in mythology and the minds of some rapists.


  6. August 31, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Regardless of whether Hynde’s viewpoint is correct or not, if, as she appears to say, at one time she met a series of men who more or less told her they were dyed-in-the-wool sexual predators – one of whom then actually raped her – it seems intuitive that that would push her towards viewpoint ‘2’,
    I’m not sure that she’s necessarily saying those men lacked control, more that they flagged their intention to rape women at every opportunity, and that that threat needed to be taken seriously.


    • August 31, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      To be a little clearer though, my supposition is that the ‘I heart rape badges’ etc,, are a grooming strategy on the part of the gangs, designed to ensure that they can rape without being reported by the victims. That is, I think viewpoint two, to some degree, was deliberately created by the gangs to allow ease of access to victims. If that supposition is correct, though, that seems to make it more important to avoid them, not less.


  7. Dikaios Logos
    August 31, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    Gah, messed up the previous comment. I can’t see this discussion without a note of the victim’s age. AFAIK, the vast majority of rape victims are girls and very young women. So they are most vulnerable when they are least aware of the dangers. Chryssie Hynde’s 63 year old self can claim her 21 year old self should have known better, but I think that’s a sign she’s forgotten what being 21 was like! I think your number 2 has some merit, there are guys who are predators, but I wouldn’t expect a young woman to have a clue about them. Now when you are 63, it can be obvious. And I think don’t it is too hard to see that guys like Bill Clinton/Bill Cosby are likely in the predator category, but I really don’t expect pre-middle-aged women to know that getting ahead big time is almost always about being enough of an asshole that aren’t likely to care much about doing harm to others. And I don’t expect a 21 year old to know that every guy with patch saying something nasty will live up it to, in fact I’d expect that they’d discount it most times and usually be right in doing so.


    • September 1, 2015 at 11:59 pm

      As a preventative step, avoiding people who have voluntarily identified themselves with nasty views, slogans and symbols seems to be self-preservation 101. I’m sure, occasionally, you will get a false positive that way, but there are so many awesome people around, there’s no justification in taking the chance.

      Still, Hynde did not deserve her attack and her attackers were not justified.


  8. Justin
    August 31, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    I think there is a clear truth to this line of reasoning that appeals to some people, but I think there needs to be a clear separation between the fault of the perpetrator and the basic defensive actions the rest of us should (we shouldn’t have to but we do) take to protect ourselves. If someone kidnaps a child then the evil belongs to the kidnapper, always, no excuse. I shouldn’t have to protect my children from kidnappers, but if, knowing the risk to my child exists, I don’t employ some basic common sense behaviours to try and keep my children safe I suspect many would call me a bad parent – but that’s not a defense of the kidnapper. Rapists should be considered 100% responsible for their evil, but given their existence I think the rest of us should try and stay away from danger. But when we fail there is no sharing of “fault”.


    • September 1, 2015 at 11:48 pm

      Yes, there isn’t a finite amount of responsibility for an outcome, so identifying preventative steps or things the victim did that contributed doesn’t lessen the burden on the assailant. That said, we have a bias to think that things are deterministic and in our control, so we have to be especially careful when we are criticizing the victim side.

      Hynde, however, goes too far in taking “100% of the responsibility” (use of % also contributes to the idea that there is a finite portion to be allocated) and way too far in her comments about other victims.


  9. Bilbo
    September 1, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Cathy, Do you censor comments to your posts? In particular, on this post. I thought I had commented and don’t see it. I don’t know if I somehow didn’t submit it correctly or you decided it wasn’t suitable.


    • September 1, 2015 at 6:42 pm

      I was running behind in moderation, sorry. But the answer to your question is yes, I do remove comments all the time. I have found that disrespectful comments make conversations go downhill fast.


  10. September 4, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Rape is evil and unacceptable.

    Blaming the victim is unacceptable.

    However, there are factors that are undeniable.

    1. Sometimes you don’t know who the bad guys are until they do something bad.

    2. The law is reactive, not proactive. Bad guys aren’t punished until AFTER they have done something bad.

    Therefore, at long last, this conversation is turning to a direction that has long been avoided, hated, ignored.




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