More on the British rape statistics

News & Politics

A flurry of activity around the release of an Amnesty UK poll that finds that astonishing numbers of Brits think that a woman is asking for it when she gets raped -- Lakshmi blogged it yesterday, Feministing talked about it, and Echidne had a lot of good words on the subject.

Time to throw in two more cents, and not surprisingly, I suppose, I need to talk about the frame in which raped is addressed. One point is the focus of the victim in this crime situation, and addressing the factors that she has contributed to her crime. As Echidne points out, we don't do this with victims of other crimes in nearly the same degree. A simple substitution exercise shows this in a piece called "The Rape of Mr Smith," in which the victim of a mugging is questioned by police in the same way a rape victim might be:

"Mr. Smith, you were held up at gunpoint on the corner of 16th and Locust?"


"Did you struggle with the robber?"


"Why not?"

"He was armed."

"Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than to resist?"


"Did you scream? Cry out?"

"No. I was afraid."

"I see. Have you ever been held up before?"


"Have you ever given money away?"

"Yes, of course �"

"And did you do so willingly?"

"What are you getting at?"

"Well, let's put it like this, Mr. Smith. You've given away money in the past � in fact, you have quite a reputation for philanthropy. How can we be sure that you weren't contriving to have your money taken from you by force?"

This brings up the question of framing and what we consider socially acceptable and not within the structures of our understanding. When will we commission studies asking the question of what causes men to rape women? By focusing continually on the situations that women are subjected to rape, we reinforce the victim's "participation" in the crime, and remove the subject -- the rapist -- from responsibility.

George Lakoff has a section in his book "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things" called "Anger, Lust and Rape." In the section, he explores the cultural metaphors associated with lust and violence in American culture, and how they relate to the circumstances under which a man might rape a woman. His findings are extreme yet terribly comprehendible; here's a portion of the summary, discussing a man's description of a situation where he might rape a woman:
There is an important, and somewhat frightening, sense in which his reality is ours as well. We may personally find his views despicable, but it is frightening how easy they are to make sense of. The reason that they seem to be so easily understood is that most, if not all, of them are deeply ingrained in American culture. All of the metaphors and folk theories we have discussed occur again and again in one form or another throughout Beneke's interviews. Moreover, it seems that these metaphors and folk theories are largely held by women as well as men. As Beneke's interviews indicate, women on juries in rape trials regularly view rape victims who were attractively dressed as "asking for it" or bringing it upon themselves and therefore deserving of their fate. Such women jurors are using the kind of reasoning we saw in the passage above.

In light of the horrific statistics provided by the Amnesty study, can we start addressing the cultural standards which allow rapists to act?

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