Today, I decided to cover just the one point because it's a doozy. In fact, it's such a doozy that I had a really hard time deciding whether or not to even put an illustration with it (but, obviously, I decided to go with it). I can't exactly say 'enjoy' with today's post, but I do hope that you take something away from it and begin to reconsider your narrative.
…you think that a woman claiming to be raped is entitled to anonymity while the man she has accused should be tarred and feathered in the court of public opinion, because any man accused of rape must be guilty.
Whoa whoa there, buddy. Tell us how you really feel. As we saw in my post yesterday, if a rape case gets reported (remember, only 40% of rapes actually get reported), there is only a 1 in 2 chance of arrest. That sounds pretty high, but keep in mind that the chances of arrest in many large cities for a violent crime are usually 70% or higher. I probably don’t need to spend the time rehashing the unbelievably low instance of arrest, prosecution, conviction and actual jail time in rape cases. I want to focus more on your initial statement – the assumption that a rape victim isn’t entitled to anonymity.
Ask yourself this: Why do you want to know about a rape victim? What could possibly change the veracity of her testimony? Is it absolutely vital, for example, that we know that the woman Strauss-Kahn attacked was an illiterate immigrant? Would the case be any less tragic if she was a white working mom with a Master's degree? Does it benefit us to know that one of the three women Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of raping was a worker at the hotel he was in and his “entertainment” manager? What, specifically, would change about a person’s testimony if you knew that, for example, she (or he, as men do get raped) was a dancer at a club? Or a prostitute? Or a church-going virgin? Or any number of types of people who fall between the poles of the whore and virgin dichotomy?
Ask yourself this, if you find yourself agreeing with Mr. X here: How does it help your narrative if you know intimate details about the victim?
There’s this odd urge that we have to justify violent crime, especially when it is something so baffling as rape. Murder possibly has a motive – the killer likely has something specific to gain from killing that person. Robbery, too, has a clearly defined profit. Rape has no such well-defined motive. Rape is one person dominating another for the sole purpose of domination. As I’ve said before, rape is about power, not sex. In some cases of rape (i.e., when both parties involved are impaired in some form and the guy just refuses to listen to the girl’s no), sex is a factor, but that does not mean it isn’t rape and isn’t a violation, on the basest level, of a person’s sense of self.
So, in a way, knowing about the victim is a way for us to fix our narrative, especially when we know or respect the persons involved. We saw this quite clearly with the Julian Assange case: this man was held up as a hero by many for his work on promoting government transparency (whether or not the means were good is an entirely other topic). He also allegedly violated Sweden’s laws concerning rape by having sex with a woman, changing the conditions under which they’d agreed to have sex, and then not telling her. As far as I know from the specifics of the case, they agreed to sex with a condom, the condom broke, and Assange kept going. The reason that this is prosecutable (in Sweden, but not in the US) is that if the conditions under which you agreed to have sex suddenly change and your partner neglects to tell you, you are no longer consenting. If you agree to sex with a condom and your partner goes without, you did not consent to that sex. This is the statute under which Assange was charged.*
Now look at the press coverage: lots and lots of Assange’s fans jumped to his defense, complaining that the women involved had bragged about having sex with him and had gone home with him from a club, so those sluts shouldn’t be pressing charges. What this narrative neglects is that idea that Assange can both be a hero of the freedom of information and still be a douchebag in his personal life. The rape case does not remove the good work he (arguably) did, just as Anthony Weiner’s sexting with consenting parties does not undermine his political positions as a Congressman (and I have a post all set up for that debate if you want to disagree).
It helps us feel better about the man who allegedly committed the crime if the victim maybe might have done something small that makes her complicit in her own abuse.
That, my friends, is the ONLY argument against anonymity for victims.
We don’t argue against anonymity in other cases. We don’t hear that someone got mugged and demand to know everything about their behavior at the time of the mugging. We don’t hear about a body being found in the river and start wondering what sort of things they did that made them deserve that. We don’t hear about the victim of a drunk driving accident, for example, and say it’s his fault for getting in the car that night.
There is no cogent argument against anonymity in rape cases that does not involve attempting to find a justification that “she somehow deserved it.” We do not need to know that the woman Strauss-Kahn allegedly raped was an African immigrant who couldn’t read very well. We do not need to know if Julian Assange’s partners that night had 100 previous partners or none. We do not need to know if the cheerleader who got raped at a frat party had three beers or 10 or what her major was or whether or not she has a boyfriend or whether or not she had previously flirted with her attacker, or if she was carrying condoms in her purse or if she had never handled a condom in her life. It does not help her case and instead only serves to traumatize her further by the media picking through every inch of her life, looking for some way, somehow, this attack could have had a motive other than “this guy is just an asshole.”
We don’t like to find out that people we admire could be rapists. We don’t like to discover that our best friend wouldn’t listen to a girl saying no. We don’t like to think that, when we cheered for our favorite team in sports, that we were cheering for a man who sees women as less than himself and uses rape as a way to reinforce that. We simply don’t like to be confronted with a narrative about the people in our lives that does not jive with the narrative of reality. That sort of sudden readjustment of worldview where we have to consider that things are not as they seem is hard - kind of like the first time a kid runs into her teacher in the grocery store and realizes that he has a life outside of the school. It’s much easier to say that he was tempted, that the girl did something to provoke him, that she’s just “regretting” having sex with him because that’s easier to swallow than the idea that your best friend, your brother, your hero, heck, your lover, could be so brash as to disregard consent and commit what is possibly the worst of all violent crimes.
So we argue against anonymity. And at this point, this is not merely a feminist issue. This is a human issue. Men get raped too. Little children get raped. Nuns, coma patients, prostitutes, transgender, homosexuals and heterosexuals. People with no education, people with doctorates. People traveling in the developing world and people laying safely (or so they thought) in their bed at night. When we argue for anonymity of the rape victim, we are arguing for the chance for a teenage girl, a little boy, a grown man, a woman in her 20s, a man in his 30s, a grandma, a grandpa, a parent, or a childfree single man, to have his or her day in court and to not be victimized further by intense scrutiny in the media.
And again, as far as the second part of the statement goes: Open your eyes. Look, for example, at the reaction to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case– many French people would rather believe that a vast conspiracy was set up to bring him down and prevent him from getting power than that hey, maybe he actually raped a lady. Many people would rather believe in a huge government conspiracy to shut up Julian Assange than accept that maybe he’s just an asshole. Many would rather believe that Anthony Weiner was the victim of a right-wing attack than believe that he might just be sleazy.
Where is this “tar and feather” attitude in the media that you speak of? I’ve never seen it.
*It is also important to note that if sex is agreed upon with a certain method of prophylactic (condom), and one or the other partner changes that condition, it is not only a violation of the second person’s consent, but a bodily risk, as sex without a condom can lead to numerous STDs, and, for the woman, pregnancy, which is why many can and should insist on using protection in the first place.