This morning I was reading a journal article in the latest issue of Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice & Policy (vol 9:3, special issue on South Africa). In discussing rape of women in the context of South Africa, the authors report
In a recent study, 17% of the South African women agreed that rape usually results from what a woman says or does. (p. 310)
Does this number seem high or low to you?
While 17% do not make up the majority of women, it is not a small number either. Without being able to see the original study, I had the following questions:
- 17% of South African women agree that rape usually is the result of female behavior. How many more believe that it is sometimes true?
- What are the numbers for what men believe about the problem of rape?
Lest we think that this is just a problem in less evolved countries (note: that perception is offensive and false), we have the same
conversation debate here in the US about whether a woman is responsible for what happens to her if she drinks too much at a party or wears the wrong sort of clothing.
What is behind rape?¹
Rape by men requires two factors: aggression and arousal. First, the rapist is aggressive and uncaring about the experience of the other, willing to take what they want by physical, verbal, or psychological force. Often (though not always) the rapist experiences anger, both during and after the rape. And second, the male must be sexually aroused in order to rape. Normally, one would think that aggression and anger would extinguish arousal but this is not the case for those who engage in rape.
What enables this pairing? Several factors are clearly involved:
- Obsession. When someone is obsessed with sex or power or anything at all it has a tendency to shape a person and to increase self-focus and shape beliefs about what others think and want. Wants become needs become demands. “I want” becomes “I’m deserve.” This is even true for those rapes that appear un-premeditated.
- Fantasy. Coupled with obsession, a person must then begin to fantasize about getting the obsession. They may find ways to normalize what they want (e.g., the other person wants it in their fantasy). No one rapes without having practiced in their mind.
- Objectification. Others only exist as opportunities to solve the obsession. They don’t have feelings. They don’t have needs. They don’t matter. The best example of this in Scripture is Amnon’s rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13).
- Blame-shifting. The victim wanted it, asked for it, deserved it. Alcohol was the cause. They didn’t know it was wrong. They couldn’t help it. Any number of excuses may be at work to shift blame. In order to avoid the crushing weight of a stricken conscience, one would have to find a means to shift blame or deny reality.
Is there a culture of rape?
If a significant portion of a population believes either that victims of rape are responsible for the crime or that perpetrators are unable to stop themselves, then where do those beliefs come from? Culture can support these beliefs, either in an active or passive manner. Mostly commonly we see passive means at work. For example,
- Failing to investigate he said/she said crimes and thereby failing to bring justice supports rape
- Responding first to victims about their culpability
- Promoting violence in media towards victims as normal and acceptable
Who is responsible for rape?
While we can say that sexual violence is multi-factorial (learning, culture, history, habits, opportunity, etc.) it is wrong to say that the victim has brought it on. In fact, a naked individual actually asking to be violated cannot succeed unless there is someone willing to respond. Drunken, flirty, scantily dressed women cannot cause rape (once again, a terrible perception that most victims fit these descriptors). Thus, the only one responsible for a rape is the one doing that act.
For Christians, this should be a no-brainer:
Luke 6:45. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
2 Cor 5:10. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
What can we do?
Simple acts are best.
- Notice and correct all “explanations” about causes of rape that do not put the blame solely on the perpetrator.²
- Notice and speak up about messages from the larger culture that make light of violence, especially sexual violence. In fact one special area is the sexual abuse of teen boys by female teachers. This is all to commonly treated as a win for the boy. It is not.
- Engage in community discussion about the shame tactics used to blame victims for their situation.
¹Rape is not only committed by males against females. And there are many reasons why men rape and many contexts in which it happens. This post is not trying to speak to all the types of rapists nor all of the contexts where it happens. It is only focusing on the rape of women by men as that was the context of the initial article.
²There is a time to discuss with both perpetrators and victims about aspect of the situation that may have contributed. A rapist may need to explore how family history or personal abuse history contributed to their acting out. A victim may also need to explore some of their own choices that may have increased their vulnerability to being victimized. The challenge is knowing when. While avoiding these conversations can be unhelpful, having them too early can be deadly to the soul.