The White Male Ranking of Rapes

Content note: Rape and trauma are discussed in detail.

Dick bloody Dawkins is at it again. The Independent reports that Richard Dawkins waded into territory he really ought to stay out of. It began with his explaining to the uneducated on twitter that one can make logical arguments involving comparisons between two things without approving of either.

That is indeed a thing you can do. You’re probably coming up with examples. Say, nicking bus money from a young, able bodied person against doing the same to an older person with mobility difficulties. Both are bad, one is worse. (Please refrain from comments about bus passes. You get the point.)

But what Dick Dawkins had to do is score controversy points, as white men like to do. He tweeted:

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.

It isn’t the first time that this has been assumed. In 2011, Kenneth Clarke caused a feminist uproar by suggesting that “serious rapes” should be treated with less leniency in the legal system than “date rapes”.

Dudes that aren’t rape survivors really shouldn’t be talking about this shit. In doing so, both demonstrate the bias they have as men. When they think about rape, men tend to prioritise what is typically most familiar to them – physical violence. The psychological violence that rape inflicts is less familiar but of equal or greater importance. The feeling of being vulnerable and powerless, one’s body being violated and the lasting trauma these can inflict goes much deeper than scars on the body.

The result of men’s bias towards physical violence is that they rank rapes in terms of the degree of physical violence involved. Hence stranger rape, which likely began with physical violence or the threat of it, is ranked above date rape and other forms of rape by non-strangers, which often does not, and may not involve physical resistance at all. This bias is present not only when people like Dawkins talk, but in the legal system, where the presence or absence of physical resistance can make or break rape cases.

The psychological effects of rape by non-strangers can be severe precisely because one might not have initially resisted. When there was no moment to act upon the flight or flight instinct, one can feel particularly powerless. When one met the rapist at one’s regular bar and let them into one’s house, it becomes difficult to feel safe anywhere. When one trusted that individual, as a friend or as a seemingly decent stranger, it becomes difficult to trust anyone.

I don’t want to engage in the kind of “debate” that white men go in for and present that as a counterargument. I’ve never experienced stranger rape. I do know that people experience severe trauma symptoms from it, as others do from rape by non-strangers. The messy reality is that the wildly variable circumstances of a rape and the psychological state of the survivor determine the impact that it has.

Can we, then, please stop trying to rank different kinds of rape in some abstract hierarchy? It completely contradicts reality of the lived experience of survivors. In all its forms, rape is abhorrent. In all its forms, rape comes at the risk of destroying the survivor’s psychological health. In all its forms, the perpetrator takes that risk with the remainder of someone else’s life, and should be held accountable for doing so. If we must take physical violence into account, then we should do so by accounting for those violent acts quite separately from the rape itself.

I know it sounds a bit too absolute a position for the liberals out there, but rape is rape. Seriously.

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