A Haven for Rapists

There’s been some chatter about “a haven for rapists” lately. Even a demand that I say something about the topic. So here goes.

Picture of two rowboats in a small natural harbor.
Safe Haven” by Liam Moloney (CC BY-SA 2.0)

My first thoughts on “haven for rapists” is that, in order to know whether something is a haven or not, I would first have to know what such a haven looked like. So what is a haven? According to the several dictionaries I consulted on the matter, a haven is a place of safety.

In the current context, that’s probably worth emphasizing. A haven isn’t a gathering place or a hangout. It’s a place of refuge, originally a port, but now any shelter. It remains a haven whether it’s used or not.

This raises the question of what endangers rapists.* What would they, in particular, need to be safe from?

The obvious answer is prosecution. Anyone who commits a crime faces a risk of prosecution. That puts the police and prosecutors in a position to provide a haven for rapists. In fact, that happens. Police discourage rape victims from reporting or even coerce them into recanting. They refuse to take reports and/or mark those reports “unfounded” without an investigation. Prosecutors decline to pursue court cases against rapists on the grounds that they don’t have evidence (even when they do) or because it is difficult to persuade juries and judges to convict and sentence rapists even with evidence.

This means that police and prosecutors, in the general case, provide a haven for rapists. They, along with others in our society who punish rape victims for reporting in one way or another, have so successfully created a haven for rapists that it’s estimated that only 40% of rapes are ever reported to the police.

When so many rapists are free from reasonable concerns about prosecution, what other dangers do they face? What else can they be protected from?

There are administrative consequences to rape as well, at least theoretically. Whether we’re talking about a workplace, an educational institution, or an event put on by an organization, there are plenty of people who have a responsibility to people in their care. Because the presence of a rapist endangers those people, those institutions will sometimes face a responsibility to keep rapists out of certain places to the best of their ability.

Here too, there is an opportunity to provide a haven for rapists. The White House has taken action under Title IX because educational institutions have declined their responsibility to keep their students safe from rapists reported to them. A suit is filed under Title VII over workplace harassment that includes rape alleges that the employer has protected a rapist instead of meeting its duty to its other employees. When, for example, we point out that an organization continues to invite a speaker who has been credibly accused of rape, we’re saying they have protected that rapist at the expense of the safety of their other participants.

In each of those cases, when an organization declines to apply the administrative remedy that would exclude a rapist in order to make the rest of a group safe, the organization has protected the ability a rapist to participate in those spaces. No, this doesn’t mean that every report equals a rape. However, when policies or administrative practices lead to this result on a regular basis or barring extraordinary circumstances, reported rapists will receive this benefit. Then it becomes fair to say the organization has provided a haven for rapists.

That still doesn’t exhaust the possible dangers that rapists face. Most rapes and rapists don’t face a real risk of prosecution. Most don’t happen in settings where administrative consequences apply. When you point this out to people who are worried about, say, the consequences of a false report, though, this doesn’t ease their concerns. Instead, they bring up reputation.

In some cases, the risk to a rapist’s reputation is probably overestimated. For example, Roman Polanski, while convicted of rape, continues to work with A-list actors. His social standing has been damaged by being known to have drugged and raped a teenaged girl, but he still has plenty to spare. Still, Polanski is an outlier. He had plenty of reputation to begin with. Risk to reputation is real, even if overestimated.

So how does someone protect a rapist’s reputation within spaces they control? They could just say rape shouldn’t reflect on the rapist, but that’s such an extreme position it can be comfortably dismissed. Aside from that, there are three solid ways I can think of. They don’t let people talk about an accusation of rape even when relevant, they allow people to misrepresent the facts surrounding the rape, or they engage in such misrepresentation themselves. The first is straightforward, but the second and third may be best understood using examples. I would say that people doing the following are misrepresenting facts regarding a rape:

  • Continuing to claim that the accuser is anonymous after they’ve put their reputation on the line to talk about having been raped.
  • Speculating the probability of an accusation being true while eliding the evidence that supports the accusation.
  • Dismissing a claim of rape with or without evidence based on rape myths.
  • Blaming the victim.
  • Attacking the character of the accuser or of people saying the accusation is credible based on factors entirely unrelated to whether the accusation is true as though it has a bearing on whether the accusation is true.

There are other ways to go about it, but you probably get the idea. In any of those cases, I think it’s fair to say that allowing those misrepresentations to stand protects the reputation of a rapist, assuming that the rape in question occurred.

Doing so as policy or standard practice, along with not allowing people to talk about rapes generally (or, say, that vast majority of rapes that do not lead to convictions) is providing a place where rapists’ reputations are safe. As in the case of administrative sanctions, making this a matter of policy or general practice elevates this to providing haven to rapists.

To sum all this up, if your policies or common practices protect rapists from prosecution, administrative sanction, or damage to their reputations, you’re providing a haven for rapists. You’re creating a space in which they are safe. If you don’t want this pointed out, you might want to reconsider those policies and practices.

*It is worth pointing out that not all rapists or people accused of rape face the same risk of any of these consequences. As is true with people at risk for rape itself, the people most at risk of facing consequences for raping someone are the least powerful people in our society. People who have fewer resources and are more likely to be viewed prejudicially are more likely to be prosecuted and convicted, more likely to be expelled or fired, and more likely to be viewed with continuing suspicion. It’s also worth mentioning that this is one of the areas in which stereotypes about men’s desire for sex and women’s capacity for aggression put female rapists of men at an advantage.

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A Haven for Rapists
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14 thoughts on “A Haven for Rapists

  1. 1

    I think if rapists want a safe haven, the best place is jail: they can’t be prosecuted again for the same crime, their reputations are safe because they’re pretty much gone, and they’ve already suffered the adminstrative sanctions.

    More rapists should just turn themselves in.

  2. 2

    Excellent and much needed.

    A haven isn’t a gathering place or a hangout. It’s a place of refuge, originally a port, but now any shelter. It remains a haven whether it’s used or not.


    Exactly so. I would add only that remarks to the similar effect could be made also about the “defend” part. In particular, it’s perfectly possible to defend some group even without having any member of this group in your close proximity.

    Imagine now (purely hypothetical, isn’t it?) a person A saying to a person B “you defend and provide haven for rapists”. Imagine also that B’s reaction is: “Either apologise or name the rapists close to me whom I defend and provide haven for!” Here is my take on the situation.

    1. It’s ultimately up to no one else than A to explain what was meant by the original remark.
    2. However, other people are free to indicate possible interpretations.
    3. The interpretation provided by Stephanie is certainly possible. Indeed, that could have been the intended meaning (but see 1).
    4. Still, the original message is ambiguous enough to make B’s reaction understandable.

    Some final remarks now. If Stephanie’s interpretation is correct (again, see 1), then the focus of the whole conversation should be significantly changed (which – in my humble opinion – would be only for the better). Still, even in this case I would find A’s original wording unfortunate. Such phrases can very easily generate serious misunderstandings and are better to be avoided in public discussions. I guess it would hurt no one to admit it.

  3. 3

    Ariel, I don’t really care about Nugent’s ongoing tantrum over his “good name” and Dawkins’. He’s been letting his comment sections be used to smear people for well over a year. Most recently, he’s given up even the pretense that he’ll remove lies if they’re pointed out and explained to him. He has less than no moral authority on the issue, and every 5000-word post where he lets the comments fill up with lies from the pit pisses more of his credibility away. If he wants to continually make love to his hurt feelings in public, that’s up to him. Nobody else has to engage with it.

  4. 4

    Stephanie, you are right about the smears and bias in the comment section. Also: whether someone decides to engage with it or not, it’s her or his decision, there is absolutely no quarrel here. My own worries concern mostly the readership (and occasional commenters). It’s not just the pit, there are also the AI people and – I would guess – more than that. And that’s the reason why I find it hard to disregard, to treat it on a par with some semi-anonymous and easily forgotten corner of the web. On top of this: for better or worse, I feel a part of the FtB community and yes, to some degree I treat it also personally, with the strong feeling that some of my personal choices are being questioned (and smeared) in public.

    Do you think it’s an invalid perspective?

  5. 5

    it’s estimated that only 40% of rapes are ever reported to the police.

    That surprised me. I recalled a much lower number.

    A haven isn’t a gathering place or a hangout. It’s a place of refuge, originally a port, but now any shelter. It remains a haven whether it’s used or not.

    “A gathering place or a hangout” can indeed be a shelter. If, for instance, the reputation that matters to you is that of your bar buddies then the bar where you all hang out is a refuge: a social space where accusations of rape are not a liability. Parhaps even a social asset. That’s basically what you decribe with Polanski: his social set simply don’t place much weight on his history as a child rapist. It’s not just that he has standing to spare, it’s that his history has a very small (or perhaps negative) cost in those circles.

  6. 7

    Responding to the * in Stephanie’s piece, from the ‘Rape Myths’ hyperlink article:

    Myth: Rapists are non-white. Rapists are lower class. Rapists are “Criminal types”.

    Fact: Rapists that fit the myth are more likely to be prosecuted but a rapist can be anyone: doctor, policeman, clergyman, social worker or corporate president.

    I think that reinforces Stephanie’s point…..

  7. 8

    @ #2 Airel:

    I know the substitutes for ‘A’ and ‘B’ but I haven’t kept up. What is interesting to me as an aside is your statement:

    Exactly so. I would add only that remarks to the similar effect could be made also about the “defend” part. In particular, it’s perfectly possible to defend some group even without having any member of this group in your close proximity .

    This phrasing makes it sound like members of a Club house meeting in a saloon and not the internet. Close proximity has no bearing on the Internet. The internet, as part of the real world, removes the typical ‘close proximity’ that the phrase implies as in ‘B’ knows everyone personally in their clubhouse at the local bar. That is not the case. The Clubhouse / Saloon / Bar is the website where commentors are using annoymous names in order to spill bile without real world consequences. This enables Michael Nugent to have plausible deniability regarding the character, moral fibre of his commentors that he would have if he was ‘in close proximity’ like a Clubhouse / Saloon / Bar.

  8. 10

    On top of this: for better or worse, I feel a part of the FtB community and yes, to some degree I treat it also personally, with the strong feeling that some of my personal choices are being questioned (and smeared) in public.

    Should you not take that up with Michael Nugent and have him remove the annoymous comments on his website if the comments on his website disturb you? Substitute PZ comment with Rebecca’s “Guys, don’t do that”. Are you a rapist? I am not, so PZ’s comment was not directed at me just like Rebecca’s “Guys, don’t do that” was not directed at me since I do not invite strange women to my room for ‘coffee’ at 4am without a clear indication from the women that she is interested.

  9. 11

    On top of this: for better or worse, I feel a part of the FtB community and yes, to some degree I treat it also personally, with the strong feeling that some of my personal choices are being questioned (and smeared) in public.

    Do you think it’s an invalid perspective?

    Well, it’s not invalid, they are smearing. I mean, me personally, they had the faked a rape threat meme, and now they have the molested my younger brother meme. So yeah.

    The question is, should we care what they say? I just feel bad for Irish atheists who aren’t shitheels, mostly.

  10. 12

    Ariel, I appreciate what you’re trying to do over there. I don’t begrudge you any work you’re willing to put in on it. Anyone else who wants to slog it out in the comments is more than welcome to do the same.

    The fact of the matter is, however, that the pitters are just going to go on repeating the same lies again and again and either swarming or being absurdly obtuse toward anyone who challenges them there. The only person they care about in that situation is Nugent, because he’s willing to lend them his space and reputation. You can disagree and explain all you want. They’ll just repeat the lies you demolished. Some of them have been doing it for about three years now.

    They’re not going to change. They’re not going to get more honest. They’ll just settle in wherever they’re allowed and throw poo at the walls to see whether it will stick. They did it at CFI until CFI got tired enough of it to close relevant comment threads. They’ll do it at Nugent’s until he realizes he’s losing everyone else by letting them in.

    As for me, I say they’re welcome to him if he’s willing to put up with having comments full of lies because those lies are about people who have criticized him.

  11. 13

    Ariel, Nugent knows full well that he’s defending “the alleged rapist” and defending Dawkens’ (et al.) illogical defenses of “the alleged rapist”, even if he is ignorant that this defense is part of the larger rape culture problem that is actively providing a haven for rapists (if not ignorant, then he is an MRA grade misogynist, not just acting like one). His claims of “slander” for anyone who points this out tersely are part of this defense of the haven, using the “I haven’t used you-know-who’s name” as pathetic cover. It’s clear that he wants “World Wide Atheism” to be a haven for “the alleged rapist”, regardless of how substantiated the accusations are, and with complete disregard to the general harm he is doing to other rape victims and the general help he is giving to their rapists. I haven’t read what you’ve been posting over there (I’ve written Nugent off at this point), but I agree with Stephanie that I’m not sure there’s much point in trying to defend the terse language against Nugent’s and the pit’s dishonesty (and as I say this, I suddenly have the urge to tweet “Does @micknugent defend rapists?” “Some people say @micknugent defends rapists.”).

  12. 14

    I see Nugent is still prioritising his own hurt feelings way higher than paying attention to the smear campaign being run in his blog’s comment section, which has been effectively colonised by a commentariat largely originating from the Slymepit, and thus comprising of a multitude of anti-feminist harassers and overt misogynists. It’s rather mind-boggling how he continues to fail to miss the quid pro quo aspect of this – if he actually made an effort to curb the vicious excesses occurring in the comments, then I could imagine people reassessing their views that his blog has become Slymepit Ireland (and as mentioned in the post above, it has tended that way since the failure of Nugent’s reconciliation attempts last year). Until he does that though, I don’t see why anyone should alter their priorities to accommodate Nugent’s misguided crusade.

    Another tangential observation I have to offer concerns a slimy individual I noticed over on Twitter arguing with Stephanie over whether any arbitrary group of people (like Nugent’s commentariat, or the Slymepit which it overlaps) contains rapists, and this entirely misses the point. Quantitatively, two large-scale surveys (Lisak & Miller, and McWhorter) found that between 6% and 13% of men admitted to having attempted or committed a statutory rape provided that the questioning used was rephrased to avoid using the incriminating word, “rape”. We know that rape is predominantly a gendered crime and that it is both comparably under-reported and under-prosecuted versus other crimes. This has the consequence that any considerably large group of people will contain a proportion of undetected rapists, hiding in plain sight. It might be less than 6% of men; it might be more than 13%, and there may also be some small proportion of non-men rapists, but who could tell? We should not expect everyone to be candid on the subject.

    The issue at stake is actually a qualitative one, and for the reasons above in Stephanie’s post a haven is an environment that reduces or minimises the harm caused by rape and is also one that permits rapists to hide undetected, or even to comfortably flourish – they can rely on rape apologetics (or victim blaming) being uttered that will prop up their defence (and attack their accusers); they can rely on never being challenged on the topic for outrageously unethical or immoral views. There is more that I would like to say on this idea, but it suffices to point out that in the current environment anything that gets said on ‘FtB’ is capable of being weaponised by the Slymepit by the usual means of cherry picking, quoting out of context, and lying, and based on past experience I have no desire to have any further arguments I might offer on this subject to end up being regurgitated in lobotomised form elsewhere.

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