There is no "perfect rape victim"

CONTENT NOTE: SEXUAL ASSAULT AND RAPE

Ah, victim blaming. One of the most ubiquitous manifestations of Rape Culture. Whether its blaming rape victims for their sexual assault due to their clothing, level of sobriety, flirtatiousness, or the company they keep, victim blaming can take on many forms. It is horrible because rape occurs regardless of how much or how little clothing a victim wears, their level of sobriety, how much they flirt, or who they choose to associate with. This is because the only person who can decide whether or not a rape will happen is a rapist. Victims have no control over the actions of a rapist. On its own, blaming a rape victim for their assault is horrible enough because it shifts the blame for the sexual assault from the rapist to the victim. Some rape victims have to endure victim blaming on top of another level of social humiliation: slut-shaming.

A recent case involving a prostitute and a john is making a mockery of rape victims.

Authorities say Roy Akins went to Backpage.com and agreed to pay a prostitute $180 for sex.

When the unidentified woman showed up at his Austin home for the transaction, Akins allegedly took her to the bedroom and, instead of handing over the cash, pulled a gun.

I imagine most prostitutes in this situation would have run straight to a pimp. But after leaving Akins’ home in the 1100 block of North Lawler, the unidentified 24-year-old woman called the police.

Danger! Danger! Danger! From just the above, I’m concerned that the author-Mary Mitchell-will likely be perpetuating Rape Culture themes. Already, it is clear that she thinks the interaction between Akins and the victim (I’ll call her Jane Doe) was something *other* than rape. I’m not sure why because rape is non-consensual sex, and Doe’s consent to sex was contingent upon receiving payment. By not paying her, Akins violated the terms under which she gave consent. By doing so and forcing her to have sex, he raped her. That shouldn’t be hard to understand, nonetheless, Mitchell struggles to comprehend.

Akins is now being held on $750,00 bail, charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault.

I don’t have one iota of sympathy for Akins’ plight. But I’m grateful he isn’t being accused of snatching an innocent woman off the street.

At this point, most readers can probably guess where her line of reasoning is heading. She clearly believes that there are certain criteria that determine whether an alleged rape victim qualifies as an actual rape victim. You can see this in her use of the word ‘innocent’, which, when framed in the context of prostitution, implies sexual purity. At this point, I was positive that Mitchell was going to slut-shame the victim, and imply that to be a “true” rape victim, one must not deviate from conventional expectations of female sexual behavior (y’know, like being a sex worker). She goes on to say:

Mostly, though, I find this story disturbing.

For one thing, this is another example of the role Backpage.com plays in facilitating prostitution.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has waged an intense battle to shut down paid sex ads on the site, setting up stings and asking credit card companies to block their cards from being used to buy sex ads.

“We try to explain that this is a highly dangerous act,” Dart told me. “They go to the Website and meet at a hotel or people’s houses. Things can get very volatile. This is not the first time something like this has happened.”

Unfortunately, the way this case is being handled makes it look like sex trafficking is a legitimate business.

I find the story disturbing because a woman was raped. That Jane Doe was a sex worker doesn’t affect the compassion I feel towards her, nor the rage I feel at her rapist, and whether or not prostitution* is a legitimate business or not is irrelevant to me**. Mitchell, OTOH, is unable to separate her obvious disdain for prostitution from the rape of a sex worker.

I’m not one of those women who believe rape victims are at fault because they dressed too provocatively or misled some randy guy into thinking it was his lucky night.

But when you agree to meet a strange man in a strange place for the purpose of having strange sex for money, you are putting yourself at risk for harm.

“I’m not going to blame a rape victim for their assault, but I’m totally about to do just that.” In parsing the above, the only conclusion I can reach is that Mitchell believes that being a sex worker puts one on a direct collision course with a rapist, and if one doesn’t want to be raped, one shouldn’t be a sex worker. Her unsubtle advice reminds me of other suggestions women and girls are given to avoid being sexually assaulted:

“If you didn’t want to be raped, you shouldn’t have drank so much that you passed out.”

“The clothes you were wearing were too provocative. If you hadn’t worn them, you wouldn’t have been raped.”

“You really shouldn’t have gone to that fraternity party. If you hadn’t you would have avoided being raped.”

Mitchell is making the same type of argument as the rape avoidance “tips” above. On the surface, I can see why it appears to be a compelling one. After all, when you look at the situation, a “solution” that comes to mind for many is “Don’t do this one thing and you’ll avoid being raped. Remember this for the future.” Unfortunately this is horrible advice for several reasons. For one: it puts the onus for altering behavior on someone *other* than the rapist. A rapist is the one committing a crime. He*** is the one violating someone else’s bodily autonomy. He is the one who should moderate his behavior. Women and girls have been hearing advice on how not to get raped forever, and while such tips may work on an individual level, they don’t work to decrease the overall incidence of rape, and it should be obvious why: a rapist is the only one who can decide whether or not a rape will occur. The power to rape or not rape is in the hands of the perpetrator. That’s why anti-rape campaigns targeting men (who make up the majority of rapists) are a better idea than any of the advice offered to women.

Another problem with rape avoidance tips is that there is no way of knowing what will or won’t work (again, bc the rapist is the one making the decision to sexually assault someone).  Don’t wear the “wrong” clothes? Nuns get raped. Don’t drink? Women who are completely sober get raped.  Don’t go to strange parts of town? Women get raped at homeat church, at work, at Wal-Mart, and more. Don’t be sexually active? Children get raped. Be wary of strangers? Fathers, uncles, brothers, sons, boyfriends, pastors, cops, and colleagues have raped women and girls.

What advice are women and girls supposed to take in order to protect themselves from being assaulted when they can be raped no matter what they’re wearing, their level of sobriety, their location, the amount of sex they’ve had, or the people they associate with? The reason none of that advice works to reduce the incidence of rape, or afford women and girls protection is because men who rape do so under all manner of circumstances. And again, that’s why *men* need to be targeted.

Also, targeting women and girls with these avoidance tips treats rape as if it is an uncontrollable force of nature. Seriously, think about the tips being offered. They all treat rape as something that’s inevitable. It’s not. Rape is an act carried out [predominately] by men. Men who *choose* to rape. Men who can *choose* NOT to rape. There is no biological imperative for men to rape. These rape tips serve to treat men as if they’re uncontrollable sexual brutes who will violate anyone and everyone. Makes me wonder why MRA’s don’t criticize rape avoidance tips, bc damn, the tips make men look baaaaaaaaaad.

Finally, women and girls have the right to participate in society to whatever level they choose, just as men and boys do. But even if we assume that avoiding rape were possible, to do so would seriously infringe upon the freedom of movement for women and girls. It is neither fair nor reasonable to expect them to change their behavior when they aren’t doing a fucking thing wrong.

Ok, stepping off my soapbox (no one else can have it though, as I’m sure I’ll need it again soon) to return to the rest of this aggravating article:

“It’s tough to see this unidentified prostitute as a victim. And because this incident is being charged as a criminal sexual assault — when it’s actually more like theft of services — it minimizes the act of rape.”

1-Rape is rape, no matter who it happens to. If sex happens without consent, that’s rape.
2-Sex workers can be raped because sex workers consent to their interactions with a client.
3-It is not tough to see a sex worker as a victim because
4-Rape is non-consensual sex. Oh, and
5-a woman is not a car or an inanimate object that can be stolen. A woman is a human being with rights. And one of those rights is the right to bodily autonomy. Akins violated the bodily autonomy of this woman. So yeah, I find it easy to view her as a victim. The question is: why doesn’t Mitchell? Her answer? The victim wasn’t a proper rape victim:

Earlier this month, we saw what a rape victim looks like. Melissa Schuster, 26, of Willowbrook, was stabbed 17 times and suffered a fractured nose, broken bones and eye injuries when she was raped by a man who broke into her home after demanding cash.

After a manhunt, Londale Madison, 31, of South Bend, Indiana, was  charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, home invasion and armed robbery.

Though news media normally shield rape victims by giving them anonymity, Schuster told the “U.S. Daily Mail” she was waiving her anonymity because she wanted to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

After the heinous attack, Schuster was left sprawled on the kitchen floor of her own home. Though she suffered life-threatening injuries, the young woman managed to run to a neighbor’s house for help.

There it is: a “true rape victim” has injuries. Our resident Sun-Times writer believes the absence of physical assault means that a rape victim isn’t a “true rape victim.  This is false, and I believe it’s time to step back on that soapbox and clear up this popular misconception about rape. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that:

Among sexual violence victims raped since their 18th birthday, 31.5% of women and 16.1% of men reported a physical injury as a result of a rape. 36.2% of injured female victims received medical treatment

Another facet of this misconception is the belief that if a victim didn’t put up a fight, they weren’t really raped. In her presentation “The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault“, Michigan State University professor of psychology Dr. Rebecca Campbell**** explains one reason many victims don’t put up a fight:

Now, I’ve been talking so far about fight-or-flight. It’s actually fight, flight, or freeze — that for some victims, they don’t fight back. They don’t flee the situation. Their body freezes on them because of this hormonal activation by the HPA axis. And it can trigger essentially an entire shutdown in the body. And the technical name for this is tonic immobility.

Tonic immobility is often referred to as “rape-induced paralysis.”

It is an autonomic response, meaning that it’s uncontrollable. This is not something a victim decides to do. It is a mammalian response. It is evolutionarily wired into us to protect the survival of the organism. Because sometimes the safest thing to do to protect the safety is to fight back. Sometimes the safest thing to do is to flee. Sometimes the stupidest thing to do is to flee because it will incite chase. Therefore, our bodies have been wired for a freeze response too — to play dead, to look dead, because that may be the safest thing for the survival of the organism. So it is a mammalian response that is in all of us — we can’t control it. And it happens in extremely fearful situations.

Behaviorally, it is marked by increased breathing, eye closure, but the most marked characteristic of tonic immobility is muscular paralysis. A victim in a state of tonic immobility cannot move. She cannot move her hands. She cannot move her arms. She cannot move her legs. She cannot move her torso. She cannot move her head. She is paralyzed in that state of incredible fear.

Research suggests that between 12 and 50 percent of rape victims experience tonic immobility during a sexual assault, and most data suggests that the rate is actually closer to the 50 percent than the 12 percent.

There’s also some emerging data that suggests that tonic immobility is slightly more common if a victim has a prior history of sexual assault. So if he or she had been sexually assaulted as a child and then was subsequently assaulted in adolescence or adulthood, the likelihood of experiencing tonic immobility at those later assaults tends to increase.

In penning this piece Mary Mitchell plays with the well-worn Rape Culture trope of the “perfect rape victim”. The perfect rape victim is held up as the standard by which society judges all other rape victims. Was she dressing provocatively? How much did she drink? What company did she keep? Did she conform to social norms about women’s sexuality?The myth of the perfect rape victim provides a cover for rapists. It shields their actions by casting doubt on the victim. After all, if she was with the wrong crowd at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong clothes, then some or all of the blame should be on her. That’s not true of course, but this insidious trope is believed by many and is a one of a host of myths and misconceptions about rape and sexual assault. The wide acceptance of these myths leads to very real harm for the victims of sexual assault by excusing, condoning, or supporting sexual violence against women and girls. In closing, Mitchell says:

For law enforcement to put what happened to a Backpage.com prostitute on a par with rape victims like Schuster is an insult.

In truth, by framing rape as a crime that can only happen to women who maintain a certain level of sexual innocence, by slut-shaming women who act outside the bounds of traditional expectations of female sexuality, and by asserting that rape is only rape if a victim is injured, it is Mary Mitchell-rather than law enforcement-who is delivering the insult. And that insult is a slap in the face to victims of rape and sexual assault.


*Incidentally, contrary to the beliefs of the author sex trafficking and sex work are not the same thing. For instance, unlike the former, the latter involves consent.

**While the focus of this post is on the perpetuation of Rape Culture tropes, rather than the anti-sex worker position of the Sun-Times writer, I do not agree with shaming sex workers and fully support the legalization of sex work.

***for the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on rapes committed against women by men. I am aware, however, that men have been raped by women and that men have been raped by men. I do not mean to imply in any way that such is not the case.

****H/t to Nirmukta

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There is no "perfect rape victim"
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2 thoughts on “There is no "perfect rape victim"

  1. 1

    Tony, I keep hoping that all of these simple but horrific facts will be recognized and repeated Ad Infinitum. Why, why, why is it so difficult for supposedly intelligent, perceptive people to acknowledge? That is a rhetorical question. The reason is both the subtlety and the overwhelming obviousness of power and its structures creates self-interest. I could go on and on. I will leave it here for now. Thank you so much for this post. It has left me in raging tears.

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