Tag Archives: rape

The fallout of waning superiority

This morning, my husband brought an article  to my attention, which deals with the increasing rape of young women in India [major TW]. He pointed out to me one paragraph in particular:

“In a rapidly changing country, rape cases have increased at an alarming rate, roughly 25 percent in six years. To some degree, this reflects a rise in reporting by victims. But India’s changing gender dynamic is also a significant factor, as more females are attending school, entering the work force or choosing their own spouses — trends that some men regard as a threat.” [NYT]

This analysis is very much in line with what I have  previously stated on this blog. Highly patriarchal societies, in which social change is happening in favor of women or other marginalized groups, are bound to produce generations of men who will lose their former privileges. In response, they will reject these changes, but because they are often irreversible, they will become angry and frustrated and will try to regain their wounded masculinity by submitting women violently. It doesn’t surprise me to see this development happening in India, which is rapidly progressing and opening up its white collar professions to women. One can only hope that Indian women will stay strong and fight against this backlash.

The crime is not scandalous, the culture is.


[This post has been updated since first publishing.]

These past few months have been extremely demoralizing for me, not just as a feminist but as a woman in general. Whether it’s “legitimate rape” or “culture of impunity”, the current discourse around sexual violence frightens me. The events that made the news seem to be repeating themselves over and over again, but what’s worse, they have become so normalized, almost acceptable. We have created a culture in which rape is silently condoned and even encouraged and, for the most part, unpunished.

photo by suzan black: “untitled” (2008) via fotopedia.com

The recent scandal surrounding the deceased BBC TV host and dj Jimmy Savile has clarified two things for me, and no, “rape exists” is not one of them: Continue reading

Male Consent, or Can Women Rape?

I don’t need to tell you about how much feminist activists have done to reveal the proportions of rape culture. How they have fought to make unconsensual sex within marriage a crime, created rape crisis centers and hotlines, and made SAFE kits, also known as rape kits, obligatory in the U.S…. All of these measures were taken in order to help women who become the victims of some men who rape. Unfortunately, that’s well-understood. But can women rape, too?

The short answer is yes. However, those cases are often hard to detect, because they are legally not defined as such. In England and New Zealand, for example, rape constitutes the forced penetration by a man’s penis, which would make it virtually impossible for a woman to rape in legal terms. In most nations, however, a woman having unconsensual sex with a man can be punished for committing sexual assault rather than rape.

Call it whatever you want, I’m sure we can all agree that forcing someone violently to have sex against their will is not right and should be punished, regardless of the victim’s or the perpetrator’s sex. But of course, life isn’t always black and white; there are these damn grey areas, for example when people seem incapable of clearly stating what they want and do not want. As feminists have pointed out over and over again, a sleeping or highly inebriated person cannot give consent. But what about that hot girl you meet at a party, who may have had a few drinks too many but is dying to go home with you? What about the shy one who is too nervous and embarrassed to speak up?

via le-anyblack

These are particular situations many of us will know all too well. In order not to end up in a dodgy situation, feminists have come up with the concept “Yes means Yes”, also known as enthusiastic consent. It takes the saying “No means No” one step further, where the only sure road to consensual sex is asking for it and being explicit about what you want, ideally by saying that you want it.

This concept is not one that everyone can easily agree on, it seems. Some argue that it may kill the mood or the mystery of a sexual situation. Others claim (mostly rape apologists) that it will ruin their chances at sex altogether, because women are socialized/”cunning enough” to say no, even though they mean yes. After all, most of the time the discussion revolves around the question of women’s consent. Apparently, she has to be the one to call the shots, she is the only one that needs to be asked, because men are implied to always want sex by default. This presumption is, of course, just as dangerous as the assumption that women are much less sexual than men. Both open doors to sexual violations, because the specific needs and desires of an individual are completely disregarded.

I am mentioning this, because for every temptation in the shape of a drunk party girl, there may be a drunk party boy; for every young woman too shy to voice her likes and dislikes, there may be a young man too inexperienced and insecure to say no to sexual advances he doesn’t welcome. Some of us women may have been in situations where we violated someone’s boundaries without even realizing it, because both men and women perpetuate the stereotype that men will never mean no, and they certainly will never say it.

As women who believe in enthusiastic consent, we need to make sure we don’t hold up double standards. Education about consent needs to be directed at everybody, regardless of gender. Just like women, men need to learn to speak up, but most importantly, women, too, need to learn to insist on consent and how to get it.

An erection does not equal consent. Agreeing to sex does not mean agreeing to unprotected sex, to sex with other people, or to rough sex. A man can be too drunk to fuck, but a man can also be too drunk to want to fuck. Of course, these guidelines require a certain level of maturity and responsibility from both partners. If this level is not a given, you should ask yourselves whether you should be having sex at all.

After all, who would want to have sex with someone who doesn’t enjoy it? Only rapists would.

If you’re interested in learning more about enthusiastic consent, go here! Already a pro? Here’s the advanced version.

Because of the particularity of man-woman relationships, I have focused on heterosexual relations, but fortunately enthusiastic consent is a concept that works for all sorts of constellations!

Why is the DSK-case not going to trial?

Just a quick update on one of the most outrageous rape-cases in the last couple of years: No one’s talking about it anymore. Sure, some news sources diligently write about the latest updates, but overall the case has diminished from the public eye, especially in Europe. You have to read Le Monde, and read it closely, in order to hear anything about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is still forced to stay in the U.S., and Nafissatou Diallo, his alleged victim. The disinterest can easily be explained: The debate on whether or not the case should go to trial has been going on for months, without proper results, and no one really believes anymore that it will happen eventually. The shaming of Diallo and the destruction of her credibility has been successful; she is at best a liar, and at worst a criminal, but certainly not a victim. End of story.

Or not? To those who have followed the developments more closely, the story is not quite so clear-cut. Yes, she has lied about her past and she may have made incriminating statements, but the language barrier has proven to be an obstacle, that needs to be taken into consideration. And, of course, none of this proves that she lied about things this time.

Therefore it seems necessary to simply focus on the evidence and the facts of the event itself. Fact is, that a sexual act has been performed, which neither of the two parties denies. Consensual or not, that is the question, a question that can only be answered by the two persons involved (who stick to contradictory accounts), and medical evidence, should there be any, proving whether or not physical force has been utilized.

In Diallo’s case this evidence exists! Medical reports following her examination immediately after the alleged attack state that her injuries were consistent with assault and rape. The social worker Susan Xenarios, who first questioned Diallo after the attack, also supports the theory of an act of aggression (I have yet to find a similar interview with her in the American news). These are at least two independent sources in favor of the veracity of Diallo’s testimony. And still the case is not going to trial?

I understand that the evidence is not 100% sure-fire proof, that a lot of damage has already been done, that the outcome of the trial is questionable. But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be one. Trials have been conducted, and won, with a lot less substance. Nafissatou Diallo should have her day in court.

She clearly is ready to take on the fight. Since she has gone public, she has sued the New York Post for calling her a prostitute, and she is seeking damages through a civil lawsuit. Either she is extremely cunning, extremely stupid, or maybe, just maybe, she knows she’s right and demands justice.

Have You Checked Your Credibility Today?

I have been holding off on writing an update on the case regarding Dominique Strauss-Kahn, despite the recent developments that lead to his release from house arrest last week. I have no apologies other than not wanting to ruin my holidays. Turns out it was a good thing to wait and follow the developments closely, as things are progressing fast and now Strauss-Kahn has been accused of another attempted rape, this time by a French writer named Tristane Banon.

But what has actually happened up until this point? The short version: the first accuser’s credibility has been severely damaged, making it less likely for the case to go to court. In rape trials, the judges are often confronted with one person’s word against another’s, so with hardly any hard evidence, both the prosecution and the defense fall back on the accuser’s (non-)credibility to make their case. The prosecution knows that an accuser lacking credibility wouldn’t stand a chance in court, so they would hesitate to go forward with the trial. Therefore, it is not only the defense that has an interest in knowing all about the accuser’s history and lifestyle. In the case of the hotel maid, the research into her background didn’t go so well (for the prosecution): apparently, she had lied during her asylum application and on other occasions and was found to have ties with criminals involved in drug dealing and money laundering. On top of that, she had received large sums of money from different accounts, she had spoken to a convict in prison after the alleged attack about “the possible benefits of pursuing the charges” against Strauss-Kahn, and she gave contradictory accounts of what had happened directly after the attack. All of this sounds very questionable, to say the least, but none of it means that she had been lying about that particular case. It needs to be stressed, that the charges have not been dropped and the case is still scheduled to go to court. But even if it does, which seems a lot less likely now, chances are Strauss-Kahn will be found innocent, based solely on the lack of credibility of the accuser.

What about the credibility of the accused, you might ask? You might. Most people don’t. Or else they would be interested to see that just because DSK doesn’t (yet) have a criminal record, which is, let’s face it, quite ordinary for a man of his class and status, it doesn’t mean there is nothing to be said about his behavior and background. Several women, female journalists and colleagues, have come out about DSK’s inappropriate, over-the-line advances, culminating in the most recent accusation made by Tristane Banon, according to which he sexually assaulted her during an interview situation back in 2003.

None of this is proof that he is, in fact, a rapist, just like the hotel maid’s criminal activity doesn’t make her any less of a possible victim. No one can know the truth, unless either one of the involved would give a full confession. As a feminist, I am torn about the possible outcome. Naturally, I hope that an attempted rape did not take place, just as I hope that no rape ever takes place. At the same time, I hope the accuser did not lie, because if she did it would damage victims’ reputations everywhere and strengthen the myth of lying women falsely accusing men of rape all the time. However, the outcome most likely will be that all charges against Strauss-Kahn will be dropped without a trial and without more evidence and information. In that case, Strauss-Kahn will go home to his wife and kids and he may even be able to continue his career in politics. The accuser’s life, however, has been destroyed, no matter what the truth may be. Meanwhile, all of those screaming I-told-you-so will feel vindicated while waiting ravenously for the dirt to be dug up about Banon’s life. And the story continues…

False Accusations About False Allegations – On One of the Most Insidious Rape Myths

Trigger Warning!

DSK, Kachelmann, Julian Assange – what do these scandals have in common besides being about alleged rapes and sexual assaults by powerful celebrities? All of the alleged victims of these rapes had to face the accusation, made by public figures, the media and public opinion, of having falsely accused their rapist. Can you think of any other crime where this has repeatedly been the case?

Sure, one could argue that these particular cases all involve celebrities, are thus much more relevant to the public, and false accusations seem more probable when money and exposure appear to be a possible motive. However, the truth is that it is not just extreme or extraordinary cases that seem to justify the questioning of the accusers’ honesty. In fact, it is a widespread habit to distrust the word of sexually abused women, one of the reasons why only 13% percent of rape cases end in a conviction and only 15% of rapes are reported in the first place. But what makes this crime so suspicious, compared to any other?

The myth of the stranger rape has long been debunked, that is in circles that have actively looked into rape research. However, the idea of an anonymous man lurking in a dark alley to wait for his random female victim still persists. In reality, the majority of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by people personally known to the victim: relatives, colleages, friends, boyfriends… Other myths include the assumption that rape victims would naturally go to the police immediately after the offense, their memory of the crime would be coherent and without gaps, and they would have obvious physical injuries as proof. Often, so-called victim blaming enters the equation as well; the belief that if the victim drank alcohol and/or dressed or behaved provocatively, she was somehow tempting her rapist and wanted to have sex to begin with.

All of these assumptions do not reflect the reality of most rape cases, yet they are deeply ingrained in our consciousness. It would be naive to believe that police officers, judges and lawyers are completely free from their own moral prejudices. In fact, investigations into so-called false rape accusations have shown that cases were labelled as such simply based on the police officers’ judgment (for example if the victim did not “appear credible” because she had personal relations with the aggressor), or because the allegations were later withdrawn or retracted (for which there could be many reasons that don’t exclude the actual veracity of the crime).

The numbers that I could find for actual false allegations of rape and sexual assault are settled somewhere between 3% and 9%; an almost insignificant amount when compared to other crimes. These numbers need to be recalled when talking about alleged false accusations. Following the media reports during such high-profile cases as the DSK scandal, one could easily get the impression that false allegations among women are rampant, when this is simply not the case. Feminists have fought for centuries to actually make rape a crime under any circumstances and to make it possible for women to report these crimes and be taken seriously. An increase in charges can therefore be considered progress, not the result of some feminist conspiracy in order to oppress men. But the reinterpretation of the male aggressor as the actual victim is a common and unfortunate trend. This becomes evident in the reappropriation of certain terms or sayings, such as the proverbial elevator, which women were not supposed to share alone with a man in order to protect themselves from sexual assault. These days the common belief is that it is the man who should avoid riding an elevator with a single female, in order to protect himself from false accusations.

The idea is that women are now in a more powerful position, in which they can destroy a man’s reputation and life in a moment’s notice, when in fact accusing someone of rape is not equal to a Sunday afternoon stroll. Victims have to endure medical tests and, of course, repeated interrogations that are often traumatizing, as well as detailed investigations into their most intimate private lives. In the process, women are often subjected to the judgment, scrutiny and misgivings of male doctors, police officers and judges, which is not to say their female counterparts were immune to the pervasiveness of rape myths.

Rape myths protect men as sexual aggressors in allowing them to justify their actions, while at the same time calming the public: after all, it could never happen to them or their daughters, because they play by the rules (i.e. don’t drink alcohol, don’t wear “slutty” clothes, aren’t promiscuous…). Moreover, they help to manifest hierarchical power structures between men and women, in that they encourage women to self-police and to seek the “protection” of other men, whereas men are allowed to do as they please and to shift responsibility to the victims. Claiming that in large parts women falsely accuse men of rape is a false accusation in itself. It is another rape myth that needs to be publicly debunked in order to ensure that women no longer remain silent about their suffering. Innocent until proven guilty – we have to remember to apply this first and foremost to the victim.

edgar degas "interior (the rape)" 1868/1869


about false allegations: Liz Kelly, The (In)credible Words of Women: False Allegations in European Rape Research, 2010.

about the power of rape myths (in German): Susen Werner, Stereotype Vorstellungen über Vergewaltigungen (Vergewaltigungsmythenakzeptanz) als Prädiktoren der Beurteilung von Vergewaltigungsdelikten durch RechtsanwältInnen, 2011.

a brief summary about the most common rape myths: click here

The Discrediting of Feminism as Collateral Damage of the WikiLeaks Affair

I am not going to start hypothesizing about the ongoing justice drama around WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Too much of that has been done already, perhaps too much to adequately assess the situation. They’ve all had their share in the discussion: Naomi Wolf, Jessica Valenti and Michael Moore. They all get a lot of things right – and a lot of things wrong. The left-wing progressives in favor of Julian Assange tend to misquote the actual rape allegations because it just makes so much more sense to disqualify a law that supposedly condemns consensual unprotected sex. Which it doesn’t. The feminist blogosphere likes to ignore all the shady details that have led to the Interpol search warrant, for example the fact that Assange was willing to remain in Sweden to testify and shed some more light onto the case, but was ignored and granted the right to leave the country. Before I get more caught up in the confusing amount of details – right or wrong, who knows? – there’s only one more thing to say: No matter how this case turns out, the feminist community can only lose.

Why is the feminist community at stake, you might wonder? Well, it probably has something to do with the fact that Julian Assange was accused of rape in a country that is well-known for being one of the most progressive nations in the world concerning gender equality, and that at least one of the alleged victims is known to be a radical feminist in her home country. Of course, in that case, the allegations must be false and the woman a liar…

Needless to say, feminism will be blamed, no matter what the outcome may be. I see only two possible scenarios:

  1. Assange is proven guilty and jailed, which sooner or later will most likely result in his extradition to the United States, a worst-case scenario for Assange and a threat to future whistle-blowers and truth activists. In that case, the feminist community will be blamed forever for being so ‘petty-minded’ about something so seemingly ‘irrelevant’ compared to the relevance of Assange’s global image as protector of the right to information and government transparency.
  2. Assange is declared innocent and freed, and feminism will be blamed for creating a culture that encourages women to lie about rape and sexual assault to have it their way, thus disqualifying rape survivors and feminist activists against sexual exploitation all over the world.

Can anyone please think of a third option with a better outcome?

Two more things:

  1. No matter what happens, WikiLeaks will continue, and so will OpenLeaks, and that is a good thing.
  2. Anyone remember Bradley Manning?