Thursday, May 04, 2006

An In-Depth Look at Rape

In her novel, "Lucky" Alice Sebold recounts the incident that changed her life. She was a freshman at Syracuse University in 1981 when she was attacked by a strange man and brutally raped in a dark tunnel. At the time Alice was only 18, now in her 30s and a successful New York Times Magazine contributor, she looks back on the event that shaped so much of her life.

The title of the book refers to Sebold's luck… she was attacked by a serial rapist but not murdered. But she was also lucky because her case was easy to prosecute. She was a virgin prior to the rape, she was wearing bulky clothing, and her rapist beat her, leaving unmistakable evidence of violence. In her novel, she addresses these facts and draws attention to the nature of rape in this country. At one point, the defense attorney in the case insinuated that because she was wearing "Calvin Klein" jeans she was somehow sending out a signal.

Sebold's rapist was convicted, but many rape cases are more complex. Many rape victims know their assailant, maybe they have had a previous sexual relationship with him/her, or at the time of the assault they were under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Many of these rapes have little or no physical evidence to present. But ask yourselves, why is the trial focusing on the character or sexual history of the victim? Why does society approach victims of rape this way? We have already discussed that our cultural perceptions of women affect the way we treat them. We approach women with:

Double standard-- if they initiate sex they are sluts
Stereotypes-- women who are victims of rape were asking for it or deserved it
No respect-- viewing them as commodities rather than independent sexual beings

But is there something deeper?
Alice Sebold's book is a personal story of a real life crime, but when we see rape portrayed by media or movies, what is different?

Movies that showcase false rape

Consider the movie, Wild Things where a high school guidance counselor, Sam (Matt Dillon), is accused by two students, first Kelly (Denise Richards) and then Suzie (Neve Campbell) of sexual assault. Both girls give convincing testimony on the stand and to authorities of their rapes. They appear genuine victims, giving specific details of their alleged assaults, all the while crying and exhibiting signs of being victimized. It is revealed later that these girls are really carrying out an elaborate con to gain money. They are also portrayed as very promiscuous. The tagline for this movie, "they're dying to play with you."
Or the movie Disclosure where Tom (Michael Douglas) is nearly sexually assaulted by his boss, a very seductive Meredith played by Demi Moore. When Douglas' character charges her with sexual harassment, her demeanor instantly changes to a demure, innocent woman who has been the victim. The audience knows the real truth- this woman is conniving and depraved and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. The tagline for this movie is "sex is power."
An older movie, The Crush features a teenager, Darian (Alicia Silverstone) obsessed with a 20 something neighbor man, Nick (Cary Elwes). When he resists her advances she sneaks into his home, steals a used condom, plants semen on herself and then accuses him of rape. In the picture: Alicia Silverstone (portrayed highly-sexualized at 14) accuses Cary Elwes of rape. Her character is mentally unstable, murdering and vicious.
Kevin Spacey stars in The Life of David Gale as a successful professor whose entire career and family life is shattered when a student accuses him of rape. In this scenario, the girl initially tries to seduce Spacey's character for a grade and he resists. Later at a party he engages in consensual sex with her, she encourages him to be rough (ripping her clothes, etc). She later goes to authorities and reports it as a rape using physical evidence from their encounter.
***All of these movies paint a picture where men are often and easily made victims of women's plots to accuse them of rape.
If a woman in Hollywood takes a role of a highly-sexualized character, she runs the risk of being portrayed as animalistic, evil and cunning. Movies like Fatal Attraction (Glenn Close), Basic Instinct (Sharon Stone) and Disclosure (Demi Moore) all portray sexualized women as something to fear, something immoral and without any redeeming values.

***Other movies to watch closely and see how they deal with rape/sexual politics:
-- To Kill a Mockingbird (white women falsely accusing black man)
-- Rules of Attraction (victim of date rape begins relationship with attacker)
-- Devil's Advocate (Woman believed to be suffering from hallucinations is raped, no one believes her)
-- The Accused (Jodi Foster's character is gang raped in bar. She is accused of dressing and acting like she wanted it)
-- Gone with the Wind (Scarlet is slapped and dragged upstairs by her husband -- this is "romance?")
-- The World is Not Enough (abducted and abused woman played by actress Sophie Marceau falls in love with attacker, begins sexual relationship)
-- Pretty Woman (prostitute played by Julia Roberts is nearly raped by a man who believes she will sleep with anyone)
-- Boys Don't Cry (Hillary Swank's character is raped when a group of men discover she is genetically female, not male)
-- Leaving Las Vegas (Elisabeth Shue portrays a prostitute who is brutally assaulted and raped by a group of 20-something white men)

Misconceptions addressed:
"Many women who report being raped are lying"
How many rapes are reported falsely?

***The word "unfounded", as the police use it, is a technical term meaning "not enough evidence to proceed to trial." It does not mean that the accusation was necessarily false.

Steve Thompson, considered to be one of America's leading experts on the topic of sexual aggression and the Sexual Assault Services Coordinator at Central Michigan University, stated that in an average of 1,000 reports of rape, only one report is false.

The following information is from: Joanne Archambault, Sergeant (Retired SDPD) SATI, Inc. Training Director:

"After literally decades of feminist lobbying and demands for better treatment of rape victims, many police agencies across America are still stuck in a 1950s-era view of sexual assault.
Despite the official promises that victims would be treated with sensitivity, police frequently don't understand how to achieve that goal. And although thousands of dedicated law enforcement officers want to do the right thing, there often is little support for sex crimes investigators. Rape complaints often are not properly investigated when police departments don't allocate the necessary resources to do the work or train their investigators.
There are huge differences in the estimates given for the rate of false reporting of sexual assault. Studies and surveys range from 0% to 98%. This is not surprising given the differences in definitions and the different ways of determining a complaint to be false and then recording it.
Many professionals working in the field of sexual assault contribute to the problem by citing statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Code without understanding the definition or the source."

Ø Investigators should not be able to “unfound” a sexual assault allegation without evidence that the crime did not occur.
Ø Unfounding is often used for cases that don’t fit the stereotype of “real” rape.
Ø Many of the victims affected by improper unfounding are women of color, prostitutes, drug addicts or simply acquainted with their assailant
Ø Improper unfounding fuels the myth of false allegations.

Keep all this in mind as you watch the Duke case unfold. In my area of the world, very similar accusations have come to light. Check out this article


Anonymous said...

My God, your life must be a living hell. I've seen your blogs and know you like to post a lot of facts, which I'm assuming you take a lot of time to dig up. That alone must take up a great portion of your day. I've also seen the dedication you put into disproving people while trying to make them feel about an inch high because of the views they express in the comments section. By the way, that's borderline cyber-bullying. Now, you are analyzing the ever-living crap out of advertising and the film industry. I'm sure if I looked real hard at "Sex And The City" I would see that the women in the show treat men like objects also. Who cares? And don't even spout some crap like "...people need to realize the gravity of these situations, and everyone needs to know what is happening." What will that honestly do? Make people more aware of something, true, but it's still ALWAYS going to happen in society. These crimes against humanity (not just women because it hurts society as a whole) will never end, thus is human nature. You never look at the big picture, and this is what limits you. It must truly be a living hell to live like that and see through narrowed eyes.

Take your time to write a "witty and clever" repsonse. Or just consider this some sort of horrible perosnal attack on your character. Either way, I don't really care enough to ever check back.

Tobes said...

Cyber bullying? I think I could give some valid examples of that in the many, many comments I can't post on this blog because it talks about "killing all the bullshit women who don't know when the shut the hell up and fall in line."

I assure you I have a happy and fulfilling life that I enjoy very much. Don't worry about me. Although I'm sure you won't... you're not coming back right?

Finally, and most importantly… I refuse to accept that violence has to be accepted as “human nature” especially violence committed by people who are intimates. I realize that violence is something we cannot hope to ever completely end but I know we can do more as a society to ensure the safety of women, men AND children within relationships. And of course, how to better educate our police force, as this blog entry suggests. That way a rape victim is treated adequately and with care.

Midge said...

Oh my God. How can you possibly say that 'these things will always be there' as if we should just ignore them as if we didn't have a thought in our pretty little heads. Give me a break.

I'm sure that that's what the proponents for slavery and segregation said. 'It's always going to be like this, so we might as well just accept it'-- and it is true that racism still exists in every level of society, but you have to admit that it's a FAR cry from how bad it was even just forty years ago.

It is true that rapes will always happen-- they will. But what CAN stop is the way that a rape victim feels about themselves in the aftermath, and the way that rapists are prosecuted, and the way that rape is defined and regarded in our society as a whole.

Netro said...

Such grand ideas. Unfortunately, I think what anon. was getting at is that there will never be an end to crime no matter how much devotion you put towards the education of others about it. How exactly do you propose to make a rapist feel any different after they rape someone? For you, midge, to compare what anon. said to slavery is simply ludicrous, creative and inventive, but ludicrous. Why would a proponent of slavery say something to the effect of "It's always going to be like this, so we might as well just accept it." Wouldn't they be saying something more like "I hope slavery exists forever and that everyone will have to accept it." That's what a proponent is, someone who supports the idea, an advocate if you will, not someone who simply accepts it. I doubt anon. was advocating rape, or crime in general, at all. He simply stated a fact. One that has been known for centuries I should add. How you choose to interpret that is your own business I suppose, but I stand with anon.

Alaina, WI said...

To the first anonymous--

You say "My God, your life must be a living hell."

Well at least Tobes is taking time to research her points an advocating some ideas to change the system-- better police response, an awareness of what the media's part in interpreting rape etc.

I think YOUR life must be the real hell. I mean, she at least has passion, you just sound bitter and stupid. What are you doing to make your life so worthwhile but going around and posting angry teenage rants on someone else's blog? Get a life.

It's true that violence is a part of human history, but I don't believe we have no responsibility in changing it. Most people dont' want it to be this way so why should it be this way? if we acknowledge the problem we can fix it.

What would have happened if people said of Hitler. "Well that country hates the Jews, and that's not going to change." Or how people reacted to the civil rights movement. I guess blacks were just supposed to sit in the back of the bus and go to shittier schools cause that's the way it is- no point trying to change it or raise awareness. I guess Dr. King was just wasting his time.

Not that we can compare a blog with Martin Luther King but come on, never knock someone for trying to end violence, ESEPCIALLY when they bring up some good ideas and valid points doing it.

People like this anonymous make me sick. If you want to peddle your lazy, pathetic message, open your own blog and call it "Let's not address the atrocities going on in the world."

I'm sure you'll have many visitors.