Fighting the Rape Culture
The gruesome rape of a 23 year old woman on a bus in India brought home graphically the intersection of sex and power. The sex-power relationship is the defining element of rape because men gain power over women by controlling and violating them sexually.
Researchers know rape as a gendered crime, that is, a crime against women that is perpetrated by men. Most rape victims are female, a small percentage of about 2% are male, but virtually all rapists are male.
Victim characteristics do not seem to predict whether a woman will be raped or not. Factors such as how she dresses, whether or not she acts “provocatively”, whether she is at home or on the street, sexually active or not, are not related to becoming a rape victim. It appears that the best predictor of whether or not one will be raped is gender—being female.
Guyana can be described as a rape culture where the act of rape is normative, meaning it is essentially a condoned behaviour. Although there are laws against rape, rarely are perpetrators charged or convicted. In a recent study, “Without Conviction: Sexual Violence Cases in The Guyana Justice Process”, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) shows an average conviction rate of 1.4% in rape cases compared to rape reports originally made to the police (9 convictions out of 647 reports) over the years 2000-2004. This average figure disguises a trend which is even worse. The conviction rate for 2000, the first of the five years, was 0.9% (1:117) while that for the final year, 2004, was 0.6% (1:154). Thus we regulate rather than prohibit rape.
Rape culture is further enabled by sex role socialization practices that teach non-overlapping ideas of masculinity and femininity. Boys are expected to be tough, independent, competitive and aggressive. The socialization of sexual aggression in males is complemented by a culture that uses rape as entertainment in film, video and pornography. Girls are socialized to be gentle, vulnerable, nurturing and physically weaker than males.
Female socialization as victims is complemented by an almost complete lack of training and support for resisting rape. In fact, the most common myth about rape resistance is that if a woman fights back against a rapist, she is more likely to be injured than if she submits.
Women are conditioned to believe the strong cultural message that rape resistance is both futile and dangerous. Despite socialization to the contrary, it is surprising to learn that women are more likely to escape a would-be rapist than to be raped by him.
Psychologists are in complete agreement with the consistent evidence that shows that resistance may prevent rape and resistance poses no increased risk of injury. Surveys have shown that most people think that injury is the most likely outcome of resistance even though no empirical evidence supports this view.
There are many benefits of resistance aside from escaping being raped. Women who fight back have a stronger sense of having done all they could and thus are less likely to blame themselves for what happened. Women who do not resist are more likely to be raped, more often blamed for the rape and are likely to suffer the associated physical and psychological after effects of rape.
If the woman wants to prosecute the man who raped her she will face disbelief from juries because the lack of resistance increases judgments that she consented. The more she resists the more certain are jurors that a rape occurred. This is the classic damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.
Self-defence mastery is a radical act because it confronts rape culture by removing men’s control over women’s physical bodies. It challenges the sex-power relationship that is the defining element of rape. It empowers women by reducing the constant fear of rape that acts to imprison women in their homes and keep them in unhealthy relationships with male “protectors.” Most potent of all, self-defence mastery emboldens women by enabling increased freedom of action—the freedom to go, to do, to be.