Friday, January 7, 2011

A Different Kind of Crime

[TW: Sexual assault, harassment]

Feminist Naomi Wolf is advocating an end to anonymous rape accusations, arguing that such accusations are unethical and ultimately damaging to women.

There is much to unpack in her piece, but we can examine the key flaw by examining this paragraph:

"Feminists have long argued that rape must be treated like any other crime. But in no other crime are accusers' identities hidden. Treating rape differently serves only to maintain its mischaracterisation as a 'different' kind of crime, loaded with cultural baggage."

It's one of the oldest "gotchas" in the anti-feminist playbook to use the concept of "equal treatment" against women. One of the bases of our legal system rests in treating likes alike and unalikes unalike. Thus, Wolf asserts that a crime is a crime is a crime; they are all alike and isn't that what the feminists wanted all along, to be treated just like men?

Well, ok. But the thing is, rape is a different kind of crime. To categorize it as a crime just like any other elides these distinctions which justify different treatment. What Wolf minimizes as "cultural baggage" is that:

Unlike burglarly or murder or carjacking, women are 5 times as likely as men to be raped (PDF) and it is almost always men who are the rapist (PDF).

Unlike burglarly or murder or carjacking, the majority of rapes (60%) are never reported to the police.

Unlike burglarly or murder or carjacking, rape culture narratives tell us that the survivors of rape asked for it, are lying about it, agreed to it, deserved it, and/or liked it. These narratives are both widely believed and help explain the preceding statistic regarding the non-reportage of rapes.

Rape is different because rape culture narratives tell us that the mass rape of women as a weapon of war is a "women's rights" issue, rather than a human rights one, because unlike more readily-recognizable (that is, masculinized) human rights violations like water-boarding, rape happens mostly to women.

Rape is different because rape culture narratives put the onus for rape prevention on women while also telling women that such empowerment is dangerous because men might be harmed by our newfound skills.

Rape is different because rape culture narratives tell us that men are entitled to sexual access to women and it is a violation of men's rights to put limits upon that access. Indeed, hell can unleash no fury like that which is unleashed upon women, feminists, and feminist bloggers who question that access. And so, Melissa at Shakesville writes:

"I'll simply note that [Wolf's] premise is intrinsically flawed as it's based on the erroneous assumption that we shield accusers because of some antiquated notion that rape is shameful. We do not. We shield accusers because survivors are routinely revictimized by rape apologists."

Item: When Keith Olbermann shared the link to the name of one of Julian Assange's accusers with his 166,533 Twitter followers, he not only contributed to the receipt of death threats by Assange's accusers, but to the receipt of death and rape threats of the STFU-because-women's-"pussies"-belong-to-men type targeting feminist bloggers who criticized Olbermann's actions.

Until all of the above circumstances change, it would be unwarranted, unwise, and unsafe to follow Wolf's brand of rape-is-just-like-any-other crime equality feminism which mandates that if men don't need something like anonymity in rape accusations (or don't imagine they will ever need it), then nobody gets it.*

*Tip o' the beret to Catharine MacKinnon.

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