July 31st, 2012
A while ago I put up a post about techniques with which sexual harassement can be excused. That was just after the news about Genevieve Valentine being sexually harassed at Readercon had broken; it was in fact partial inspiration for my post. In the weeks since and especially since the weekend this incident has blown up into a classic firestorm, as once she had reported this harassement, the concom turned out not to be following its own zero tolerance rules for dealing with harassement. Her harasser, one René Walling (Oblegal: allegedly) was not banned forever from the con, but for just two years, with speculation online being this was because he was somewhat of a big cheese in that particular part of fandom.
Needless to say, that set the cat amongst the pigeons, as you can see from the link summation at BC Holmes’ blog, who also linked to my post which was the first I noticed about this, as suddenly my hitcounter started revving up. Reading through the assorted links, via syrens, I found the following post, meet the predators, which isn’t about the Readercon situation directly, but which goes to the heart of it nonetheless. It does so because it looks at the research that’s done about rapists and other sexual predators and what they are like and what needs to be done to stop them:
First, the stranger-force rape is a small proportion of rapes, and is all but absent from the samples of self-reporters. Other research** shows that lack of prior acquaintance and use of the weapon are the only significant factors that increase the likelihood that a victim will report the offense. Attacking strangers with force or weapons is the only pattern of victimization at all likely to lead to incarceration of the rapist, let’s face it — so those who commit rape in the way that follows the script may be already in jail, not in college or the Navy filling out surveys. The rapists who are out there are mostly using intoxication, and mostly attacking victims they know.
Second, the sometimes-floated notion that acquaintance rape is simply a mistake about consent, is wrong. (See Amanda Hess’s excellent takedown here.) The vast majority of the offenses are being committed by a relatively small group of men, somewhere between 4% and 8% of the population, who do it again … and again … and again. That just doesn’t square with the notion of innocent mistake. Further, since the repeaters are also responsible for a hugely disproportionate share of the intimate partner violence, child beating and child sexual abuse, the notion that these predators are somehow confused good guys does not square with the data. Most of the raping is done by guys who like to rape, and to abuse, assault and violate. If we could get the one-in-twelve or one-in-25 repeat rapists out of the population (that is a lot of men — perhaps six or twelve million men in the U.S. alone) or find a way to stop them from hurting others, most sexual assault, and a lot of intimate partner violence and child abuse, would go away. Really.
I’m directing this to men who inhabit het-identified social spaces, and I’m not really limiting it more than that. Women are already doing what they can to prevent rape; brokering a peace with the fear is part of their lives that we can never fully understand. We’re the ones who are not doing our jobs.
Here’s what we need to do. We need to spot the rapists, and we need to shut down the social structures that give them a license to operate. They are in the population, among us. They have an average of six victims, women that they know, and therefore likely some women you know. They use force sometimes, but mostly they use intoxicants. They don’t accidentally end up in a room with a woman too drunk or high to consent or resist; they plan on getting there and that’s where they end up.
The harassement Genevieve Valentine suffered fortunately didn’t escalate to outright rape, which of course doesn’t make it any less awful, but we as a fan community must police this sort of behaviour better, not excuse it, not minimise it, not put the sole burden on women to make sure they’re not being hassled, or there will be rapes — if there haven’t been already. As the research in Thomas’ post shows, the good news is that the number of male rapists is limited; the bad news is that it’s the behaviour of all other men, decent, non-raping men, that either encourages or inhibits them. It’s not fair that we should be responsible for their actions, but it’s even less far that more women get harassed or worse by them because we couldn’t be bothered.
The analogy I was thinking about reading that post was about drink driving. Once upon a time, not too long ago, drink driving was something nobody really minded and getting behind the wheel with half a dozen brewskis was something to brag about. It was always only a minority of drivers who really got drunk behind the wheel, but many more who didn’t hold responsible for that or joked about it or perhaps went a little bit too far themselves occasionally as well. But once the true costs of this negligence became known and public opinion was shifted, drink driving and the deaths it caused became much rarer.
The same needs to happen to rape and sexual harassement. Most of us would never think of doing that to anybody, but as long as we make excuses for our friends or co-workers or family members who do, we keep alive the culture that makes rape possible.