Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Friday, February 5, 2010

You CAN Prevent Your Own Rape, You Know

The Rape of Lucretia by TitianImage via Wikipedia
I heard it from an expert.

I've been at an otherwise pretty good two-day workshop that was supposed to be on the neurobiology of trauma, but turned out to be a whole lot about treatment. The seminar leader is a genuine nice guy, a brilliant researcher and clinician who has devoted his career to helping people recover from trauma.

In some ways, I think, that makes what happened today even worse.

He was telling us about a case of a martial artist who was raped, and suggested that women like her get raped because they are unaware of their surroundings and/or are frightened into immobility due to past trauma. He clearly could not think of any possibility other than something about the victim. And I gotta give it to him, maybe she was spaced out--trauma survivors often are. Maybe she did freeze--trauma survivors often do. But still. Why be trying to puzzle out what it is about the victim that gets her raped? That makes me want to set my own head on fire.

Maybe it was a "blitz attack", which of course by definition would mean she wouldn't have known she was even being attacked until she was already down. Or maybe her rapist had a weapon: I have to ask--do men really believe that a martial artist can kick a gun out of an attacker's hand like good ol' Chuck Norris on the teevee? And then there's the rapist who comes in through the bathroom window in the middle of the night and has you under his control before you even wake up. Now how you gonna karate-kick his ass outta bed with your legs all tangled up in the kivvers? And then there was the woman I knew whose attacker told her if she cooperated, he wouldn't harm the children sleeping in the next room: All the martial arts training in the world won't trump that one.

And seriously, even assuming a normal (i.e., non-traumatized) level of awareness, how far can tracking your surroundings possibly take you? You can only watch your back-trail so closely before you get a crick in your neck--or worse, stumble into traffic. A guy who's determined to sneak up on you will. Or jump out from behind something: Can you see through tree trunks, around corners of buildings? I can't. And how aware can we be when we are sleeping in our own beds? 

The expert thinks it is empowering to teach a woman to kick the shit out of a model in pads and a helmet. He noted her proud stance after the class and said something to the effect of, 'Now she's in control of her own destiny.' The sheer illogic of this is stunning when a lifetime of training in martial arts didn't protect her. (I've seen this from a women's self-defense expert, too, who repeatedly tweets that it is up to you to be appropriately assertive--in control--so you don't get raped.)

Let us note that one in every six women in the U.S. will be assaulted in her lifetime. Maybe it's just me, but I think that's frequent enough to suggest that we are not, in fact, in control of our own destinies--at least not when it comes to rape. Indeed, that kind of thinking sounds to me like a form of privilege: The not-raped can believe they did/do something to earn/deserve that status ("I kicked the shit out of him!" or "I'm always aware of my surroundings." Always? Really?). That kind of thinking allows the not-raped to feel safe and secure in the fantasy that "it will never happen to me" and to look down on victim/survivors as people who screwed up somehow.

But I digress. I'm sure beating up on that guy in class was fun for her. And maybe all women should know some self-defense. But shouldn't anybody think that's going to necessarily prevent a rape (see above). Heck, it might get her hurt worse or even get her killed, because some rapists escalate when you fight back, either because it angers them or because they are excited by it.

These are all reasons why it is both cruel and ignorant to blame women for not paying sufficient attention to what every potential rapist within arm's reach might or might not be doing, or for not fighting off a dude who outweighs her, has a longer reach, has got the drop on her, or who is carrying a weapon--or all of the above. I'm sure the presenter didn't mean to blame anybody, but that is, precisely, victim-blaming.

My stance has always been (and I learned this at Grady's Rape Crisis Clinic back in the '70s, by the way--I don't get original credit for it) that whatever the woman does and survives is the correct thing. I wasn't there. You weren't there. The expert wasn't there. She was. She read the situation and handled it instinctively--and survived. That right there gets her a grade of A+.

The scary part, again, is this guy is a recognized expert who amply demonstrated a high level of sensitivity at other times during a career spanning decades. If he can have a mental lacunae like this. . . well, I just despair sometimes.

And of course he's not the only professional to do this, nor is it always a man. A recent report of a "female" getting raped in a park caused a female psychologist to nearly throw herself onto Twitter to warn "girls" not to go to parks alone or after hours. I clicked on the link and found that the original news article had never specified the victim's age, the time of day, or whether she was alone. Never mind that none of these things is in the least bit relevant anyway, because rape, dear readers, is caused by rapists.
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incurable hippie said...

Great post! I've blogged about it here:

mamie said...

What a thought-provoking post, Virginia. I have forwarded it to my youngest daughter, a graduate student in womens' studies at Columbia.

Anna said...

i love this post. i am continuously baffled by "blame the victim" messages, whether discreet or more overt, as in the case you had to suffer through here.

this reminds me of a great thread i read late last year, a response to "tips" given to women to prevent their own sexual assault:

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

Adelaide Dupont said...

I would have said that kicking someone was the opposite of empowering.

Anny Jacoby recommends some of that sort of thing, but she focuses on the mental/mindset part of it.

Anny Jacoby

Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

"I would have said that kicking someone was the opposite of empowering."

How come? What would be? I wish you'd said more!

Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

@Anna: There were easily 200 people at that workshop. If about 60% were women, and one in six of those had been assaulted. . . then "suffer" is exactly what at least 20 women did during that part of the talk.

As a disabled woman, all those recommendations to run or fight back make me crazy anyway. I like your tips much better!

Adelaide Dupont said...

Something probably more empowering than kicking would be rolling.

You might be down on the floor, for instance, and you turn yourself around.

There is probably not much difference between kicking and the martial arts way about it.

Whatever you do, the other person will do back, or try to stay a step ahead of you.

The thing is, you want to keep them away.

So a push that isn't quite a push would probably do.

And then there is always screaming.