Friday, July 31, 2015

On Rape on Campus

Since I saw Into the Wild and started reading Krakauer, I haven't stopped. But this last one took a while to open. It's about rape on college campuses, specifically in one football-lovin' town: Missoula.

The book is readable only because the rape scenes are reported factually and "reporter-ly" without any emotional language attached to the narrative. But the descriptions are still really detailed.
"Females between sixteen and twenty-four years old face a higher risk of being sexually assaulted than any other age group. Most victims of campus rape are preyed upon when they are in their first or second year of college, usually by someone they know" (346). 
And if you have a daughter in university, like I do, you might try covering your ears and eyes and singing, "Tra-la-la, I can't hear you!" But it'll still be a problem. The women in this book sometimes were drinking at parties, but other times they were just watching a movie with an old friend. That's the creepy part about sexual assault: we can never tell who might be an offender. Ever.

Like his other books, Krakauer tells us what we all know, but he also helps us to understand the perspectives of all the people involved whether it's why people climb mountains, live in the woods alone, enlist in the army voluntarily, accept the arranged marriages of children within a religious order, or start undressing a woman who's asleep on the couch. We're helped to understand behaviours that may be totally foreign to us.

This is a frustrating book to read as we watch a guy who has confessed to a crime routinely acquitted because he's so necessary at next week's game. Some people are valued more than others. This 5-minute video really hits the nail on the head with respect to the connection between football and assault:


"Football isn't about rape. It's about violently dominating anything that stands between you and anything you want. You gotta get yourself in the mindset that you are gods! And you're entitled to this! Are they just going to lay down and give it to you? No! You've got to go out there and take it from them!"
In my class last year, early on in the spate of Jian Ghomeshi accusations, I had a student who insisted the first accuser must be lying because, had she really been assaulted, she would have immediately gone to the police to report it. I took the better part of a class trying to explain why that just isn't true. Krakauer does an excellent job explaining the psychology of trauma victims.
"...when people are raped, the experience is so traumatic that it often causes them to behave in wide variety of ways that may seem inexplicable....the fact that they didn't immediately make a break for it, or the fact that they didn't scream - none of those things necessarily mean that this was a consensual encounter" (70).
But all too often, judges and juries don't understand this reality. Women who don't cause a ruckus during the act - even if they are statue still for their own survival - are deemed liars. Women who don't call the police immediately - even if it means a second, different type of violation at the hands of the defence attorney - are called liars.

One women, sleeping in bed next to her husband and son, woke up to find their guest's fingers penetrating her vagina. But she just lay there. In court, the defence asked what she was thinking.  She said she was thinking,
"Oh my God, I hope my husband doesn't wake up....He would have killed this guy, and my four-year-old son laying next to me, his life would have been ruined, my life would have been ruined, and my husband's life would have been ruined. So my first thought was 'I hope he doesn't wake up'" (71).
Sometimes being still and silent is necessary for survival, even if it's for a more long-term survival, which can be more difficult to understand by outside observers.

It's really hard to get a conviction unless the case is very clear-cut, so some attorneys won't even try to take the case to court. It's just not expedient.

False accusations do happen, but they're relatively rare:
"...the prevalence of false allegations is between 2 percent and 10 percent; that figure was based on eight methodologically rigorous studies....These findings contradict the still widely promulgated stereotype that false rape allegations are a common occurrence....Such assertions not only undermine rational discourse but also damage individual victims of sexual violence. The stereotype that false rape allegations are a common occurrence, a widely held misconception in broad swaths of society, including among police officers, has very direct and concrete consequences. It contributes to the enormous problems of underreporting by victims of rape and sexual abuse...[and] to negative responses to victims who do report, whether by family members or by personnel within the criminal justice system....their approach to victims can easily become more akin to hostile interrogation than to fact finding. Rape is the most underreported serious crime in the nation...at least 80 percent of rapes are never disclosed to law enforcement agencies" (109-110).
But more disconcerting, Krakauer noted the disparity in the scrutiny and effort on the part of attorneys and the judicial system to determine culpability:
"Police and prosecutors generally do a pretty good job of weeding out false rape accusations to avoid charging the innocent. But cops and prosecutors are not nearly as conscientious when it comes to pursuing charges against those who are guilty. This is borne out by statistics indicating, indisputably, that the overwhelming majority of rapists get away scot-free....more than 90 percent of the time the rapist gets away with the crime" (109-110).
He also notes studies that indicate that very few men ever consider raping anyone. The number of assaults is caused directly by repeat offenders who don't get caught - the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosbys of the world.
"The serial rapists hidden in plain sight among us...harbor all the usual myths and misconceptions about rape....they share this common idea that a rapist is a guy in a ski mask, wielding a knife, who drags women into the bushes. But these undetected rapists don't wear masks or wield knives or drag women into the bushes. So they had absolutely no sense of themselves as rapists and were only too happy to talk about their sexual behaviors....Additionally, we now have data showing they are more narcissistic than average. So they are caught up in their own worldview. They lack the ability to see what they do from the perspective of their victims....They exist in their own world, and in their world there is often a tremendous sense of entitlement" (118-119).
Krakauer also explores the pressure on media figures to spin these crimes in the way that bests serves the community - i.e. to make it all go away. Nothing illustrates this reality better than an episode of BoJack Horseman - but you need Netflix to see it.  It's Season 2, Episode 7, in which "Diane finds herself in hot water when she accuses a beloved personality named Hank Hippopopalous for having sexual relations with his assistants during Princess Carolyn's book promotion of BoJack's autobiography in paperback form." The media's job is to expose the truth, not to keep everyone happy, but this episode sheds light on how difficult it can be to be a journalist in the midst of an unsavoury story. The journalist in Missoula was denigrated as much as the victims were. Torturously so.

And Krakauer looks at why so many take the side of the perpetrator with a quotation from Judith Lewis Herman:
"It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering" (189).
There's no clear reaction from a victim to prove they're a victim, and there's no clear behaviours of a rapists to tell if they're a rapist until they're caught:
"There's no profile of a rapist that you can use to say either somebody is or that somebody isn't....We all like to think that we would be able to recognize the sort of person who might be a rapist..., but the truth is, we can't....It's not uncommon...for victims to go back and forth between feeling like something really bad happened to them, and being very confused, and even trying to deny that something bad happened to them...as a way of trying to essentially tell themselves that, no, something bad didn't happen to me" (251-4). 
So women will sometimes even give their assailant a ride home afterwards. That's the power of denial. They'll blame themselves because "self-blame is much easier and feels better than living in fear" (255).

Finally, from the jacket liner:
"Krakauer's dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these women endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. College-age women are not raped because they are promiscuous, or drunk, or send mixed signals, or feel guilty about casual sex, or seek attention They are the victims of a terrible crime and deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken."

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