Rape is a phenomenon that really puts the relationship between the sexes to the test, and illustrates how hard it can be to handle both sexes’ needs, worries and fears simultaneously when discussing equality. It is probably one of the issues where each sex finds it hardest to grasp the experience of the other.
I don’t think men can fully relate to how it is being a woman and living with the concept of rape; the fear and powerlessness before such a hideous crime. Sure, men can feel fear and powerlessness facing threats too, and the risk of being physically assaulted in public spaces is much higher as a male. Still, I suspect that the violation of personal integrity is worse if the offence is something as intimate as a sexual act.
On the other hand, I don’t think women can fully relate to the horror and panic a man can feel facing the risk of being falsely accused of this crime. “Surely it’s not as bad to be falsely accused of a crime as it is to suffer the actual crime?”, some may ask. Well, perhaps, and I don’t aim to compete in victimhood. I still don’t think very many women understand how horrible that thought is to most men. Being made out as a rapist, or even by insinuation being made out as a potential one, is a social stigma of gravity.
Hence rape is a topic where the sexes do wisely to respect each other’s experiences, but enough with that. Let’s look at a bit more concrete questions of importance for an overall equality discussion:
- Do we live in a rape culture?
- Do all men have a shared responsibility and guilt for rapes committed?
- How do we design a legal system that can fully cope with the rape problem?
Before trying to answer these questions, let’s look at some relevant statistics (from Sweden):
In 2013 there were 17’400 sex crimes reported, and 5’900 of these (34%) were rapes. Together sex crimes constitute 1,2% of all crimes reported.
During the last decade there’s been a noticeable increase in reported rapes. According to BRÅ (the Swedish government agency in charge of crime-preventing policies and programs) the lion part of the increase is due to changes in legislation, where more types of offences have been included in the “rape” term. The rest of the increase is explained by an increase in inclination to report, and no actual increase in rape occurrences can be seen.
When looking at own-reported occurrences of sex offences, 1,1% of all women say they have been the victim of any type of sexual offence (including verbal harassment) during the last year. (The share for men is 0,3%.) Out of these, 59% claim it was a one-time offence.
Out of all self-reported incidents, approximately 80% were with a male perpetrator and a female victim. Female to male constituted 6%, male to male 11%, and female to female 3%.
In 2011, the resolution share for reported sexual offences was 55%. “Resolution” here equals any outcome, from conviction in court to “proven not an actual offence”. Approximately 5-7% of all reported rapes lead to conviction, and then prison is the outcome in 86% of the cases.
Looking at false rape claims, it is hard to make any definitive statements on how common they are. Some studies claim only about 1% of all claims are false, whereas other studies claim as much as 45% could be false. A realistic view seem to be that anywhere from 5-15% of all claims are truly false, meaning that the reporter knows (or should be able to realize) that no actual crime was committed. Another 15-30% are to be seen simply as unfounded, meaning that the reporter didn’t knowingly file false accusations, but where no crime actually took place. This leaves about 55-80% of all reported rapes being actual crimes.
1. Do we live in a rape culture?
WHAT SUPPORTS A YES?
There is the existence of victim blaming, where it still happens that the judicial system questions a woman’s clothing, life style and previous intentions. “Ok, so she said ‘no’ at that specific time, but looking at the big picture, surely she wanted…” Scarily stupid, as a no should always be taken as a no, but still an attitude that can be seen amongst law professonals.
A low share of rapists are ever convicted. If 5-15% of rape claims are false, and 15-30% are unfounded, this still leaves 55-80% of claims regarding actual rapes committed. Still, only 5-7% of rape reports leads to convictions in court.
The relationship perpetrator-victim is quite one-sided male to female.
WHAT SUPPORTS A NO?
If we live in a rape culture, how come the very accusation “rapist!” holds such gravity? As a man, the only social stigma worse that being labelled a rapist is probably being labelled a pedophile. Murderers aren’t frowned upon nearly as much as rapists. Even in prisons sex offenders are at the bottom of the status order.
Even though every rape is one too many, there is no ”rape epidemic”. Government statistics clearly reveal that rapes in Sweden aren’t more common than elsewhere, or even increasing.
The recent sharpening of legislation, increasing what is covered under the ”rape” charge, rhymes poorly with society ignoring sexual violence.
Charges for false accusations are extremely rare, even though false accusations clearly do exist. In a rape culture falsely accusing women would be punished both more often and harder, as there would then be a will to decrease reporting of rape all together.
The male norm is quite stern on not condoning any violence towards women, even less so sexual violence. Less than 1% of all men will ever be charged with any sexual offence, none the less rape.
Sure, one could argue that more charges would be filed if we didn’t in fact live in a rape culture, but the burden of proof is on the accuser. This is the pinnacle of the entire discussion, the fact that rape is a type of crime that unfortunately is very hard to prove. Often both eye witnesses and/or physical evidence is missing, and a modern judicial system that values rule of law and the innocence principle cannot – and shall not – convict based on word against word only. The fact that many perpetrators thus walks is highly unfortunate, but still based more on an inability to convict rather than an unwillingness to.
Feel free to draw your own conclusions from this, but for me, I’d say we do indeed live in a world where rape is a problem, but not in a world infested with “rape culture”. (Note that this goes for Sweden. The case in countries such as India, Saudi Arabia or Somalia surely differ some.)
2. Do all men have a shared responsibility and guilt for rapes committed?
Do all immigrants have a shared responsibility for crimes committed by one single immigrant? Most would (thankfully) instinctively and immediately answer that question with a no, as they realize collective guilt is not a constructive way forward. Collective guilt-mongering towards men is equally stupid as towards any other group, so the below should really go without saying:
Assume we hold all men part-accountable for rapes simply because they’re men. If so, men are doomed to be “the offender sex” regardless of individual behavior. This is an obvious case of misandry, just as a similar take on for example blacks as innately criminal would be racist.
As an individual, I am responsible for my actions and no-one elses. Sure, I may have a responsibility to act when morally called for, where not doing so puts me at blame. If I do not protest victim blaming I contribute to an unhealthy social climate, and if I choose not to report any sexual crimes I get word of my responsibility is even greater. Still, both of these examples are behaviors and actions that I can choose for myself, and thus not in any way connected to whatever any other man (or woman) would do.
In short: There is no original sin, neither based on race nor on sex.
3. How do we design a legal system that can fully cope with the rape problem?
As mentioned, this is the tricky one. As much as I wish I had a patented solution, I don’t. It’s no doubt a problem that so many rapists walk free, but there are also good reasons for having the legal system function as it does. Abandoning the innocence principle, and/or the burden of proof, would surely be a road to hell regardless of the intentions it’s paved with.
Reversing the burden of proof would be a judicial farce. I imagine some women here may reason that “this isn’t a problem, as I would never falsely accuse anyone”. This is however just as backwards as if a man would reason that “women needn’t worry about rape, as I would never rape anyone”. The sexes need to respect each other’s perspectives here, and the worries of one sex can never be allowed to cancel the other’s fairness before the law.
Could basing the law on consent perhaps be a way forward, letting rape charges be based on the lack of a yes instead of violation of a no? Well, it could perhaps help signal that each individual has the responsibility to obtain approval, rather than it being down to the counterpart to signal disapproval. Still, in purely legal terms, it would be a dead end. Why? It doesn’t work around the “word against word” problem – it would be equally hard to prove the lack of a yes as it would be to prove the existence of a no…
In summary, rape continues to be a real problem, though not every man’s cross to bear.