Not Just Juicy Gossip

January 24, 2012

– Sexual Violence and Rape Cannot be Seen as an Extension of Sexuality

Words By: Josh Kitto

Who wants to hear some juicy gossip? Herman Cain, inexplicably a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, was forced to drop out due to a “sex scandal”! At least 4 women said he had sexually harassed them. How naughty!

Something sound wrong here? The failure of Cain’s campaign was framed as due to a “sex scandal”. One woman who said they had a consensual affair with Mr. Cain was put into the same category of “accusers” as those who said Mr. Cain had harassed or assaulted them. There are several revealing implications here. The use of the word “scandal” implies something salacious, not a potential illegal conduct. The women are seen as equally controversial (further exacerbated by the use of “accusers”). But it is also revealing that sexual violence is seen as a natural extension of sexuality, rather than as a weapon.

Discussion of sexual violence does not focus on the important second word, but on the former, as ‘sex gone too far’. Immediately, even if most blame remains with the ‘accused’, there is at least some shift in the burden of blame to the ‘accuser’. Rape in particular gets discussed in the media as something almost accidental, as the next step from the condom splitting. The corollary is that rape is seen as either done by serial rapists’ randomly attacking women, or not at all. For a third of people according to an Amnesty International UK study in 2005, if a woman has been behaving flirtatiously (how dare they), she is partially or totally responsible for being raped. In the media sexual violence is often portrayed as almost a natural extension of sexuality, rather than as a weapon. One in four believes revealing clothing leaves women totally or partially responsible for being raped. One in five had the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners (however that is defined), and finally one in 12 believe women were totally responsible for being raped if having had many sexual partners.

Cain’s candidacy was destroyed by his support flat lining amongst Republican women. While his support fell from the mid-thirties to the mid-twenties amongst Republican men, his support amongst Grand Old Party Women fell from around a quarter to about 5% in some polls. Male lefties have repeated the same excuses Cain’s supporters used for their own figures: ‘under attack’. Juanita Broaddrick said during the Lewinsky scandal that she was raped by Bill Clinton in 1978. She was derided by “liberals” and never properly listened to. She, like Lewinsky was also labeled an ‘accuser’’.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s backers immediately blamed women, saying they had consensual affairs with the IMF boss. They were dismissed as traitors, or as right-wing plants trying to destroy his 2012 French Presidential campaign. The infamous case of Julian Assange has been framed according to the same rhetoric. Usual lines about the women’s sexual history, whether they had been flirting with Assange etc. were trotted out.

However, these attitudes are not limited to sexual violence towards women being seen as a natural extension of male sexuality. The child rape charges against Jerry Sandusky, a Pennsylvania State football coach, and the attempted cover-up of the incidents, has been referred to as a “sex scandal”. The Catholic Church abuse cover-up is similar in many ways. One similarity is in how child rape has been referred to as “homosexual rape”. There are more insidious implications of this, namely in attempts to link male homosexuality with paedophilia (including by many in the Church). But rape of adult males by fellow males is again seen as a natural extension of (male) sexuality. Many vain heterosexual men fear all gay men want to rape them. Men raping men is presented in sexual terms, as “something gay men do”. The blame is shifted far more with the rapist than the “accuser” though, certainly in comparison to men raping women.

But it is still normalised as an extension of sex, rather than as a weapon. It can be a weapon used by heterosexual men against heterosexual and homosexual men. Female civilians are made more vulnerable to sexual violence by war. But male soldiers captured or beaten by an enemy become threatened with sexual violence. And, as witty as gags about dropping soap in the prison shower are, male prisoners are particularly vulnerable to being raped by other men, regardless of  either party’s sexuality.

The most damaging aspect is how sexualised rape trials become. If a third assumes flirtation leaves women culpable for rape, it is concerning that a third of a jury room might side against the prosecution for that reason. Subjective interpretations of rape are often relied on in the jury room. If someone underestimates the scale of rape and thinks it is limited to random attackers at night, some will lean towards the defendant if there is no evidence of physical force having been applied. When there are no trauma experts to explain that not all people being raped will scream for help or clearly say no, the jury room can easily equate this with consent. Even ‘rape shield’ laws, designed to prevent the prosecution’s sexual history being discussed, are weak and often unenforced as a 2006 Home Office study revealed. This all leads to rape not being taken seriously.

Rape and sexual harassment should not under any circumstances be confused with juicy gossip or a ‘sex scandal,’ and needs to be seen for what it is. It is not just a shift in political and legal attitudes that is required, but also a culture of more rational discussion about sexuality.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: