Friday, September 17, 2010

On why I have my doubts about the acquaintence rape panic...

Two young men getting ready to take advantage of each other while drunk.

In a word, I have my doubts about the date rape panic because many of the people who are beating this particular drum seem to support a dual sexual morality.

This dual morality says that men and boys are absolutely, one hundred percent responsible for their sexuality, even when shit-faced drunk, but that women and girls are not. It claims that any story of sex and rape, when told by a woman, must ipso-facto be true while men's testimony is entirely composed of self-serving lies.

Now, before someone splits a seam out there and demands that I turn in my feminist secret decoder ring, let me salient, underline, MAKE PERFECTLY FUCKING CLEAR that I am not defending date rape, nor am I saying that people who get out-of-control drunk deserve to be raped.

OK? Got it? Are we on the same page now?

What I am saying is that a sex-gender system which presumes that women should be chaste or assexual until marriage/love occurs and castigates and stigmatizes women who aren't, while not teaching its young women how to be responsible sexual beings, is going to generate a lot of sexual repression, guilt and false morality. Faced with this, a certain number of women are going to use booze as an excuse to have sex and then attempt to not face the consequences of their acts the next day by claiming that they were taken advantage of.

Is this the majority of women? Probably not. Is it even the majority of women who report date rate? Almost certainly not.

But in spite of the heart-felt claims of my sisters-in-struggle that women do not lie about date rape, I must insist that at least some of them do. I know this, because I have seen it with my own eyes on at least three seperate occasions.

Let me relate the last time I saw this occur, because I find it to be the most shocking...

A few years ago we had a young, self-declared lesbian woman who was here in Rio learning Portuguese in a gringo class at a local school. This young woman, Clarissa, was quite the LGBT activist and most in-class reports by her, as well as most of her critiques of Brazilian culture, were manifestos against androcentrism and homophobia. In spite of her at times shrill politics, we became fairly good friends.

One night, while we were out drinking, Clarissa told me a horrible story about how she had recently suffered a date rape in her home town. According to her, she went out to a bar and some guy slipped roofies in her drink. When she woke up at home the next day, she couldn't remember a thing about what happened after midnight. Her vagina was sore and puffy and her girlfriend immediately deduced that she had been date-raped. They thus went down to the hospital and took samples and evidence, then went to the cops. No suspects were arrested and according to this young lady, that was a clear indication of the kind of crap-sack, misogynist world in which we live.

Fast forward to Clarissa's last night in Brazil. She insisted that we all go drinking at a gay club, even though she's the only homosexual in the group. No problem: the bar she wanst to go to is a fun bar, so great! We go. While there, she proceeded to get drunk - so drunk, in fact, that she starts hitting on the gay men at the bar. My roomate at the time, Jorge (who's gay) met us at the club, saw what was happening and told me "Thad, you better get your gringa friend out of her before she causes a fight".

We thus all troop out to a taxi and move the party over to Emporium. In the taxi, out drunken lesbian friend starts feeling up one of the guys in the group ("John", a colleague from her Portuguese course) and by the time we reach our destination, Clarissa's swarming all over him. The public make-out session goes on for over two hours until the bar closes. On the way out Zeke, a mutual friend asks me to keep an eye on Clarissa because of her earlier experience. The happy couple and I thus go off to yet another bar, where we have water and diet coke and chat for an hour. Clarissa is completely lucid and what I would describe as "tipsy": certainly not "out-of-control, falling-down drunk". I offer to walk her home. She says "No, John's going to do that!" and laughs.

When John goes off to the bathroom I say "Listen, I'm worried. You guys have been making out for hours and he's obviously expecting sex. Seriously. You know this right? He's going to want to have sex with you if he walks you home and will probably try to push things, at least a bit, given all the tonsil-wrestling you two have been doing."

"No, duh!" responds my supposedly lesbian friend.

"So I just want to make sure," I push on. "You're cool with me leaving you with John, even though you guys are almost certainly going to wind up having sex?"

"Of course!" Clarissa replies. "I'm not a kid. I know what I'm doing."

I raise my hands. "OK, then. Have fun."

And I split for home.

The next day, I call Zeke and tell him what happened. It turns out that Zeke has been asked over to our Clarissa's house to help with her packing. He gets there and finds her neck is covered in hickies. Our lesbian friend says she can't remember what happened the night before and that she thinks she must have eaten something odd because look at how she's broken out in a rash. Zeke sits her down and says "Clarissa, those  those are hickies and what you were doing last night was making out with John. We all saw it and Thad walked you guys halfway home and gave you every opportunity in the world to back out graciously. He says you looked pretty damned in control of yourself and you told him you were up for sex with John, which is what you apparently went off and had."

To Clarissa's credit, she believed us and was very shaken, even rethinking her earlier experience of supposed "date rape". Talking to her over the following months, Zeke found out that she had been sexually abused as a kid and that her first stable loving relationship was with her current girlfriend. She just assumed then, that she must be a lesbian. And because her girlfriend's social circle despised bisexuals and so-called "daddy's money lesbians", Clarissa heavily repressed any heterosexual feelings she had. Drinking and acting out on those, and then lying to herself the next day about what occurred, was her way of dealing with this situation.

So this is one of THREE similar experiences that I have had, as opposed to four experiences where I'm damned certain a person I know went through acquaintence rape. I've heard many accusations from both sides - people (generally women) demanding that all claims of date rape MUST be treated as true and other folks (generally men) insisting that date rape is complete and utter bullshit. But for the seven cases in which I personally have been involved and got to see the evidence in some detail, three weigh out with the accused being innocent and four point to their guilt.

That's about a 43% innocence rate.

This is why I will not join the "all date rape claims are true" bandwagon. Women, like men, fool themselves, lie to themselves and lie to others. There is absolutely no convincing evidence that I've seen, to date, that women or men always tell the truth about ANYTHING. In a falsely moral, intensely hypocritical society such as the United States, which has a very deep fear of human sexuality in general and female sexuality in  particular, it is no wonder that many people are going to be screwed up when it comes to sex. Date rape absolutists, on both sides of the issue, want to restrict this problem to the "other" gender - whichever that is.

Unfortunately for them, both genders lie.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bullshit Patrol: One in Four College Women Will Be Raped Before They Graduate, According to Justice Department Study... Really?

It's back-to-school in the United States, so that means it's time to whip up the parents with stories of all the evil things which will happen to their progeny once they've left the nest. On the top of the heap this semester, we have a report by The Huffington Post that CBS news claims that one in four female college students will be raped by graduation day. Here's what CBS says:
A recent study fom the Department of Justice estimated that 25 percent of college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate within a four-year college period, and that women between the ages of 16 to 24 will experience rape at a rate that's four times higher than the assault rate of all women.
There are a couple of problems with this report.

First of all, this is old, not recent news: the study which discovered this was published 10 years ago by Fisher, Cullen and Turner, in 2000. The current publication simply refers to that study: it is not itself a study, but a handbook regarding acquaintance rape. The original study can be found here. The handbook which ABC mistook for a recent study can be found here.

Secondly, the study does not indicate that 25% of all college women will be raped, but rather about half that number (13,75%). Ariana Huffington's krewe apparently has a hard time discerning between "rape" and "attempted rape". 

Furthermore, a methodologically similar study undertaken by the same Justice Department indicates a rape rate 11 TIMES LESS than that indicated by Fisher, et al.

Finally, Fisher et al note that only 46% of the 86 women who they classified as having suffered a rape believed themselves to have been raped. Basically, what these researchers are saying is that the women themselves do not agree with the way the researchers are classifying these incidents. Fisher et al haven't a clear idea of why this disharmony in classification occurs, other than "Well, maybe the women don't understand what rape is or don't want to talk about it" (odd, given that the women had to agree in writing to specifically participate in a survey on sexual violence and rape on campus). Call it anthropological belief in one's informants, but I think we can take it as a given that a person knows when they've been raped, folks. I think we should take their word on it primarily.

Part of the problem here may be a rather fuzzy and imprecise definition of rape which guided the researcher's analysis: "Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force."  "Psychological coercion" is open to a wide range of subjective interpretations and the researcher's understanding of this might not coincide with that of their informants.

If we were to take Fisher et al's informants on their word, however, and classify as rape what these women say was rape, then we find that, far from 25% of all female college student's being raped by graduation day, as the headline implies, we're looking at (13.75 x .46) 6.32%.

It should be pointed out here that Fisher et al's study is pretty responsible and transparent (though they could have given us better information on how they were classifying rapes in opposition to their informants' classifications by presenting us with a series of case studies). Irresponsible scientific reporting is the problem here, with the media multiplying by 2 to 4 times what the study shows.

6% is, in any case, still a very high number. It's about 4 times the national average and indicates a significant problem. But one wonders, then, why so many people think they need to exagerate this number beyond all reasonable bounds? Most people who have gone through university, male or female, are going to have a "bullshit" reaction when they see that 25%. Ultimately, this sort of exageration ends up making people DISMISS the issue of acquaintence rape.

This problem, of course, is found wherever research runs up against public policy. People believe that there is a problem - rape on campus, say, or trafficking of persons. Researchers go out and find that the problem does indeed exist, but is quite complicated. Politicians and moral entrepeneurs then get on the bandwagon and distort and simplify the findings so that they seem more alarming. Then the old media comes along and distorts the findings some more, because "if it bleeds, it leads". Finally, bloggers and new media close the process by incorrectly citing the media's take on the politicians' understanding of the original findings. At each stage in this process, estimates of victims go up, up, up.

The end result is this: a Department of Justice study found 34 women who claimed to have been raped over a seven month period out of a total of 4,446 women surveyed. Applying their own etic version of "rape", the researchers more than doubled this number to 74. By including attempted rapes, the number was pushed to 123. Then, by presuming that this rate is stable for the entire five year period of a woman's college career, it was reported that 25% of all college women will be raped or suffer an attempted rape during their school years. Desperate for "back-to-school" scare stories, CBS picks this up and  broadcasts it to the four winds as "new research" when, in fact, it's the same old research of ten years ago in a new wrapper. Finally, the Huffington Post reports CBS' coverage and drops the "attempted rape".

Boom: a political meme is born: 25% of American female college grads are rape victims.