Here’s a scenario: I’m out to dinner with a group of sophisticated, professional-type couples. Someone asks me what I do and everyone politely pauses to listen to my response. I respond that I’m a rape crisis intervention counselor and advocate for rape victim’s rights, and I can literally watch 50% of the group turn off, click, and nonchalantly start to chat amongst themselves about something else. Meanwhile, the rest of the table will either make sympathetic sounds, perplexedly question why I would choose to “spend my time doing that,” or get wide-eyed and stare at me like I’ve cornered them and they’re planning an exit strategy.
The second group is usually comprised of the women. The first group – the group of people that seems to think the topic of rape is irrelevant to their lives – consists of men.
By and large, rape prevention education is targeted towards girls and women, implying that rape is a “woman’s issue” and therefore, of no concern for boys. This strategy has the damaging auxiliary effects of: 1) promoting the antiquated and dangerous belief that a woman is solely responsible for putting on the breaks during sexual activity, 2) communicating to boys and men that they need not concern themselves with such frivolous matters as consent, mutual fulfillment or sexual autonomy, and 3) thereby condoning sexual violence because, you know, boys will be boys.
What we need is a more holistic and comprehensive strategy to end rape. And it starts with men speaking out and stepping up. To be clear, I’m not suggesting paternalism- I’m talking about being a decent person and not letting your buddies step out of line. A groundbreaking study by psychologists David Lisak and Paul Miller provides a lot of compelling reasons as to why this is necessary.
Lisak and Miller interviewed almost 2,000 male college students about their sexual behavior, hoping to gain some insight into the frequency of rape. They found that, out of the men interviewed, only about 6% admitted to raping. But out of those men, about 76% admitted to repeatedly raping at an average of about 6 rapes per person. And 4% of the men surveyed committed over 400 rapes and over 1,000 violent acts between them.
So what we have here is a very small group of the population that commits the vast majority of rapes and otherwise violent acts against intimate partners (ie, slapping or choking). But the most significant finding is that most rapists are serial rapists. What this means for men is that, if you think that someone has done it once, chances are that person will do it again – and again, and again. If we can get past blaming the victim or pretending that it’s none of your business or that it’s just a matter of good guys making bad decisions, and if we can really focus on the fact that men who rape are criminals and predators, I think that our society can stop rape.
Amazingly, the research also suggests that men who rape don’t think that what they’re doing is rape. When the men surveyed were asked questions like, “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated (on alcohol or drugs) to resist your sexual advances,” they’d answer “yes” as long as the word “rape” wasn’t in there. Lisak spoke to CBS News about his 20 years worth of interviews:
“A lot of these men, especially the serial rapists, are very, very narcissistic, there is nothing they enjoy more than to sit down in a room with a guy like me and impress me with all their sexual exploits. And that’s how they view them.”
Rape doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is perpetuated, justified and promoted by a culture that rejects the idea of women’s humanity. Every time you encourage or sit silently through a story about some “sexual exploit,” you’re contributing to this culture at the expense of women everywhere. Rape will not stop until we successfully teach our men that the systematic abuse and denigration of women is not a necessary, joyful component of manhood.
And who can deliver that message better than men themselves?