Author: has written 57 posts for this blog.

Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based, feminist, sex-positive activist and educator. Personal blog at clarissethorn.com; follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn; you can also buy her awesome book about pickup artists or her awesome best-of collection, The S&M Feminist.
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134 Responses

  1. Nicole Lock
    Nicole Lock April 26, 2011 at 10:54 am |

    My favorite and the most powerful to me as an individual is this “asserting myself vocally and confidently when I feel uncomfortable or violated.” It pains me to think that out of the men I have slept with, I only really wanted to sleep with 3 of them. Even today when I go dancing and some guy touches me where I don’t want him to, I don’t have the balls sometimes to turn around and tell him how I feel. I have been talking about this issue with so many women lately and we all do it. We all have been passive and let someone do things we did not want them to do. And if you ask anyone that knows me, I’m a strong, confident, feminist woman but I still crumble sometimes when I am uncomfortable and feel that I am being violated. I say nothing.

  2. saurus
    saurus April 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |

    - Paying attention not only to rape in mainstream circles, but in sex positive circles, queer circles, feminist circles, and other radical spaces, where sometimes we can feel like we’re immune from rape culture, or be ignorant of the unique ways radical folk can contribute to it.

    - Resisting & negotiating the actions of some sex positive folk who can emotionally pressure me to do things I don’t want to do by suggesting that I am repressed, less interesting as a sexual partner, or that I should be working towards a “better” or “more healthy” or “more playful” or “more adventurous” or otherwise different sexuality than the one I am comfortable with, or who make me feel like the boundaries I need or the traumas that have impacted my sexuality make my sexuality less awesome or perfect than anyone else’s.

    - Never, ever, ever having an encounter – if I can help it – because I’m afraid of the consequences if I say no, or because I’m trying to appease instead of please or be pleased.

    - Helping my partner (through role-play, discussions, etc) to understand the difference between mainstream conceptions of sexual practices, and what it’s actually like for me.

    - When people say that I’m sensitive to rape jokes, always correcting them that I’m not sensitive; they’re insensitive and I believe firmly that making fun of a traumatic event like that is a shitty thing to do.

    - Learning the connections between my money, employment, citizenship, government, location etc and rape as a tool for imperialism, colonialism, structural violence, etc – and boycotting and resisting these entities.

  3. Liz
    Liz April 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm |

    Thanks for the inspiring article, Clarisse, and thought-provoking comment, Saurus! You both articulated your ideas and these issues perfectly!

  4. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin April 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm |

    -Never forgetting the power of personal narrative to make a larger point, but also acknowledging that as a form it, too, has limitations
    -Seeking to find parallels and intersections in current lines of thinking not regularly discussed that reinforce rape culture
    -Challenging myself, and everyone else to not be satisfied with progress made, while still taking time to celebrate the advances made by everyone on everyone’s behalf

  5. William
    William April 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm |

    I think that a lot of the suggestions here are particularly vulnerable to responses along the lines of “you’re being over-sensitive” or “that just how people are.” As such I would like to humbly suggest:

    - Not devaluing the importance of individual feelings, perceptions, or triggers through appeals to consensual reality or majority perception.

    Also, what would

    demanding justice and accountability for survivors that doesn’t rely on the criminal justice system or prison industrial complex

    look like? Its probably a lack of imagination but all I’m coming up with are toothless public shaming and adolescent Charles Bronson scenarios.

  6. Macha
    Macha April 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm |

    I want to print this out and post it everywhere I go.

  7. Brittany-Ann
    Brittany-Ann April 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm |

    -Probing those close to me who trivialize or dismiss concerns about rape culture when I bring it up by asking questions with the goal of making them consider why they trivialize or dismiss it.

  8. alynn
    alynn April 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm |

    This is great! I love everything about this list.

    This one stood out to me:
    not sleeping with dudes who make rape jokes
    YES! (Of course, I would replace “dudes” with “people.”) It seems so simple, and yet we need reminding of that!

    No one gets a “rape joke” pass! Not even your super-cool-cute-and-funny-liberal-feminist-ally guy friend who tries to play it off like, “What? You’re mad? Come on, it’s me!” I had to fill the role of educating one such dude this weekend. Reactions to this educating tell me a lot: Does he realize what he said was a problem and change? Or does he go back to the “but you know me!” defense? Some of the stealthiest misogynists are dudes proporting feminist values.

  9. Shannon Drury
    Shannon Drury April 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm |

    I would add the need to believe the voices of rape survivors, to validate and respect their feelings, and to give them the space to pursue recovery in their own way.

  10. Nahida
    Nahida April 26, 2011 at 2:01 pm |

    alynn:
    not sleeping with dudes who make rape jokes

    Rape jokes are one thing that need no context. It is NEVER OKAY.

  11. Nahida
    Nahida April 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm |

    To clarify, I’m agreeing with alynn. xD Sorry about that, my lazy ass didn’t want to scroll up to copy+paste the original so I shortcutted and used your comment.

  12. max
    max April 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm |

    Hi, new to commenting…
    @william i would like to respond to your question because i think it’s important and it’d be so cool if more people knew about what’s out there! A good model i’ve seen of what this looks like is the work done by philly stands up, a collective that works with survivors and perpetrators (online at phillystandsup.com and phillystandsup.wordpress.com). My understanding of how they work (from talks/workshops of theirs i’ve attended) is, survivors approach them and ask them to work with specific perpetrators, and then someone/s will meet with the perpettators over a period of time to get them to be accountable for their actions, meet a set of demands set by the person/people they assaulted, and work on healing their relationship with their community to the extent that that’s possible. They also do prevention work, with things like workshops on consent.
    I get the impression that this process is long and difficult and doesnt always work but can have really positive effects. Also i think its vital to look for alternatives to the prison industrial complex because from what i’ve witnessed and learned that system serves to perpetuate sexual assault and other violence, not to mention broader problems of oppression in the system.
    I realize those last points are not really fleshed out, But if anyone is interested in learning more about how different systems of violence (state violence including the many facets of the prison industrial complex and violence individuals perpetuate on each other, and violences that come from systems of oppression) work together, i’d recommend checking out incite! women of color against violence, online at incite-national.org .

  13. ozymandias
    ozymandias April 26, 2011 at 2:27 pm |

    –Challenge bullshit narratives like “women don’t really like sex” and “men are always up for it.”
    –Raise awareness of rape by women and of men and non-binary folks; challenge the idea that rape is always a crime performed by men to women.
    –Praise people, organizations and institutions who challenge rape culture narratives, ESPECIALLY those who are not usually part of social justice movements. For instance, I sent a letter to Cracked.com, which is admittedly often a very ableist, sexist and objectifying website, thanking them for an article in which they pointed out some Hollywood movies that presented date rape as romantic.

  14. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig April 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm |

    Get men out of the city parks or get the city to charge them a public safety fee. We’ve had four violent incidents so far, three of which involved rape or sexual assualt. If dudes are just gonna use the parks as their hunting grounds, they don’t belong there.

    1. Jill
      Jill April 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm | *

      Get men out of the city parks or get the city to charge them a public safety fee. We’ve had four violent incidents so far, three of which involved rape or sexual assualt. If dudes are just gonna use the parks as their hunting grounds, they don’t belong there.

      Well that is the most ludicrous and least helpful suggestion so far. Thanks for setting the bar high.

  15. andrea
    andrea April 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm |

    Wish I had something to contribute.. but I’m loving everybody else’s comments!!

    Okay I’ve got one.. challenging concepts such as ‘cock-blocking’, ‘teasing’ and other ways that people are shamed for saying either yes or no to sex.

  16. Medea
    Medea April 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm |

    Politicalguineapig: Get men out of the city parks or get the city to charge them a public safety fee.

    And women often steal things in public parks, so ban them! You keep suggesting that an entire class of people be subjected to human rights violations (including permanent house arrest) to prevent the crimes that some of them commit. It makes no sense and it’s not productive.

  17. thefallgirl
    thefallgirl April 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm |

    Politicalguineapig:
    Get men out of the city parks or get the city to charge them a public safety fee.We’ve had four violent incidents so far, three of which involved rape or sexual assualt. If dudes are just gonna use the parks as their hunting grounds, they don’t belong there.

    In addition to the other objections, this perpetuates the idea that most rape (or, taking it to extremes, “real rape”) is stranger rape.

  18. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla April 26, 2011 at 4:04 pm |

    Politicalguineapig:
    Get men out of the city parks or get the city to charge them a public safety fee.We’ve had four violent incidents so far, three of which involved rape or sexual assualt. If dudes are just gonna use the parks as their hunting grounds, they don’t belong there.

    Given that 20% (at most) of rapes are stranger rapes and 80% are rapes by one or more people the victim *already knows*, I really don’t understand how the fuck you think this will help the situation.

  19. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla April 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    A couple off the top of my head.

    - Keep the door open to your friends wrt potentially abusive relationships. Whether that means actively and non-judgmentally listening when they need to talk about somebody who is skeeving them out or about a relationship where they are feeling abused or an incident of rape or sexual assault that happened to them. Don’t pressure them into one solution or another (I think it’s ok to offer suggestions, but don’t make them feel bad if they don’t accept them; you can’t know every specific about their situation and it can be *really hard* to escape an abusive situation), but be ready to help and support them when they need it, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or putting them up for a few days so they can escape an abusive situation.

    - Similarly, if someone is raped or sexually assaulted, don’t pass judgment on them because they aren’t reacting in the way you think they should. (For example, I repressed my feelings about having been sexually abused in a relationship for several years, and I would have hated to hear from someone that “well, it must not have been so bad, then” – indeed, I had to stop using a therapist over that exact issue). I mean, not everyone breaks down into tears, curls into a ball, and is filled with rage at their rapist. Some survivors laugh or make jokes about the situation because that’s the only way they can deal with it at the time.

    - Watch your language. By this, I mean shit like “Ze had me over a barrel”, “Ze fucked me over”, and other expressions that explicitly or subtly buy into rape culture. I’m really bad at this myself and need to watch my own language better.

  20. addendum | S L A A N E S H Q U E
    addendum | S L A A N E S H Q U E April 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm |

    [...] wrote in my old blog about rape culture. Here is a collective list from Clarisse Thorn and Feministe on how to challenge rape culture. This entry was posted in [...]

  21. Quiet Riot Girl
    Quiet Riot Girl April 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm |

    I will probably get a load of abuse and/or kicked off this thread/blog if I say what my honest reaction to this post is.

    So, all I ask Clarisse, with the utmost respect and politeness, is, how is it healthy that a woman, contributing to a discussion about a subject she cares greatly about, on a feminist blog, feels she can’t say what she actually honestly believes to be true?

    (and yes I’m ready for any responses along the ‘eye-roll’ ‘sigh’ ‘face/palm’ ‘troll’ spectrum).

    1. Jill
      Jill April 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm | *

      So, all I ask Clarisse, with the utmost respect and politeness, is, how is it healthy that a woman, contributing to a discussion about a subject she cares greatly about, on a feminist blog, feels she can’t say what she actually honestly believes to be true?

      I am not Clarisse, but I’ll bite: Asshole runs all the way across the gender spectrum. So there are plenty of women out there who want to contribute to discussions about sexual assault, and who care deeply about those issues, but who believe really incredibly abhorrent things (perhaps “women are asking for it” or “rape is a biological imperative” or “rape is an individual act and there is no such thing as a culture that enables it” etc etc). It’s each woman’s right to believe whatever it is that she believes, but it is not the right of every single woman in the world to spew those beliefs in any space she pleases. This space focuses on feminism, something that I believe is good for all women, but is not something that all women everywhere agree with or support; a lot of women are outright hostile to feminism and to other women. I don’t think I need to let them say whatever they want in a feminist space just because they identify as women. That is counterproductive to the purpose of this blog, which is to discuss issues at least partially through a feminist lens. It’s one thing to challenge that; it’s another to throw out the same shit we’ve all heard before (“rape culture doesn’t exist,” etc) and expect the entire comment thread to cater to the topic that you want to talk about.

      So yes, I think it’s perfectly healthy that you keep your honest reaction to yourself if that reaction is going to derail this entire thread and piss everyone off. Because that is how grown-ups behave in public.

      1. Jill
        Jill April 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm | *

        Aaaaand with that said, let’s keep on talking about what Clarisse’s post was actually about.

  22. saurus
    saurus April 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm |

    I think if we, as a commenter base, block/resist/ignore 3 attempts to derail in this thread, we should get to level up or something.

  23. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    Here’s what I don’t get, QRG. You’ve made it clear when you’ve posted on Feministe that you don’t believe rape culture exists. I don’t believe, for example, that unicorns exist. It never occurs to me to seek out a website for people who really, really think there are unicorns, read their posts about how best to address unicorns when meeting them in public, then comment about how they’re all wrong only to post on my own blog about how people who believe in unicorns are all douchebags because they called me an asshole or some variant. I’ve said it before, and I assume I’ll say it again: I have no clue how you can’t come up with better hobbies. Can I recommend ninjakiwi.com? It helps me kill time when it might otherwise occur to me to stir shit up for the sake of stirring shit up.

  24. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    Ah fuck. Sorry Jill. But, unicorns!

  25. Kristen J.'s Husband
    Kristen J.'s Husband April 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm |

    saurus:
    I think if we, as a commenter base, block/resist/ignore 3 attempts to derail in this thread, we should get to level up or something.

    Can’t be done. – Man commenting from a public park /shock

  26. Saurs
    Saurs April 26, 2011 at 5:48 pm |

    Irrespective of the merits of Politicalguineapig’s comment, Politicalguineapig is not attempting to “derail” anything, thanks.

  27. Tori
    Tori April 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm |

    … asserting myself vocally and confidently when I feel uncomfortable or violated…

    Not that this isn’t a good way to fight rape culture, but, on a personal level, this isn’t something I can do, at least not with any reliability. It’s one thing when I’m feeling “uncomfortable,” but often by the time I’d describe myself as feeling “violated,” I’m also triggered and have dissociated myself the fuck out of the situation (at least cognitively and verbally).

    And I think, given the incidence rate of sexual assault and abuse and the ability of said acts to contribute to conditions like PTSD, that this might not be a super-rare occurrence among other people as well.

    So I think it might be worth either adding to this statement or maybe just listing it to something that talks about survivor responses and/or PTSD.

  28. I know I can fight rape culture by …. « hahayourefunny

    [...] I know I can fight rape culture by …. — Feministe. some of my favs: [...]

  29. Jadey
    Jadey April 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm |

    In addition to the stuff I do that other people have already mentioned and discussed above, I also support offender intervention and treatment where it has been demonstrated to reduce re-offending, and I advocate against those methods which have been demonstrated to increase re-offending, like locking people up without treatment, holding them until warrant expiry, and then releasing them to the community with no supports, no services, plenty of stigma and isolation, and very few reasons not to fall back on to the established habits and ways of thinking that led to their offending in the first place. I believe with every fibre of my anti-rape, social justice lovin’ body that programs like the Circles of Support and Accountability that are going to be part of changing rape culture. Rape culture is obviously bigger than just the guys who go to prison for it and no intervention is a magic bullet, but this is one of the ways I fight rape culture.

    Also, what Cara said, always.

  30. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig April 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm |

    Jill, the rest: I think limiting men’s opportunity to rape would also help. I realize that most women are raped by people they know. But wouldn’t cutting down on the number of stranger rapes help a lot of women?

  31. Bushfire
    Bushfire April 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm |

    “I will probably get a load of abuse and/or kicked off this thread/blog if I say what my honest reaction to this post is.”

    I’m intrigued – what honesty would get you kicked out? You’ve made me want to hear your opinion.

  32. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm |

    You know, intellectually, I get that those programs are probably effective in reducing rape, but as an assault survivor, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like they’re anything but another way society coddles rapists. The problem I guess is twofold: it can be used by rape apologists as a way to pathologize criminal behavior (and thus, however flawed this conclusion is, the rape is not the fault of the rapist), and if the programs treat rapists like the assholes they are, no one will go to them for help – so the coddling I feel is there can’t really be reduced.

  33. Claire N
    Claire N April 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm |

    saurus, I love your first comment so much. Thank you :)

  34. kate
    kate April 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm |

    ” asking her how many of my fingers she wants inside of her”

    wtf?

  35. max
    max April 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm |

    @PrettyAmiable
    I think your critique of alternatives to the prison industrial complex (pic) when it comes to perpetrators is really valid and important to hear. If these alternatives don’t satisfy what you feel like you need as a survivor, that’s definitely a problem with them.
    I don’t personally think that at least the groups i know of do this, but obviously my standards are not your standards. I guess for me the way that priority is given to the demands of the survivors and the way accountability of the perpetrator to those demands and to their community is stressed speaks to a desire put into practice not to coddle perpetrators. But again (at the risk of totally over stressing this) my disagreement here doesn’t mean that i’m not taking your point to heart.
    More generally speaking, i think that working to dismantle the pic and finding alternatives is a big important part of dismantling rape culture, because it means being accountable to real people and communities rather than laws that are often sexist and racist. And it means paying attention to the ways systems of violence interact with each other, and the ways prison does not teach not to abuse but rather who is permitted to abuse and who is allowed to be abused. And it means recognizing that the whole pic reinforces harmful myths about who rapists are and aren’t, and whose experiences of sexualized violence are considered valid and invalid, from who police respond/don’t respond to and how, to who goes to trial and how they are treated, to sentencing, to how people are treated in prison, and everything else. So yeah, for me figuring out alternatives to this system and focusing on what we consider healthy for our communities and what accountablilty looks like, and challenging ourselves to… I guess… always hold ourselves to higher standards, that’s some of the work in ending rape culture that i’m committed to.

  36. That Girl
    That Girl April 26, 2011 at 11:55 pm |

    Kate, Women who sleep with other women often will insert their fingers into their partner’s vagina. Some queer ladies have the space/desire for multiple fingers and some have the space/desire for 1 finger or no fingers at all. Knowing before you insert yourself into another person is respectful — especially if the queer lady does not want anything inserted into her at all.

    Basically, it’s about communicating and acquiring (enthusiastic) consent before doing something to another human.

  37. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla April 27, 2011 at 12:35 am |

    max @ 36: I get what you’re saying, but (along the lines of what PA @ 33 is saying) I get into a real conflict that results in cognitive dissonance on my part. And that is simply this: You can’t hold a rapist accountable if they don’t agree to.

    I’m sorry, but no amount of community-based confrontation, name and shame, negotiation, signed agreements, etc will work if the rapist doesn’t intend on being held accountable. Sure, a few rapists will see how hurtful they’ve been and will work to change their behavior; community-based solutions will work in those few cases. But I do believe that the vast majority of rapists have zero interest in taking responsibility for their own behavior. They will always explain it away, excuse it, carve exceptions for themselves. You might be able to browbeat such a person into going through the motions of “being held accountable”, but they will manipulate their way out of true accountability and remain dangerous to not only that particular victim, but to all who are vulnerable to rapists.

    The scenario that I fear is that the rapist feigns responsibility and accountability for a few months until they perceive the situation as having “blown over”, then further violently re-victimize the victim or go on to rape other people.

    The PIC is very fucked up, racist and classist, and I believe that 95% or of the people in prison should never have been imprisoned in the first place. And I also am aware that white rapists often get away with light-to-meaningless sentences for rape while POC are put away for life for the same or lesser charges.

    But I cannot bring myself to feel comfortable with an alternative that allows rapists who don’t wish to be held accountable for their acts of violence (which is probably 99% of rapists) to go scot-free by feigning such accountability.

  38. Quiet Riot Girl
    Quiet Riot Girl April 27, 2011 at 3:25 am |

    Clarisse- there is no way I can express my opinion without causing a ‘flame war’ as my opinion as Jill has suggested, about rape culture, is one that is not welcome here. But if I had have been in that room with you at that workshop I would have expressed the same opinion, in a polite and respectful manner (and on the pieces of paper passed round the room).

    You people just can’t cope with how some people disagree with you.

    It’s very sad to me as this is a topic that IS important to me for the same reasons as it is important to you.

  39. Jadey
    Jadey April 27, 2011 at 7:39 am |

    @ PA, GG, and Clarisse

    I was worried about bringing all of this up in this space because I know that this is a survivors space as well, and I don’t expect survivors to embrace the people (or members of the group of people) who hurt them – that would be a totally unreasonable expectation on my part. I also hear you on the concern that there is feigned acceptance of responsibility – everyone who works in this field is always concerned about this, and we take every step we can to deal with it.

    All I can say is that while this is certainly always a potential concern, I truly believe there is reason to hope. I’m getting more and more personally involved with this work every day, and more and more involved with these offenders, and I do see genuine accountability and desire on the part of many offenders to change their lifestyles and change those things that motivated them to offend – I would not do this work if I did not see that. I won’t offer guarantees or even promises, because as someone who does this kind of work, I am not looking for support based on what I say, but on the evidence of what I do. I, and others doing the same work, need to be accountable to all of you.

    The weird thing is, within the criminal justice system (and within the public), sex offenders, particularly child sex offenders, are the most reviled and hated people. Even by other offenders. Once someone has been convicted of a sex offense, they are generally considered a monster. It’s almost like a different crime when its compared to the media coverage we get on trials where the victims are disbelieved and shamed, and the way we resist labelling some perpetrators because they don’t fit our understanding of what sex offender is, because they are too nice, too middle-class, etc. I have a theory that we consider sex offending so heinous that it devalues and disqualifies as human anyone who has been involved with it, victim or perpetrator, and we try to protect some people from being labelled as perpetrators because we value them more socially. I think part of changing rape culture is breaking down the dehumanization associated with sex offenses (and with sex in general – there’s an argument that we dehumanize sometimes to try to disassociate ourselves from things that remind us of our animal nature, like sex and death and pooping).

    There is a real disconnect between how we see sex offenders treated in a courtroom, and how they are treated in a prison and beyond (and a corresponding disparity in who makes it from one to the other, along the lines of race and poverty). Once in the system, there really is no coddling. Clinicians and other people who work with offenders struggle with revulsion and fear toward their clients as well, but have learned that those things do not help them achieve their goals. Treatment sometimes comes across as coddling because we have a fundamental disconnect between a punishment-oriented system and a rehabilitation-oriented system.

    As a society, we need both of those systems happening. We need that sense of justice, that a wrong has been punished. Unfortunately, all the research tells us (and has for a very long time), that punishment is a pretty terrible way of changing behaviour. It just doesn’t work, especially because owning up to terrible behaviour is especially hard and de-motivating for anyone, offender or not. From the offender perspective, coming to view yourself and your actions as negatively as everyone else does is being pushed back against by every totally normal self-preservation instinct there is. Doing so in an environment which is re-iterating how much of a hopelessly bad person you are is almost absurd – almost no one in their right mind would do such a thing. Despite their actions, the overwhelming evidence is that most offenders are completely and totally within the range of normal human behaviour and cognition, and are subject to the same motivational pressures, including a desire to fit in and lead a conflict-free happy life. Psychopathy might be the exception, although psychopathy occurs in the non-criminal population as well – the real treatment issue with psychopathy is that they are incredibly resistant to treatment and change (these are the people more likely to manipulate and feign acceptance), regardless of offense. But there are many offender who do not score high enough on psychopathy to make treatment non-viable.

    But aside from all of that, the system also does a terrible job of actually providing for the (really effing important) emotional needs of victims and the communities. It’s not even particularly interested in doing so, consistently and in a constructive way. The system is interested in cost effectiveness and integrity of process above all, with rehabilitation being of interest because it’s cost-effective and can speak to public safety on the whole. It doesn’t do a lot to help people feel better.

    I have been struggling with what needs to change and how and if it can be in the CJS for a long time now. In my ideal version, it’s a (non-racist, non-classist) system that does assist with emotional closure and a sense of personal safety for people who have been hurt, as well as a means for people who have hurt to change their behaviours.

    This has gotten really long and I’m trying to tackle so much at once, so I’m just going to cut myself off here. I am listening to all of you, and its your voices I want to hear – I don’t want to forget about you or underestimate your importance. I don’t want the system to either. I am trying, along with many other people, to find a way to reconcile what you need and what is fair to you with how we try to prevent future harm and injustice. I just want you guys to know that, and that I don’t take you for granted.

  40. Bushfire
    Bushfire April 27, 2011 at 9:11 am |

    Gotcha, Clarisse. I was just wondering.

  41. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 27, 2011 at 9:30 am |

    max: If these alternatives don’t satisfy what you feel like you need as a survivor, that’s definitely a problem with them.

    Right, but is it? It’s a really confusing topic for me because my gut instinct is to kick and scream and throw these people in a single cell room for the rest of their lives. I don’t know if I would be happy with anything less than that. But. We don’t have the money for endless solitary forever and ever, it doesn’t address that half of the men who assaulted me (the two men of color) would be infinitely more likely to get jailed than the two white men whose offenses were FAR more egregious – because our jailing system is messed up, group jailing leads to rape which was mentioned somewhere upthread and frankly, I don’t want anyone to go through what I (and others) have gone through regardless of how shitty they are, and since their sentences never put them away for life (if they are away for life, they probably murdered someone as well), they’re going to be back on the streets. So while emotionally the idea of rehabilitating them is painful to me (and makes me want to throw things at walls), I really don’t want anyone else to be assaulted. If this works better than the alternative…

    I don’t know. It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel so maybe I’ll be back later, but I think there’s a lot more to unload. I know it was tough for you to talk about (max and Jadey), but I think it’s an important part of the conversation.

  42. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 27, 2011 at 9:32 am |

    I have a comment in moderation, but I think I confused jail with prison throughout.

  43. Sunset
    Sunset April 27, 2011 at 10:19 am |

    Regarding some of the comments on public shame/avoidance of sex offenders:

    No, I don’t really think this will change the behavior of the offenders. HOWEVER, it would make a vast difference in the recovery for survivors. Too often women lose their friends and support system after assault, because the abuser remains a welcome part of the social group. It would also reduce the number of victims a particular abuser has access to.

  44. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar April 27, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    I can fight rape culture by raising feminist children.

  45. IrishUp
    IrishUp April 27, 2011 at 10:56 am |

    Jadey, max, and PrettyAmiable; thank you very much for your posts. It’s a terribly hard (yet extrenely important) conversation to have, and I respect you all very much for how you’re conducting it.

    Jadey, your description reminds me very much of the work that the Truth and Reconciliation Committee did/does in South Africa
    http://www.justice.gov.za/trc/trccom.html

  46. Nahida
    Nahida April 27, 2011 at 11:05 am |

    Quiet Riot Girl: You people just can’t cope with how some people disagree with you.

    Seriously?

    Quiet Riot Girl, this post is about fighting rape culture. If you don’t believe it exists in the first place and wish to debate it, you would be derailing the post–and you’d be doing it with the same shit we’ve already heard. There’s a difference between being able to cope with people who disagree with you and having to cope with them all the freakin’ time, because they come into space in with whose very premises they disagree. It actually gets to be a pain in the ass.

    I believe you when you say that preventing rape is important to you, but I don’t see how offering solutions requires you to debate the existence of rape culture.

  47. Nahida
    Nahida April 27, 2011 at 11:16 am |

    Sunset: Too often women lose their friends and support system after assault, because the abuser remains a welcome part of the social group.

    THIS! It amazes me.

  48. Quiet Riot Girl
    Quiet Riot Girl April 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm |

    Well Nahida because I live in the world at large and not on a little feminism island. So I assume I am free to express my opinions whatever they are about issues,wherever those issues are discussed. And my views, even if they include the concept that ‘rape culture’ does not exist, may include some ideas on how to reduce sexual and gender violence in society.

    Some feminist blogs/websites are ‘safe spaces’ and as Clarisse and Jill have indicated they are supposedly ‘safe’ from people who are not feminist. This seems ridiculous to me because out there in the world, you don’t get to separate yourselves off and separation by feminists has not reduced gender violence.

    so I don’t know what you are trying to achieve

    1. Jill
      Jill April 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm | *

      Some feminist blogs/websites are ‘safe spaces’ and as Clarisse and Jill have indicated they are supposedly ‘safe’ from people who are not feminist. This seems ridiculous to me because out there in the world, you don’t get to separate yourselves off and separation by feminists has not reduced gender violence.

      I actually don’t believe in feminist blogs as “safe spaces.” But I do think that any blog has a right to keep its comment sections from turning into shitshows. You regularly show up and turn our comment sections into shitshows. It’s not that we don’t live in the real world or that we aren’t willing to engage with people who disagree. It’s that you keep bringing up the same thing, over and over again on different threads, and it’s not productive.

      I mean, if we’re talking about, say, the Obama birth certificate, there are people in the real world who think it’s fake and that he’s an African Muslim interloper. But why do we have to give them space to vent those ideas on this blog?

      We are trying to have a conversation about how to best counteract rape culture. You do not believe rape culture exists. Engaging your ideas is like engaging the people who don’t believe Obama is an American citizen. It’s totally counterproductive and frustrating for everyone.

  49. Wellredgirl
    Wellredgirl April 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm |

    As a survivor, I’ve found the best thing I can do is to talk about it. Not the details of the assault, but just the fact that it HAPPENED. I am still amazed at how often it happens that when I share my story, someone tells me that they had a similar experience. I don’t recommend this for everyone – I have the benefit of time and distance, and talking about it isn’t painful anymore – but I have met so many people who either a) thought they were alone, or ashamed and afraid or b) didn’t think it was something that affected their world. I don’t wear a t-shirt that says “I am a rape survivor”, but in the right circumstance, I am open and honest. I’ve found that just doing that can be a powerful thing.

  50. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub April 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm |

    Indeed, QRG. STALIN! Heaven forbid someone advise you from refraining from doing the rhetorical version of flinging poo.

    You come into these threads, derail them, and make them all about YOU. I don’t think this has squat to do with your beliefs as much as some twisted need to be at the center of another fucking thread tornado.

  51. William
    William April 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm |

    I do see genuine accountability and desire on the part of many offenders to change their lifestyles and change those things that motivated them to offend

    Yet…there is still the damage done. My experience, as a survivor, has been one of…well…survival. The experience of powerlessness, of victimhood, the ways that it has interfered with my sex life and relationships, the downright ugly things which it has lead me to think and feel, the real dangers I’ve exposed myself to in the search for something somewhat different from accountability years after the legal system failed me, these things have reverberated through my life for decades after the rape itself. I recognize, on an intellectual and community psych level, the need to change offenders and prevent re-offense. On a human and emotional level, though, the survivor in me wants to see blood whether there is a desire to change and be accountable or not. That countertransference is there and it makes the discussion very, very difficult even though I’ve been there as a therapist.

    Treatment sometimes comes across as coddling because we have a fundamental disconnect between a punishment-oriented system and a rehabilitation-oriented system. As a society, we need both of those systems happening.

    This is where I start to have some major ethical problems with trying to rehabilitate sex offenders. There is certainly the part of me that is vengeful and sees myself in other victims, but thats the part that I know enough to set aside.

    More importantly, though, I think you run into two problems. The first is that treatment rarely works unless someone wants to be treated. In the absence of some kind of Come To Jesus moment I don’t see mandated treatment as being anything more than theater. If we can learn to engineer that moment of basic human empathy and insight, maybe treatment would be a more attractive option to me. I’m genuinely curious as to how you overcome this issue in your work.

    My second concern, though, is a bit deeper. I’m REALLY uncomfortable with the idea of treating what is generally a moral failing because of what it does to other mad persons. From a clinical perspective I get it, we are creature of experience and in terms of conceptualization being a rapist isn’t much different from any other presentation, but from the perspective of Knowledge-Power I’m hesitant. Sure, we might be able to treat rapists, but the implications of that, especially once it begins to filter into the public consciousness, are concerning. When you begin to treat rapists as if they were mad, when you use the technology and apparatus of therapy, you begin to create the public perception that rape is something mad persons do. Aside from some of the really dangerous safety illusions that might lead to, you have the problem of reinforcing the trope of the dangerous madman. Mad folks have enough stigma without being implicitly tied to one of the more monstrous things one human being can do to another.

    Relatedly, and I’ll admit that this is a bias against/concern about the state of forensic work in our country in general, I’m pretty uncomfortable with tying treatment and punishment into one another. I think we need to be extremely careful about trying to use mental health services to influence behaviors and control people. Therapy isn’t for discipline, it isn’t there to create certain kinds of outcomes, and lending our specific skill set to that leads down some very dangerous roads in my opinion.

    You’re absolutely right that its a very difficult discussion. These are just my shots from the hip as someone who has been both a survivor and a clinician.

  52. Nahida
    Nahida April 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm |

    Quiet Riot Girl: Well Nahida because I live in the world at large and not on a little feminism island. So I assume I am free to express my opinions whatever they are about issues,wherever those issues are discussed.

    Unless they are being discussed on someone else’s property. The writers of Feministe have the right to kick you off their site for denying the existence of rape culture just as anyone would have the right to kick your out of their home for denying the existence of global warming or unicorns.

    You are not entitled to me having to listen to you.

  53. Ben Privot
    Ben Privot April 27, 2011 at 1:12 pm |

    Such a fantastic post – thank you yet again Clarisse!

    I especially love the part about communicating sexual desire: “how many fingers..?”. Creating a consensual environment can be tough, but one of the things I love love love to do which helps establish respect, trust, accountability, and safety with my hookup is to be clear at the beginning,

    “Just so you know, if at any point you want to stop or slow things down, I’m happy to do so!”

    From what I’ve found as well, not only do I hear the same in return, but we both end up feeling more comfortable in the hookup and are then able enjoy it that much more!

    Thanks again Clarisse and Feministe!

  54. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla April 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm |

    Jadey:

    I totally, absolutely agree with everything that you say here, and my discomfort does not negate your real-world experience with intervention outside the (traditional) CJS.

    I think this is why this is so painful to me: I know that activists who seek to dismantle the punitive CJS and create alternative systems that serve the needs of victims / survivors while truly holding offenders accountable to victims / survivors and to the community (and giving offenders the tools they need to hold themselves accountable) is the only way out of the total fucking pile of racist, misogynist, classist, ableist, cis/heterosexist CJS that we’ve got. In the end, as you say, the CJS *does not* hold offenders accountable for their offenses; it only punishes, and we are not in the end any safer.

    And yet: I’m a survivor, and I cannot deny the deep, core-of-the-gut fear that I feel, irrational though it may be – Indeed, I’m crying as I write this. PTSD sucks.

    So I’ll leave it at that, and I’ll check out the stuff going on in Philadelphia, PA (my home city).

  55. Quiet Riot Girl
    Quiet Riot Girl April 27, 2011 at 2:04 pm |

    Jill- My point is you have decided it is ‘obvious’ that ‘rape culture’ exists. This thread is about ‘rape culture’.

    I have for example questioned Melissa McEwan’s definition that rape culture involves the objectification of women which ‘renders consent irrelevant’. That is a dramatic statement and I’d like to know if other feminists agree with it or not.

    Rape culture is a concept and in order for it to be useful it has to stand up to criticism.

  56. max
    max April 27, 2011 at 2:47 pm |

    Ohmigosh there are so many great and thoughtful comments on this thread that i really want to say some stuff about.
    I really appreciate the tension between wanting to do things that end rape culture as a whole (if you believe they do) and other systems of oppression and wanting to spend a lot of time punching someone in the face. And between what you ‘should’ feel and what you do feel. And what i appreciate even more is that people are coming here and giving voice to that tension and struggling through it. Also i think that being really really angry, like violently angry, at people who abuse us can also be part of ending rape culture; i think validating the wide range of reactions we have in relation to being raped/assaulted/abused is so vital to our survival and moving through all this.
    I want to say a couple of words about my own experiences of sexual assault– i sort of react to them differently from some of you folks and i just want to put it out there because at this point i want it to be clear that it is these experiences that i’m speaking from. So, trigger warning.
    the thing thats the worst for me is that i dont think the people who sexually assaulted me think they did anything wrong. And for me, more than anything, i want them to be told that until they get it. I want them to be told by everyone, told by people they respect and trust, until theyre like wow, if everyone thinks i did somethinng wrong i probably did, maybe i need to learn about consent. And thats what i see some alternatives doing, getting everyone, especially people the perpetrator looks up to, saying ‘what youre doing is not ok, it’s sexual assault,and i cant respect you or like you if you sexually assault people.’ so thats why im such a big supporter of this. And it just kills me that what i see is them being told and retold that they were in the right. (the moment when i realized how awful my situation with one of these people was was when i heard them totally victim blame someone else, and i heard that victim blaming sentiment echoed by our whole school basically.) But i realize that its probably atypical of me to think that the people who assaulted and abused me werent horrible people at their core, but they actually thought that what they did was ok or at least were able to justify it to themselves, and i want that to be impossible.
    On a related note, one of these people did spend some time in jail later for unrelated reasons and the thought of them there makes me feel sick all over. But again thats me and i know my experiences arent everyones. Clearly.
    Anyways, i know im missing a lot of things that i would love to respond to. Oh but one is that i wouldnt feel ok using the terminology of treatment for the reasaons you spelled out above, william, or even thinking about it as treatment. I don’t know how i’d think of it, but thats def problematic i think. Im so not down to do this work without fighting ableism among other things.
    K thanks for being so badass, folks!

  57. Jadey
    Jadey April 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm |

    I just want to check in to say that I’ve started writing a comment, but I don’t have enough free time at a computer right now to give it the work and care it needs, so it will be until later tonight before I can give another proper contribution to this discussion. My apologies! Thank you again to everyone who is participating, and to everyone who is just reading and thinking as well. This is a hard conversation for all of us, but I feel like it’s a wonderful and unexpected gift that we’ve been able to have it.

  58. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 27, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    @GG, internet hugs, if you’re receptive to them. If not, internet chocolate lava cake. I don’t know if you’ll be back, but if you are, I’ve found your comments and thoughts on the topic invaluable.

    William: When you begin to treat rapists as if they were mad, when you use the technology and apparatus of therapy, you begin to create the public perception that rape is something mad persons do.

    This was another concern of mine, but I couldn’t word it well. Thanks for maintaining standard William-level eloquence.

    max: But i realize that its probably atypical of me to think that the people who assaulted and abused me werent horrible people at their core, but they actually thought that what they did was ok or at least were able to justify it to themselves, and i want that to be impossible.

    I don’t know what’s typical, but I can tell you it’s a shit-ton easier for me, at least, to live the way Jadey described above – where I dehumanize my attackers. I think another reason I get so bitter about the idea of community intervention is because I was ostracized from one community when I removed myself from the company of one assaulter – who then went around telling everyone I was crazy and hypersensitive and such (which was oh-so-hilarious to me a few months later when I was diagnosed with PTSD). It feels like my community turned on me, I guess. And I hate to think of my attacker being embraced.

    All of this said, I recognize there are problems on an intellectual level with my gut reaction. For one, that particular assaulter would NEVER voluntarily seek community outreach, so it’s moot. Further, that community was happy to pretend assault doesn’t exist. You can’t have community outreach when the community is sweeping their problems under the rug. It was a small community, though – so nothing like Philly. I wonder how the community outreach idea would translate to smaller communities. I’d love to know what you and Jadey think.

    @IrishUp, thanks. Your comment made me cry a little, haha.
    @Nahida, MAJOR hearts for letting the unicorn thing live on, hahaha.

  59. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub April 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm |

    One reason why I am so skeptical of–and quite frankly, hostile to–this sort of thing is because sexual assault survivors are already pilloried, silenced and shamed by the community. The community often doesn’t give a shit about–or is quite hateful and threatening towards–sexual assault survivors. The community all to often rallies around the attacker(s).

    For all of the talk about accountability, they aren’t held accountable. Survivors are held accountable–for the choices they made, for the way they dressed, for the way they acted after the assault, and for “lying” (since many people assume that if you’ve come forward, you’re lying about what happened).

    The reporting rate for sexual assault is abysmally low, the conviction rates are far lower. This is often because the survivors are disbelieved, blamed for what happened, and sometimes harassed and hounded by the community for having the gall to report.

  60. William
    William April 27, 2011 at 4:55 pm |

    max:
    Oh but one is that i wouldnt feel ok using the terminology of treatment for the reasaons you spelled out above, william, or even thinking about it as treatment. I don’t know how i’d think of it, but thats def problematic i think.

    One of the big stuggles I’m having with this discussion is how to handle rapists and reduce rape culture without, well, doing damage to other things that are important to me. Its more than just using the terminology of therapy that makes me uncomfortable because utilizing the techniques of therapy has implications. I don’t doubt that if you put a team of skilled psychologists in a prison (or some other theoretical post-prison institution) and asked them to fix rapists that you might be able to have some success. Still, just because we can doesn’t necessarily mean I think we should at least partly because I think that it might mean advancing some of the things which lie beneath rape culture.

    The idea of it being OK to use someone, in some situations or contexts, I think is the common root of not only rape culture but a lot of other ugly things in our society. I’m worried that using the technologies of therapy to control and coerce rather than to heal advances the underlying damaging power dynamics that allow rape culture to exist. Its not that I don’t think rapists don’t deserve to be treated in a given way (I’m not nearly so deluded as to pretend that my trauma leaves me wanting anything other than retribution) but that I’m fearful that once we make something normal and OK we begin to become infected by it. Being able to look under the hood of the human mind and fiddle with the parts is an enormous responsibility, I’m kind of horrified at the idea of doing it without someone’s enthusiastic consent. I think we run a real danger of perpetuating a greater system of oppression that we know by continuing down that path.

    PrettyAmiable:
    I don’t know what’s typical, but I can tell you it’s a shit-ton easier for me, at least, to live the way Jadey described above – where I dehumanize my attackers.

    I wonder if thats not part of what makes this discussion really tough for me. I…want to be able to dehumanize my attacker. There have been times in my life when I’ve needed it, there have been times in my life when its helped me find closure, there have been times in my life when its taken me to some scary places that I survived (through a combination of luck, time, and privilege) and I think have allowed me to grow. Not being able to dehumanize my attackers takes away a lot of my armor (not to mention my sword). I’m really sensitive to the idea that I would have to give that up. Maybe I shouldn’t be, although thats a pretty scary thought all on it’s own.

  61. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm |

    You know, the presence of these kinds of shelters doesn’t make me feel like I can’t or shouldn’t dehumanize rapists. I found out that one of my attackers, shortly after and because of his attempted (possibly completed – drugs were involved) rape, was suicidal. I can’t bring myself to care, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism, maybe it reflects on me being a shitty person, maybe it’s normal to want bad things to happen to bad people, so on and so forth. Most likely, it’s because our common friends really wanted me to care because his suicidal thoughts somehow trumped the massive personal trauma he caused me. I dunno, I don’t really remember that card in Apples to Apples. My lack of giving a fuck is never going to be on par with committing a heinous violent crime, so.

    But the issue that I have with the outreach program? While I’m perfectly comfortable with continuing to dehumanize people I find incredibly dangerous, it makes me so angry that other people don’t also by default dehumanize them (possibly because I feel plenty dehumanized by rape apologists and have enough to spare). That part of me is a little ugly. Again, not because I give a damn about the feelings of rapists, but because I don’t think I should want to control part of someone else’s empathy that is actually working to help others in the long run.

  62. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla April 27, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

    @PA: Can I take you up on both the hugs and the cake? *grin*

    @PA and @William, on dehumanizing one’s attacker: I’d *love* to be able to do that, I really would, even if just for a moment. I’d *love* to be able to express the rage that I feel at what he did to me, for he truly dehumanized me.

    The thing is, he was my partner and I saw how frightened and insecure he was, and I was very well aware of how he had been sexually abused as a child. That just makes it worse, knowing that he was victimized and dehumanized, but then turned that around and used it as a weapon against me, and he had no awareness that what he was doing was so harmful to me. And then I cared for him as he died of pancreatic cancer. And I have all these memories of times we spent together that were just sheer joy for both of us. I just cannot dehumanize him, and it makes it much harder for me to put the hurt away as a result.

    So one more thing that I would add to Clarisse’s question: Acknowledging that rape can be part of a relationship that includes things ranging from really shitty to really good, and everything in between, and for those who wish to support survivors let us talk about the complexity of some abusive relationships, to believe us when some of us say that it wasn’t a case of “he was a monster and I was an angel” and not expecting us to work within a particular inflexible framework in terms of healing. And also not shaming those of us who chose to stay in the relationship despite the abuse.

    This has been a powerhouse of a thread. At this point, I think it’s time for me to step back a bit, but I’ll still be reading.

  63. saurus
    saurus April 27, 2011 at 6:51 pm |

    I never want my offender to be in the same community as me. Ever. Which is not to say that exile is always the answer; because I think often it isn’t viable.

    In fact, it’s not even practical in my situation. Because of the social imbalance between us, that would never work – he is far more established in the community than I am. So I left the community, and he stayed, and he got to keep all the friends and so forth. In fact, none of them even know what happened to me – and I doubt he does either. I just fled. So whatever they know is from his perspective, which certainly doesn’t make their co-existence with me any more wonderful.

    I guess if I knew that he wouldn’t be surrounded by people who are convinced that “he would never”, I wouldn’t feel so bad about him co-existing here. But as long as I know that there’s even one friend who will reassure him that what he did wasn’t that bad, the idea of being in the same circle is just unthinkable. I’m not sure why this is.

    Anyway, I don’t know whether I could go through that accountability process – what would the end goal be, exactly? Is it to retain him in the community? Because if so, I think it would be fundamentally impossible, since that’s a deal-breaker for me. I think for a lot of us survivors, certain end goals – like forgiveness, or acceptance, let’s say – are deal-breakers. But maybe the desired end goal is something else, I don’t know – I don’t know much about how such processes work. Maybe Jadey can talk some more about that.

    I also wouldn’t want him to be imprisoned – partially because then he’d just be even more of a martyr in the community, partially because of the hell I’d have to go through to get him there, but mostly because I am just too revolted by the prison industrial complex. I don’t negatively judge survivors who aren’t, but it’s not something I can personally stomach. I want him to feel really shitty about what he did – really profoundly shitty: too shitty to coerce people into pitying him for feeling so shitty; too shitty to believe anyone who says I was at fault; too shitty to retain his vision of himself as an Exceptionally Good Guy. And I don’t think prison will do anything whatsoever to that end.

    For me, the ideal thing – for my own peace of mind – would be pressing a button that zips him over to the opposite end of the world, where he realizes what a shit he was, and where no one insists that he’s “such a good guy” and it wasn’t his fault, and then he goes on to live a pretty much unremarkable life. And this button would also erase all memories of him from his friends and allies here. That way I can make a fresh start.

    Is there an app for that?

  64. rox
    rox April 27, 2011 at 8:11 pm |

    “Not that this isn’t a good way to fight rape culture, but, on a personal level, this isn’t something I can do, at least not with any reliability. It’s one thing when I’m feeling “uncomfortable,” but often by the time I’d describe myself as feeling “violated,” I’m also triggered and have dissociated myself the fuck out of the situation (at least cognitively and verbally).

    And I think, given the incidence rate of sexual assault and abuse and the ability of said acts to contribute to conditions like PTSD, that this might not be a super-rare occurrence among other people as well.

    So I think it might be worth either adding to this statement or maybe just listing it to something that talks about survivor responses and/or PTSD.”

    I REALLY REALLY want this to be talked about more. This has been the larger portion of my experience of sex. It’s horrible. It’s so horrible. I also think part of ending rape culture is cultivating an environment where if someone is cowering inward, wincing, crying, curling up in a ball, or looks like they are dissociated— AND YOU HAVE NOT NEGOTIATED THAT AS PART OF SEX— then you should STOP. If something looks a miss, stop. Don’t even try to continue the sexual encounter, as negotiating consent when someone is dissociated is nearly impossible.

    Take a break and then discussed what happened and how they would like to handle that in the future or how to work through it; or if the person was enjoying themselves and there was no need to stop— that’s something to hash out too!

    Jadey—- whew — that is so hard. I think I get a little disoriented trying to read through that. I wanted to save him from his behavior. I wanted him to be saved. I still don’t know what makes sense. The wanting to fogive and the horror at the pain that you see in someone who is horrified by their own actions— these are all things that happen too and they are often part of the process of hoping that things can be solved and the person can learn how to not cause horrible traumatic things to happen. But entrusting someone who has done such things with being a part of society again? I mean that is exactly what calls people into continuing these kinds of relationships.

    And it’s understandable to want them to heal and to want to believe in them and I want that too. And I think we should be careful of not judging someone in a relationship who wants to stay with someone who is getting counseling and trying to work on their “being an abuser issues”. : ( It’s all so sad.

  65. Martine Votvik
    Martine Votvik April 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm |

    The most important thing we can do to fight rape culture is to accept that we are all part of it’s continious upkeeping through various ways that we might not be aware of and strive to identify these and strive to eliminate them even though it can cost us both in personal comfort and personal relationships (ultimatly it gives you better personal relationships, but it might not seem like that at first).

    Saying no to rape jokes can be a intimidating task, but in as far as you recognice it when you hear it it’s relativly easy.

    Recognicing how the power structures in your family/group of friends is part of the problem can be harder. All to often we let askew power dynamics be just because ‘it’s always been that way’ or because it just ‘isn’t worth the hassle’.

    Holding people acountable for their actions is easier when you have practice.

    Don’t people realise that just accepting that Joe is insensitive, Josey is nosey and Mum is bossing everybody around is like practicing just accepting that Pete is a pervert. Or that uncle Bob was just being funny, hello, everybody knows uncle Bob doesn’t mean those things seriously. (sarcasm)

    So yeah, basically call people out every time they step over any boundries, not just sexual ones. Jepp, that’s my two cents.

  66. Martine Votvik
    Martine Votvik April 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm |

    or maybe I should say the most important thing “in my experience”…

    Or one important thing…

    Or one thing, possibly…

  67. Martine Votvik
    Martine Votvik April 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm |

    And one other thing

    be mindfull of the your social interaction with others. Sometimes among friends we do things that we know we can get away with, like shut them up with a snarky comment or guilt them into doing something for us. These things might seem harmless on their own, but they are still stepping over boundries and as such contributing to rape culture.

    So yeah, begin with yourself. Funny how it always comes back to this one isn’t it.

  68. Jadey
    Jadey April 27, 2011 at 10:15 pm |

    Hi all!

    So there are a lot of responses here and I’m a bit overwhelmed but grateful for how welcoming and supportive everyone has been given the emotional intensity of the issue I raised. I’m still operating on limited time (and sleep) at this point unfortunately, but I want to respond to some key points right away. I will try to fill in the rest of the blanks tomorrow as soon as I can.

    Mainly, I want to offer some clarifications:

    1) First, I want to be clear that I am a researcher and not a clinician. I do work with clinicians, as well as community workers, but I am trying to be careful about how much detail I share in an effort to maintain pseudo-nonymity. In the interests of (relative) transparency, I also want to make it known that I am white currently-[en]abled middle-class cis woman who has not been incarcerated or the victim of a sexual crime. I also do not at this point participate in the CoSA groups in my area, although I hope to involved with them professionally and personally in the near future.

    2) When I shared my view that supporting and participating in offender interventions is part of how I combat rape culture, I was speaking quite personally. While I do hope to develop support for demonstrably useful and helpful initiatives, I don’t think that there is an obligation on victims to personally embrace their particular abusers or any abusers. I certainly did not intend for my words to be shaming or to imply that everyone ought to be engaging personally in these kinds of activities.

    3) I had the chance this morning to speak with some other professionals in my area in relation to the issue of victims’ needs, and one of them reminded me that victims’ needs are complex and diverse and contradictory as well. This is why I appreciate so much what everyone here has shared with me – it would be unethical and methodologically unsound for me to incorporate any of this directly into my research and I have no plan to do so, but your incredible and generous honesty still gives me a better understanding of one of the groups of people I am interested in connecting with, and I am grateful. Even within this group of commenters, there is much diversity in your experiences and your needs. No one person’s experience is more or less valid than anyone else’s, as I think we all recognize, but these are the kinds of conversations that must happen if we are ever going to understand how to head forward.

    4) Another point that my colleague reminded me of, which I only roughly alluded to before, is that there are many abusers who are never brought into our system and labelled offenders. The interventions I am familiar with and have been discussing are only for those people who have been convicted and sentenced and who, to the best of our knowledge, feel accountable and responsible for their crimes (admitting, as above, that we are not perfect when it comes to this, but neither are we helpless), and who in large part are rejected and denied basic services in their communities, as both offenders and as members of other marginalized groups. There are also people out there who have never been socially or criminally sanctioned for their actions and certainly do not experience the stigma and social rejection of being a sex offender, because in large measure they are not recognized as such (sometimes they are criminally recognized as such, but public support remains with them). The interventions I am proposing are of no use for this group, because the system is making no effort to condemn them at all. This is why my fight against rape culture, while including support for effective and meaningful interventions, is not limited to this alone. There is so much more that we can and need to do to fight rape culture, as evidenced by the rest of the thread.

    There are some other specific issues raised by commenters that I really want to address and will, but not right at this moment! Time for bed. Thank you again to all the commenters, all the lurkers, and to Clarisse for starting this thread and allowing me to hijack it just a little bit. Sorry that I apparently chose to do so on a really freakin’ busy day!

    It’s threads like this that help me justify my blog-addiction on work time. :D If only I could find a way to worm it into a progress report.

  69. Tori
    Tori April 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm |

    I REALLY REALLY want this to be talked about more. This has been the larger portion of my experience of sex. It’s horrible. It’s so horrible. I also think part of ending rape culture is cultivating an environment where if someone is cowering inward, wincing, crying, curling up in a ball, or looks like they are dissociated— AND YOU HAVE NOT NEGOTIATED THAT AS PART OF SEX— then you should STOP. If something looks a miss, stop. Don’t even try to continue the sexual encounter, as negotiating consent when someone is dissociated is nearly impossible.

    One strategy I have for this — that works for me, at least — is to try to set up a “check-in policy” before sexytimes. With a new(er) partner, it tends to read like, “I need you to check in with me a lot. Every time you touch me differently, every position change. If I do not answer ‘yes,’ please assume that means ‘no.’ And if I do not answer at all, please assume I have dissociated and that you should stop immediately.” With my current partner, the check-ins tend not to be as frequent but do still regularly cover areas where I most need them (clit touching, penetration, biting, restraint, etc.).

    That definitely falls right in line with active, enthusiastic consent. It just maybe demonstrates one way enthusiastic consent can work.

  70. Quiet Riot Girl
    Quiet Riot Girl April 28, 2011 at 4:09 am |

    Jill- I am fine with you not publishing my comments if they annoy you. Publishing them late after others have posted so they get lost is a bit sneaky! I understand why you find my views ‘abhorrent’. Is it possible to get banned from feministe by request? PLEASE. I have had enough now. Thanks.

    1. Jill
      Jill April 28, 2011 at 10:18 am | *

      Jill- I am fine with you not publishing my comments if they annoy you. Publishing them late after others have posted so they get lost is a bit sneaky! I understand why you find my views ‘abhorrent’. Is it possible to get banned from feministe by request? PLEASE. I have had enough now. Thanks.

      Jesus christ. I am not publishing them “late.” Your comments are moderated, because we put you on mod a long time ago. That means I have to approve them. I also have to sleep sometimes, and be off the internet living my life at other times. I approve comments when I can, but unfortunately I cannot devote my entire day to making sure your comments go up immediately.

      And you want to be “banned from feministe by request”? Is someone holding a gun to your head and forcing you to comment here?

  71. rkel
    rkel April 28, 2011 at 4:53 am |

    I’ve always believed that actually making a serious all-out attack on rape culture could only ever possibly work if the efforts were directed at the young through a massive public education campaign.

    A campaign that taught young boys and girls from a very young age exactly what consent meant, and attempting to bombard them with the right kind of messages through media and public figures.

    I just don’t see any level of advocacy ever really changing this; even adopting restorative justice approaches in CJS’ across the world with respect to sexually violent offenders (I see many people in here have been reading Braithwaite and co.) doesn’t fill me with any sense of faith that things will change. I don’t see intergenerational change eroding rape-culture fast enough to satisfy either.

    Nope, gotta indoctrinate, cold-war style.

  72. rox
    rox April 28, 2011 at 7:44 am |

    Tori– I’ve never had partners like that! (Long story) But that sounds good. I’ve made it stop by proactively preventing guys from ever getting near me. LOL It sort of sucks because I would like to date again some day.

    I wanted to add about the subject of tonic immobility/freeze response in women who have experienced trauma. How do we handle this phenomenon in rape culture? If we pressume the woman must be assertive than women experience PTSD/terror/freeze response to being violated— how do we view them? In that situation is it “not sexual assault”? It’s a difficult issue because obviously if a man doesn’t know a woman is having a freeze response/is dissociated then he can’t be accused of sexual assault or rape. But what if he DOES know?

    And further more, can we teach men(initiating partner) that they should… try to know? If they have started initiating sex before they’ve talked about past history and he is doing something that maks her freeze and not respond, can we teach guys that’s something to be concerned about and not necessarily a sign she is “properly seduced”?

    And further more for me personally I have found that the only guys i’ve ever told that I have the tonic immobility/past abuse have basically done that to me on purpose which means for me personally I just basically don’t see any way to have a relationship with a guy

  73. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 28, 2011 at 9:08 am |

    Jadey: There are also people out there who have never been socially or criminally sanctioned for their actions and certainly do not experience the stigma and social rejection of being a sex offender, because in large measure they are not recognized as such (sometimes they are criminally recognized as such, but public support remains with them).

    max, I thought your Philly group was a little different than Jadey’s group, right? You made it sound like a conviction wasn’t necessary. I’m trying to wrap my head around the differences.

  74. rox
    rox April 28, 2011 at 9:31 am |

    I also think another aspect of rape culture that needs to be talked about is the idea that pressuring, coersing, persuading, or verbally pushing a woman into sex is a normal part of the sexual experience. We have this weird dynamic in which if a man/initiator attempts to persuade a woman into sex and she cowers and allows him to have sex with her but doesn’t say “no” explicitly we consider that normal behavior and perfectly fine.

    However it gets tricky because what if she is crying? What if she is curled up in a ball trying to disappear? Some people define this as rape and some people define this as “exploitive sex” that is perfectly legal. I think we need to encourage people to believe that exploitive sex, whether legal or illegal, is equally shameful to push on someone. In the end women who go through this are often having the same experience as rape.

    It gets tricky because some women(people) are submissively oriented and want the initiator to create the sexual experience with little participation from the submissive party. There is nothing wrong with liking this kind of sex but I think we need to have more conversations about how submissive women(people) can get that experience without perpetuating the idea that men(initiators) should be encouraged to persuade/push/coerce people into sex and take a submissive response as permission to continue.

    I think that means more honesty for those of us women who can be submissively oriented to be willing to say what we want. Instead of assuming that because some women like to be submissive it means that men should all be permmitted to do that to ANY woman– we need to have a way that people who like elements of dom/sub interaction to participate in this dynamic without encouraging it to be put on women who don’t want to be pushed into such things.

  75. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 28, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    She considers it a status symbol.

  76. Li
    Li April 28, 2011 at 10:42 am |

    So, I’m really appreciating the many comments, and I might join in the broader discussion if I have the spoons at some point, but on the topic of the original post:

    - By being aware that people negotiate and express consent in a variety of different ways and by having a meta-conversation with partners about how I go about expressing or asking for consent and how they also do those things.

    - By fighting for safer spaces agreements and grievance policies in the political spaces i participate in, and making sure those agreements include bodily autonomy and consent.

    - By being a survivor, and fighting to survive even though it’s sometimes the hardest thing in the world.

    Anyway, those three points just took far more energy and emotion to type out than I expected, so I am now going to go immerse myself in some Antony and the Johnsons.

  77. rox
    rox April 28, 2011 at 11:05 am |

    I’ve been thinking more— I still just think there’s something really weird with a culture in which a guy initiates sex with a woman who is cowering and feeling afraid and dissociates and he is seen as perfectly acceptable in society and his professional life should not be affected by that, his status as a sex offender should not be affected by that, his friendships should not be affected by that, his social status should not be affected by that—- BUT if the exact same situation happens but the woman offered up a meager “please stop” suddenly he is evil, his career should be destroyed, he should be isolated from society, everyone has a right to know about his behavior, he should face life altering huge legal consequences that will affect the rest of his life, impact/destroy his freindships, social standing, career.

    We think a man who continues if a woman manages to mutter “please stop” but does the same thing to the woman that the man in the situation where she can’t manage to mutter please stop— one is perfectly fine and the other is horrific and the man should be destroyed.

    It doesn’t make sense to me. How can one thing be perfectly acceptable and one not when it was exsperienced by the men and women in both situations as exactly the same thing?

  78. Quiet Riot Girl
    Quiet Riot Girl April 28, 2011 at 11:11 am |

    ‘we put you on mod’ sounds like ‘we put you on the naughty step’!

    I only just noticed I was ‘on mod’. I am not actually quite as avid a follower of Feministe as you make out. There is no gun to my head.
    But I shall pull the trigger anyway. Bye laydeez.

  79. Quiet Riot Girl
    Quiet Riot Girl April 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |

    I didn’t notice I was ‘on mod’. I don’t pay quite as much attention to Feministe as you make out. But I will take this as a good opportunity to pull the trigger myself. Bye ladies. Enjoy the patriarchy.

  80. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 28, 2011 at 11:33 am |

    I liked how she tried twice.

  81. mztress
    mztress April 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm |

    Can anyone tell me the time(s) and place(s) for SHEER? i’d love to go, and Chicago is my area.

  82. Mandolin
    Mandolin April 29, 2011 at 5:24 am |

    Quite late commenting, but wanted to say this thread was really amazing for me to read (the stuff about survivors and the CSJ, not the drama), and thank you thank you to everyone who gave time and spoons to write these comments.

  83. Tupac Chopra
    Tupac Chopra April 30, 2011 at 2:57 am |

    “demanding justice and accountability for survivors that doesn’t rely on the criminal justice system or prison industrial complex”

    Could you explain what you mean by the above?

  84. Clitorious Big
    Clitorious Big April 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

    Is there a band or something by the name of “DateRape”
    I never listen to the radio but today while driving I did and caught the tailend of the radio jockey saying “And its DateRape, its a good thing”

    I was shocked so figured he was talking about a band or a song but then – why the hell would someone name a band or song after that? Why are people so caulous about crimes against humanity?

    Anyway, I’m curious what was meant by, ““demanding justice and accountability for survivors that doesn’t rely on the criminal justice system or prison industrial complex”

    If not deal wit through the legal justice system then how would a date rape be prosecuted and punished?

    Thanks,
    Julie H. Hampton

  85. William
    William May 1, 2011 at 11:52 am |

    A bit of googling tells me that there was a band by that name (maybe punk, maybe industrial, the press is conflicting) that produced one EP in the 80s and rereleased it sometime in the last five years, although they don’t really seem like anything that would actually make it to anything other than college radio. Could it have been a DJ talking about the old Sublime song?

  86. Clitorious Big
    Clitorious Big May 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm |

    Clarisse, could you link to the specific comments please or just give me a 2 sentence summary? Thanks.

    1. Jill
      Jill May 1, 2011 at 5:59 pm | *

      Clarisse, could you link to the specific comments please or just give me a 2 sentence summary? Thanks.

      For real? Just read the comments, they’re all right here. Don’t ask Clarisse to do it for you.

  87. Clitorious Big
    Clitorious Big May 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm |

    Rox and others discussing survivors suffering from PTSD. It might be advisable for such persons to practice celibacy until they heal from their experiences. It would go a long way in protecting one from triggers.

    There is also much to be gained from withdrawing from sexual relationships. Alot of time, energy and emotions are freed up for self-development.

  88. kloncke
    kloncke May 1, 2011 at 6:44 pm |

    Super appreciating this thread, esp comments #2, #81, and everyone engaging in the question of holding perpetrators accountable. On that subject, I wanted to share an experience from this past week that, I think, helps reduce rape culture. It’s not meant to be a universal solution, but it was pretty successful and encouraging for the Person Calling Out Violence (PCOV, a.k.a. survivor).* Importantly, even though I was the one who wound up meeting with the perpetrator to write up the contract, the entire process involved work by the PCOV themself, other people supporting them, and trainers from Philly Stands Up!, whose workshop gave me and the PCOV some really useful idea-tools for dealing with this situation. So.

    I can:

    - work with a PCOV to create a list of demands, and then meet with their ex-partner/perpetrator to write out a contract detailing how they will meet those demands.

    - make sure that the accountability contract focuses on the wishes of the PCOV, and not on the potential reformation of the perpetrator. For example, if part of the contract says that the perpetrator will not enter political or social spaces where their ex-partner is, and will leave immediately if they do find themselves in the same space as their ex-partner, it should be clear that this is not a rule for “until the perpetrator has transformed their behaviors,” but is rather a part of supporting the PCOV’s right to move freely in political and social spaces, without compromising their recovery.

    - make sure that a contract and accountability statement by the perpetrator rests in the full control of the PCOV, who is free to show it to anyone they wish, which makes it more difficult for the perpetrator to backtrack and deny or minimize their harmful actions.

    Again, I don’t know if these actions would be helpful for most people or most cases, and I appreciate what’s been said about accountability processes only working when the perpetrator is at least somewhat willing to cooperate. In this case, it actually took a lot of pressure to get them to follow through on the contract: including a threat of an open letter to hundreds of Bay Area activists (he was an activist, too, and didn’t want to be blown up about it in that way). But overall (so far), the PCOV has said it’s been an empowering experience for them.

    *”survivor” isn’t a term that this particular person wants for themselves (“victim” won’t work, either), so I’m just trying my best to think of other terms. If folks have better suggestions, please let me know!

    Thanks again for the discussion, and for the transparent mod work — much appreciated.

  89. kloncke
    kloncke May 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm |

    In this case, it actually took a lot of pressure to get them to follow through on the contract:

    To clarify, it took pressure to get them to write the contract. Since it only happened this week, we’ll have to see whether they will abide by it consistently or not.

  90. Tori
    Tori May 1, 2011 at 6:57 pm |

    Clitorious Big:
    Rox and others discussing survivors suffering from PTSD.It might be advisable for such persons to practice celibacy until they heal from their experiences.It would go a long way in protecting one from triggers.

    There is also much to be gained from withdrawing from sexual relationships.Alot of time, energy and emotions are freed up for self-development.

    It certainly might, but that needs to be something addressed at an individual level. The rape that precipitated my PTSD (because I think there were events both before and after that have some bearing on my mental health) was nearly 12 years ago. I was celibate for some time afterward, but to have remained so for a dozen years would not have been the right choice for me.

    I’ve spent plenty of time in therapy and have done a great deal of healing. I still have PTSD and still dissociate when I’m triggered. And I can still have wonderful, awesome sex when it’s with someone who respects how “active consent” plays out for me.

    Additionally, I’m really uneasy with the suggestion — in this place, a post dedicated to fighting rape culture — to place the onus on survivors for changing their behavior. Definitely, celibacy is a good option for a lot of people (for greater or lesser amounts of time), but there’s enough talk in the world of what survivors should do differently with their own lives. I know how to do what’s best for me.

  91. Clitorious Big
    Clitorious Big May 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm |

    Clarisse and Jill, sorry if I came off rude and demanding. I’m just at work and the amount of scrolling I did do throught the comments I could not find the ones specifically dealing with my question.

    Anyone care to summarize? My question was:

    Anyway, I’m curious what was meant by, ““demanding justice and accountability for survivors that doesn’t rely on the criminal justice system or prison industrial complex”

    If not deal wit through the legal justice system then how would a date rape be prosecuted and punished?

    *

    TORI, unfortunately it is survivors who will have to deal with PTSD, not perpetrators – unless they are thrown behind bars and subsequently raped therein (karma’s a bitch, boys).

    Celibacy is just a tool-for-healing that I suggested.

    There’s nothing we can do to change a rapist’s behaviour because they are not normal, psychologically healthy people. They are aberrent criminals.

  92. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla May 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm |

    Clitorious Big: Anyone care to summarize? My question was:

    Anyway, I’m curious what was meant by, ““demanding justice and accountability for survivors that doesn’t rely on the criminal justice system or prison industrial complex”

    If not deal wit through the legal justice system then how would a date rape be prosecuted and punished?

    Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick. IT’S THERE IN THE COMMENTS; READ! Try #2, #12 (including visiting phillystandsup.com and phillystandsup.wordpress.com), and all of the comments that discuss alternatives to the CJS. Like maybe search the page for CJS. IT IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE.

    Clitorious Big: unless they are thrown behind bars and subsequently raped therein (karma’s a bitch, boys).

    This is fucked up. Suggesting that rapists be punished by being raped helps to dismantle rape culture how, exactly? I can tell you, that as a survivor of rape, this shit is damned triggering.

    Clitorious Big: Celibacy is just a tool-for-healing that I suggested.

    No, you didn’t “just suggest” it. You said:

    Clitorious Big: Rox and others discussing survivors suffering from PTSD. It might be advisable for such persons to practice celibacy until they heal from their experiences. It would go a long way in protecting one from triggers.

    This is prescriptive. I am under no obligation to subsume my sexuality and give up my bodily / sexual autonomy to heal from PTSD. As a matter of fact, your advice is veering very close to victim-blaming. It also won’t work for me: my triggers aren’t dependent on whether I’m celibate or not. How would my being celibate protect me from being triggered by comments like “unless they are thrown behind bars and subsequently raped therein (karma’s a bitch, boys)”?

  93. Tori
    Tori May 1, 2011 at 9:49 pm |

    TORI, unfortunately it is survivors who will have to deal with PTSD, not perpetrators – unless they are thrown behind bars and subsequently raped therein (karma’s a bitch, boys).

    Celibacy is just a tool-for-healing that I suggested.

    Clitorious Big — Really? You came here and said that?

    No.

    The problem is, it’s also survivors who have to deal with presumptuous and unsolicited “advice” about how they “should” act before, during, or after a rape. Rather than fighting rape culture, this is the bullshit that perpetuates it.

  94. Clitorious Big
    Clitorious Big May 1, 2011 at 10:18 pm |

    Me: Celibacy is just a tool-for-healing that I suggested.

    Galling Galla: No, you didn’t “just suggest” it. You said:

    Me: It MIGHT be advisable for such persons to practice celibacy until they heal from their experiences.
    *
    That was indeed a suggestion (might), not “prescriptive” as you say.

    :)

  95. SephONE
    SephONE May 2, 2011 at 2:21 am |

    @Clitorious Big: As has already been pointed out though, it was a /really bad suggestion/ in a post about fighting rape culture. It wasn’t ‘just’ anything, clearly, to them. So just stop, this isn’t really a time for a smiley when you’re being so very thoughtless.

    Not to mention: “There’s nothing we can do to change a rapist’s behaviour because they are not normal, psychologically healthy people. They are aberrent criminals.” – Thanks for the dead-end where no one has to actually analyze the behavior of rapists or possible influences on the society around us that reinforces that behavior. Nope, according to you they just magically pop up out of nowhere and continue to do so and it’s just ‘oh well that’s the way they are’. Nicely isolating them by calling them ‘not normal’ too, such an easy dismissal. Yeah, that’ll definitely fight rape culture.

  96. William
    William May 2, 2011 at 9:08 am |

    It MIGHT be advisable for such persons to practice celibacy until they heal from their experiences.

    You’re trying to play both sides there. You say “might” but then just sixteen words later you say “would.” The “might” exists to phrase a prescription as a suggesting, the “would” follows up by making it clear which option you believe is the only correct one. It might be advisable for such you to attempt rhetorical manipulation in this space until people leave you alone. It would go a long way towards getting you called the fuck out by this community.

    Still, regarding the point you were bringing up, some survivors might need to abstain, but suggesting such a an action as a general guideline is deeply problematic because it perpetuates the dominant narratives around rape. It suggests that the survivor has had their sexuality stolen from them, that they are tainted, that now sex has been made into something inherently too dangerous for them. Any of these things might be true for any individual survivor (or even most survivors at some point), but giving them the place of dominant expectation furthers rape culture by erasing the survivor’s needs in favor of the needs of the society around that survivor. All those little subtle (and not so subtle) message about how one ought to respond to a violation play into what counts as a violation, who is seen to have asked for it, who is malingering, who is lying, who is mad. They build up to erase certain kinds of rape, to forgive others, to allow for terms like “grey rape” and laws which dont recognize the possibility of parter rape or treating sex workers who have been raped the same way one would treat a pot dealer who had his stash stolen. They create specific rules of consent which might not apply to all people, which transform consensual behavior into rape because the society dislikes it while turning actual individual experiences of rape into “bad dates.” Words, actions, and unsolicited “suggestions” conspire to create a specific discourse around rape which we call “rape culture.” You’re participating. Maybe you should have read the thread.

  97. rox
    rox May 2, 2011 at 12:10 pm |

    I have abstaine from dating for nearly 5 years. I still have PTSD. I have notice that there is a subculture of men who openly claim to enjoy exploiting women who have been previously abused. I have also notice that men who aren’t open about that do the same thing. I don’t know how you tell the difference between someone who will or won’t use that against you because in my experience there have been a lot of men who act very sympathetic about your experiences an claim to care about your well being and then go on to purposefully put you in a situation where they are pushing sex and you are scared and having all the feelings you’ve alreay told them you have and they decide the best thing is do the same thing to you.

    What I mean to say is that they start out from the same place that most people who soun genuinely sympathetic start out and if you have PTSD an get terror/freeze/dissociate response then someone who acted safe to tell this to can then figure out how to do that to you to.

    So by your logic— a rape survivor should never tell anyone that they have had this experience EVER even if they have built trust and done everything right or else they will be responsible for being exploited or raped again. Right?

  98. rox
    rox May 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm |

    And also what happens if a man can sense that she has the terror/freeze response even if you don’t volunteer that and manages to get you in that state even though you weren’t trying to date them at all?

    I don’t go near men and NEVER go anywhere alone with a man even into an office of a coworker— not alone in any room for any reason. But is that what every woman should have to do “to prevent rape culture”?

  99. rox
    rox May 2, 2011 at 12:22 pm |

    LAstly— the trauma response is something that happens particularly in response to men behaving sexually to me. I can go 3 years without thinking I have “active” PTSD an then a guy can sit really close to me an start talking with his face really close to me an I will get tunnel vision and aura symptoms and reality will feel like it’s starting to split. I can’t move an I can’t speak and my boy just shrinks into itself.

    It’s possible I will never be able to date again but it’s also really lame that we are in a culture where we think if a person with this issue gets taken advantage of or pushed into sex when they are in such a state that it was their own damn fault for not just “not being traumatized”.

    I think there are all kinds of therapies you can do but part of healing that response I think involves having practice with healthy experience with the gender you have this issue with and if it is assumed that anything bad that happens to a person with this kind of trauma is their own fault for talking to the gener they’ve had issues with, how is that helpful to fixing rape culture, OR helping people recover an believe there can be healthy relationships again?!

  100. rox
    rox May 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm |

    (also my d key isn’t working right, sorry)

  101. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable May 2, 2011 at 12:46 pm |

    Clitorious Big: Rox and others discussing survivors suffering from PTSD. It might be advisable for such persons to practice celibacy until they heal from their experiences. It would go a long way in protecting one from triggers.

    As a person with PTSD, I just want to point out that every person’s PTSD is completely different regardless of whether there is a commonality in the event that caused it. I’ve never had an issue with consensual sex (and consider myself lucky, given). Triggers change from person to person.

    Clitorious Big: Celibacy is just a tool-for-healing that I suggested.

    Perhaps someone else with a psych degree can back me up, but does complete avoidance work for healing? Because I’m pretty sure it’ll prevent being triggered, but won’t make triggers less effective. Anyway, I’m pretty effing sure you don’t have a psych degree, so let’s back off the therapy, k?

  102. William
    William May 2, 2011 at 12:52 pm |

    Perhaps someone else with a psych degree can back me up, but does complete avoidance work for healing?

    It can for some people, doesn’t for others, actively makes trauma effects worse for some because it encourages an avoidant response which can spread to other parts of their lives for others. The bottom line about PTSD treatment is that…different people experience and express trauma in radically different ways and to radically different degrees. General prescriptions tend to be garbage because people are different.

    Because I’m pretty sure it’ll prevent being triggered, but won’t make triggers less effective.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Anyway, I’m pretty effing sure you don’t have a psych degree, so let’s back off the therapy, k?

    E-diagnosis is foolish even for those of us with advanced degrees.

  103. Clitorious Big
    Clitorious Big May 2, 2011 at 1:26 pm |

    Ironically enough, Galling Galla, who was the first to object to my suggestion, blogged about the exact same thing over on her blog, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before I even found Feministe.

    The person who says ,”This is prescriptive. I am under no obligation to subsume my sexuality and give up my bodily / sexual autonomy to heal from PTSD…. It also won’t work for me: my triggers aren’t dependent on whether I’m celibate or not.”

    …. has in fact chosen to come out as asexual for the very reasons I state voluntary celibacy MIGHT help in healing.

    You can read her blog. I won’t copy and paste her reasoning here, although her reasoning is the exact same as mine. Which makes her negative reaction to my suggestion a bit puzzling, but hey, this is the interwebs. Communications are always wack on here.

    I’ll further suggest meditation, breathwork (can learn the basics in a yoga class) and living as much of a natural, outdoors life as possible.

  104. William
    William May 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm |

    Wow…how utterly inappropriate, ugly, irredeemable, and devoid of both content and basic human decency. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

  105. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable May 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm |

    Seconded

    1. Jill
      Jill May 2, 2011 at 2:46 pm | *

      And with that, Clitorious Big is banned.

  106. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla May 2, 2011 at 6:44 pm |

    (This may double-post as I got a time-out on the first try)

    Clitorious Big:
    Ironically enough, Galling Galla, who was the first to object to my suggestion, blogged about the exact same thing over on her blog, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before I even found Feministe.

    Clitorious Big has been banned, so I’ll say this to the peanut gallery: (1) What works for *me* doesn’t work for everyone and the post on my blog addresses my situation and doesn’t prescribe my solutions to anybody else; (2) I really want to stress this: I am asexual. I didn’t choose to be celibate; I chose to acknowledge my asexuality, so no, my reasoning is *not* the same as hers. These are very different things, which Clitorious Big consistently refused to try to understand.

    I already linked to the post in question a while back on a self-promotion Sunday thread, but if you’re interested: Saying Goodbye To A Couple of Things.

  107. William
    William May 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm |

    For what its worth, GG, I don’t want you to feel like you need to defend yourself, your identity, or your choices to anyone because someone decided to try to use them against you in an asinine way. CB did something they had no right to do.

  108. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla May 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm |

    Thanks, William, I appreciate that.

  109. rox
    rox May 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    Yeah. WOW. Really? Oh a bit of yoga, that will help with the feeling that reality has split and the cosmos has been filled with utter chaos and the very foundation upon reality has been founded has dissipated.

    I like how some people think a bit of breath work is enough to remedy ultimate suffering. I happen to love yoga and breathwork. Your use of invoking them to claim that horrific trauma just needs a bit of self therapy is desgusting to me. This is exactly why it’s hard to heal, we also need the depth of the pain to be witnessed by other humans. When other humans are busy telling us to “do a bit of breathwork, our entire existance in the realm of horrific suffering is obliterated. You destroy people by treating their suffering so lightly and callously.

    Further more if a person is vulnerable we should be working to make it a world where human being have the decency to behave with the protection of others at hear. It’s not that we can change that some will not do this. But we can be aware of how horrific it is that people go to huge length to harm each other.

    The mentality that vulnerable people should simply “become stronger” because if they are harmed due to their own vulnerability it was their own deal— IS PART OF RAPE CULTURE. I want all people to feel strength and internal ability to be assertive in the face of someone ready to do something horrible.

    There are very reasons why even people who are fighting with everything in their being to be as powerful and assertive as everyone else, may crumple.

    How we view this situation has everything to do with how we treat those who destroy vulnerable people as an enjoyable past time. “Meh they’re out there, who cares, if you stupid bitches would stop being vulnerable and wimpy you’d stop getting sexually assaulted so much and it would NEVER turn into a rape unless the rapist had a dangerous weapon.”

    The very point is that preventing rape culture means ceasing to put the responsability on rape victims to always be “one step ahead of rapists”—– and blaming the woman/victim if she falls behind and the predator manages to overpower the weaker.

    GallingGalla— she didn’t even make sense, don’t worry, I agree you have nothing to defend against! that was nonsense!

  110. rox
    rox May 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm |

    Cellibacy has not healed me. It’s caused horrible social isolation because I’m terrified of being near men. You really think that means everything is “fixed”? You want this to be a world where instead of helping people come back to trusting the world we tell them they damn well better keep hiding because if they get raped again it will be their own damn fault?

  111. kloncke
    kloncke May 4, 2011 at 12:38 am |

    Sorry that that happened, GG — seconding William that CB did something really shitty, and I don’t think you have to justify yourself to anyone.

    Damn. That whole CB ish sucked. It’s helping me to see an overlap, though, between all the well-put pushback here from Tori, rox, PrettyAmiable, SephONE, et al, and something I learned from Fat Acceptance/Healthy At Every Size writers (sorry, can’t remember which posts exactly or I would link! I’ll keep thinking/searching on it and try to attribute). Paraphrasing:

    People are not obligated to heal themselves “properly.” People are not obligated to heal themselves at all, let alone do it in accordance with someone else’s wishes or preferences or beliefs.

    A quick search just now led me to this insight by deeleigh:

    At the core, HAES isn’t about following a conventionally “healthy” way of eating, or about being physically active. HAES is about thinking about these issues and deciding, as an independent and self aware adult, what feels best to you and how to live your life.

    I think this also relates to the spiritually/emotionally debilitating effects of capitalism, which pressures workers to heal/recover “efficiently” (read: superficially, or not at all) in order maximize their productivity. From a recent WSJ article on the science of crying:

    The male reluctance to shed tears is relatively new, says Tom Lutz, a University of California, Riverside professor. He traces this to the late 19th century, when factory workers—mostly men—were discouraged from indulging in emotion lest it interfere with their productivity.

  112. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla May 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm |

    William, rox, and kloncke, I want to thank you for your support in this thread. And I want to thank Clarisse for starting it in the first place; these discussions are important to be had, and it’s a shame that there are people who seem to relish in disrupting these threads and triggering survivors.

  113. Favorite Feminism Sundays « wild/precious

    [...] I Know I Can Fight Rape Culture By… (Feministe: some of the comments are especially interesting, although as always some are just fuckwits). [...]

  114. Jadey
    Jadey May 9, 2011 at 5:46 pm |

    I’m sorry for my absence and the disrespectful nature of my silence. I got in over my head with this comment thread right before going on a week of travel and I drastically over-estimated my capacity to stay engaged with blogging and commenting while this was going on. Also, some of the stuff that’s been raised in this thread is so huge, I don’t know if I can even come up with answers as complete as I’d like them to be, no matter how long I work at it. But there comes a certain point where if I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it at all.

    I copied out all the comments I wanted to reply to in a text document, and even just going with select quotes it topped 7 pages, so forgive me if this is a little long – I’ll try to be succinct, but clear. This is sort of in chronological order but also combined by theme/commenter:

    (1 of 3)

    William: More importantly, though, I think you run into two problems. The first is that treatment rarely works unless someone wants to be treated. In the absence of some kind of Come To Jesus moment I don’t see mandated treatment as being anything more than theater. If we can learn to engineer that moment of basic human empathy and insight, maybe treatment would be a more attractive option to me. I’m genuinely curious as to how you overcome this issue in your work.

    Not being a clinician, I have not been in a position of directly trying to motivate a person to engage in treatment, but I am familiar with some of the research in this area. Engagement and motivation are enormous issues, and there’s a trend for a type of programming devoted specifically to enhancing motivation to participate in treatment. Promise has been shown, as far as I know, but much depends on the individual and what can be done to tap into their particular reasons for why they may want to participate. An institutional environment is highly coercive and doesn’t usually lend itself to genuine intrinsic motivation, which may be one of the reasons why community-based interventions tend to be more effective. From a clinical perspective, motivational interviewing is something that was developed in the substance abuse treatment field and has been shown to be useful in other areas as well.

    William: I’m REALLY uncomfortable with the idea of treating what is generally a moral failing because of what it does to other mad persons. [...] Sure, we might be able to treat rapists, but the implications of that, especially once it begins to filter into the public consciousness, are concerning. When you begin to treat rapists as if they were mad, when you use the technology and apparatus of therapy, you begin to create the public perception that rape is something mad persons do.

    I specifically spoke with another clinician about this because I wanted more than just my own perspective, and they confirmed that this (and, in general, issues of medicalization) is an issue of some contention among practitioners. From my understanding, the research shows that criminal behaviour =/= mental disorder (although things get fuzzy around the personality disorders to be sure). It’s certainly not one of “the big eight” predictors of criminal behaviour (see Table 1 here for a summary).

    But while I recognize the issues of medicalizing criminal behaviour (particularly given that the research suggests this is inappropriate), I don’t think this is a reason not to try to instigate and support behavioural change, even if we need different language to do so, if “treatment” is too tied up with medical baggage. The actual intervention procedures, while they may take into account the mental and medical disorders which are common (but, as I said, not generally criminogenic) among offenders, and may draw upon useful theories and tools developed in the clinical field (cognitive behavioural therapy has been found to be highly effective), they are not innately about “madness”. Yes, I get that there’s a public perception issue which tends to conflate things inappropriately, and I think this is something that needs to be addressed and confronted (in general I think there’s a lot of public education needed about psychological issues of all kinds) for the public as well as researchers and clinicians, I still think that if there’s a way to effectively facilitate behaviour change (which is, at their core, what these treatments are about), we need to try.

    William: Relatedly, and I’ll admit that this is a bias against/concern about the state of forensic work in our country in general, I’m pretty uncomfortable with tying treatment and punishment into one another. I think we need to be extremely careful about trying to use mental health services to influence behaviors and control people. Therapy isn’t for discipline, it isn’t there to create certain kinds of outcomes, and lending our specific skill set to that leads down some very dangerous roads in my opinion.

    William: I’m worried that using the technologies of therapy to control and coerce rather than to heal advances the underlying damaging power dynamics that allow rape culture to exist. Its not that I don’t think rapists don’t deserve to be treated in a given way (I’m not nearly so deluded as to pretend that my trauma leaves me wanting anything other than retribution) but that I’m fearful that once we make something normal and OK we begin to become infected by it.

    Treatment in a coercive setting is problematic for a number of reasons, both ethical and practical, but regarding the use of treatment to “control” people, I think a lot of clinicians would say that there’s not a hope in hell of controlling people using those methods – control comes from the coercive social institutions, not the treatments. Not that people wouldn’t and haven’t tried controlling through treatment – it’s just not a useful approach. Treatment resistance is an on-going issue simply because no one can exert that kind of control over another person on that scale. Coercive treatment is not something I’ve ever encountered or heard about as a successful approach. Hell, even chemical castration (which really isn’t a “treatment” per se in the sense of intervention programming) doesn’t have a terrifically high success rate, and it’s hard to find anything more control-oriented than that.

    I’m wondering if we’re maybe thinking of “treatment” in different ways, which would not surprise me. I’m certainly not familiar with your practice or even a lot of clinical practice outside of the specific kind that’s relevant to my research. One of the cornerstones of some CBT interventions is challenging the attitudes and beliefs that allow offenders to justify their actions – their pro-rape mythologies, for instance – and helping them to develop attitudes and beliefs not supportive of these actions. In other words, teaching them to be anti-rape. While I don’t think this a magic bullet or the only approach needed to address rape culture, I’m not sure how this is incompatible to addressing the damaging power dynamics of rape culture.

    (I should say also that there very well might be some kind of important national difference that I’m not aware of. I know some things about the American correctional and justice systems, but my experience really is mostly Canada-centric, and we do have some fairly substantial differences between the two countries, so this may also be contributing to some gaps in our mutual understanding of where the other person is at.)

  115. Jadey
    Jadey May 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm |

    (2 of 3)

    Sunset: Regarding some of the comments on public shame/avoidance of sex offenders: No, I don’t really think this will change the behavior of the offenders. HOWEVER, it would make a vast difference in the recovery for survivors. Too often women lose their friends and support system after assault, because the abuser remains a welcome part of the social group. It would also reduce the number of victims a particular abuser has access to.

    Sheelzebub: One reason why I am so skeptical of–and quite frankly, hostile to–this sort of thing is because sexual assault survivors are already pilloried, silenced and shamed by the community. The community often doesn’t give a shit about–or is quite hateful and threatening towards–sexual assault survivors. The community all to often rallies around the attacker(s).

    For all of the talk about accountability, they aren’t held accountable. Survivors are held accountable–for the choices they made, for the way they dressed, for the way they acted after the assault, and for “lying” (since many people assume that if you’ve come forward, you’re lying about what happened).

    The reporting rate for sexual assault is abysmally low, the conviction rates are far lower. This is often because the survivors are disbelieved, blamed for what happened, and sometimes harassed and hounded by the community for having the gall to report.

    saurus: I never want my offender to be in the same community as me. Ever. Which is not to say that exile is always the answer; because I think often it isn’t viable.

    In fact, it’s not even practical in my situation. Because of the social imbalance between us, that would never work – he is far more established in the community than I am. So I left the community, and he stayed, and he got to keep all the friends and so forth. In fact, none of them even know what happened to me – and I doubt he does either. I just fled. So whatever they know is from his perspective, which certainly doesn’t make their co-existence with me any more wonderful.

    I guess if I knew that he wouldn’t be surrounded by people who are convinced that “he would never”, I wouldn’t feel so bad about him co-existing here. But as long as I know that there’s even one friend who will reassure him that what he did wasn’t that bad, the idea of being in the same circle is just unthinkable. I’m not sure why this is.

    Anyway, I don’t know whether I could go through that accountability process – what would the end goal be, exactly? Is it to retain him in the community? Because if so, I think it would be fundamentally impossible, since that’s a deal-breaker for me. I think for a lot of us survivors, certain end goals – like forgiveness, or acceptance, let’s say – are deal-breakers. But maybe the desired end goal is something else, I don’t know – I don’t know much about how such processes work. Maybe Jadey can talk some more about that.

    I combined all of these comments because I think they speak to a fundamental divide between where the research community is looking and what many victims are experiencing. I know very well how poorly assault survivors are treated – it’s painfully evident throughout the media coverage alone. It is also true that sexual assault is incredibly under-reported, and that many experiences of sexual coercion and abuse are not even perceived as being such from a legal standpoint, the classic example being that of marital rape, which was long legitimized and is almost certainly still not taken seriously by many people, including those within the justice system.

    I know that there are people out there who abuse and hurt and are never accused, prosecuted, convicted, incarcerated, or held accountable in any way by any social institution, formal or otherwise. These are the people who scare me. Not the registered sex offenders, not the guys who got picked up and put through the system (although no guarantees that their victims were treated much better – sometimes there are no winners at all), not the people that most people are quite eager to stigmatize and reject, as much for their harmful actions (because they are harmful) as their under-valued social characteristics. It’s the people whom no one is willing to believe could have done such a thing that scare me, and those are exactly the people that our punitive, coercive, racist, and classist system are least likely to protect me from, while simultaneously enhancing the likelihood that the people we are willing to recognize as sex offenders will potentially offend again.

    Once someone has been identified and labelled as a sex offender, we do, for the most part, reject them, comprehensively and sometimes violently. I spoke to a few other colleagues about the some of the things that have been discussed in this thread, and all of them had a hard time wrapping their head around the idea that sex offenders are accepted and welcomed anywhere. When you only work with the people who are actually brought into the system, then you are only familiar with the people who constitute the most hated and stigmatized group of offenders, even among offenders themselves.

    But in describing this gap between worldviews, I don’t mean to set these two perspectives up as oppositional truths, because they are not. It’s very, very important to me that researchers, legislators, program developers and deliverers, and clinicians become aware of the breadth and depth of sexual abuse, including the issues of those people whom we never catch, never treat, and never think of as sexual offenders. I would like to see a better integration of community rape prevention and education with knowledge that’s been developed through intervention and behaviour change research. One thing that comes to mind which may be headed in this direction is the Tiaki Tinana, a programme developed in collaboration between Rape Prevention Education Auckland and Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Maori Development) in New Zealand, for rape education and prevention in Maori communities. (Please note that I am not directly involved in this programme and can’t speak to its effectiveness beyond what’s available in the reports released online.) It’s also the first thing that comes to mind in response to PA’s comment that I’ve copied just below, although it’s more prevention than intervention-oriented.

    PrettyAmiable: For one, that particular assaulter would NEVER voluntarily seek community outreach, so it’s moot. Further, that community was happy to pretend assault doesn’t exist. You can’t have community outreach when the community is sweeping their problems under the rug. It was a small community, though – so nothing like Philly. I wonder how the community outreach idea would translate to smaller communities. I’d love to know what you and Jadey think.

    I think that rape culture contributes to the dysfunction of our justice systems in a multiplicity of ways, including how we address survivors and offenders both, in how we label and identify them and in how we refuse to label and identify them. As much as the PIC bothers me, there is more accountability in being identified and processed as an offender than in having your actions condoned or denied by your legal and social systems. We still need a social system of some kind that can address sexual violence without perpetuating it or its antecedents, and that is what I am trying to look for and uphold.

    PrettyAmiable: max, I thought your Philly group was a little different than Jadey’s group, right? You made it sound like a conviction wasn’t necessary. I’m trying to wrap my head around the differences.

    I wish I knew enough to answer this! I hadn’t heard of the Philly group before this thread, but it’s on my radar now and I’m going to keep looking into it. Thank you to max and kloncke for what you’ve shared about this initiative (although I’m not sure if what kloncke described was part of the Philly Stands Up! program or just included trainers from the program as a resource?).

  116. Jadey
    Jadey May 9, 2011 at 5:49 pm |

    (3 of 3)

    GallingGalla: I think this is why this is so painful to me: I know that activists who seek to dismantle the punitive CJS and create alternative systems that serve the needs of victims / survivors while truly holding offenders accountable to victims / survivors and to the community (and giving offenders the tools they need to hold themselves accountable) is the only way out of the total fucking pile of racist, misogynist, classist, ableist, cis/heterosexist CJS that we’ve got. In the end, as you say, the CJS *does not* hold offenders accountable for their offenses; it only punishes, and we are not in the end any safer.

    max: Also i think that being really really angry, like violently angry, at people who abuse us can also be part of ending rape culture; i think validating the wide range of reactions we have in relation to being raped/assaulted/abused is so vital to our survival and moving through all this. [...] But i realize that its probably atypical of me to think that the people who assaulted and abused me werent horrible people at their core, but they actually thought that what they did was ok or at least were able to justify it to themselves, and i want that to be impossible.

    William: I wonder if thats not part of what makes this discussion really tough for me. I…want to be able to dehumanize my attacker. There have been times in my life when I’ve needed it, there have been times in my life when its helped me find closure, there have been times in my life when its taken me to some scary places that I survived (through a combination of luck, time, and privilege) and I think have allowed me to grow. Not being able to dehumanize my attackers takes away a lot of my armor (not to mention my sword). I’m really sensitive to the idea that I would have to give that up. Maybe I shouldn’t be, although thats a pretty scary thought all on it’s own.

    PrettyAmiable: But the issue that I have with the outreach program? While I’m perfectly comfortable with continuing to dehumanize people I find incredibly dangerous, it makes me so angry that other people don’t also by default dehumanize them (possibly because I feel plenty dehumanized by rape apologists and have enough to spare). That part of me is a little ugly. Again, not because I give a damn about the feelings of rapists, but because I don’t think I should want to control part of someone else’s empathy that is actually working to help others in the long run.

    GallingGalla: The thing is, he was my partner and I saw how frightened and insecure he was, and I was very well aware of how he had been sexually abused as a child. That just makes it worse, knowing that he was victimized and dehumanized, but then turned that around and used it as a weapon against me, and he had no awareness that what he was doing was so harmful to me. And then I cared for him as he died of pancreatic cancer. And I have all these memories of times we spent together that were just sheer joy for both of us. I just cannot dehumanize him, and it makes it much harder for me to put the hurt away as a result.

    So one more thing that I would add to Clarisse’s question: Acknowledging that rape can be part of a relationship that includes things ranging from really shitty to really good, and everything in between, and for those who wish to support survivors let us talk about the complexity of some abusive relationships, to believe us when some of us say that it wasn’t a case of “he was a monster and I was an angel” and not expecting us to work within a particular inflexible framework in terms of healing. And also not shaming those of us who chose to stay in the relationship despite the abuse.

    rox: Jadey—- whew — that is so hard. I think I get a little disoriented trying to read through that. I wanted to save him from his behavior. I wanted him to be saved. I still don’t know what makes sense. The wanting to fogive and the horror at the pain that you see in someone who is horrified by their own actions— these are all things that happen too and they are often part of the process of hoping that things can be solved and the person can learn how to not cause horrible traumatic things to happen. But entrusting someone who has done such things with being a part of society again? I mean that is exactly what calls people into continuing these kinds of relationships.

    And it’s understandable to want them to heal and to want to believe in them and I want that too. And I think we should be careful of not judging someone in a relationship who wants to stay with someone who is getting counseling and trying to work on their “being an abuser issues”. : ( It’s all so sad.

    saurus: I also wouldn’t want him to be imprisoned – partially because then he’d just be even more of a martyr in the community, partially because of the hell I’d have to go through to get him there, but mostly because I am just too revolted by the prison industrial complex. I don’t negatively judge survivors who aren’t, but it’s not something I can personally stomach. I want him to feel really shitty about what he did – really profoundly shitty: too shitty to coerce people into pitying him for feeling so shitty; too shitty to believe anyone who says I was at fault; too shitty to retain his vision of himself as an Exceptionally Good Guy. And I don’t think prison will do anything whatsoever to that end.

    For me, the ideal thing – for my own peace of mind – would be pressing a button that zips him over to the opposite end of the world, where he realizes what a shit he was, and where no one insists that he’s “such a good guy” and it wasn’t his fault, and then he goes on to live a pretty much unremarkable life. And this button would also erase all memories of him from his friends and allies here. That way I can make a fresh start.

    I am re-quoting these here not because I have a good answer or response to any of these comments, but because for me this was the heart of the thread and powerful beyond my imagination. There is no one right way to be a victim, a survivor, a person who has experienced this kind of assault, violation, betrayal. What I see among all of these responses is a commonality of trying to make sense, trying to find personal healing, peace, and justice, and trying to do so in a way that promotes peace, healing, and justice as a whole. There’s no consensus, there’s a hell of a lot of understandable ambivalence, but I feel like there’s so much power here as well, in our ability to talk about something so overwhelming, fraught, and in some ways irresolvable (at least at this point), and to do so in a re-affirming and loving way. Thank you again to everyone who shared their perspectives. These are the kinds of insights that I think are missing in the research community, and which I will try with renewed vigour to include.

  117. William
    William May 10, 2011 at 9:52 am |

    From a clinical perspective, motivational interviewing is something that was developed in the substance abuse treatment field and has been shown to be useful in other areas as well.

    I’m hesitant about motivational interviewing because, to my thinking, once you take non-directivity and unconditional positive regard out of person centered therapy you’re basically left with cheerleading. One of the things, to my mind, that makes Rogerian therapies so powerful is that the empathy (when in the hands of a skilled clinician) isn’t important in itself but rather as proof of the unconditional positive regard that nondirectivity shields. Thats one of the things that bothers me about motivational interviewing, once you’ve taken nondirectivity out of the equation you loose the unconditional positive regard that makes the technique powerful.

    I think good person centered treatment might be one of the methodologies that is most likely to work with rapists, but you run into the huge problem of person centered therapists not really being able to work well with a person who genuinely doesn’t want to come to therapy.

    I don’t think this is a reason not to try to instigate and support behavioural change, even if we need different language to do so, if “treatment” is too tied up with medical baggage.

    I’ll be up front about this: your language here is making me kind of uncomfortable. To be fair, I think a good bit of that is because you seem to be CBT and academic whereas I’m clinical and primarily psychodynamic/postmodern and so I suspect we’re speaking very different languages. I really don’t think clinicians have any business “instigating behavioral change.” Thats the kind of reasoning that allowed for conversion therapy and lobotomy, its the reasoning that leads to powerless patients being confined against their will because harmless behaviors are transformed into harmful ones through the sheer weight of society’s disgust, its the kind of world-view that allows for creatures like Kenneth Zucker, its moves clinicians from being allies of human growth and self-knowledge to being tools of social order.

    I’ll be frank, I’ve been asked to operate in this role as a clinician in the past and I know a lot of other clinicians who have as well. Many of us…resist. Sometimes we do it loudly and get in trouble, sometimes we very quietly open the door to a client, do our work, and then feign incompetence while lying to the faces of those demanding behavioral change. Its one of the more ethically dangerous places for clinicians because I feel that these kinds of demands have created an environment in which we become very comfortable with lying and breaking rules. Granted, thats a professional concern I have with these kinds of interventions, but its part of my thinking.

    For therapy to work, and I’d argue for it to be moral and ethical, for it to be something other than a tool of oppression and a means of invoking power-knowledge on the bodies and minds of patients, it must not only be utterly voluntary but clinicians must serve only their patient, not the demands of the society around the patient. When thats not appropriate I tend to feel that I’ve reached the outside edge of my competency. If I cannot ethically serve the patient and disregard other influences then I don’t think I have any business working with the them.

    they are not innately about “madness”.

    I think perhaps part of whats happening here is that we’re coming from very different places, not only from one another but also from the general public. Whether certain kinds of criminality are about madness or not isn’t what bothers me here, but rather what narratives are being played into and what symbols are being used. What worries me is that mad persons face enough stigma without being implicitly tied to rape because people see shrinks trying to work some new Ludovico Technique on rapists. For me, this isn’t about us or what we know (or think we know), its about how our actions are likely to be seen out in the wild.

    If you use the techniques and theory of therapy, if you have people with advanced degrees in psychology or social work making interventions, if the theater around treatment is recognizable, then it doesn’t matter what you call it. You can call yourself The Great and Terrible Raja of Sweet Fuckall (which, come to think of it, I’d love to have on a business card…) but if you look like a shrink people will perceive you in that role. When people see you as a shrink they see the people you work with as mad, which means that they see you as trying to cure their madness (which, really, is shorthand for socially unappealing abnormality), which means that they see whatever you’re intervening upon as being the product of madness. That you and I know you’re working on non-mad criminal behavior with modified theory is irrelevant because what everyone else sees is the spectre of the violent madman who needs the constant care of shrinks to stop him from raping indiscriminately. Madness still terrifies a lot of people and a lot of people still explicitly class any behavior they do not (or do not want to) understand as “crazy.” By using something which can be identified as psychology, regardless of the language around it, you run the risk feeding into a narrative which says that rape is caused by madness therefor mad persons are rapists. Its not reasonable, its not right, but its a dynamic which has played out ay least since madness ceased being seen as demonic possession and became a moral problem of unreason in Europe.

    More to the point of the thread, I think it plays into rape culture by creating a (completely illusory) class of rapists which can be avoided and controlled. All those truly terrifying rapists, the men of power and influence who everyone knows to be good and would never do a thing like that, gain extra cover because they are not mad. In this way you just get another trope like the sexually dangerous black man or the stranger rapist, another means of ignoring and invalidating actual rapes because they do not fit the agreed upon narrative of rape. I think its a very real unintended consequence that needs to be considered.

    I still think that if there’s a way to effectively facilitate behaviour change (which is, at their core, what these treatments are about),

    We might have struck upon a bottom-level disagreement here. I don’t disagree that a lot of these treatments (especially CBT) are about behavior change, I just don’t think thats an ethical role for psychologists when you’re talking about people who are coerced into treatment (whether through a judge’s order or a society’s scorn). If a patient comes to me wanting to change a behavior we can work to understand it, but at the end of the day I’m not terribly concerned with whether the behavior remains or not. I’m concerned with the patient’s relationship to what the behavior signifies and how these either improve or burden their lives subjectively. The patient’s quality of life is what concerns me, their understanding of their internal experience, their ability to make informed and empowered decisions about their life with as full a knowledge of what is influencing them as possible. For me (and this is deeply personal not universal), that is the ethical role of the clinician because I’m drawing from Jung and later Freud and Rogers and Foucault.

    Obviously, this approach would be entirely inappropriate for dealing with rapists because one could not ever be comfortable with continued rape being an outcome of therapy. Rape is a behavior which we are unwilling to tollerate, society needs it’s limits and I certainly feel this is a vital and appropriate one, but I don’t think it is the role of psychologists to enforce and police the rules of society. I think that has lead us down a dangerous path many, many times. I think it takes one of the few things society has developed which can actually fend off oppression and improve human life in radical and wonderful ways into just another tool of power. I think that once we see that we CAN change rapists the demand that we face next will be to change other undesirables.

    I think a lot of clinicians would say that there’s not a hope in hell of controlling people using those methods – control comes from the coercive social institutions, not the treatments.

    This history of psychology is the history of treatments and coercive social institutions being two faces of the same animal. It takes me 10 minutes to fill out a petition which will see someone imprisoned for 72 hours with virtually no questions asked. Courts mandate treatment all the time. Anger management, substance abuse, sex offender treatments, all are backed by the power of coercive institutions. The treatment alone might have no power to control someone (although, given the number of psychologists who lose their license for having sex with raping their patients, I’d argue that at a certain point in treatment the potential for control is quite high) but the running dogs of a violent social coercion apparatus are never quite out of view. I have a big problem with participating in that situation. Thats why I don’t fill out petitions unless a patient asks me to, thats why I play loose with Tarasoff and other reporting requirements, thats why I avoid mentioning suicidal ideation outside of my private notes. I’m not here to serve society, I’m here to serve patients.

    I’m wondering if we’re maybe thinking of “treatment” in different ways, which would not surprise me.

    Clinical and academic psychologists talking past eachother?! Nahhhh, thats never happened! ;)

    One of the cornerstones of some CBT interventions is challenging the attitudes and beliefs that allow offenders to justify their actions – their pro-rape mythologies, for instance – and helping them to develop attitudes and beliefs not supportive of these actions. In other words, teaching them to be anti-rape.

    I’ll admit it: one of the big problems I have with what we’re talking about here is that it seems to be deeply based in CBT and I have a lot of problems with CBT both as a theory and as a technique. I feel its manipulative, I don’t think it works terribly well in the long term, and I’ve seen a lot of damage done by it. Theres nothing quite like getting a new patient who has two years of cognitive restructuring bouncing around in their head who feels that their feelings are Wrong and their belief Irrational. The number of times I’ve heard the words “I know [fill in whatever lived experience, generally of oppression] isn’t true but it feels true” makes me wish someone had smothered Ellis in his crib. I’ve got a bias.

    More importantly, I’m not sure how effective teaching someone not to be a rapist is. Granted, I’ve not worked with many sex offenders, but in my experience people with aberrant or antisocial behaviors haven’t acted from ignorance but from some kind of deep need. Convince them that the behavior is wrong and the need just moves to another, closely related, behavior. I’ve always suspected that thats why chemical (and even physical) castration fails so spectacularly.

    Say you have a patient absolutely bent on revenge. Someone hurt them badly and they want to revisit that hurt upon that person. They have a deep experience of oppression and injustice, they feel deeply wronged, there is likely a narcissistic injury in there resonating with all sorts of feelings and experiences they don’t have words for, theres probably a resonance with a lot of times when they’ve been hurt and didn’t have the capacity for revenge. If you teach them that revenge is wrong, challenge the western macho narratives around vengeance and domination, help them develop attitudes that makes revenge seem ugly, take away the primary gains of revenge, what are they left with? They still have the rage, they still have the pain, now they have no way to express it because its unlikely you’re going to find a healthy and pro-social outlet for that kind of aggression. I would worry that such a person would be a fragile dam, holding well enough until something happens that just causes it to collapse. I’d be more inclined to address the resonances, to talk about history, to look at why this particular thing was so triggering, to express rage in sessions at a variety of things the patient doesn’t allow themselves to express rage towards. Drag all the unconscious baggage that is attached to the precipitating event out into the conscious and the precipitating event doesn’t evoke the same kinds of responses.

    Its a very different way of looking at our role and what we do. I think I’m starting to get where you’re coming from with the word treatment, I hope my meaning is a bit more clear as well.

    Either way, I think we’re getting to a place thats going to get pretty far off-topic pretty quickly. I’d love to continue the dialog if you would, let me know and I’ll contact you through your blog.

  118. Jadey
    Jadey May 11, 2011 at 9:45 am |

    William: Either way, I think we’re getting to a place thats going to get pretty far off-topic pretty quickly. I’d love to continue the dialog if you would, let me know and I’ll contact you through your blog.

    I’d like to continue it as well! I can’t promise to be much more insightful about the clinical focus with which I am familiar. In addition to being CBT-based, my descriptions here are also being filtered through my social-cognitive research lens and my own personal mental framework which admittedly tends toward the mechanistic (I’m one of those people who finds it easier to think of everyone as being seriously complicated computers – I know that other people don’t think this way and that there’s limitations to it, but I can only adapt my own theory of mind so much, I’ve found. Hence being a researcher and not a clinician!). But I’ve set up a companion thread on my blog where the conversation could be continued if anyone is interested. Not that Clarisse hasn’t been a very tolerant and supportive host, as usual!

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