Rape: It’s not about sex; it’s about power, anger and violence

Published: April 15, 2013

Protests of angry women parading naked with signs saying ‘I’m not asking for it’- No you’re not, but you are providing titillation to a bunch of half-wits. PHOTO: REUTERS

Public debate about ‘rape’ is always an emotional affair. I place ‘rape’ in commas as it is an out-dated word carrying incorrect perceptions about sexual violence; perceptions that blur the true picture and inhibit effective solutions.

The first and most distracting misconception is that sexual assault is about sex. Sexual assault is no more about sex than assault with a weapon is about the weapon. Experts, such as Stephen Homes, Larry Seigal and Gene Ragula, are among a range who have published writing clearly stating that sexual assault/abuse is not about sex. It’s about power, anger and violence.

Legal systems across the western world have followed the greater understanding of sexual assault since the 80’s, adapting laws to cover a wider range of offenses and often removing the word ‘rape’ from the law.

Originally ‘rape’ referred only to vaginal penetration by a penis, a very limited scope given the vile range of sexual violence that can be perpetrated. Now, sexual assault covers any penetration of a bodily orifice with anything, against a person’s will.

When three men premeditated to abduct and gang-rape a six-year-old, it was obviously not about sex. When the men in Delhi pulverised the woman’s internal organs, it wasn’t because their wives hadn’t obliged that week and they just needed to let off some steam.

But public discourse remains firmly focused on the sexual nature of the offence, making it difficult to discuss openly as sexual intercourse remains a taboo subject in many societies. Furthermore it confuses primitive male/female reproductive roles and sexual attraction between consenting adults with sexual violence. It results in protests of angry women calling for castration, and parading naked with signs saying ‘I’m not asking for it’. No you’re not, but you are obfuscating the issue while providing titillation to a bunch of half-wits.

While there is no set personality type for a sexual offender, the commonality between offenders is a severe sense of ineptness and low self-esteem. A lack of financial security, low education levels and childhood experiences of abuse are often common factors, but not always.

The crux is the sense of personal inadequacy as it is this that drives the offender to offend, in order to feel powerful and in control. It is important to note that the lack of consent in sexual assault is more important for the offender than any other stakeholder, the offender cannot feel completely powerful if the victim has a say in what happens. Consenting adults playing Tarzan and Jane in the safety of their home and relationship are not engaging in ‘rape fantasies’.

Another misconception regarding sexual violence is that it’s a crime aimed at women. Before I elucidate, there are a few clarifications that need to be stated.

Firstly, I rely on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definition of English words whenever there is some disagreement. The OED defines woman as a female adult of the human species. Most legal systems define adult as 18 or over. Therefore, for the purposes of this discussion, a woman is a female, 18 years or older.

Secondly, sexual assault statistics range in authenticity from country to country. Furthermore, it is a well-known adage that crime statistics say more about the policing of crime than its occurrence. The statistics used in this column have been garnered from the World Health Organisation, the US Bureau of Justice statistics and HRCP reports. Findings would suggest that patterns of sexual violence are similar across the world.

While statistics show that females are predominately the victims of sexual violence, and males the perpetrator, a majority of those females are sexually assaulted before the age of 18. One in three females will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime; one in four as minors. It is also estimated that one in six males will be sexually assaulted as minors. In the last HRCP Report a majority of victims of sexual assault fell between the ages of 10 – 17, and males accounted for 22% of sexual assault victims.

Sexual violence is a crime predominately targeting children; children and other vulnerable populations.

It is no accident that sexual assault is higher among prison populations; people with disabilities; in war and natural disaster zones. Given we know a sexual offender lacks confidence, fear compels the offender to select the weakest. A paedophile not only targets an already vulnerable group when he/she targets children, he/she will target the most neglected, least confident child he/she can find.

The one group less likely to report sexual violence than females is males. Societal hang ups about homosexuality, combined with a ‘don’t talk, didn’t happen’ policy adopted by governments, religious institutions; schools and families means abused males are left to cope alone. This is despite a clear correlation between abuse as a child and repetition of the behaviour as an adult.

We are breeding generations of offenders, isolating them completely when they move from victim to offender status.

Other animal species do use sexual violence as a form of social domination. If you could open YouTube you’d find examples of a male buffalo mounting a sick/weak male in its effort to climb the social ladder. We should not ignore the drive of animals to dominate a situation and exploit a weakness for survival purposes. Rather we should focus on what creates the weakness in the offender, and on raising the status of vulnerable groups.

Lastly, while sexism is not a direct cause of sexual violence, it does make females more vulnerable and can feed the delusions of a severely dysfunctional adult. Making a crass sexual joke among a group of friends you know is one thing; Tweeting it to your 10,000 followers may be inadvertently vindicating the feelings of a sexual offender. It’s your choice.

caitlin.malik

Caitlin Malik

She lives and teaches in Lahore.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Zeeshan Khan

    In our society there’s this disgusting mentality of blaming the rape victim for ‘causing’ the rape.How many times have we heard ‘usnay to jeans shirt pehni hui thi’ as if wearing a burka or being a Hijabi protects you from being raped.Clothes have got nothing to do with rape,those people blaming clothing are only apologists for rapists.
    Women have the right to go out of the house by themselves,without needing a man to protect them.This attitude of not allowing sisters,daughters to go out of home by themselves keeps on portraying women as objects and possessions.
    Burkas,Hijabs,Abayas,Niqabs are no protection against rape,wearing jeans or skirts is not an invitation to rape.Recommend

  • Shazia Jawed

    Marital rape is also rape but it’s not recognised as rape by our people.Wives are not the personal properties of their husbands,it’s high time marital rape was recognised as a crime and such rapists also jailed.There is justification of marital rape by religious people who say that it’s a husband’s right to rape his wife and it can’t be called as ‘rape’.Such rape apologists using religion to justify rape are a big threat to women.Just because you’re religious doesn’t give you the right to rape your wife.Religion must never be used as an excuse to rape.Recommend

  • Arsalan Soomro

    Why is the subject of marital rape such a taboo in Pakistan? It’s not even recognized as a crime by some people.Wives in our country have been subjected to marital rape for decades yet no FIR is filed,no rapist husband arrested.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Agreed. So many people are still under the illusion that rape is simply about sex when it’s not. And a woman’s clothing has diddly to do with it. If it did, rape would not be as shamefully common as it is in conservative countries. I DO believe that often [sick] men think women who dress a certain way are “fair game” and that in itself disgusts me, but the motive behind the rape is not sexual feelings or lust, rather power over the victim, plain and simple. If a decent guy comes across a woman wearing next to nothing, he will not touch her no matter her clothing choice. If a rapist comes across a woman wearing an abaya, he may attack her no matter her ‘modest’ attire. Recommend

  • Muhammad Talha

    @Zeeshan Khan It’s not just men who blame women for getting raped.A lot of women also do the same thing,when talking about rape apologists such women must also be condemned.Have seen so many Hijabis talking trash about normal girls,saying that she’s without a hijab,without an abaya so she is asking to be raped.
    it’s necessary that such women are also condemned for supporting rapists and justifying the crimes of rapists.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/AamAwam Mango

    Very well written Ma’am your article was answer to the dillusions some women and men are living in. GREA GREAT read! Thank you :)Recommend

  • Anum Dada

    Orignally, Rape referred to both actual rape and abduction, which was joined under the common term ‘raptus’. Moving back to the actual point of the article, yes, the believed sexual nature of the act prevents it from being discussed openly. Acts of rape, or any kind of sexual vilolence for that matter, should be treated as acts of vilolence, removing the social stigma attached to anything sexual in society, and dealt with a firm hand!Recommend

  • Sonia K

    As far as marital rape is concerned- IN PAKISTAN MARITAL RAPE IS RECOGNIZED AS A CRIME- stop crying about it and read your laws before commenting!!! Ignorance of law is your own BLUNDER (not even a mistake)- not that of Pakistan or its people- know your rights and know how to exercise them!

    I like your article- but there are a few points of contention- what you see as a legal system outside is hardly ever PRACTICED. To this day there are innumerable cases in which sexual assault has been so direct and clear- but cases were never registered because some legal loophole was available- and this was never restricted to a special class of people- white, black, asian, as a matter of fact every class, race, creed.

    What I am trying to say is rape or attempt to rape or sexual assault in foreign countries is all about having a sexual inclination PLUS a domination issue. Who decides to do what at a particular time is totally dependant on the psyche of the offender. We cannot generalize people.

    In our part of the world where people have depression due to many different reasons sex offensive behaviour might be a way to release the depression and feel in control. People in our part of the world who believe rape, in particular, cannot be instigated by clothes, well when women are being objectified, they are bound to create some sort of implications.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was a very comprehensive write up on the subject.
    This is a subject that should be seriously debated by our law makers and those entrusted with enforcing the law but at best it is written about, spoken about only at the societal level. The priority ascribed to this subject is very low and unless this changes nothing of substance will happen.
    Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    I believe that most rapes are the result of adults not having sex for a long time, which is why soldiers often rape the women of the countries they invade. Secondly, men know that rape is very difficult to prove, so they’re more inclined to commit it. Recently a judge of the lower court acquitted three men of committing rape even though DNA tests established that they were guilty, and because according to Shariah as interpreted by Maulana Maudoodi and others, four male witnesses are required to prove that rape has taken place. Since no rapist would announce beforehand in the media his intention to rape someone, the question of four witnesses (or even one witness) does not arise. What this means, of course, is that (as advised by the current JI chief Munawwar Hassan), a rape victim should not go to the cops to file a complaint, but remain silent. So how would she explain her pregnancy as a result of the rape? Or should she kill herself if she gets pregnant? Recommend

  • wardah

    never really thought about the male part of the story. Homosexuality still remains a taboo in our conservative society though we are in need of educating our children atleast about good touch and bad touch.And be open to talk to them about sex to whatever extent its adequate so that they have a baseline knowledge about things and feel free to tell their parents about any such unfortunate incidence so that a permanent personality damage in a child could be checked in time…Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    The nude protests aren’t “obfuscating the issue”.

    They are directly addressing the public’s ignorance of the matter that rape is brought on by a woman’s dress.
    You need to give them some credit.Recommend

  • Insaan

    Lot of child sexual abuse also happens every where. Do you think that is also about power and dominance.Recommend

  • Saima Yusuf

    what about inadequacies on the part of the former Minister of Economy and Finance of FranceRecommend

  • mano

    Excellent article. Its not about that women asked for it or that the men are deprived of sex, its the same as a robbery. Its about how the criminal’s corruption not about the victim’s fault. Recommend

  • Destiny

    If No Means No then Yes means What.Recommend

  • Baba jee

    @Zeeshan Khan
    That surely was an ardent, immature, baseless argument coming from you, instead of just suggesing the solution to help reduce the menace rather you kept on going, how things should have been. Totally pointless.
    Name just one country, where women aren’t molested, if they hop out in indecent clothes and aren’t accompanied by any male member?

    Mods: please avoid interrupting.Recommend

  • Faizan

    @Mali
    ” If you can’t help it, rather start enjoying it :) ”

    Wow..Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Loneliberal PK:
    I usually agree with you, but this time, I’m inclined to disagree. While I give nude protesters credit for their intentions (and moxie), I don’t think it’s raising awareness AS MUCH AS it’s attracting [often juvenile] attention because, beg pardon, there are ‘b**bies’ involved. I wish people were NOT so thrown off by nudity, but it’s reality. Upon reading the comments by most under articles covering what these protesters are trying to achieve (in newspapers around the globe), I’m more disgusted than impressed. People insult these women or ogle at them; no one is acknowledging the very purpose of their protest. I suppose that in itself proves their point somehow, but I don’t see the point otherwise. Shock value is just that: shock value. Cheers. Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    Women Dress Modestly….Men Lower your Gaze (both mentioned in the Glorious Quran)….If both genders follow their respective guidelines, this problem will be significantly reduced.Recommend

  • Kamran Abdullah

    @I am a Khan ! Indeed ..Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Mali:
    I’d like to hear you say that after some dude forcibly rapes you or someone you care about. Will you laugh then?
    ET, you can post this guy’s disgustingly crass “joke” and not post my response? Seriously? Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Nobody:
    If a rapist comes across a woman wearing an abaya, he may attack her no matter her ‘modest’ attire.
    Recommend

  • Insaan

    In real rape “no means no” does not come into play.Recommend

  • Insaan

    Author “When three men premeditated to abduct and gang-rape a six-year-old, it was obviously not about sex”……If you could open YouTube you’d find examples of a male buffalo mounting a sick/weak male in its effort to climb the social ladder.
    Recommend

  • Tishna

    Agreed that ‘rape’ is not all about sex but sexual abuse IS an integral part of the overall assault. and yes, the offender always looks for a vulnerable prey. So @ Zeeshan Khan, what i think that a girl in minimal clothing will be an easy catch for the perpetrator as compared to a woman covered in too many cloths (i.e. proper abaya). But you have all the right to disagree.
    As for pedophiles, mostly it has been observed that child abuse are instigated by the person considered close to the family of the child which makes the child more vulnerable as parents don’t consider such person as threat.Recommend

  • http://uptonogood.tumblr.com Red

    /It results in protests of angry women calling for castration, and parading naked with signs saying ‘I’m not asking for it’. No you’re not, but you are obfuscating the issue while providing titillation to a bunch of half-wits./

    Umm, they are not obfuscating the issue. They are directly addressing the exact misconceptions you discuss in your blog. How can you miss that given how clearly it is talked about in all the protests (not all of which have nude women btw…not that it matters to me one way or the other but it clearly does to you).

    ET: You honestly allowed a man to post a rape “joke”? I’m feeling furious right now. Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Nobody
    Before you critiquing Mali, why ignore the fact the, one must have doing something thats calling for rape, why on earth would anyone or anybody take the initiative???Recommend

  • gp65

    @Baba jee: “Name just one country, where women aren’t molested, if they hop out in indecent clothes and aren’t accompanied by any male member?”

    Huh? In most Western countries, being unescorted or being dressed in skimpy clothes is not an invitation for rape. Of course rapes happen in those countries also ut not because the woman is unescorted and they could also happen to a woman who is escorted.Recommend

  • gp65

    @Insaan: “@Nobody
    Before you critiquing Mali, why ignore the fact the, one must have doing something thats calling for rape, why on earth would anyone or anybody take the initiative???”

    This is the typical ‘blame the victim’ mentality displayed by rape apologists. Sad.

    @Sonia K: Please provide reference that marital rape is considered rape in Pakistan. As per my knowledge it is not and here is my reference. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RecognitionofmaritalrapeinPakistanilaw

    Even India does not recognize marital rape as rape – so this is not an attempt at one-upmanship. Simply trying to correct you factually.

    @Author: Overall all nice blog but I disagree on one issue which @LoneLiberalPk and @Red have explained clearly.Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Tishna: what i think that a girl in minimal clothing will be an easy catch for the perpetrator as compared to a woman covered in too many cloths (i.e. proper abaya)

    Why do you compare two extremes to support your burqa system? In Arab countries women get raped and molested while wearing a burqa. In many Islamic countries a woman complaining about rape can go to prison for committing Zina.

    An easy catch is the woman/girl that is within the reach of the perpetrator, irrespective of what she is wearing.Recommend

  • Intelektual

    The serial killer rapist who are consciously organized and looking for prey in Hollywood movies are not the same as South East Asian opportunist rapists !
    Yes Pedophilia is a socially endorsed phenomenon in our societies !
    Also women while protesting SHOULD NOT be considerate of these vile creatures !
    Also this understanding of what is it about does not help ny1 if the existing word of law is not implemented ! if the crude economical ways of today wont stop producing these monstors ! If their’s no sense of accountability or collateral ! Also if there’s no real education of basic Human rights, morality, ethics and tolerance !Recommend

  • awellwisher

    @gp65:

    “Even India does not recognize marital rape as rape – so this is not an attempt at one-upmanship. Simply trying to correct you factually.”

    While you may be right that marital rape may not be recognized legally as rape, it is legally domestic violence. Read”

    http://www.sarid.net/governance/102606-india.htmlRecommend

  • I am a Khan

    @Insaan:
    “In Arab countries women get raped and molested while wearing a burqa.”

    Well thats not 100% True…while there may be a very few such cases, generally In Arab countries women are much more at risk of being raped if they are not covered up…When I visited a friend in Dubai last year, his wife was in normal Shalwar Kameez and dupatta at home..she did not do purdah from me. But when we went out to the malls, his wife immediately put on a full abaya (with only face uncovered). They said that covered women in the UAE generally do not get lustful gazes at public places as uncovered women do. Recommend

  • Loneliberal PK

    Nobody,

    Don’t feel too bad about that. ET didn’t publish my response to you either. And they trimmed my last comment for some inexplicable reason.

    Clicking “Post Comment” (fingers crossed)Recommend

  • http://www.bestratedmoviez.com/ Ahtasham

    Rapes are the major problem in India, where gang rape ratio is at increasing trend.Recommend

  • Sonia K

    @gp65:

    Really gp65- wikipedia!!! come on man!!!
    Ok many NGOs know marital rape is a crime- lawyers know it is a crime. That was the first and foremost thing I was taught ( it is a very stark blunt memory, but it stayed) but legally it is dealt in domestic violence category- unfortunately there is no separate law- like I said ignorance of law is a BLUNDER, not a mistake! People (men and women) should know how to solve their problem. There can’t be a new law for virtually every problem.
    Recommend

  • Insaan

    @I am a Khan: When I visited a friend in Dubai last year, his wife was in normal Shalwar Kameez and dupatta at home..she did not do purdah from me. But when we went out to the malls, his wife immediately put on a full abaya (with only face uncovered).

    Did you feel different about your friend’s wife when you saw her with or without abaya?
    In USA Muslim women are treated the same with or without abaya. Most Muslim women don’t wear abaya in USA. Never heard about any Muslim woman being raped in USA. I guess the difference is Muslim menRecommend

  • Insaan

    Some one has edited my comments by deleting “my response” and leaving the text I was responding to.Recommend

  • http://www.excelfrt.com Rubab Khan

    @Zeeshan Khan:
    Totaly Agree with Mr.Zeeshan… Burqa isn’t protector against rape….. Why women taken as TABOO in our society ?? If a girl wearing jeans , T-shirt she is inviting for rape yakh yakh what kind of thinking we have… RAPE is just mentaly sickness not an sexual act .. IN PAKISTAN .. Many of wives raped by their husbands on daily basis they are just lying like a dead body (in my language i must say ” Pankha dekhne wali noubat ajati hai ” ) and husbands are vomating his lust !.. ” Is you call an sexual act … ?? we are still stuck in the fight of Opposite Gender … Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Rubab Khan: Many of wives raped by their husbands on daily basis they are just lying like a dead body……

    Recommend

  • Muhammad Tufail

    India has become a danger place for women where rape is used as weapon against them on daily basis. I want to let know all respected commentators that rape ratio is very low in Pakistan as compared to any other country especially India, America etc.

    Secondly, I am very sorry to say that there is no existence of marital rape in Pakistan as it is just propaganda. Those Girls who wears instigating dress always vulnerable to rape in comparison to those who prefer to wear Naqab. Recently, Hindus in India are even demanding to impose Shari’a Laws after brutal rape occurred in New Delhi this year. So it is ignominious for us to have such thinking as expressed by Zeshan and others.Recommend

  • bmniac

    As a member of the Committee for Criminal justice Reform in India, some years back, I had occasion to read memoranda from various womens’ organizations and hear their views on rape and related matters. It was very sad and humbling experience. Since then, there has been a much needed awakening among the public so much so that the police and the courts are compelled to respond properly, though it could be still better. More important is the fact that unlike a few years back, women are coming forward nowadays to complain about rape. And civil society is strong in its support. Also the police and courts are on the defensive. As a result cases are being registered(uncommon a few years back) and courts too are quicker. The more important thing is begin educating boys from childhood to respect women so that they realize the enormity of crimes against womenRecommend