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

Published: April 15, 2013
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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.