Swan Tower - a disturbing thought

Aug. 22nd, 2012

11:14 pm - a disturbing thought

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The various blow-ups around Todd Akin's comments and the accusations against Julian Assange and all the rest of it mean that a lot of the internet is talking about rape right now. And one of the posts I just read got me thinking about the topic from an angle I've never considered before -- a deeply disturbing one.



I know that I know women who have been raped. I know that I probably know more of them than I think, because not all of them necessarily have mentioned it to me -- or to anyone. This is horrifying, but it's a kind of horror I've gotten used to, in the sense that I understand this is a real thing in my life.

Tonight, I found myself thinking that I may very well know one or more rapists, too.

I can't be sure, of course, because it's the kind of thing people bring up even less than they bring up being the victim of rape. But I may know a guy (or a woman, but that's uncommon enough that I'll go with the assumption of a guy for now) who has raped someone. Not the hold-them-at-knifepoint kind of rape, maybe, but the sort where the other party didn't consent -- which is, yes, still rape. I may know a guy who slipped roofies into a woman's drink (or a man's), or just got her too drunk to know what he was doing. I may know a guy who climbed onto a sleeping woman and fucked her against her will. I may know a guy who coerced his victim with words, who did any one of the hundred things that guys write off as "not really rape" and therefore rest secure in the knowledge that they aren't rapists.

But they are. And maybe I know a guy like that.

It's easy for me to think, when I read about those kinds of cases, that the guys in them obviously deserve condemnation. That it doesn't matter whether they're "nice guys" the rest of the time; what they did is still rape and should be called such, without prevarication. That their friends need to accept that somebody they know and like did a horrible thing, and not try to defend the guy by shifting the blame onto the victim.

Then I wonder how I would react if somebody told me one of my friends raped them. How long it would take me to move past the "but he wouldn't do that!" reaction, and listen to what the victim has to say. To believe them, at the cost of what I believed before.

I hope I could do it. I hope I could, if the situation arose, swallow questions like "are you sure?" and "but didn't you . . . ?" and other things that would hurt somebody who's already been hurt too much. I think I could do it after a while, but in the moment itself, I'm not sure if my principles would beat out my partisan bias, my loyalty to that friend. I hope they would.

I hope that, if one of you ever comes to me and says somebody I know and like did a horrible thing to you, I will be able to face the fact that there is a rapist among my friends.

Because there might be one among them right now. And that's appalling in ways I'd never really thought about before.

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From:rosefox
Date:August 23rd, 2012 06:48 am (UTC)
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(trigger warnings, etc.)

To add another layer of complication:

The last time I saw the guy who date-raped me--let's call him Lou, since it's his name--it was at a dear friend's wedding. Lou was the best man. We still have many friends in common. When I saw him at the reception, I gave him a hug, rather to our mutual surprise. I was actually glad to see him. We hung out and chatted and caught up, as any two people might do when they haven't seen each other in ten years, and we parted on friendly terms, though neither of us has made any effort to get in touch with the other since then.

I don't think of him as "a rapist" (though I was furious when one of his later partners yelled "How dare you call the man I love a rapist!" at me when I dared to speak up about what he had done, and I do... retain the right, I suppose, to apply that label if I feel it fits). I do think of him as someone who emotionally blackmailed me into having sex I didn't want. Maybe he's still the sort of person who would do that. Maybe not. I don't know. But I've changed a whole lot in the past 17 years--half my lifetime!--and I expect he has too. I like to think he's probably become a better person, smarter and kinder and more mature. I like to think he's become someone who now cares a great deal about passionate active consent and "yes means yes", and who would no longer respond to a not-tonight-dear with weeping wailing misery that forces his partner to soothe him one way or another. It would have been entirely fair to call him a rapist when he was 18 and truly did not value my bodily autonomy over his own hurt feelings; I like to think he isn't one now.

So I would distinguish between "has raped someone" and "is a rapist" while still being quite uncomfortably aware, as you now are, that people in both categories are probably among my friendly acquaintances, and possibly among my friends. And while I don't mind that Lou and I have friends in common, if someone told me that I could not be friends with both them and the person who raped them--no matter how long it's been, or how that person has changed--I would respect that, because every survivor gets to decide which labels fit their particular situation and the person who caused them harm.

Edited at 2012-08-23 06:50 am (UTC)
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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 06:59 am (UTC)
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(I figure trigger warnings are more or less a given for the entire comment thread, given the topic of the post.)

Yeah, that's complicated. There's a difference between somebody who did something they knew was wrong (but decided, for one reason or another, that they didn't care), and somebody who didn't realize what they were doing was wrong. And, of course, it's difficult-to-impossible to decide where the line between those two things is -- because while we'd like to think all these things are clearly and obviously Not Right, that is clearly and obviously not the case to enough people. There have been enough studies showing that guys will admit to rape if you don't call it that in the question to prove that point.

I was thinking, after I posted this, about how I would respond not only to the victim, but to the perpetrator. What I would say to them -- presuming, of course, that the victim doesn't ask me not to say anything at all. And I really don't know. I hate confrontation, so having that conversation . . . a very huge part of me would want to chicken out on it. But I need to be willing to look somebody like that in the face and say, "what the ever-living hell, dude, that is not okay." Because if we want to make rape a thing that happens less often, we need people who are willing to point at "less rapey" ways of raping and say, nope, sorry, that's rape, and you have got to mend your ways.
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From:brooksmoses
Date:August 23rd, 2012 07:28 am (UTC)
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I did see this idea used to make a point about why rape jokes are bad: Not only because of their effect on victims, but because of their effect on rapists [1] (which is to reinforce their feeling that it's not a big deal, that it's funny rather than horrifying, etc.). And often you don't know that none of the people listening to your jokes are rapists.
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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 07:32 am (UTC)
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A very good point. And also part of why I posted this: not just to work through my thoughts publicly, not just to make other people go "shit, maybe I know a rapist, too" -- but to maybe, just maybe, get somebody who's generally a nice guy, who didn't think that thing he did was really so bad, to stop and realize that yes, it was.

And then not to do it ever again.
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From:la_marquise_de_
Date:August 23rd, 2012 10:41 am (UTC)

Very personal.

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I'm pretty sure two men I know are rapists. I'm also pretty sure one of them is in denial about it. The other... aware, concerned, makes a show of how he's changed and I don't trust him an inch.
I don't let either of them into my home. One, I haven't seen for 20+ years, so that's not hard. The other is a friend-of-a-friend, which can be a bit difficult. But I know women who have suffered serious harassment from both. I'm with Rose on this.
One of these men coerced me into sex by bullying, blackmail and threats. It wasn't exactly rape, because I said 'oh, all right' under the pressure. I find it unforgivable, all the same. I'm not the only woman in my social circle to whom he did this.
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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 06:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Very personal.

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It wasn't exactly rape, because I said 'oh, all right' under the pressure.

This is a good example of a grey zone. You did, in fact, consent -- but your consent wasn't freely given, and when all's said and done, what that guy did wasn't right. The remedy for something like that isn't, I think, to try to pursue it as a legal matter (even if we lived in a world that handled rape prosecutions better); what we need are better social sanctions that tell people it isn't okay to do that.
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Re: Very personal. - (Anonymous) (Expand)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 9th, 2012 03:57 am (UTC)

Re: Very personal.

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I prefer to think of it as you conceded, but you did not consent.
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From:celestineangel
Date:August 23rd, 2012 11:49 am (UTC)
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People probably think I'm too quick to believe someone's been raped. :/

I have a friend who was raped by the guy she'd been seeing on and off for several years. There was a lot of "fooling around" going on, and he asked her at every stage if she was okay with things, and she always said "yes, with what we're doing now, but I still don't want to have sex." He refrained from asking her before penetrating her.

I told her to go see a therapist. I don't know where she found the idiot, but that person convinced her that it wasn't rape. That it was a misunderstanding. She believes this now with 100% of her being. She's married to him. They have a daughter. She and I don't talk much because I still believe 100% that he raped her, and that the therapist is a raging moron who should never be allowed to talk to other people, and she just can't understand why I'm holding a grudge for so long. He hates me because I said, flat out, that he's a rapist. She's told me that I'm the only one of her friends who holds out and still thinks of him as a rapist.

I don't care. He's a rapist. She married her rapist, because someone convinced her that what happened to her was a misunderstanding that was at least partially her fault because she let it go so far.

I guess I'm babbling about something that really doesn't have much to do with your post, but... I've been holding that frustration in for a long while now.

It is very disturbing to think that someone you know may be a rapist... someone you know and like. And the more people you know, the more likely it is to be true.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 23rd, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps the therapist, and the woman herself, know more about the situation than an outsider does. I think when such a bare-bones summary is given (as here and as in the stories from Sweden), each woman hearing it may project her own imagination of what in her own experience might have fitted a similar bare summary. (Like a script that gives only words: different actors may play it differently.)

In my experience as a woman, it seems a reasonable progression. The man asking ... then when things get hotter, forgetting to ask, and relying on the woman to say No if she still isn't interested.

I'm from an 'indirect speech' culture, so I'd express a No non-verbally; but it's still my responsibility to communicate it clearly.

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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
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That's really hard, yeah. If I had a friend in that situation . . . if she was happy, I would try to be happy for her, but it would never lose that stain. I'd always be watching for other signs of abuse.
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From:maladaptive
Date:August 23rd, 2012 12:28 pm (UTC)
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The estimates put the number of rapists at anywhere from 1 in 13 (Lisak and Miller's study) to 1 in 6 (McWhorter's study)*, and the numbers suggest that it's probably on the higher rather than the lower side. Given that most of us know at least 13 men... yeah.

IME, it was pretty damn easy to condemn the rapist in our midst when he came to light. I think my reaction was "holy fuuuuuuuuck" when my friend told me what he'd done, no question. It meant I lost a huge section of my friend's group, but I was so grossed out that they'd keep a rapist among them that I didn't even mind that much. I do, a little, now-- I'm pissed off and disgusted with them and even kind of worried, because he gave me the heebie jeebies (he never hit on me, out of the entire group, "because you're such an alpha!" another friend said, which I found weird and super-creepy and they thought was kind of charming because I intimidated him). They thought I was reactionary and jumping to conclusions (buh?) but I was like, it's in my own best interest not to hang out with a rapist. I'm still friends with the victim, but it wasn't even about supporting my friend and "picking a side." I mean, I did because that's what people should do, but quite simply: I was friends with a rapist and he had to go. For my own safety. I would never be able to let my guard down around him, and that defeats the point of being friends.

I'm sure I have another rapist in my social circle. It just feels so inevitable.

*These numbers really only studied college-age men.

Edited at 2012-08-23 12:28 pm (UTC)
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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 06:59 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I read a post about both of those studies (in fact, I've been meaning to post the link). They're a part of what made it clear to me how much of this boils down to guys not seeing what they do as rape.

Which . . . I dunno; in a way I find that encouraging? It makes me think that positive education and having a conversation about this can actually make a difference. Maybe that's optimistic of me, but it helps me get through the day.
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From:electricpaladin
Date:August 23rd, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
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I definitely know a rapist or two. I know guys who have had sex with women who were drunk, or guys who were "fooling around" with girls, and didn't ask before initiating penetration. I know some girls who have behaved the same way.

Even though it's politically useful to say "rape is rape" over and over again, I don't really think it's that simple. If both partners are drunk, and in the morning one of them wakes up and feels violated and the other wakes up and recalls, blearily, that it was awesome, does that mean that the first was not raped? If one person feels raped, does that mean that the other person is automatically a rapist, regardless of the circumstances? Heck, what if *both* partners feel violated in the morning? Does that make them both rape survivors and both rapists? What about situations where someone doesn't *give* consent, but also doesn't have the guts to vocally *deny* consent? I know that it's generally helpful to consider that a bad idea - I've been to all the college sex talks - but what if neither of the partners feels violated?

The problem seems to be that on some level "rape" is the crime, and commensurate penalties for the perpetrator and support for the victim, that we attach to the feeling of "sexual violation." In very few other situations do we attach permanent labels like "rapist" to the consequences of one party's feelings. If I cut you off in traffic, no matter how mad and frustrated you are I don't have to spend the rest of my live laboring under the label "jerk" or "bad driver."

Now, this is getting complicated, because I don't really mean to compare rape to poor traffic etiquette. Sexual violation is a terrible thing that has the potential to haunt a person for a very long time. And, of course, when I say that there is complications or a gray area, I'm only talking about complicated cases. There are many extremely uncomplicated cases of rape.

The thing is, I recall a lot of weird stuff. I recall how in some states if a man and a woman are both drunk when they have sex then the man is automatically a rapist, because drunk people can't give consent, and of course it's the man's fault, right? And I think about all the times that anyone has ever had a feeling that didn't match my interpretation of reality. I like to think "well, I'm way too scrupulous about acquiring consent all the time for anyone to ever accuse me of being a rapist." But then, I'm also pretty scrupulous about saying what I mean and being straightforward with my friends, and I have ex-friends.

I'm also aware that there was a lot of male privilege in that paragraph, because my concern is whether or not I'm going to be unfairly accused of a crime, not whether or not I'm going to be coerced into sex through emotional or physical violence. I'm still comfortable with my statement - being wrongly accused of a crime would really suck, and I don't think anyone would disagree with that - but I thought it was a good idea to acknowledge it.

It seems to me that we should disentangle violation and rape. Violation is a feeling that requires love and support to overcome - sometimes a lot of it. Rape is a crime with civic penalties. One person can feel violated in a situation in which there is not a clear enough case for civic penalties. One person's feelings don't necessarily reflect another person's reality. If civic authorities judge that rape has occurred, than civic penalties should be pursued. If someone feels violated, than they were violated and deserve all the support they need, regardless of the situation's "reality."

That said, the political problems are a lot denser than this, because as long as there are douche-nozzles like Todd Akin out there we are going to have a hard time getting those civic penalties and needed support to the right place. I don't think disentangling violation and rape is going to happen until we have something that more closely approximates justice.
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From:lokifan
Date:August 23rd, 2012 02:47 pm (UTC)
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What about situations where someone doesn't *give* consent, but also doesn't have the guts to vocally *deny* consent?

If someone doesn't give consent, it is in fact rape. That is the definition. And 'the guts' is a fairly loaded, unpleasant term.

Plus, the idea that a woman's feelings don't match reality... it has a lot of unpleasant baggage. It's also worth remembering that the rate of rape reportage is so low that the chance that a woman reports the crime based on vague feelings is tiny - I've tended to go over and over things in my mind, 'did that actually happen? Did I do this? Does that really count?' when I've been molested/harassed, and I think the same is true for a lot of women.

Look, I don't want to attack you or anything, but - the idea of rape as something that happens in the rapist's mind/body as opposed to the victim's, who just gets vague feelings of violation, just has so much unpleasant baggage and is strongly tied to all this 'violent rape is rape, other kinds not so much' rubbish.
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From:brooksmoses
Date:August 26th, 2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
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Plus, the idea that a woman's feelings don't match reality... it has a lot of unpleasant baggage. It's also worth remembering that the rate of rape reportage is so low that the chance that a woman reports the crime based on vague feelings is tiny - I've tended to go over and over things in my mind, 'did that actually happen? Did I do this? Does that really count?' when I've been molested/harassed, and I think the same is true for a lot of women.

As I understand it, that's kind of the point. The idea that a woman can feel violated, regardless of whether it was "actually rape" or not, means that that you can address the violation without having to have a solid answer for "does it really count as molestation/harassment/rape/whatever?" or "is this something that would get taken seriously if reported as a crime?".

But this also only works in a paradigm in which one considers that things in people's heads matter, deeply. If a person is suffering from PTSD, that traumatic stress is really real, regardless of what caused it. If a person is suffering from PTSD because of a sexual act, does it matter whether it was consensual or rape or something borderline? Should we require that the sex be non-consensual and be able to clearly say "you were raped" before we treat that violation and harm to the victim as real?

Edit to add: I recognize how this can come across as minimizing the rape as "feelings of violation", if you aren't coming at it from a perspective where you aren't using "feelings of violation" to mean "all the damage that happens to a person when they are raped". Which is a bit of using it as a term of art, and why I wouldn't make this point except in thoughtful conversation with lots of caveats.


Edited at 2012-08-26 10:58 pm (UTC)
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 23rd, 2012 03:51 pm (UTC)
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"It seems to me that we should disentangle violation and rape. [....] Rape is a crime with civic penalties."

I'm a woman and a feminist, and I agree with this. The government should stay out of my uterus -- and not try to read my mind, either. Whether a man committed a crime, should not depend on my secret thoughts and feelings at that time, if I couldn't be bothered to try to communicate them at that time.

Perhaps the definition of a 'crime' shouldn't depend on either party's intentions, but on both parties' objective actions.
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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
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"If I couldn't be bothered to try to communicate them at that time" doesn't at all match the description I've heard from rape survivors, though. That makes it sound like oh, it's such a hassle to say "please don't do this." It wasn't a hassle. They were intimidated or scared or too drunk/drugged to be clearly aware of what was happening.

The government isn't going to try to read your mind, anyway. They aren't going to come busting down the door to prosecute a guy for raping you unless you tell them you were raped. That's your decision to make. If you don't think what happened merits that kind of response, then you're 100% free to not press charges, or even tell anybody about the incident. But if you do feel like you were raped . . . well, right now we have no shortage of people who will tell you that you misunderstood what was happening, or really wanted it, or are to blame for how things went. And that's a problem.

As for intentions vs. actions, we have a lot of differences about that enshrined in our laws, not just in the case of rape. Negligent homicide and pre-meditated murder are very different things, and get prosecuted differently. But if we push the idea that "yes means yes," that can reduce the fuzziness a lot: if one of the parties involved doesn't take the action of indicating consent, then you have turned the wrong way down that particular street.
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From:maladaptive
Date:August 23rd, 2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
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I recall how in some states if a man and a woman are both drunk when they have sex then the man is automatically a rapist

Actually, I just took the bar so I know this, and generally if a man is drunk he can't be a rapist because rape is a specific intent crime, and drunk people can't form mens rea. So while this may be true in some states because state law can diverge from common law, they're unusual enough that it makes me raise my eyebrows. I sincerely doubt it's that cut and dried.

And the false claims of rape happen at about the same rate for false claims of other crimes, so if you're not worried about being falsely accused of robbing somebody with a gun, you probably shouldn't worry about being falsely accused of raping someone, either.

What about situations where someone doesn't *give* consent, but also doesn't have the guts to vocally *deny* consent?

The person who acted without first getting consent is a rapist. Full stop. Consent is never, ever assumed as something that must be explicitly withdrawn-- it's something that has to be given in the first place. This is also a good rule of thumb for interacting with other people! i.e., don't touch them before you have their go-ahead that you can. The idea that "she didn't say no loud enough" buys into the idea that women (generally, though men can be victims of rape too) are public property and you can do what you want with them unless otherwise specified.

Edited at 2012-08-23 04:05 pm (UTC)
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From:celestineangel
Date:August 23rd, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
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If both partners are drunk, and in the morning one of them wakes up and feels violated and the other wakes up and recalls, blearily, that it was awesome, does that mean that the first was not raped? If one person feels raped, does that mean that the other person is automatically a rapist, regardless of the circumstances? Heck, what if *both* partners feel violated in the morning? Does that make them both rape survivors and both rapists?

This is why no one should have sex while drunk, ever, period. But people are going to anyway.

I'm also aware that there was a lot of male privilege in that paragraph, because my concern is whether or not I'm going to be unfairly accused of a crime, not whether or not I'm going to be coerced into sex through emotional or physical violence.

Which is why it's easy for you to say it's not so simple. And you really should not be comfortable with your privilege.

It seems to me that we should disentangle violation and rape.

How can we distangle violation and rape? Rape is a violation, of the body and often of the mind and spirit as well. There is no distangling them from each other.

One person's feelings don't necessarily reflect another person's reality.

It's the victim's feelings that must be the basis of reality in these cases. It is the only way we will ever be able to dispel rape myths and take apart rape culture. This is, again, male privilege speaking. You really should go read jimhines's posts on rape... he's a man who actually gets it.

It's a very, very slippery slope when one starts saying "well what about the perpetrator's feelings? Does he feel like a rapist?" How many rapists feel like rapists? How many men who take advantage of rape culture and rape myths feel like rapists? How far from this until we're back to "well look at what she was wearing, anyway, obviously he's not a rapist because the way she dressed made him feel like she wanted it, and his feelings are more important than hers"?

Edited at 2012-08-23 05:25 pm (UTC)
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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
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I have to ditto lokifan that there are a lot of problems with saying "What about situations where someone doesn't *give* consent, but also doesn't have the guts to vocally *deny* consent?" If you need "guts" to do something, then you've been put into a threatening situation, and the entire thing has already taken a seriously wrong turn.

I read -- I think as a part of the gun-control debate -- something pointing out the massive shift in our attitudes toward drunk driving, as a result of concerted social campaigns. It used to be a stock figure of humour, the driver weaving back and forth across the road, narrowly avoiding pedestrians and other cars. That isn't true anymore, and it isn't true because we worked hard to make people see it differently. I think the "no means no" campaigns tried that, but I agree with those who say it would be more effective to push "yes means yes." People should engage with their partners, look for positive confirmation that they do indeed want what's happening. And then absence of refusal (which can happen for a lot of reasons, many of them bad) won't be taken as presence of consent.
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From:lokifan
Date:August 23rd, 2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
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:( Ugh.

There's a woman I'm still friends-of-friends with who raped a woman and then publically shamed her when the woman privately accused her of rape. And it's really shameful and confusing when I (v rarely) interact with her, because I don't want to be friendly with her, and yet I fear the fight. More significantly, I know this happened is that the rapist forwarded the private email to hundreds of people at their shared arts college and then complained about it to our mutual friend. So there's something genuinely difficult about making it public or reacting publically, I think. Dunno. :(
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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
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Holy crap. Talk about taking the original transgression and compounding it by a factor of ten.
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From:mrissa
Date:August 23rd, 2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
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It is my observation and my personal experience that every time someone in your social circle commits a crime, violent or otherwise, the circumstances vary, and what you have to do varies. Really quite a lot. It's a good thing to start with the resolution to put the victim first. Sometimes there are peripheral victims who need to be put second, and who they are and how that goes and what it means will vary so much that...yeah. It's good to have general principles that are sound, but the thought-experiments of what-would-I-do are really not going to get to the heart of the reality of the matter, because the details start to matter so very much.
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From:swan_tower
Date:August 23rd, 2012 07:23 pm (UTC)
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As I said to kniedzw last night, the reason for running the thought experiments is that it prepares me for the notion that I might actually have that conversation someday. Whereas if I leave it at the vague principle of "We should always listen to the victim and not assume that nice guys wouldn't do something like that," I'm going to imagine Generic Nice Guy Who Isn't Actually Somebody I Know.

My brain flinches away from even trying to do this. But that's exactly the reaction I need to be prepared for, so that I will pay attention to the details when they come.
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From:mindstalk
Date:August 24th, 2012 04:42 am (UTC)
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And social circle ranges from "person I play games with or see in groups" to "childhood best friend who saved my kid from drowning". Not all people can be so easily cut off. And if a former rapist shows remorse or repentance, should they have normal friends again, or should the rest of their lives consist of hanging around other rapists?

I'm free-associating to why we have the state do law enforcement, rather than vigilante feuds, and whether in social spheres we need more nuanced response than "you did X I'm cutting you off" / "you're not cutting off Bob who did X, you condone X".
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