Rapists are the only criminals who don’t need an alibi. They rely on lies and the people who perpetuate those lies, like local columnist Dan Rottenberg, whose recent editorial/rapist’s manifesto went national earlier this month for trumpeting the old victim-blaming trope that victims invite rape through their clothing—a dangerous bit of pro-rape propaganda rapists have been telling juries for years.
Last week, I wrote a response to Rottenberg’s column. Some people thought I shouldn’t have, that responding would simply draw more attention to his ideas. Hogwash. The problem is the exact opposite. The lies that enable sexual assault to be practically a rite of passage while growing up—1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are molested—are already everywhere, so deeply rooted in our culture you have to dig deep to yank them out. Just look at the statistics. We’re called Killadelphia, but the rape rate is almost five times the murder rate. Only about 3 percent of rapists spend a day in jail. Staying silent has never helped a situation of sexual assault, ever. We say no. My column was a drop in the well in terms of addressing the lies perpetuated in Rottenberg’s column. We say there is no better time to learn more and write more reality checks.
In This Issue:
Women Taking a Stand Against Street Harassment: Nicole Finkbiner hit the pavement to report on catcalling. It isn’t flirting or flattering; it’s a threat that pivots on the fear of assault previously delivered by other men, TV, the worried parent who warns, ‘Be careful. You could be killed. Or worse.’
Q&A With a Leading Male Voice Against Sexual Violence: Michael Alan Goldberg talks with Dr. Jackson Katz about redefining rape as a men’s issue. Almost half of all victims of sexual assault are under 18 years old and 1 in 10 victims of sexual assault is male.
Survivor of Sexual Abuse Shares His Story: We hear from a contributor who was molested as a child and how, because of the victim-blaming lies his attacker told, no one believed him.
Reality Check: Pennsylvania's Rape Laws Perpetuate the Myths: I report on how in good old Pennsylvania, victim-blaming lies and myths are so deeply embedded in the criminal-justice system that we are the only state left in the country that bans experts from testifying in sexual assault trials and formally instructs juries to draw verdicts based on a disproved bias against victims. (But hopefully, legislation correcting this bit of dark ages will pass this year.)
Number of Rape Victims Reported Don't Reflect Reality: I also delve into the ways sexual assaults are downgraded in statistics. Because of the system—which relies on a definition of rape that’s 81 years old—it’s almost impossible to have a complete statistical snapshot.
What we do know is that rape is a weapon of war, a tool to put victims in their place. It says: That place is in a pool of blood or a Dumpster in an abandoned lot in Kensington. The threat of rape says, you will be told where you can and can’t go alone, and you have what’s coming to you if you don’t follow our rules. It tells kids: Love hurts.
We also know rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. To view rape as sex is to peer down through the eyes of the perpetrator. Rape isn’t sex to a victim, whether that victim is a 7-year-old girl, a 13-year-old boy or 42-year-old woman.
It’s not random that gang rapes of black women by white men helped ignited the civil-rights movement of the 1960s: Rape is a civil-rights issue. As you’ll read about in these pages, we’ve got a long way to go. Meanwhile, we won’t answer lies with silence or burning cheeks, but with information. And honestly? Fuck that.
Accused rapists have more advantage in Pennsylvania courts than any other state in the country, or even military court. As the only state that doesn’t allow expert witnesses to testify in sexual assault trials, Pennsylvania allows, endorses even, fiction over fact when prosecuting cases of sexual assault.
At 28, I’m learning to accept that my stepfather abused me—sexually, physically and emotionally. I may never remember everything that happened to me. But I know I did nothing to deserve it.
We have to have this paradigm shift because the status quo for most people is thinking that rape is a women’s issue but that some good men speak out and support women. That still puts the onus on women, rather than people seeing this fundamentally as a men’s issue and mens’ responsibility to prevent it.
How many women, men and children are sexually assaulted every year in Philadelphia, or Pennsylvania, or the U.S.? It depends who you ask—as long as you don’t follow the official statistics, called Uniform Crime Reports (UCR).
By the time they’ve hit their late teens, most females are well-versed in street harassment. Vile and intrusive catcalls like “you got some big titties,” “I’d love to wax that ass,” and “shake it like a salt shaker,” are an unavoidable part of their daily journey to and from school, work or even a quick trip to the corner store.
Next to CBS' Lara Logan’s photo, Dan Rottenberg wrote, “Earth to liberated women: When you display legs, thighs or cleavage, some liberated men will see it as a sign that you feel good about yourself and your sexuality. But most men will see it as a sign that you want to get laid.”
We need to hear from you—the survivor, the loved one, the advocate. We need you to tell your story, in your own words. To do so would help bring to light the one thing that’s missing from the national conversation: the reality of what it’s like to heal from the devastating effects of sexual abuse.
Letters to the Editor