Friday, April 11, 2003

This article about female POW's and sexual assault touches on many of my concerns about the way rape is handled by the media and the way rape is commonly viewed in our culture.

1. Rape is not a "fate worse than death." Women who pragmatically submit to their attackers in order to avoid further violence or death are not complicit in their assault - they're saving their lives with cunning and forethought.
2. Rape victims have nothing to be ashamed of. Why do newspapers avoid printing the names of rape victims, but readily publish the names of other victims of violent crime? The hypocrisy of this is highlighted by the way in which they lasciviously hint that sexual assault may have occured, in cases where the victim's name is already known. The coverage of the Elizabeth Smart case sickened me with it's intense focus on whether or not she'd been assaulted and the lurid speculation that any sexual activity between Smart and her attacker may have been consensual (see point 1 - the common view seems to be "if she was assaulted and survived, she must not have fought hard enough, so deep down she must have wanted it".)
3. Men can be raped too. You people in the back of the class, with the confused looks on your faces? Go read The Prince of Tides or Deliverance. Cultural attitudes towards male / male rape are contradictory - it's more often acknowledged as an act that is as much about power as sex, but it's also seen as the most shameful and unmanning thing that a man can experience (because he's being "used as a woman"). In our society, women are expected to live with the fear that they will be raped, but for men it is both more shameful and less expected.

Rhonda Cornum, a flight surgeon who was taken prisoner during the first Gulf War, describes rape as "just another bad thing that can happen to you." This seems like an eminently sensible and logical way to look at it. If this was common cultural currency, then we could avoid the coy media coverage, the horrified discussions of why female soldiers shouldn't be on the front lines, and perhaps a great deal of the guilt and shame that many rape victims currently feel.

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