The issue of rape has gotten considerable press time lately, prompted by a certain politician’s remark that pregnancy is impossible in cases of “legitimate rape,” or perhaps by that politician’s attempt to redefine federal law to require sexual assault to be “forcible,” or perhaps by a separate politician’s claim that babies conceived by rape are gifts from God, or perhaps by yet another politician’s campaign to legally reclassify rape “victims” as “accusers.” One way or another, a whole lot of male politicians have weighed in on the question of how women should handle violations of their lady parts. And while there does, mercifully, seem to be some consensus around the idea that sexual assault is, generally speaking, a bad thing, there remains considerable disagreement on what should be done about it.
The above is simply an updated version of a piece originally published in 1975, called “The Rape of Mr. Smith”:
In the following situation, a holdup victim is asked questions by a lawyer.
“Mr. Smith, you were held up at gunpoint on the corner of First and Main?”
“Did you struggle with the robber?”
“He was armed.”
“Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than resist?”
“Did you scream? Cry out?”
“No, I was afraid.”
“I see. Have you ever been held up before?”
“Have you ever GIVEN money away?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And you did so willingly?”
“What are you getting at?”
“Well, let’s put it like this, Mr. Smith. You’ve given money away in the past. In fact, you have quite a reputation for
philanthropy. How can we be sure that you weren’t CONTRIVING to have your money taken from you by force?”
“Listen, if I wanted –“
“Never mind. What time did this holdup take place, Mr. Smith?”
“About 11:00 P.M..”
“You were out on the street at 11:00 P.M.? Doing what?”
“Just walking? You know that it’s dangerous being out on the street that late at night. Weren’t you aware that
you could have been held up?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“What were you wearing at the time, Mr. Smith?”
“Let’s see … a suit. Yes, a suit.”
“An EXPENSIVE suit?”
“Well – yes. I’m a successful lawyer, you know.”
“In other words, Mr. Smith, you were walking around the streets late at night in a suit that practically advertised
the fact that you might be good target for some easy money, isn’t that so? I mean, if we didn’t know better, Mr.
Smith, we might even think that you were ASKING for this to happen, mightn’t we?”
Both of these pieces make trenchant points about how rape victims are considered less credible and more complicit in their attacks than are victims of other crimes. But the world of victim-blaming is more complex than it was in 1975, and the type of victim-blaming these pieces mock is only one of a vast array of modern degradations visited upon sexual assault survivors.
I’ve written twice before (It Is Never Okay and Asking For It) about what I see as a new, feminist-influenced, but no less pernicious, form of victim-blaming, which focuses less on the victim’s clothing and virginity, and more on her perceived mental disabilities or emotional “damage.”
In light of that, I submit a new, twenty-first century version of the rape analogy (which will probably not go as viral as the others, but I can hope):
The Rape of Mr. Smith, 2012 Edition
Man: I need to report a robbery. I’ve been mugged!
Officer: Let me transfer you to our Social Worker for Larceny-Related Offense Prevention. She has plenty of experience with men in your situation.
Social Worker for Larceny-Related Offense Prevention: Hi there, Mr. Smith. You should know that you’re in a safe space, because I have lots of experience with men in your situation. Why don’t you tell me in your own words what happened tonight?
Man: Okay, I was walking down Main Street on my way home from work, and this guy pointed a gun at me and said, “Give me your wallet.”
SWLROP: That’s very interesting. Did you give him what he wanted?
Man: Yes, he had a gun pointed at me.
SWLROP: What was it about that man that attracted you to him?
Man: Attracted? No, no, he just jumped out at me out of nowhere.
SWLROP: Usually, men in your situation have something inside them that causes them to seek out this kind of relationship.
Man: Hang on, there was no “relationship.” He jumped out at me and pointed a gun at my face.
SWLROP: I see. How did that make you feel?
Man: Afraid of being shot? Does it matter?
SWLROP: Has anyone ever taken money from you by force before?
Man: Somebody broke into my house a couple of years ago, why?
SWLROP: Yes, that’s very common. What about when you were a child? Did anyone rob you then?
Man: Sure, some kids at school used to take my lunch money; what does that have to do with anything?
SWLROP: That’s very common. When boys are damaged by robbery in childhood, they seek out similar victimization again and again.
Man: That’s crazy! I didn’t seek anything out! I was just walking down the street, minding my own business, and this jerk attacks me out of nowhere!
SWLROP: But you knew there was a chance of robbery on that street, didn’t you?
Man: Well, yeah, but—
SWLROP: Didn’t you go down that street, knowing you could be robbed, because deep inside, the little boy in you feels that he deserves to have his money taken from him?
Man: What? No! I was going home like any other night; I’m not the one who did something wrong here!
SWLROP: That’s very good; self-destructive tendencies are nothing to be ashamed of. You can make great progress with therapy.
Man: I’m not self-destructive, and I don’t want therapy. I want the little punk who took my wallet arrested.
SWLROP: Yes, anger and desire for revenge are part of the healing process.
Man: For Pete’s sake, I don’t have time for this! I have work tomorrow.
SWLROP: That’s very interesting. What kind of work do you do?
Man: Oh for the love of… I work at a nonprofit; why does that matter?
SWLROP: Ah, I see. That’s very common for men with your background. You’ve never been validated beyond your financial value, so you compulsively seek acceptance by giving money away.
Man: I don’t know whether that’s more offensive or more nonsensical. I’m leaving.
SWLROP: I can’t recommend that. If you don’t get the help you need, this will suffocate you like a giant snake. You will practice more and more financially self-destructive behavior, and get robbed again and again.
Man: Will “the help I need” help me fight off a mugger?
SWLROP: You can learn to love yourself and value yourself enough to say “no” to requests for money.
Man: He had a gun pointed at me! A “no” would’ve gotten me shot!
SWLROP: Rejection can feel like getting shot for someone as desperate for acceptance as you are, but you can learn to have confidence in yourself instead of seeking out victimhood. Eventually, you can learn to form healthy relationships without financial exploitation.
Man: Are you listening to anything I’m saying? We didn’t have a relationship. I didn’t want his acceptance; I wanted my life. I don’t have compulsive acceptance giving-away whatever you’re talking about!
SWLROP: Denial is a normal response, but it’s maladaptive. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to healing.
Man: I have a better idea. Instead of blaming me, how about you get the jerk who mugged me in here, and you teach him about not mugging people.
SWLROP: You are the only person you can control. With that attitude, you will always be a victim.
Man: That’s it. I’m becoming a criminal.