So, the topic in Crim the past week has been Rape, and you all know how excited I get about that.
Anyway, traditionally rape laws are super offensive, etc., and if you want to know more, let me know and I’ll discuss it in another post.
BUT — today I’m critiquing an aspect of an ally’s proposal, not just railing against the machine in general. (Hopefully.)
In the past, rape generally was a violent crime that took place in a public space. Poor Little Miss Muffet was on her way to the next village to sell her curds and whey when the evil Headless Horseman came riding up out of nowhere, violently attacked her, and had his Adirondack way with her. Her reputation forever sullied by this violent stranger who curdled her maidenhood, poor Old Miss Muffet would die a cheddar-toting spinster.
Nowadays, most rape is not necessarily perpetrated by strangers, but instead by acquaintances, friends, significant others, and even spouses. We have discursively distinguished this activity by calling it “date” or “acquaintance” rape.
Why this shift? First of all, until the Industrial Revolution or so, women, though they often contributed work and income to their households, generally stayed in the home and were accompanied by some sort of escort when going into public. Therefore, if they were raped in the public sphere, it was highly likely that this would be a violent event. Moreover, if a woman was at home but raped by her husband or father, that wouldn’t even be considered rape, because, helloooo, women weren’t people.
(Legally, anyway. Remember, women generally* were considered legal extensions of their fathers or brothers, or husbands, and had no public citizenship/personhood. Therefore, if your husband raped you, you couldn’t actually charge him with anything anyway, because 1. you belonged to him and he could do what he wanted with you and 2. your husband’s leg/arm/stomach can’t bring charges against his greater being.)
Now that women have flooded into the public sphere, we simply are outside, wandering, mingling, commuting, whatever, much more. This, of course, presents greater opportunity for stranger rape. Moreover, because we now are much more free to platonically (or not) mingle with the opposite sex, there are also more opportunities for date rape.
The bizarre thing is that most rapes are, in fact, acquaintance rapes — and YET!
And yet we think we should carry pepper spray to protect ourself from faceless strangers.
And yet, as soon as we can talk, our mothers warn us of evil men.
And yet, we don’t buy that one skirt at Forever 21 (ok, or even shop there), because it might signal to strangers that we want to have sex with them, and if we tell them we don’t, they’ll probably do it anyway.
And yet, we drive instead of walking the five blocks to the grocery store, because we don’t feel like dealing with those creepers who holla, and who probably want to do unattractively nasty things to us.
And yet, it’s the norm for prosecutrixes (George, look that shit up) to withhold their names in the court record because these women are obviously damaged goods.
The law is slowly catching up with this paradigm shift of violent to date rape by moving from considering rape a crime of violence to a crime of violating sexual autonomy (or, the right to sleep with whom you want, and not sleep with whom you don’t).
In response to rape laws’ general suckiness and inadequacy, in 1998, NYU Professor Stephen J. Schulhofer published a generally satisfactory Proposed Model Statute (that no jurisdictions seem to have come close to fully adopting).
In his two-page statute, Professor Schulhofer does an admirable job of responding to our new reality and generally focusing on our right to sexual autonomy.
Despite this, Professor Schulhofer still classifies rapes accompanied by violence as the most serious (and thus, to me, quintessential rape). By defining violent rapes as first-degree rapes, Professor Schulhofer actually maintains our standard of rape as violent, as stranger-perpetrated, and further entrenches unrealistic assumptions of what rape should mean to women.
Why is this a problem? By erroneously characterizing quintessential rape as violent rape, this model statute perpetuates the myth (or discursively-constructed reality) that the public sphere is NOT safe for women. This paradigm serves to keep women OUT of the public sphere — denying our very right to equal participation in our formal society — because we, from birth, are trained to view the public as a very scary place, in which we must continually look over our shoulders. Men are NOT trained to fear for their maidenhoods every time they go in public.
Think about it. I hated walking from my apartment to Arizmendi because I would get hollered at every other second. This street harassment was so powerful simply because I have been trained to be on constant alert. Men, on the other hand, have not been trained to fear being out in public, and thus simply have more freedom to go about their business.
I do shave my armpits and all that, but frankly, some days it’s hard not to think of public space as a war zone. Constantly evaluating the threat level of every man who walks by is fucking exhausting, and most days I’d rather order a pizza or drive my polluting car than go buy some squash and cheese or walk the half mile to Walgreens.
Sadly, I have to run, as I’m already late for a public duty, but here’s my thesis**:
-We should remove all notions of violence from our rape statues. If a rape happens to be a violent one, we should simply charge the perpetrator with multiple crimes (i.e. rape, assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and battery, or whatever the situation is). This would also benefit rape victims by making it more likely that their rapists would be convicted of something — ANYTHING! — instead of getting of scot-free.
-Discursively maintaining violent rape as quintessential rape not only is erroneous, but also reinforces that our public space is more dangerous for women than our private space, and thus serves the overall societal purpose of keeping some idealized status quo of women in the home, and only in public if “guarded” by male companions. (Tangent: I’ve been street-harassed while walking with my two baby cousins. And my mother. Seriously. Embarrassing.)
Older, semi-relevant posts:
*sorry I keep saying this, but shit, this is a blog post, and I haven’t done any research, and I’d love to avoid being called out for overgeneralizing
**Finally. If I were grading my own essay I would fucking rip myself a new one.