Just One Word: Apologetics
CW: Discussion of Rape. Nothing graphic I hope, but content warning nonetheless. Also as a note, I'm talking primarily about violence against women here, but what I say is largely true of all sexual violence.
There's an old expression about lightning and inspiration. But sometimes, I find that inspiration is borne more out of confusion than anything else. In particular, the inspiration for this article comes from a confusing conversation I had regarding the image posted below.
You see, it's not every day that I get into an argument about some of the specifics of rape apologetics, on what I imagine are rather unusual grounds. But first some grounding.
Rape apologetics is a despicable part of discourse that revolves around the idea that on some level, the victim is to blame for being a victim. The apologetics part is making up some number of excuses for why someone was raped. From the picture you can see what sort of excuses will get trotted out whenever it's in the social media discourse. From the picture, you can also see my personal stance on the matter. I believe that nothing fundamentally excuses rape. Ordinarily, I think that would be a fairly normal position to take. However this time, I encountered someone with a very odd take.
So here's the take reproduced as it is and I think it's interesting in a couple of ways.
"First, I think that rapists should either be executed or castrated. Secondly, I understand where you are coming from. However, I think that if a person presents an argument, both sides should be presented. If I walk through a bad neighborhood waving a wad of cash and I get robbed, it's the fault of the robber, not me. However, what I did increased the likelihood of that happening.
There are many cases of two people being wrong at once."
The first is that capital punishment does not work to deter crime. I've written about this before. I will probably write about it again. But that's not the interesting part. You see, here is an argument put forward that, despite disagreeing with rape, suggests that there is another side to this argument, they believe in "representing both sides".
I spent a lot of time thinking about this and I think the reason it bugs me so much, more to follow on that, is that the argument is asking for the other side of the argument presented to be considered, as if there's some kind of moral equivalence that is required.
So what is the argument? Well, to put it plainly, the argument put forward by the picture is that rape is entirely the fault of the rapist. In a more formal sense, the argument here is that rape is an anti-deterministic kind of argument. It argues that ultimately, the choice of a person to rape is their choice to make, and that in making it they bear the entire moral responsibility for the action.
That a rapist is responsible for choosing to commit a rape, I would hope, should be a fairly straightforward and agreeable position to take. But what would the other side to this argument be?
Well, if the argument put forward is that ultimately, the choice to rape is one that has to be made and overrides other factors, then the opposite would be that there are deterministic factors that bias the decision to rape. That is, there are external factors that influence whether someone will choose to rape or not.
So I think it should be clear that the first position makes a moral assessment about the choice to rape. Since, it asserts, rape is the result of a choice, the moral responsibility for the act rests on the person who chooses to do it. Conversely, by arguing that there are external factors that influence this decision, there is some redistribution of moral responsibility from 100% the rapist, onto the victim.
And thus we get to a strange form of victim blaming.
For the lucky, victim blaming is a phenomenon where the victim of a crime is at least partially to blame for the crime that occurred to them. In the case of the person I was talking to, they agree that the fault rests with the rapist but that in not taking mitigating steps, the woman who was raped made it more likely that she would be raped. Without addressing this statistical probability, it is asserted, we have neglected a part of the argument put forth. It is tempting to just say this guy, as it invariably is, is just victim blaming with extra steps. But I think that is insufficient.
I think, as far as possible, I've managed to present the argument charitably. I certainly think that both parts are actually necessary to understanding the actual rape crisis facing the world, and our country. I believe, that each individual has to fundamentally make the decision to commit a rape or not, and they have the responsibility for choosing to make this decision or not. However, I also think that it's foolish to pretend that the choice is made in an ideological or social vacuum. More specifically, even though each person has to make the choice to rape, I would argue that we live in a society in which rape has become a normalised part of life.
I wrote recently about the ways in which a society normalises violence against women. In that article, I wrote about how rape as an action ends up only at the top of the hierarchy of violence. In actuality, the majority of the acts committed against women in the system do not actually result in direct harm to them. So only a sliver of the harm actually ends up being physical, and yet, without the lower tiers that normalise marginalization of women, the upper tiers cannot be supported.
So in this way, when it comes to how a man sees a woman, millions of other decisions all coalesce together to form a larger framework that will ultimately inform whether or not this woman will experience GBV (gender based violence).
And yet, even if this is accepted, we are left with the position that there are certain actions that so called, increase the probability that a woman will be raped.
This argument does not sit well with me. For starters (and for personal reasons), I find it morally repugnant. Any argument that tries to argue in favour of some nuance towards a rapist, over their victim, is one that I find morally repugnant. However, morals alone are not the only reason this argument is bad.
To go back to the original statement "If I walk through a bad neighborhood waving a wad of cash and I get robbed, it's the fault of the robber, not me. However, what I did increased the likelihood of that happening."
The problem with this argument, is that it makes presumptions about the nature of the state of the world, and never addresses them. It is not enough to say, bad neighbourhoods exist, avoid them. The actual question must be, why do the bad neighbourhoods exist at all? We can't take for granted, that bad neighbourhoods are something that spontaneously and without cause exist. Obviously, a poor neighbourhood is one that has the potential for more crime. But the actual question, of why the neighbourhood exists remains unanswered.
The reason why this is important, is because, arguing that you should avoid the neighbourhood ignores a number of key points.
What if you live in the neighbourhood?
Why is the neighbourhood bad?
Why isn't anything being done to change it?
And these questions cut to the heart of the earlier point I was making about the system of gender violence. For you see, the reality of GBV is that most women live in the bad neighbourhood. That is, according to the World Health Organisation, , women are commonly at risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) and that, in the surveys done, between 6-59%, reported sexual violence committed by a partner at some point in their lives. For a more local statistic, WHO found that "a South African study found that 42% of females aged 13–23 years reported ever experiencing physical dating violence." So clearly, from this evidence, it would appear then that one of the biggest causal factors of rape and sexual violence for women, is the men they know and let into their lives.
Even in South Africa, we've recently seen horrific examples of women who are victimised, assaulted, raped and murdered, through just trying to exist in normal social spaces. This is, fundamentally my point. There is no argument to be made that women ought to engage in less risky behaviour, if fundamentally, just engaging with society puts them at risk. What are proponents of this kind of thinking suggesting? That men and women ought to be entirely segregated into different social spaces? I don't think so.
You see, I think that the act of asserting that the rape is inexcusable but that women ought to engage in less risky behaviour, is a cover to fly an argument of victim blaming in because this argument ignores that women face already clear and present danger just for existing in the social spaces that are meant for all of society.
To quote the other person, "If a person can change certain behaviors to reduce their likelihood of encountering a life threatening situation, whether they are responsible for it or not. Should they?"
What can a woman actually do if the society she lives in, if her social spaces, her work spaces, her very house, is part of the problem?
I don't like this argument because it treats the outcomes of rape as part of an inscrutable eventual outcome of an unchanging system, but that still proclaims the individual responsibility should fall on the rapist. But this argument is a contradiction if women face danger for just existing in society.
There's no reasonable argument to be made that men and women should be living in segregated societies and so, the only argument that should be made, is that we must change the society so that women will finally actually, truly, be safe.
: World Health Organization & Pan American Health Organization. (2012). Understanding and addressing violence against women : intimate partner violence. World Health Organization.