July 15, 2004

Bitches and 'Hos

by PG

Eugene Volokh challenges the idea that rape is not "both a crime of violence and a crime of sex -- the rapist is motivation by sexual desire as well as by the desire for domination (and the two may well be intertwined)." For evidence, he notes that "The best evidence that I've seen for this is the breakdown of rape by age of victim [...] Rapists seem to select victims in age ranges that are pretty highly correlated to the generally understood peaks of sexual attractiveness."

Volokh fails to note two problems with his analysis, one relatively minor and one more significant. The first is that rape is more likely to be underreported by older women, who may feel a greater social stigma from having been a victim of this crime. Younger women, who have grown up on the message that one should not feel ashamed, and whose adulthoods post-date the changes in rape prosecution (which now prevent the "she's a slut!" defenses formerly popular), still do not report all rapes but are increasingly likely to do so.

The larger difficulty I see in Volokh's analysis is that it ignores the entire phenomenon of male-on-male rape, particularly the epidemic of prison rape. Men who did not commit same-sex rape while on "the outside" will nonetheless sexually victimize other men while in prison.

Sociologists consider this to be a dominating behavior intended to establish a hierarchy. Men who commit the rape are superior; those who are raped are the "bitches," "wives" and otherwise considered inferior. When questioned about their behavior, prison rapists declare that they themselves are not homosexual, but that their victims are.

This is not to say that Volokh's conclusion is wrong, only that his evidence has some gaps. Prison rape certainly shows that in the pursuit of both sexual gratification and domination, some men will engage in behaviors that they would not choose when women are available to them. I would modify the hypothesis from the motivation of sexual desire, with the connotation that the rape victim is the object of desire, to the motive of sexual gratification, in which the victim's attractiveness is not relevant.

Probably the most effective analysis would have to be more qualitative than quantitative, examining which crimes people prefer. For example, non-sexual assault allows one to commit violence and thus dominate another person, but without the motive of sexual gratification.

Solicitation of prostitutes allows one to be sexually gratified without committing violence (though one would then have to subdivide encounters with prostitutes into those in which the prostitute is paid to act in a subservient manner and be dominated by the client, and those in which s/he is not paid for that particular scenario).

Rape appears to combine the two. But rapists who commit non-sexual as well as sexual assault appear to be more motivated by the desire to dominate, whereas rapists who solicit prostitutes as well as force sex without paying for it appear to be more motivated by the desire for sex.

July 15, 2004 07:21 PM | TrackBack

Excellent work, PG. Impatient person that I am, I was all revved up to leave a comment asking why rape of males was being flagrantly ignored, when I then clicked on "continue reading" and saw you'd already handled Volokh's glaring gap.

You're kinder and gentler than I am (e.g., "This is not to say that Volokh's conclusion is wrong, only that his evidence has some gaps."); I won't mince words: your analysis is closer to correct, and his is closer to wrong. And I'm not just saying that because I'm among his non-fans, along with an apparently rather large group (yikes!).

And of course, we should not forget that men do not have a monopoly on violence and sexual depravity. Highly recommended reading that's received next to zero attention but merits much more:

What Abu Ghraib Taught Me
By Barbara Ehrenreich, AlterNet
Posted on May 20, 2004, Printed on July 15, 2004

Posted by: SimonSays at July 15, 2004 08:13 PM

Good post. My comment is directed to SimonSays who remarks that male-on-male rape is being "flagrantly ignored." I would simply remind all readers that, while that may be true, male-on-female rape is far more common in society and yet is is ALSO "flagrantly ignored." As PG notes, there is a ratio between the number of actual versus reported rapes. That ratio is quite large.

Posted by: UCL at July 15, 2004 10:18 PM

Dear UCL:

That's bologna, and you're smart enough to know it -- as does virtually anyone reading this living in 21st century America. Rape prevention and rape awareness programs, on university campuses for instance, by and large focus on women as victims, and men as victimizers -- most often to the exclusion, trivialization, or minimization of any consideration that there are instances of male on male sexual violence, and broached even less frequently is the topic of female on male violence (sexual, domestic or otherwise), both of which are suffered in silence by men in even greater proportion -- if not in absolute numbers -- relative to under-reporting by female victims, if for no other reason than the fact that such assaults are still considered more shameful for/to a man.

What ticks me off about your post isn't just that you'd toss out something so patently untrue in such an off-handed manner... No, what really irks is that you do it in such a knee-jerk way with the tone of a gender partisan mired in a zero-sum mentality that assumes awareness of the potential for (and as Ehrenreich points out, the actuality of) cruelty in women somehow negates or deflects from the fact that men are capable of the same wickedness.

Do you wanna' play gender politics? Then keep in mind the times have changed, stay grounded in the very real changes that have swept society.

This is the media 'role model' age of video game trigger-happy Lara Croft, consistently 'cartoon violent' Power Puff Girls emulated by 5-year olds, hyperviolence starring Emma Thurman in "Kill Bill 2", and more to the point, it is also the age of real world female suicide bombers and Abu Ghraib's Gen. Janis Karpinski, Gen. Barbara Fast, Condoleezza Rice, and Private Lynndie England.

In the United States, it is also the age where women outnumber men on college campuses (the majority since 1979, currently at 56%, receiving more bachelor's degrees since 1982), enjoy longer life spans, vote in greater numbers, get better grades K-12, and have recently outnumbered their male counterparts in higher paying, white collar managerial and professional occupations. It's also the age -- by comparison -- where men suffer in greater proportion from mental illness, kill themselves in far greater numbers, are six times more likely to be imprisoned, more often 'diagnosed' with ADD as kids to experience medicated childhoods, and hands down constitute most victims of violence. Both lists go on and on.

The shtick about the big bad phallus and patriarchy has gotten real old, as in outdated, as in it no longer describes reality -- if it ever did.

Posted by: SimonSays at July 16, 2004 12:41 AM
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