December 13, 2012

Is Rape, Essentially, Legal? {Trigger Warning}

I did not want to write about Facebook again, because frankly, I don’t believe they deserve my time—nor the time of any other woman on this planet.

Despite over a year of hundreds and thousands of women asking them to change their policy on pro-rape pages, the pages remain.

Last week, I wrote a collective letter with many other women to Facebook about their policies and how they contribute to rape culture.  Here is an excerpt of that letter, which can be found in full here.

Apparently, Facebook’s policies can be summarized as the following:

Written words, memes and photos advocating violence against minorities:  Hate speech, harmful and will be deleted.

Written words, memes, and photos advocating violence against disabled people:  Hate speech, harmful and will deleted.

Written words, memes, and photos advocating violence against immigrants:  Hate speech, harmful and will be deleted. 

 Written words, memes, and photos advocating violence against animals:  Hate speech, harmful and will be deleted.

Written words, memes and photos advocating violence against people of different religions:  Hate speech, harmful and will be deleted.

Written words, memes and photos advocating violence against people who are gay and transgender:  Hate speech, harmful and will be deleted.

Written words, memes and photos advocating violence against women:  Free speech, not harmful and will be enabled, supported and defended in every way possible while hiding behind the First Amendment. 

Facebook’s “rape pages” violate their own terms of agreement because they organize or lead to real world violence by contributing to rape culture.  Facebook’s rape pages are propaganda, which desensitize people to sexual violence and diminish its impact in the real world.  

Something is intrinsically wrong with our world when the value of women is so low.

Not only do women have to worry about the never-ending potential for being raped. They also have to endure this potential threat as humorous.

Susie Orbach, psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and writer, stated: “The threat of sexual violence is a violence itself, it’s a complete violation and it’s meant to shut the people up…Rape is different to the threat of rape but nevertheless it’s a very, very serious and threatening experience.”

The fact that these types of pages, pictures and comments are allowed to exist in large quantity on mainstream social media is telling. If we do not prosecute or penalize rape itself, how can we ever hope to remove social media that propagates rape?

Which brings me to my next question in this series:

If 97 percent of rapists never spend one day in jail, can we assume that rape is in fact legal? I have been pondering this since I actually heard the word “legitimate rape” come out of someone’s mouth in a normal sentence.

I had read the term, but hearing it spoken with such ease surprised me. Do we have legitimate and illegitimate rape? What is the difference?

I decided to look up “legitimate” in a dictionary.

1. according to law; lawful: the property’s legitimate owner.

2. in accordance with established rules, principles, or standards.

3. born in wedlock or of legally married parents: legitimate children.

4. in accordance with the laws of reasoning; logically inferable; logical: a legitimate conclusion.

5. resting on or ruling by the principle of hereditary right: a legitimate sovereign.

“Legitimate rape” sounds to me like legal rape. If there is legitimate rape, then there is by default illegitimate rape. If rape were truly illegal, would not all rape be illegitimate, or unlawful? All these definitions give me a headache. Isn’t all rape wrong? Can there really be two sides of the coin here, or is this just a way of making rape seem like more of a gray area?

I began to wonder if rape is legal in a sense because of the fact that it is so rarely penalized. I looked up the phrase “de facto.”

The phrase “de facto” is Latin for “in fact.” It is used to describe commonly accepted practice which has no legal or official status. This phrase is used in a variety of ways, including politics, government, and sociology. Many people use the term to refer to situations of questionable legality or morality. For example, the United States endured decades of de facto racism after several laws were passed in an attempt to make racial prejudice illegal. Racism persisted so long in some regions of the United States because it had become common practice, and legislation alone was not enough to put an end to racism.

In politics, people sometimes talk about a de facto government when they talk about a government which holds power without the will or consent of the people. It is also not uncommon to see a de facto standard, a tradition which is followed without any legal basis. For example, many businesses have de facto hiring standards which are not explicitly stated, such as a preference for employees who look a certain way. In some cases, a de facto standard may be illegal, but because it has not been formalized, it is difficult to prosecute. (via Wisegeek.)

Has rape become legal in this “de facto” sense? If so, how do we change our culture to make the rape of any woman, by any means, unacceptable and punishable by law?

For years, we have held up a legal system that continually fails women who are the victims of rape.

…. The conclusion which the feminist writers reached was that social attitudes and the legal & judicial processes all conspire to keep women from having effective exercise of their political & human rights. Despite the fact that laws against rape exist on the books, ostensibly for women’s protection, there are effective social & legal constraints which prevent women from utilizing their legal rights. The law is the illusory pot of gold at the end of an illusory rainbow, according women neither the protection of their rights nor the guarantee of redress for their injuries. Women are afraid, and are made afraid, to seek the protection and redress of the law. Their best strategy is to keep silent, and when one considers that it is the rapist who has most to benefit from this silence; it is hard to escape the conclusion that social attitudes and their articulation in the legal process, operate to protect not the victim but the rapist. As things stand, it is being raped that is punished, and it is being punished that is the crime. ~ RAPE: The Price of Coercive Sexuality, Lorenne Clark & Debra Lewis, Women’s Press, Toronto Canada, 1977

It seems to me that this quote is just as relevant today as it was 35 years ago.

Are we really making any progress when it comes to stopping rape? Or, is rape culture too ingrained in our collective consciousness?

I have no intention of waiting for my daughter to be the next victim. Who else is fed up?

When will the elimination of rape become an international priority?


Ed: Kate B.

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