Saturday, November 23, 2013

Prostitutes Can’t Be Raped and Other Myths of a Rape Culture

The other day my son Adam, who's away at college, sent me this text message:
“Nothing worse than watching a film in class about poverty and obesity and a profile of West Philly comes up.” 
Philly. It’s a great town, but we’ve got our problems for sure.

Like judges who believe that prostitutes can't be raped.

The case in question was decided in 2007, but now that Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni is up for reelection, it's being talked about again.

The case involved a prostitute who met a man on Craigslist and then agreed to have sex with him for $150. The man asked if a friend could join in for another $100, and the woman said yes. However, when she met with the men, they pulled out a gun and demanded she have sex with them for free.

In Judge Deni’s mind, that’s “theft of services,” not rape. In my mind, Judge Deni couldn't be more wrong. The woman consented to have sex for money. She did not consent to have sex for free. And no consent equals rape.

For the record, I don’t approve of prostitution, and I don’t dismiss the danger inherent in the profession. But that’s beside the point. Deni’s decision was nuts.

Unfortunately, Deni’s attitude is not unique to her.

This past summer, a law professor from Tsinghua University wrote on his blog that "raping prostitutes is less harmful than raping ordinary women," a comment so blatantly ridiculous I can’t believe a man of intelligence could even think it, let alone write it.
In 2009, a lawyer in West Virginia defending a man accused of raping between 15 and 20 prostitutes after threatening them with a knife called the victims “tramps” and “whores” while stating that “[y]ou cannot rape the willing.”
Let’s try it again. Prostitutes present themselves as willing for a price. That’s the deal. Anything less is a problem. And threatening someone with a knife or a gun to do anything is definitely a problem.
I don’t care if all you want from me is that I repeat “She sells seashells by the seashore” three times. If you put a gun to my head so that I’ll say it, that’s a crime. And if you pull a gun on me so you can violate my person, that’s definitely a crime. At least it ought to be. Is this really that difficult?
The idea that there could exist a rape culture in the United States, that is, a culture in which rape is systematically normalized and excused, sounds like a radical invention of rabid feminists until you read some of the above, and then it just sounds like the truth.
Consider, for example, the increasing reports of rapes in the military. The news is full of testimonies from enlisted (or formerly enlisted) women who were raped by their fellow soldiers only to get mocked or ignored after coming forth about the crime. 
And a CNN story published last year revealed an even more disturbing pattern—female enlistees being discharged with a psychiatric diagnosis (one victim called hers a “ludicrous diagnosis”) after reporting a sexual assault—and no one investigating the allegations, of course.
Stephanie Schroeder, who was interviewed for the story, claimed that after she reported her rape to a non-commissioned officer he told her “Don't come bitching to me because you had sex and changed your mind.”
Just a few days ago, in one of the professional women’s groups I’ve joined on LinkedIn, one poster asked whether gender discrimination is over-emphasized, and if so, whether other “isms” deserve more attention.
Once the responses started, it was just a matter of hours before the boot strappers (as in “Women, pull yourselves up from your boot straps and stop whining!”) chimed in, claiming that gender discrimination is only as real as you make it, and if you’re well-spoken, can take things in stride, and have a good work ethic, you should sail through life just fine, discrimination be damned.
These responses make me want to scream.
Wallowing in self-pity and endless rounds of “woe is me,” won’t solve any problems, but suggesting that we women can avoid gender discrimination by improving our diction is insanity. It’s “blame the victim” at its finest, and it’s maddening. And if you think that gender discrimination and a rape culture aren't connected, well, I simply beg to differ with you.
In Ten Things to End Rape Culture, the author suggests that changing the way society thinks about rape can happen if we all get media literate, globalize our awareness of rape culture, practice real politics, and lobby our communities, among other things.
As for me, not only have I done a one-eighty and will from now on proudly declare myself a feminist, I might actually start picketing in the streets.
Will you join me?


  1. This is just another symptom of the ignorance that pervades our so-called advanced society.

    1. As usual, Charles, you've offered a succinct yet insightful observation.