The straw men have been dragged out for flogging and every girl in town is projecting her own anxieties and opinions or fantasies onto the exchange we have had about dress and rape.
Wishing to give the issue its due attention, and being far from my base and usual sources, I decided to treat it to some objectivity by doing a little research on the internet. The issue: does way of dress have any correlation (note, not cause) with rape attacks in any community? My position is that yes, it may in specific cases in an enabling environment in a permissive culture. Those on the opposing side have mostly been saying that since rape is violence the victim could be stark naked in her garden getting bronzed. The rapist/gardener would have committed a mere act of violence in which the sexual aspect was perhaps secondary, incidental, epiphenomenal.
Naturally, the question has been given scholarly attention before. An easy, sophomore source such as Wikipedia says in an article ‘Socio-biological theories of rape’ that, “Generally, viewing rape as being due to a desire for domination and not related to sexual desire is harmful [this part of the quote is intended for the Sisters of S4 and their facile claim that rape is only about violence. And it continues]. One example being the claim that the way women dress will not affect the risk of rape.” This is Thornhill and Palmer in a paper from the year 2000. The paper makes the exact point that Messrs ul-Hack, Bakr, Ally, Hanief et al have been making based on Quranic authority and continues “…the much greater societal freedom of dating without supervision and removal of many barriers between males and females have created an environment that has also removed many earlier societal controls against rape.” So there are “societal controls against rapes” that need to be discussed.
Yet in your publication of Jan 16 we have some insisting that there is no relationship between societal decadence, dress and the incidence of rape. As I have always stated, the areas of study such as socio-biology, or, one assumes, even criminology, will not support such a simplistic response to the question. However, in the US and Canada, apparently victims cannot be cross examined concerning their way of dress at the time of the crime. There has been pressure against ‘slut’ accusations flung at women who eventually become victims.
In the Jan 16 issue, Ryhaan Shah insists, as if breaking news, that no woman wants to be raped. And in another letter, a group of women signing on behalf of “the Sisters of the S4” treats us to the cliché about rape being an act of violence and a violation of human rights. Normally, one is not amused that such a sensitive topic stimulates such emotive reactions among us. And one notes that, as an exercise in communication, it would be in order to remark that some people, seizing the opportunity to sound off, are quite content to make the pretence of not understanding the glaring subtlety of all that has been said here on the topic. The exchange has withered down to a low denominator and finishes in a scuffle between those condemning rape, and those they wish to see as condoning or justifying or rationalising the “act of violence.” I wish now to be quoted as supporting, excusing, rationalizing, etc, rape or sexual violence in any form. Quote me, or stop trotting out the baseless insinuation.
As the Sisters have said, there is an awful lot of confusion at work. Not the least of which is contained in their well-meaning letter. Firstly, let us concede that rape is not always and only about violence. It could also be about lust. I did state in a letter that the criminology of rape is as complex as that of other sexual crimes. A man in an incestuous relationship with his daughter or a minor incapable of granting consent is not committing violence. He is in an altogether different rapport and mental state. But legally it is rape, according to the Guyanese definition as contained in the Sexual Offences Act. The role of power and domination/submission in any sexual interaction is sufficiently subtle to disobey the requirements of the ‘act of violence‘ plastered on the rape crime. Rape could be violence but it is not always only violence. We ought not to stray too far from common sense observations.
The Sisters defend the Sexual Offences Act, which does contain, as I had written when it was first unveiled, difficult provisions for an entirely subjective exposition of “feeling threatened.” The Sisters object to my stating that it allows that women rise in the morning and remorseful or regretful, could run off to the station house and claim rape. The breakdown of rape statistics as they deal with false or frivolous reports states exactly that this kind of ex post facto is quite common. The Sexual Offences Act, if I recall, makes provisions for “marital rape” which are quite cavalier. Trinidad has the same. How many convictions have they had? The French have a sexual harrassment law on the books for years. At last count a mere ten convictions were achieved. Serious people do not take lightly the brandishing or bandying about of the charge of rape. The SOA makes a quite modern and sensible definition of consent to include a case where deceit is involved. For example, pretending to having marrried the woman at a ceremony somewhere and failing to file the papers. No charges were laid. And the man may very well have been as much victim as the complainant. We should soon get the point where every man should have assigned him at birth and undated charge of rape whose blanks are to be filled in when a plausible victim presents self. And every homo and woman is born with the Order of Excellence assigned.
We are not to take the sex wars into the arena of public spectacle for the satisfaction of any interest/pressure group. So, while we sympathise with and support groups and individuals like S4, or even the PPP’s WPO or the PNC’s Women’s arm, we are careful not to be caught up in the culture games involved in these issues. Advocates of this or that human right are careful to avoid the deeper indictment of the society whose vices they either do not see or will not criticise. This is their game.
No one is trivialising the incidence of rape. But it should not be taken out of proportion either. The FBI reports that unfounded, that is false reports are highest in the crime category of violent rapes. Low conviction rates are common everywhere. Given the consequences of a rape conviction, wisdom, both divine and human has set quite stringent evidentiary requirements and criteria that include the character of the victim. The Dominique Strauss Kahn case in New York involving the Guinean hotel maid was abandoned because the prosecutorial authorities understood that the case would fall, in part, for character reasons.
It is estimated that rape is the most under-reported of crimes. For that matter, all crimes are under-reported or under-punished. Considering the categories of crime, drug use for example, is a crime which has an arrest and sentencing rate perhaps less than one per cent of its realities, in addition to praedial larcency, homosexuality, indecent language, loitering with intent, simple larcency. The only crimes that compel attention and processing would be homicide and some crimes against property.
To trot out a statistic and elevate rape to a special category that suggests impunity, only reveals the lack of analytical sophistication that we still bring to discussion of social issues.
The statistics are clear, rape in Egypt is the lowest in the world at 0.1% per 100 000, and highest in AIDS riddled Lesotho at 96 per 100 000. We learn also that there are several types of rape, all of which do not involve violence. I read that there is, recognised as such, “date rape, gang rape, marital rape, incestual rape, child sexual abuse, war rape, prison rape, statutory rape…” The Sisters seem to be working from an oudated image of the rape act and the rapist as a violent assault by an armed or violent male ambushing a woman in bush or back alley. In fact most rapes occur indoors after one or both partners have drunk or taken a drug. With all these types of rape the specialists say in the same article, “there is no single theory that conclusively explains the motivation for rape. There is anger, a desire for power, sexual gratification, sadism…”
Declaring that “rape culture” is not in any way associated with a general decadence that includes loose behaviour, is not convincing. Dress, I repeat, is always contextual and semiologically coded. This is the point I made in my first letter on the topic. It is not simply a question of flashing flesh and driving men to rape. There are loin cloth cultures that are mostly rape free. So it is what the dress means; the values it announces that could do damage to a commmunity. One manifestation of cultural damage is the proliferation of vice and crimes of sexual immorality, including sex tourism and internet paedophilia, etc, that seem a direct expression of a libertinage that the Sisters need to comment on. Pretending that rape is due to a violent male impulse and nothing more – not lust, not class or caste prejudice, not a breakdown of public morality or an enabling environment – brings me a point frequently made. We cannot wish to solve social problems if our diagnostic is inadequate and our repertoire of solutions too narrow. The community out of which the Sisters cry is perhaps already too far gone to recognise the source of its disease