PERNICIOUS CONVERGENCE, Part II: Lesbian Mythology and Rape Culture

As promised, we return to the topic of PERNICIOUS CONVERGENCE! in this final part of two.  Last week we learned about one of the preeminent myths of rape culture, the assumption necessary for rape to be considered not only normal, but also innocuous, in our society: all women (either overtly or clandestinely) desire non-consensual sex, that is, sexual violation.

I have dwelled on the topic of rape culture for much of my waking life, perhaps to an even more insane degree than other feminists.  And over the past couple of weeks I have been digging to discover why this specific rape culture myth is so pertinent to my life as a lesbian woman—I sensed that there was some overlap between myths about lesbianism and myths driven by rape culture, and in the interest of sanity, I worked to discover that convergence.

After long deliberation, I suspect the connection goes something like this:  within the rape culture myth is the idea that women innately, inevitably desire sexual violation.  A similar rhetoric underscores one of the most prevalent and damaging myths about lesbianism:  that lesbians don’t really exist because all women, innately (read: biologically), inevitably (either overtly or clandestinely) desire men (both sexually and emotionally.  Not to mention fiscally).  So, the most basic connection is the similar rhetoric of biologically-dictated slants towards masochism (in the case of the ‘women want to be raped’ fallacy) or mass conformity (in the case of ‘all women are actually straight and lesbians are about as real as unicorns’ myth).

But more than this superficial linkage there is a much more…pernicious convergence!  at work between these two myths.  What we are left with, if no lesbians really exist, and all women want sexual violation, (bear with my syllogism) is: all women want sexual violation by men.  The problem is this: lesbians do in fact exist, unlike our single-horned counterparts.  And for lesbians, the convergence ends up like this doodle: all lesbians inevitably, biologically, desire to be sexually violated by a man or men.  I know I know, this smells suspiciously of second-wave feminist antics, but bear with me, I have some ‘proof’.  We can see the perpetuation of this false lesbian stereotype in the media: from Philip Roth, famous American novelist, who wrote it into his most recent (and acclaimed) ‘The Humbling’.  It is also prevalent in a whole slew of films portraying ‘lesbians’, an example being Spike Lee’s She Hate Me.  Recently, I was baffled to come across this awful stereotype in a ‘queer’ show, the US version of Queer as Folk.  The show’s token lesbian couple plays a peripheral role throughout the show, and their lives and interactions center around those of the gay male characters in pretty much every way.  But the culmination of this sexism, combined neatly with homophobia, is when one of the women cheats on her partner with a straight man.  It is necessary to add some of her accessory’s characteristics:  he is flagrantly misogynistic, disrespectful to women at every turn, he sexually assaults the ‘lesbian’ character who later decides to sleep with him, and he (unlike *all of the other male characters on the show barring one) is unattractive and unkempt.  So the bar has been upped, to: lesbians inevitably desire sexual violation (harassment, rape) from an ugly old man.  I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.

So, in our befuddling conclusion we have a strange convergence of both rhetoric and intent—it seems rape culture and homophobia are colluding to produce a bunch of crazy masochistic lesbians (and non lesbian women).  Either way, whether the syllogism agrees with some of you or whether it doesn’t, we can be sure that the mingled myths of both rape culture and lesbophobia make a, let’s just say it: Pernicious Convergence.

PERNICIOUS CONVERGENCE! rape culture, lesbian myths, and general overlapping pandemonium (part I of II)

This is the first of two posts on the subject of rape culture and lesbian myths.  Specifically, the pernicious convergence of the two.  Thus, I’ve titled the series: PERNICIOUS CONVERGENCE! It is drawn mostly from my obsessive personal investment in debunking both aspects of heteropatriarchy, and is more personally-validated than research-based.  Admittedly, I haven’t had the time to back all of my assumptions about media, and if anyone knows where I can find such related studies or is willing to do them for posterity and the sake of feminist notoriety, please email me and we’ll work out a stellar deal.

So for this first entry of PERNICIOUS CONVERGENCE! I’m going to describe the aspect of rape culture relevant to lesbian mythology.  Stay tuned for part II, in which I will introduce the lesbian myth and connect it to rape culture in a grand finale.

Rape culture is the broad term used to describe a socialized acceptance of rape and the various myths that lead to such acceptance.  Sometimes rape culture is described as a docket of some of the more powerful lies we are taught about rape.  A wonderful example of such a list can be found here, at Shakesville.  For a more dictionary-style definition (also quoted in the Shakesville post), from Transforming a Rape Culture: ‘A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent…In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.’

What I wish to emboss here is the normalization of sex as violence, specifically, as a violation that women supposedly want.  I posit that part of rape culture is not only conflating sex with violence, but also convincing all of us that rape is not only inevitable, but a good thing.  That it is actually a violation desired by all women.  We are taught this mostly through media socialization.  News articles on the Polanski case in which his brutal rape of a 13-year old child was categorized as mild or unimportant in retrospect.  Pornography in which men strangling women, forcing their heads to their crotches to give them oral sex, and physically overpowering them is the standard; this, an entire industry built on absolute, unparalleled misogyny and violence against women.  The misinformation provided by the media is further proliferated by social interactions and by our own sexual encounters, which often mirror the images we are bombarded with as children and teenagers.

So, remember for next week the definition of rape culture (as broad as it may be), and specifically, one of its most active and powerful myths: that women desire sexual violence and violation.  This is how we are initiated into the bigger myth: that rape is normal.  Next week: the lesbian myths and the attack of the PERNICIOUS CONVERGENCE!!!

*aside: since there are now about 500,000 variations of ‘jennifer’ on our blogging roster, i’ve been considering changing my name to something more punchy and appropriate for my blogging infamy.  some examples are: ‘dumpling.’ or, ‘soybean who runs with women’.  your thoughts?

survivor sensitivity: a very broad outline for organizers

As a leading organizer against sexual assault on your campus, you will, invariably, become the point person for students to first divulge their assault.  It is imperative that your approach be inclusive, supportive, and informed.  I am writing this from the perspective of an organizer who, during my experiences with anti-rape work, was rather impotent in my efforts to support survivors.  The most I provided was hugs and promises that I would work to reform the campus code of conduct so that their rapists would be brought to justice.  Luckily, as a social justice activist I was fairly aware of some of the more basic stereotypes that discourage and harm victims who are first telling of their assault.  But I was nonetheless unaware of all of these, nor was I knowledgeable about the legal and medical necessities that need to be available to survivors.  Please keep in mind that I am neither a trained counselor, nor police officer, nor lawyer, and this is only a very brief, very basic outline of some recommendations for student organizers with regard to survivor sensitivity.

First thing is first: be wary of your own assumptions about rape.  We are trained in a rape culture, an integral part of which is victim blaming.  Some stereotypes illuminate this.  With regard to women victims, responses like: ‘she asked for it by wearing provocative clothing or teasing the men,’ or ‘she was the one who was at a party and drinking, so she should have expected it’ are clear reflections of victim blaming.   That the victims are blamed for the crime is both ridiculous and illogical, but unfortunately this is what we are raised believing.

Here are some broad tips for supporting victims as they tell you of their assault, from (edited slightly for inclusivity):

  1. Do…be a good listener
    Don’t…do all of the talking
  2. Do…assist in getting the help the survivor needs and wants (providing phone numbers, information, transportation, etc.)
    Don’t…give the survivor advice or make decisions for the survivor
  3. Do…help the survivor overcome feelings of guilt for not fighting back (by explaining that fear often inhibits people and that cooperation does not mean consent)
    Don’t…tell the survivor what you would have done in their situation …ask why they didn’t scream, fight, or run
  4. Do…minimize the number of times that the survivor must tell their story of the assault
    Don’t…prevent the survivor from talking about the assault if they want to
  5. Do…assure the survivor that the assault was not their fault, that no one asks to be assaulted, and that no one deserves to be violated.
    Don’t…ask why they were walking alone at night or why they went out …ask the survivor if they did anything to “lead the perpetrator on”
  6. Do…help the survivor know that this experience will disrupt their life, but they will recover
    Don’t…encourage the survivor to “just forget about it”
  7. Do…express support both verbally and nonverbally
    Don’t…stare or invade the survivor’s personal space

(Adapted from “What to Say and What Not to Say to a Survivor of Sexual Assault.” UM Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, Ann Arbor, MI.)

Additionally, remember that the goal is first and foremost to support the victim.  Though prosecution of rape perpetrators is necessary, this process can often be traumatic and damaging to victims (due to the insensitivity of our general culture and legal and police authorities).  So don’t pressure survivors to divulge their stories (for instance, at Take Back the Night or other awareness events, to the administration, etc) if they don’t seem inclined to.

Once you have identified and changed of some of the more basic stereotypes related to victim blaming, there is the question of inclusivity.  Though the majority of (reported) survivors are women, there are also male survivors, queer survivors, trans survivors, disabled survivors, and survivors of color—each of these individuals will face different obstacles related to race, disability, etc, and it is important to be aware of assumptions that can further isolate these individuals as they reveal their assault to you.  For more details on this, please see SAFER’s website for the intersectionality section, in which each article contains some examples of victim insensitivity related to class, gender, etc.

Third, and importantly, you will want to be very familiar with the medical, university-wide, and legal options available to victims.  For legal prosecution of perpetrators, a rape kit will be necessary.  If this is not available at the university you will want to be aware of the closest hospitals that provide emergency rape kits, and you will also want to ensure that these are victim-friendly.  Additionally, many survivors face further trauma when reporting to authorities, particularly police and university administrators.  You should offer to accompany the survivor if s/he chooses to report the rape to these authorities.  Ensuring that these authorities (particularly university administrators) are sensitive to rape victims, aware of stereotypes and victim blaming, and supportive of prosecution of perpetrators is also important.
Hopefully this brief article illuminated some of the outlines for ensuring victim sensitivity.  In the future, at SAFER we hope to be able to provide services for organizers seeking legal and medical counseling for survivors on their campuses.


Anti-Rape Work and Statistics: A Love/Hate Conundrum

Anti-rape (and in fact, all social justice) work presents a number of compelling and confounding challenges, and one of these is the relevance and use of statistics.  In the little experience I have with anti-rape work, I have made frequent use of a number of statistics, many of which are known to anti-rape activists: the ‘1 in 3/4 women will be raped, beaten, or molested in her lifetime,’ the infamous study asserting that during their college years, 20% of women are likely to be raped or sexually assaulted.  For the series on intersectionality, I once again turned to statistics as a measure of intersectional oppressions and how these affected rape.

Statistics are at once useful and at once dismissible.  In the case of rape, stats are dampened by one: namely, that fewer than 40% of rapes are even reported.  This overarching statistic obfuscates all others, because it means that we cannot use the available statistics to say anything definitively.  So, that is the downside of statistics—they are often misrepresentative, skewed, and in the case of rape, inadequate measures in light of the fact that so many rapes are unreported.

But the challenge is this:  in matters of social justice, the difficulty is in ‘proving’ that these injustices even exist.  Working on any issue, from race to sexuality to disability to sex, means that one of the most urgent tasks is rendering visible a system that we are taught from birth not to see.   And in our society, things like statistics are taken as incontrovertible, bona fide, concrete facts.  So the challenge is that when working on these issues, where ‘facts’ are few and far between but so necessary, statistics are inevitable but wholly problematic.

Since this issue is certainly unresolved, feel free to offer your feedback.  Thoughts? Suggestions?

Intersectionality, underscored

Hey all!  This is just a little reflection on our work with intersectionality–it’s importance and the challenges presented to an organization seeking to embrace intersectional analysis and methodology.  For the basics on intersectionality, please see our newly revamped website!

Recently, intersectionality made its mark on SAFER’s website, with our series of articles on various social justice issues and their relation to rape and anti-rape organizing.  Though a strong element of intersectional education and awareness has been part of SAFER’s ideals for a long time, the process of embedding it into all of SAFER’s work is painstaking.  Intersectionality is broad, and demanding.  It requires active self-reflection and candor, and usually humor.  It lends itself towards overwhelm.  Educating about intersectionality means entangling oneself in the underbelly of multiple social injustices, and explaining that tangle in ways that others will easily digest.

Though we still have so far to go, I am pleased with our start: yes, just a little series of articles.  We hope to, in the very near future, expand our membership and outreach to numerous communities, and make ourselves and our work truly ‘intersectional’.

I think one of the biggest challenges when engaging in intersectional work is the burden of proving that it is not only important, but essential for any social justice organizing.  That rape is woven into the fabric of other systems of oppression–compounding, overlapping, colliding–such as sexuality, disability, race, class is clear only to those who already acknowledge that these systems exist and permeate every aspect of our lives.  But the challenge of intersectionality, further, is almost endless expansion.  It is not enough to merely educate about rape and race, or rape and sexuality.  What is demanded by intersectional analysis is a vigilant openness to new and altering realities, emerging identities and oppressions, and changing systems.  What is also demanded is a depth of analysis and transformation–meaning, if SAFER is to call itself intersectional, we must ensure that awareness of multiple social oppressions manifests in all of our activities, in our board membership (our representation), in our own tactics, and in the resources we provide.

So, the process is daunting, and slow.  But we don’t want to make mistakes, so we pour over things again and again.  I am proud that SAFER’s move into intersectional awareness has been undertaken, is being undertaken, and will continue to be.  We welcome any feedback on this issue, and I know I am not the only SAFER volunteer who has determined to make intersectionality a SAFER reality!

endless optimism 01: anti-rape organizing and efficacy

I think too often those of us who daily engage in social justice (or any) activism, burdened with the reality of radical change—slow, slow, even imperceptible—and the other less activisty vicissitudes of our human existence (the refrigerator sprouted a leak, growing stacks of bills, the dog pooped on the living room floor), succumb to cynicism, burnout, pessimism, or a lovely mix of all three (suicide.). Thus, in an effort to maintain the sanity of those of us at SAFER and that of our blog readers (most if not all of whom, i assume, are also social justice activists), i am posting at random articles on positive issues related to anti-rape organizing. This is the first, on efficacy.

I spend a lot (too much) of my spare time obsessing about the efficacy of activism. Every type of activism. I reflect on the types i’ve engaged in my recent past, separate them into issue and tactics, and compare efficacy. Efficacy of social justice work is, of course, the amount of radical change it inspires (i usually measure this in people who have changed their ways), and possibly the depth of such change. The issues i have advocated have been similar in one distinct way: they are all issues that are effected by all of us living in the industrialized world on a daily basis.

For example, the two most prominent issues i focused on during my undergraduate career were animal rights (specifically veganism) and human rights (specifically sweatshops). Sweatshop labor and factory farming are two industries that persist in large part if not completely because of the collective action of individuals in our (and every) industrialized society. Thus, i surmised, we each played a crucial role in either furthering or halting these immoral practices. With veganism the connection between the power of the individual and the efficacy of the tactic employed (influence people to go vegan and thereby stop financially supporting factory farmed products and byproducts, also decreasing the demand for the supply of these products) is simple and efficient. However, when i dove into the underbelly of sweatshops i encountered an altogether limiting reality: the proliferation of sweatshops is not caused merely by the demand for cheap clothing in industrialized countries, nor is an economic boycott going to solve the problem of workers not receiving a living wage. Instead, the boycott could cause the opposite—a company could shut down its factory entirely, thereby leaving the workers with no wage at all. Thus, the complications began.

What this thick comparison made me realize were the pros and cons of various types of activism. True, animal rights is probably the least popular form of activism and most people won’t even speak to you if you begin a conversation with the word ‘speciesism’, but the upside is that there is a clear correlation between the advocacy and its result.

I posit that similarly, feminist activism, which includes anti-rape advocacy, is also extremely unpopular, but merits a direct result. Though most people would say they are against rape, the reality is that they aren’t, because rape is a worldwide epidemic. The positive is that rape is not an issue mired in the complexities of the international economic system. Rape is human to human. We can change rape by educating a person on the subway about that person’s right to refuse sex, or the need for that person to respect another’s right to her/his own body. And we can know that in speaking to even one person about rape, we have made a profound difference, because rape is not monitored by international agencies, nor filtered through a chain of reactions outside our control. It is the most personal of social injustices. And i suspect, through our personal interactions, if we are hopeful enough and stubborn enough, it will end.

It’s all about sex: patriarchy, sexism, and anti-rape organizing

This was perhaps the most challenging of all the articles for me. Not challenging in the same ways that the last article, on ablism and rape was. Not challenging because the material was new territory for me, even as an experienced social justice activist. No, this article, on rape and patriarchy/sexism, was challenging because gender inequality is so deeply and inextricably connected to the preponderance of rape itself and rape culture, and because gender is the one arena of social justice in which I feel that there is constant pressure to ‘include’, read: patronize and centralize, the privileged class (men) in every way. That men are integral to rape culture as primary offenders but also as victims is an important aspect of rape awareness. But too often I find myself scouring blogs and finding the ‘what about the men’ argument dominating all discussions on rape, and maleness digging itself a groove of centrality once again. This is obviously debatable and I am also speaking from my experience of organizing against rape on an extremely conservative college campus, but nonetheless, I still contend that this centralizing of maleness is common in rape discussions across the board, from blogs to news articles to organizing caucuses. Even when writing this article, I had to fight the urge to include disclaimers and stats on men, when for every other article, I had no qualms about focusing exclusively on the oppressed group in question, and didn’t even conceive of focusing the discussion on the privileged group.

What is most difficult for me is the simultaneous recognition of rape as both a violent enforcement of compulsory heterosexuality and absolute proof of rape culture. These are discussed briefly below in the article, but I feel the need to explain a little more here. What is challenging is the recognition that rape overall is an intensely and incontrovertibly gendered issue, that it reflects patriarchy in so many ways, that the reality is that most rapists are men and most rape victims are women. This fact elicits anger from me. For women, and against men. As a social justice activist I know and understand that such anger is natural, and necessary. Yet, as leader and organizer I know that it is necessary not to alienate men, that anger alienates, and that I must keep this anger at gender injustice to myself. The problem as I see it is a balance between the gendered reality of rape and the necessity of organizing men against rape as much as we are trying to organize women against it. Both classes are necessary towards any lasting change. However, there is that small part of me that still remains indignant that we are not waging a full scale war and revolution over the rape and molestation of our sisters, daughters, mothers, cousins, friends, when this occurs daily and slides under the radar as acceptable and normal. What pains me is that a legion of women have not begun to shout and scream and chain ourselves to fences and schoolyards and military barracks and hospitals and parking lots and our homes—all sites of rape and molestation—demanding an end to our unnecessary and daily torture. So. I do not have a solution, and indeed the struggle to incorporate men into anti-rape work without perpetuating patriarchy via sexist and male-centered organizing is a complex and ongoing one. But for now, education serves as the necessary starting point. Below is an excerpt of this week’s article, on rape and patriarchy, the last of the articles for our intersectionality section.

First, what is patriarchy?

Patriarchy is institutionalized discrimination on the basis of sex. It is the systematic legal, social, and economic hierarchy in which women and femininity (characteristics associated with femaleness) are at the bottom and men and masculinity are central and privileged. Most, if not all modern societies operate as patriarchies, in which women are routinely discriminated against on the basis of their sex.

What is sexism?

Sexism is primarily used in reference to anti-female discrimination because of the preponderance of patriarchy (as opposed to matriarchy). It is the belief that women (and femininity) are inferior to men on many levels, including but not limited to: physical ability, intellect, spiritual capacity, economic productivity.

Ways in which sexism can deter women members from your group:

Domination of group leadership, discussions, and decisions by male members

Insinuation that female group members are overly emotional about rape issues when they express anger or other strong emotions in response to incidents of rape

Stereotypes of outspoken, articulate, or passionate women as ‘bossy,’ ‘bitchy’, ‘uppity’, or ‘controlling’

Patriarchy and Rape: the Facts

Rape and sexism are more overtly and intimately connected than rape is to any other form of oppression. While the causes of such connect are debatable, keep in mind that rape is about power, and in patriarchy, women are viewed as and rendered powerless. Additionally, compulsory heterosexuality (see Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence, by Adrienne Rich) is enforced through a number of mechanisms, ranging from the glorification of heterosexual romance to violently enforced heterosexuality in the form of rape. That rape is such a common reality for women and yet so calmly accepted by our society is evidence of the primacy of compulsory heterosexuality as well as ‘rape culture,’ the term used to describe a patriarchal culture in which sex is equated with violence (against women) and power, and (heterosexual) rape is considered a normal and acceptable phenomenon.

Statistics (compiled from multiple sources listed below):

90% of rape victims are female, and over 98% of rapists are male.

17.6 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape. Of these, 21.6% were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 32.4% were between the ages of 12 and 17.

64% of women who reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked since age 18 were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, or date.

The FBI estimates that only 37% of all rapes are reported to the police. U.S. Justice Department statistics are even lower, with only 26% of all rapes or attempted rapes being reported to law enforcement officials.

The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experience completed or attempted rape during their college years

Factoring in unreported rapes, about 5% – one out of twenty – of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. 19 out of 20 will walk free.

Further, sexism and patriarchy affect rape in a number of distinct ways:

Responsibility: Though over 98—99% of rapists are men and over 90% of rape victims are women, women are still expected to take responsibility for preventing rape. This takes many forms, but some examples are: women having to exercise caution when deciding what to wear for fear that they might ‘elicit’ a rape by virtue of their clothing; women taking self-defense classes or wearing whistles so they can resist their attackers; women being unable to walk alone at night for fear of being raped; women having to guard their drinks at parties or not drink in order to maintain their sexual autonomy and safety.

Blame: female victims are blamed for their rapes by society. They are humiliated, stigmatized, often characterized as ‘loose’ or ‘asking for it’. In a college setting in particular, female victims who speak out and seek justice after being raped are ostracized by their peers and have even reported this shame and hostility as being more stressful than the rape itself. Additionally, with increased awareness of rape there has also been a strong backlash: the media covers many stories on ‘false accusations,’ which in reality account for less than 2% of rape accusations.

Some facts to reiterate and keep in mind with regard to sexism, rape and university settings:

Age 12-24 is the highest risk age for female victims and as the above statistics show, during only four years, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 female students are victims of either completed or attempted rape.

Of surveyed college women, about 90% of rape and sexual assault victims knew their attack prior to the assault.

The close linkage between alcohol and drug consumption and rape, particularly for college students:

About 75% of the men and at least 55% of the women involved in acquaintance rapes had been drinking or taking drugs just before the attack

3% of college men report surviving rape or attempted rape as a child or adult

The following are some useful links on rape and sexism:

an incredible blog post on rape culture:

Disability Matters: Disability and Anti-Rape Organizing

This is the final segment in the mini-series for the SAFER website on intersectionality.  With each article, the scope and subject matter presented a lot of difficulties.  Not only because I did not feel qualified to write on a number of topics (if any), but also because presenting a 2-3 page article with cute little bullet points and tips on how not to be bigoted is itself an extraordinarily difficult task.  This last article, on disability, was the culmination of that challenge.  The gamut of lives covered by the broad (and in my opinion inappropriate) term ‘disability’ is so vast that attempting to encapsulate all these lives and experiences with oppression is possibly more insulting than effective.  To write this article I had to research the basics of disability as well as the specifics with regard to rape–which, though not unpredictable, are nonetheless startling.  The fact that (particularly for women) the rate of rape for disabled individuals is double what it is for the population (from 1 out of every 4 to 1 out of every 2 women, so half the disabled female population) just underscores the reality of rape and of subjugation of disabled peoples.  It reminds me that rape is about power.  That disabled individuals are considered or rendered powerless in a bigoted society.  That the need for awareness in organizing is essential, which brings me, finally, to the article.  Please enjoy and as always, feedback is appreciated.

What is Disablism?

Sometimes interchanged with the term ‘ableism’, disablism is a fear and/or hatred of people who are not typically-abled, and refers to behavior that discriminates against people who are not typically-abled. Disability includes a vast range of physical and psychological variations. More specifically, it is the normative position held by a non-disabled lifestyle and the exclusion—physical, economic, social, legal—of people with disabilities from everyday life. Often in organizing, the term disability is not as much a reference to a physical or mental variation or impairment, but to the social stigma surrounding that variation.

The following are some ways in which folks with disability face discrimination in our society:

Physical barriers to entry or movement with ease: some examples are buildings without elevators, crosswalks without sound (for hearing impaired individuals), public transport that is not wheelchair accessible or otherwise friendly to people with ambulatory impairments.

Social settings and media that is exclusive to typically-abled individuals: one example is the rarity of movies are made or screened with subtitles or brail accompaniments.

The fundamental assumption that a variation or impairment in one’s physical or psychological state renders one useless, devilish, or unsuitable for a ‘normal or standard’ lifestyle; the assumption that these individuals need or want to be ‘corrected’ as opposed to accepted by society.

Ways that disability affects organizing:

Because the term disability covers a vast array of physical and mental variations, it is unfeasible to present the specific discrimination faced by all individuals who fall under the term. Therefore, the following are some very broad and basic ways in which a lack of awareness about disability can alienate disabled members.

Assumptions: whether these be about a person’s disability, intellect, physical capacity, or potential usefulness to the group.

Inaccessibility: meeting places that are physically inaccessible to all members and don’t take into account door size, elevator access, service animal entry, and brail (these are only a few examples).

Expectations that a disabled individual can or should communicate in a typical manner. This can take many forms. One is a lack of patience with physically impaired members or an unwillingness to communicate with them at all; another is blaming difficult communication on the disabled individual rather than the typically-abled one.

Condescension: addressing an interpreter or a friend rather than a disabled individual.

Pity: expressing sympathy for a disabled individual because of their disability, thereby affirming their inferiority and difference.

Paternalism: similar to condescension, paternalism is outwardly helpful and chivalrous behavior that undermines people with disabilities by affirming stereotypes of disabled individuals as useless, weak, and/or unproductive.

Disability and Rape, the facts

Disability affects rape victims in two distinct ways: the likelihood of rape is increased dramatically for disabled individuals (particularly women) when compared with typically-abled individuals; and victim services discriminate against or exclude disabled victims. This section is divided into those two aspects of rape and disability.

The likelihood of rape and increased risk factors for disabled individuals

Remember that rape is not about sexual desire, it is always about power. In our society, disabled individuals are considered powerless and are at times physically impaired and therefore unable to defend themselves against assault—this makes them prime targets for rapists.

The following are some vulnerability factors for disabled individuals when it comes to rape, from a website on children with disability and sexual assault (

Powerlessness: children and youth with disability are not given the power to make choices for themselves; caregivers make decisions for them. Their dependence on caregivers also puts them at risk for becoming sexual abuse victims with disability. They are taught to obey their caregivers and compliance is reinforced.

Need for personal care: people with certain physical disabilities require someone to bathe them and help them using the toilet. They have little control over who touches their bodies, and in what manner.

Isolation: often times, children with disability are isolated from the rest of the community, which increases the likelihood that sexual abuse will take place, and it also increases the likelihood that the abuse will go undetected.

Physical defenselessness: physical, visual and hearing disabilities limit the child/youth from being able to physically protect him/herself.

Language, speech or vocabulary barriers: disabled children and youth may have difficulty protesting to offenders, asking for help, or disclosing abuse, which in turn puts sexual abuse victims with disability at risk for further sexual abuse.

Impaired or limited cognitive abilities: young people with intellectual disability may not understand an abusive situation and are more easily swayed and otherwise manipulated.

Lack of abuse prevention education: lack of information makes it difficult for children with disability to understand and recognize abusive situations.

Unprotective organizational structures and policies: organizational institutions that don’t have adequate screening of staff and volunteers, that have rigid routines, have a high child/youth-to-staff ratio, and lack clear abuse guidelines and policies put people with disability at greater risk for abuse.

Startling Statistics:

  • Women with disabilities are raped and abused at twice the rate of the general population (from USC’s stats page)

And from the website cited above on vulnerability:

  • 83% of women with disability will become sexual abuse victims with disability in their lifetime (Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities, 20025)
  • Mencap, the largest charity in the United Kingdom for children with learning disability, reports that 1400 new cases of sex abuse against people with a learning disability are reported per year in the U.K.–only 6% of which reach court. Conviction occurs in only 1% (Mencap, 20023)
  • For girls with developmental disability, the average estimate for sexual abuse victimization was 1.5 times higher than the general population rate; for boys with developmental disability, the rate was roughly double (McCreary Centre Society, 1993, p. 94).

The aftermath

Many legal and health professionals (both inside and outside of college settings) are uneducated about disability and therefore unable to properly communicate with and treat disabled victims. This ignorance about disability combined with hostility and active discrimination serves to deter disabled victims from seeking help. As a leader, it is your responsibility to assess the services available to victims on your campus and ensure that these are inclusive of disabled individuals.

The following are some useful links on disability and rape:

general/organizing/awareness about disability:

Class, Sexual Assault, and Anti-Rape Organizing

Just to keep ya’ll updated, this is the fourth in a series of blogified articles on intersectionality and how it relates to rape and anti-rape organizing.

Class is a difficult subject for me because in my life it is (perhaps the only) site of privilege.  Being born into a mixed-class family, though I was raised in a tiny backwater Floridian town in a cracked old house that couldn’t fit by mother’s brood, I was also subject to somewhat unbelievable class privileges, not limited to vacations at my grandmother’s four-story historic mansion in rhode island or one of my grandfather’s multiple summer homes, trips across europe and asia during which my family only stayed in world-class hotels, and access to every material article I desired.  Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, I came to take for granted the privilege of education–my family has paid for my undergraduate and post-graduate educations, both in the United States and abroad.  So in so many ways I am not qualified to write about class at all.  However, a large part of the work I did for this article was a necessary expansion of my own class consciousness; as well as increased awareness of the reality of classism as this permeates both anti-rape organizing and incidences of rape.  I offer this piece, as those preceding it, as the starting point for discussions on class and anti-rape organizing.

Admittedly, the connections between rape and class are limited and not nearly as thoroughly researched as those between say, rape and race, or rape and disability (next week’s blog!).  The statistics I have gathered are from an informed study on homeless women and rape and present only the intersection of extreme poverty and sexual assault.  I would welcome further thoughts on this issue, as it is necessary to note the myriad ways in which class doubtless affects rape statistics.   Additionally, though there is not much statistical research into this, I posit that working class communities are often dangerous sites for women because of generally higher incidences of violent crime and police inattention and unresponsiveness to reports of crime in these neighborhoods.

On organizing, there is a panoply of digital information regarding class-conscious organizing, and I have encapsulated some of it as follows.  Please bear in mind that this is an extremely inexhaustive list, and it is further limited because I am writing specifically for a college-audience.

Ways that class affects organizing:

It is necessary to keep in mind that universities are sites of privilege—specific individuals have access to university-level education, and much of our daily lives (income and opportunity) is determined by whether or not we have a college degree. However, within college settings there is great diversity with regard to class and it is essential that organizers educate themselves about class issues that affect student members.

Be aware of the limitations caused by both the social and economic effects of classism and how these affect member access to meetings, time, and hesitancy to engage in activities that might threaten their education.

Ensure that meeting times and places are accessible to working students, and if necessary, offer childcare to members with children.

Remember that the threat of expulsion is a consequence of activism for students who receive financial aid or (if your group is engaging in civil disobedience) cannot afford to risk arrest and the costs it incurs.

If asking for group membership fees or expecting members to shoulder the financial burden (with a newly formed or more informal group), be cautious in pressuring all members to do so and keep in mind individual monetary restrictions.

Arrange transportation for members to off-campus events and brainstorm ideas to prevent members from being pressured to spend money on club activities. Some examples are fees for entry to anti-rape related conferences or for off-campus film nights.

Intersections between rape and class:

Working class individuals have limited, discouraged, or no access to legal recourse, hospital care, and rape kits—though these are not necessarily as relevant to university settings, they are still pertinent to all people who have been sexually assaulted and to students after graduating.

Below are just a few facts on homeless women and sexual violence compiled by Lisa Goodman, Katya Fels, and Catherine Glenn for the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women.

Though they represent the effect of extreme poverty on women victims, they should be viewed as examples of some of the ways in which rape and class intersect:

  • 92% of a racially diverse sample of homeless mothers had experienced severe physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives.
  • In another study, 13% of homeless women reported having been raped in the past 12 months and half of these were raped at least twice (Wenzel, et al., 2000).   In yet another study, 9% of homeless women reported at least one experience of sexual victimization in the last month (Wenzel, Koegel & Gelberg, 2000).
  • Compared to their low-income housed counterparts, the sexual assault experiences of homeless women are more likely to be violent, and to include multiple sexual acts (Stermac & Paradis, 2001).
  • In one study of homeless women, those who reported a rape in the last year were significantly more likely than nonvictims to suffer from two or more gynecological conditions and two or more serious physical health conditions in the past year (Wenzel et al., 2000). They were also significantly more likely to report that although they needed to see a physician during the past year, they could not manage to do so, and that although they desired treatment for substance abuse they were unable to obtain appropriate services.
  • Homeless victims of sexual assault must contend with the psychological and physical effects of rape within the context of poor access to legal, mental health and medical resources, social alienation and isolation, unsafe living environments, constant exposure to reminders of the experience, and lack of transportation and information about available services (Goodman, Saxe, and Harvey, 1991).   Homeless women of color, lesbians and bisexuals, and women with physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities face even greater barriers.

The following is a list of some useful links on class and rape:

On organizing with class consciousness:

Race and Rape: Keeping Racism Out of Your Campaign

The intersections of race and rape are sneaky. Though statistics indicate variation in victim reports based on race, there are few similar statistics on offenders and race. Further, since racism is a social injustice (and therefore fluid, grey, difficult to pinpoint in many instances), the ways in which race and anti-rape work overlap are relevant not only to rape itself but also to organizing tactics.

Since the connections between race and anti-oppressive anti-rape organizing are easier to identify, awareness about these connections is essential for any anti-rape organizer. In this week’s blog I’ve combined some statistics on rape based on race (victim only) with comments on the broader racial stereotyping that plagues reporting and organizing. Keep in mind that even these stereotypes and the damage they inflict on media attention and tactics are difficult to assert, though drawn from a careful analysis of America’s race history and the legacy of racism in anti-rape work.

Why is race relevant to anti-rape organizing?

Race is relevant to anti-rape organizing in two distinct ways. First, any effective organizing must interrogate all types of social injustice—specifically in the case of anti-rape organizing, in which we are seeking to educate all people. Second, though rape affects all people regardless of class, race, sexuality, religion, disability etc, there are notable statistical differences between whites and people of color with regard to victim reporting, police support, media attention, and offender prosecution. This article is divided into two parts, to accommodate each of these ways in which race significantly affects anti-rape work.

Ways that racism can affect organizing, and alienate people of color from a group

Assumptions that rape and sexual assault are unimportant or less important than race to people of color

Domination of discussions and leadership by white members

Materials that exclude people of color (for example, posters or flyers that feature only white people, or rape as it relates only to white people)

Pressuring of people of color to choose between rape and race (or any other) issues; also the pressure for a single person of color to represent the needs, ideas, and circumstances of all people of color

Campaign and media attention that prioritizes rape of white victims over people of color

Intersections of race and sexual assault

The following statistics are pulled from a feminist blog and reflect the state department statistics on rape and race

Lifetime rate of rape /attempted rape for women by race:
* All women: 17.6%
* White women: 17.7%
* Black women: 18.8%
* Asian Pacific Islander women: 6.8%
* American Indian/Alaskan women: 34.1%
* Mixed race women: 24.4%

And more, from the UCSC rape prevention program, on reporting and race:

*Women of all ethnicities are raped: Native American /Alaska Native women are most likely to report a rape and Asian/Pacific Islander women the least likely. (National Institute of Justice 1998)

*80-90% of rapes against women (except for American Indian women) are committed by someone of the same racial background as the victim. (US Dept. of Justice 1994)

*Native American victims of rape reported the offender as either white or black in 90% of reports. (Department of Justice 1997)

Additionally, though difficult to assert via statistics because of the nature of rape (most often, one person’s word against another’s), the following stereotypes affect reporting, accusations, and victimization:

The myth of the sexually aggressive black man (as a rapist of white women) allows for the indictment of black male offenders more so than white; and rape allegations made by white women against black men receive more media attention than those made by white women against white men

The myth of the wild, sexual, lascivious black woman (who ‘deserves’ or elicits rape) prevents many black women from reporting their rapes

The myth of the subservient and pornographic East Asian woman (also, who ‘deserves’, elicits, tolerates rape) prevents many East Asian women from reporting their rapes

Different ethnic/cultural norms for masculinity and femininity can adversely affect victim disclosure as well, preventing men of color from reporting for fear of backlash, and keeping women of color silent for the same reasons

The following are some links that may be helpful in educating any group with regard to race and rape:

Again, the best way to recognize racist reporting and the intersections between race and rape is to engage in critical self-reflection as an organizer and ensure that your tactics are inclusive of all people, regardless of race.