Women have made considerable gains worldwide in calling attention to rape, whether it be the victims of American party-culture to Indian gang-rape atrocities to the pre-teen molestation culture in Papua New Guinea. In 2011-12 the United Nations conducted the largest worldwide study of rape, covering six nations. When taking into account non-consensual sex in marriage, or an inability of a partner to refuse sex, about one in four men surveyed reported committing some kind of rape. The issue is on the table.
But are the solutions being set forth clearly? One that must be put forward in any discussion, in my opinion, is the importance of raising up male anti-rape advocates. Because sexual force stems so much from a sense of entitlement to gratification, and because entitlement derives from cultural norms, men must be vocal in stating that rape is not normative or acceptable. More specifically, important men, “normative” men, must step up to the microphone and air this message.
A friend here in Sioux Falls was commissioned with the leadership of a domestic violence rehab group. He was surprised to find how resistant men were to admitting that they were in control of a situation involving physical or sexual violence. “I couldn’t help myself” or “She was asking for it” became common mantras to avoid personal responsibility. The leader had to walk the men through the decisions they had actually made: “Did you attack her?” “Did you choose to hit her with your fist or kick her?” “Which clothing did you try to take off her?” And so forth. Ultimately, these men hoped that male sympathy for “natural” passions would override personal responsibility. A group like this undid the hope. And it started with a strong male leader. Once multiple men took responsibility for their crime, others followed.
The same sort of thing has been happening in Nairobi, Kenya. After some rapists were released after receiving a sentence of mowing the lawn, the Men to Men program of FEMNET showed up to protest. Kennedy Otina was one of those in attendance, publicly demonstrating. “When there is a case in court,” Otina said, rapists “tend to think or assume that we [men] will be the ones to defend them, to support them in court, but you know when they get to us, we help them understand that violence against women is not acceptable.”
The crimes occurring in bedrooms start with the attitudes born in public forums. Fortunately, key men around the world are taking a stand.