Years ago, I came across an article by Dr. Trayce Hansen called The Politics of Rape: Debunking The Feminist Myth that professes that feminists have created a political agenda with rape and made it about violence rather than sex when really it’s about sex. I worked with survivors of all kinds of sexual violence at the time and this article made me so mad that I kept it.
It’s still April, Sexual Assault Awareness month, so when I was cleaning out files from my desk yesterday and found the article, I cringed but also thought it would be perfect to write on. I almost hated to link it here to give it more attention, but I think many people like her believe rape is about sex so I wanted to examine her arguments and why they are faulty. I read a bit on Hansen’s website as I wanted to know what she is doing and what else she has put into the written word. For points to be aware of, she is homophobic and hates feminists. This article in particular slams feminism and while that’s annoying to me, it’s not the reason it makes me mad.
To give you a little background, I am a clinical social worker who has worked as a therapist with survivors of sexual violence for years. Clinical social work takes into account the many different sides of people, their many situations and ways of being, how the world and their position in it affects them (like what has happened to them in their lives, their trauma history, their race, class, sexual orientation, gender, ability, mental health, culture…). It is also based on tenets of social justice.
As a clinical social worker who has worked extensively with survivors of sexual assault as well as with the LGBT community, I don’t think it’s healthy for survivors to see people like Hansen because the arguments she and others like her make, blame victims and can cause greater psychological damage.
What really makes me mad about this article is the following:
Knowing the stories of countless men, women and children I have worked with in addressing sexual violence issues, there is nothing that makes me consider for a moment that what was done to them was about sex. To begin with, sex is consensual. Rape is not.
Here I go through the arguments she makes one by one.
1.) In this article, Hansen’s first point is that rape is universal, across cultures and species and therefore is natural. She also speaks primarily about men as perpetrators, so I am going to address perpetrators in this way as well, though there are also women perpetrators.
Throughout time, humans have taken what they want from others: valuables, wives, slaves, and they have also raped them. So, if Hansen is talking about a moral compass and saying that some people throughout history have not had one and have stolen things from others, that’s true. Would I say it’s natural? That wouldn’t be my word choice.
2.) Her second argument is that the motivations of rapists are comparable to the motivations of other criminals and that the “sexual motivation of rapists becomes apparent.” She writes: “the mugger is motivated by his desire for your money, the car thief by his desire for your car, and the rapist by his desire for you sexually.”
This argument doesn’t hold in many different scenarios. What about men who are raped by straight men, often very violently? Where is the sexual desire? What about a one week old baby? Is a baby sexy? No, a baby is vulnerable and needy and unable to do much of anything on their own. What sexual motivation does a rapist have for raping a baby or a child? What about an elderly person. Is someone who is 94 sexy to a rapist of 30? Doubtful. But they are vulnerable and have less power.
This argument also implies that the victim was so sexy the rapist couldn’t help himself, which turns out to be victim blaming. It is also a scary notion to put forth- that men are so driven by sexual desire that they can’t control themselves. That’s just not true and doesn’t account for all the many people who do not rape.
3.) Her third point is that rapists only use enough force to accomplish their goal of sexual access. “If a rapist’s goal was other than sex, such as a desire to inflict violence upon his victim, why do most rapists not inflict high degrees of physical injuries on their victims?”
My answer to that would be two-fold. In some cases, many, in fact, there is extreme physical torture that happens to the victim and may include keeping her against her will for long periods of time to be able to hurt her. The other part of the answer is this: The rapist doesn’t need to inflict high degrees of physical injuries on their victims, but not because of what Hansen says, that they use “enough force to accomplish their goal of sexual access,” but because the victim is hurt and afraid of them already. If the rapist cannot dominate them and do whatever they want, they become more violent. Hansen is saying that actually but says “aggression and control are the means to the end, the end being sexual access.”
Hansen may need to redefine violence in order to make sense of sexual violence.
Here’s the definition from the Violence Prevention Alliance, from the World Health Organization:
“the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”
Rape is an intentional use of power against another person, or group in the case of multiple victims, and against a community when rape is used as a strategic tool of war. It may result in physical harm, but almost always results in psychological harm, and may result in internal damage if there are no external injuries. It may increase the risk for maldevelopment.
People who were sexually abused as children are more likely to have both psychological as well as chronic medical concerns as they grow up. This is something that is evident when you work with survivors for years. You begin to see a pattern of particular illnesses come up across a span of people. It has also begun to be researched and addressed with trauma specific therapies like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. The link between trauma and greater risk to illnesses has been made. This is a maldevelopment.
Also, psychologically, the effects of having someone penetrate what we refer to in society as your “private parts” when you did not want them to, when you told them No and they didn’t listen to you, can be and often are, devastating. Part of this is the connection our minds make with self-efficacy. When we can’t make decisions for our person or body, it is terrifying and gives us the sense that we are useless to effect change for ourselves in the world.
This leads me into the next point. When we are treated as objects, less than, or second class citizens, we are dehumanized. When we seen as inhuman, we lose our rights. This includes being able to make decisions for our bodies. That means violence against us goes up because we are seen as not human.
4.) Hansen says that feminists say rape is committed by non-sexual motives. Then she asks, “But are any of the motives feminists posit (ie., political oppression, violent domination, control, etc.) both necessary and sufficient?”
She says to ask yourself: “Is it necessary for a man to have a desire to politically oppress a woman before he can rape her? Is a rapist’s political motive, in the absence of any sexual motive, sufficient for a rape to occur? The answer to both of these questions is no.”
Of course the answer is no. Because Hansen completely misses the point. There is a system of Patriarchy set up in our world that demands men be above women. It is completely institutionalized. This means that everything in the society demands that men be in charge over women. Religion keeps this system in place, as do gender roles, wage differences, and beliefs about women being inferior and the weaker sex. This system has been there for a long long time and unfortunately, will continue to be there for a long time after I’m done writing about it. Sexual violence helps maintain it.
When women are seen as inferior, the violence goes up against them. When the violence goes up against women, they are traumatized and seen as vulnerable, blamed for being raped and seen as the weaker sex. When women speak up or stand up for themselves, they are controlled by violence.
Hansen then says that “it is necessary for a man to have some type of sexual desire before he can rape.”
That is absolutely not true. People are raped with many things that have nothing to with body parts, sexual desire or sex at all, things that are for hurting someone else. Again rape is not about sex it is about hurting someone else. It is about doing something to them that they don’t want, knowing they don’t want it.
5.) Hansen’s fifth point, is that “the majority of rapists are men between their teens and 20s, a time of life during which men are the most sexually driven.” Not only do I not believe that, I can’t find any information that backs it up. From statistics I have seen on RAINN and the National Institute of Justice, more women have reported rape than men and more perpetrators are men, 80% of victims are under the age of 30, but I haven’t seen statistics for ages of perpetrators and there is no base for linking rape to sexual desire, no matter what the age of the perpetrator.
Victims have gotten the message that men can’t control themselves because the victim did something to make themselves irresistible to a rapist. Five years olds are told they looked too cute. Ten year olds are told they looked too sexy. College students are told they were drunk and they shouldn’t have beeen. Teenagers are told they shouldn’t have skipped class. Victims are given these messages as if any of them are justification for why they were raped. These things are independent of them having been raped and people should be able to do what they want to do without being raped. No one has the right to rape anyone else.
You shouldn’t have dyed your hair or worn that shirt or those pants or…..That victim blaming could go on and on. It’s not about anything the victim did. It’s about the rapist and it’s absolutely not about sexual desire or sex at all. It’s about taking without permission. From a child it is taking from someone who cannot give permission. From a drunk or drugged person, it’s about taking from someone who can’t give permission. From a person who says no, it is about taking from someone who is saying NO and overpowering them- taking it anyways.
6.) Hansen’s sixth point is that “most rapists say that sex was the motivating factor underlying their crimes” and that dominating their victims was not their main objective. OKAY- What? So we’re questioning rapists for their thoughts on their behaviors. Hansen believes rapists rather than victims. As a therapist and even aside from being a therapist, I don’t see any reason to believe that rapists in general have done enough self exploration to be able to determine what drove them to hurt people in a sexual manner against their will.
Hansen goes on to talk about chemical castration for rapists and blames feminists for not supporting it even though it could help keep women from being raped saying feminists don’t want to admit rape is sexually driven. This is absolutely ridiculous and if Hansen hadn’t been given a PhD from somewhere, I would dismiss it totally. But the fact is she can see clients and write loosely researched papers and have them published as fact that actually harms women, men, and children who have been raped.
As a feminist- I wouldn’t support chemical castration of males because I believe men and women should be able to make choices for their bodies. It is a backward notion for anyone to support the castration of men to stop rape.
Sure, when you listen to a rape survivor’s story. When you sit with him or her and their pain, it might not sound like a bad idea. But castrating men is not the answer. Valuing women is.
I’m not talking about rounding up all the convicted rapists, (there are many more running free), and teaching them to value women. I am saying the society needs to be taught to value women. The world needs to value women. We must value women in all aspects of our societies- in our laws, in our institutions, and in our homes.
When women are valued and respected, they will be listened to when they say they don’t want to have sex. They will not have their butts grabbed or be called sluts or bitches or hoes. Respect for women will also stretch to men in the realm of stopping sexual violence.
The article goes on for only a couple of pages more and really just continues to berate feminism, which seems to be one of Hansen’s main goals.
The society, along with Hansen who has written a strange skewed paper, believes rape is about sex, not violence. But when you take away a person’s ability to make decisions for themselves, it does lead to violence. Sexually penetrating someone when they do not want to be sexually penetrated, is violence.
To be linked to a Rape Crisis Center near you in the U.S. call 1-800-656-HOPE and for on-line support here is RAINN’s online hotline.