Thursday, January 24, 2013

"She Asked for It," or How to Release a Rapist

Anne Munch has certainly seen her share of rape cases. A prosecutor for the state of Colorado, she  she spoke to a full auditorium at the University of Washington on October 19, 2012, about the all-too-often occurrence of victim blaming in sexual assault.

First she asked the men in the audience what they did on a daily or weekly basis to avoid rape – there was dead silence. "Nothing, right?" Same question to the women and answers popcorned out: go to parties with friends, carry pepper spray, don't walk alone at night . . . Ms. Munch asked the guys, "Did you know women – your sisters – think like this?" You could almost hear jaws dropping.

Only a short while into her career as a prosecutor, Munch realized that in addition to the victim and the accused, there was always a 3rd party in any rape case, which she dubbed The Unnamed Conspirator.  It's a petri dish for enabling predators, made up of societal attitudes towards rape victims and women in general. And it is these overall societal attitudes that guide police and prosecutors, judges and juries, in determining how to let the vast majority of rapists off the hook.

[Note: this concept has been around a long, long time. At least 3 or 4 decades. It's generally called "rape culture."]

Munch cited 2 cases from Colorado that she had worked on.  Both cases had incredible amounts of physical evidence and no indication whatsoever that the women had consented to sexual activity.

In the the first case, three out of 12 jurors would not vote to convict. The Unnamed Conspirator likes safety "rules", and the victim had broken a biggie. One of these societal "rules" is that if you don't go out alone at night you won't get raped. This survivor had ventured out, all by herself, at 9 pm in a small resort town to get a slice of pizza. Uh-oh. The Unnamed Conspirator: "She should never have been walking alone at night." Hence three women on the jury refused to vote guilty, even though the defendant's culpability was clear.

Munch believes the way to negate The Unnamed Conspirator is through education, which is why she now travels around the world speaking, training, and consulting on sexual assault and domestic violence cases.  The two most pervasive and insidious myths she works to banish are:
  1. Sexual assault can be prevented by following a large and highly restricting list of "rules" (one of which was referred to above), and
  2. Men cannot control themselves (so women become responsible for some men's actions).
Let's return to the Real World, where neither of the above "rules" are true. Vulnerability by itself means nothing. It's only significant when someone tries to take advantage of it. In other words, the only person responsible for a rape is the rapist.

In every self-defense class I teach, you will not be getting those "laundry lists" of people and places to avoid, activities to not engage in, or limiting dress codes.  Because they do not work -- they do not keep you safer.

And the second Colorado case – it had a pile of evidence as high as the Rocky Mountains but never came to trial. The accused's name was Kobe Bryant. Celebrities will rarely be held accountable for bad behavior (and that's a whole 'nuther blog post).

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