Home > Horror Stories > Partner rape, cryptids, and other crazy myths
24 Feb

Partner rape, cryptids, and other crazy myths

Stranger rape is kind of like a shark attack. Most people are alert to the dangers of sharks. They’re something that we learn and agree to fear (Jaws, news articles, Shark week), and sometimes we avoid places and activities just to better our chances. Swim in the ocean? Walk down a dark alley? Are you mad? On the other hand, sharks can’t get to me if I’m in Albuquerque. If I stay in tonight with my Mastiff I’ll be safe from scary rapists. Well, safer. I hope.

Can you always maneuver around these things? No. Albuquerque has an aquarium, and when an evil psycho wants to hurt someone he usually finds someone, and sometimes there’s not a lot you can do can make sure it’s not you.

When you get attacked by a shark, there may be a few people who say that you weren’t observing proper shark safety, or that you must’ve been dressed to look like a seal or something, but most people are correctly going to blame the shark.

Date/acquaintance rape is like a dog attack. There’s an adorable puppy in the park who looks perfectly friendly, and his owner says it’s okay to pet him. Everything seems okay, so you approach him and give him a friendly pat. Then, he tears your face off.

People will have a lot more opinions about a situation like this. You might hear a well-meaning “Did you let him see your hand before you touched him?” or a rueful “You should’ve known better than to try to pet a dog you didn’t know!”, even “You must’ve scared him!” It suddenly gets so much more complicated. Most people will be sympathetic, but a part of their minds may just work overtime to figure out how you were responsible because it’s scary to think that it could happen to them. And hell, they can’t imagine their dogs doing such a thing! Must’ve been something you did wrong. That makes it easier. But they’ll usually agree that you no longer have a face, that things went awry.

To be clear, I’m not saying that stranger rape is worse than date rape, although shark bites might tend to be more damaging than dog bites. I’m also not saying that rapists are like sharks and dogs. They’re actually like people…horrible, horrible people, and they’re completely responsible for their actions in a way that animals aren’t. I’m talking about attitudes here: the similes are about peoples’ beliefs and reactions to these events. Got it? Cool. We’ve got one more…

To some people, partner rape is like a Bigfoot sighting. It’s a ridiculous myth, a concoction beloved of the media and hyped beyond all reason. No harm was done, nothing out of the ordinary actually happened, and only lunatics and members of weird fringe groups believe in it.

But in reality, partner rape is more like a bite from a disease-carrying mosquito, spreading something really nasty, like the ugliest kinds of malaria or West Nile Virus. It is very real, and it’s a global problem. It can be invisible to the casual observer. The victim may have reasons to minimize the event or even think it’s commonplace, but the fallout is devastating. It is also, like a mosquito bite, not the victim’s fault.

People often dismiss partner rape. They’ll call it a gray area, or say that it’s “crossing a line” or “not cool” rather than saying it’s “illegal and disgusting”. It’s hard for many to grasp that a person can be raped by someone they’ve already consented to sex with in the past. It’s hard for victims to grasp that (see: my reluctance to call this rape); it’s hard for many experts-of-everything on the internet to grasp it. It’s obviously especially hard for the rapists to grasp it.

But when consent is absent and sex is happening, that’s rape. Consent must be clear before sexual activity starts. Assume a lack of consent until you have a clear positive indication that something’s okay. That’s the way human beings are supposed to treat other human beings. If you have to wonder whether your partner consents to a sexual activity, you should ask rather than assume. Nonverbal agreement is very possible (e.g. enthusiastic involvement, affirming grins, decisive nods), but if it isn’t obvious, you ask. And for the non-initiator, if you’re the kind of person who thinks consent questions “ruin the mood” and you prefer aggression from a partner, please become an emphatic nonverbal consenter or confirm what you agree to before things start, because an occasional “is this okay?” is a good, sexy habit that I’d prefer you not go around squashing. Consent doesn’t kill the mood. I promise.

After you get to know someone, consent cues can and do get subtler. You can relax a little when you trust each other. But if there’s hint of a “no” signal– verbal or nonverbal– everything stops. It’s your responsibility as a sexually active adult to ensure that you have consent. Every time.

That’s why the old tropes of “wifely duty” and “frigidity” and “compromise” are red herrings in the partner rape debate. There are lots of reasons someone might consent to sex when he or she doesn’t necessarily feel like it. A relationship is sometimes about compromise, and part of that might be agreeing to fuck your husband when you’re exhausted or to bone your girlfriend when you feel too fat. Sometimes it means that the partner with the lower sex drive tries to meet the partner with the higher sex drive halfway. All these things are okay. When you’re part of a loving couple, you often want to take care of your partner’s sexual needs even when you’re not precisely in the mood for it. But consent still needs to happen to get to that point. Compromise never means that the person who wants to have sex gets to force or pressure the one who doesn’t. If the pro-sex person wants to enact a compromise, it’s called “masturbating in the bathroom”. Only the anti-sex person gets to decide that sex is on the compromise menu.

Another thing people tend to say is that false rape reports are common, especially when a woman wants to hurt or punish a lover or gain the upper hand in child custody battles. It never fails. If you talk about rape, someone will probably eventually bring this up. About 2-3% of all reports of sexual assault are false, which is similar to percentages of false reports of burglary and grand theft auto. Lying about being raped is never okay, but this is not exactly an epidemic.

Those who are anxious for the continued safety of partner rapists can rest assured that victims are still reluctant to bring justified charges against their rapists, especially in cases of partner rape. It’s obviously hard to tell how underreported partner rape really is, but very, very, very is a good estimate. Women who are raped by their boyfriends, husbands and exes have a lot of shit to wade through, and sometimes pressing charges is just one thing too many. In addition to all the physical, emotional, financial, and sexual legacies the rape can leave, the victim may be dissuaded from prosecuting even if the police believe her. And if she gets that far, what are the odds that she’ll get a conviction against a man with whom she’s had consensual sex countless times before? Unfortunately, while the myths of gray areas, compromise, and rampant false rape reports persist, the convicted partner rapist is sort of like, well, Bigfoot. Or at least the Barbary Lion.

  1. Mousie00
    February 26th, 2010 at 00:25 | #1

    I certainly believe that partner rape is far more common than stranger rape and grossly underreported. I don’t believe the 2-3% false sexual assault report number. The link doesn’t provide any information other than some undergrads said it in a college paper. Could be percentage of sexual assault cases where the victim of the false report successfully prosecutes the false accuser; I’d believe that.

    I believed my ex’s accounts of sexual abuse by her father and others, which specifically included coitus, despite the fact her hymen was intact on our wedding night, up until I found out she was telling people I beat her. (That was not a gray area or subject to interpretation; there was no BDSM or rough sex, and I withdraw when angry rather than shoving or even shouting; it was total fabrication.)

  2. quizzical pussy
    February 26th, 2010 at 00:51 | #2

    @Mousie00 I didn’t really pick to the best article possible for that statistic; I was purposely going for a current one. This great analysis that I originally found through Date Rape is Real Rape is a little more thorough and also contains a link to an article that argues your point.

    Many people say that the 2-3% statistic is too low. From my research I believe that it’s probably roughly accurate, although it’s hard to get a dead-on statistic about something like how many people lie in a given situation.

    There’s also a big difference between making a police report and a personal claim that a rape occurred. I know a couple people that have given false accounts of rape, for attention or because of mental illness, and the police were never involved. Someone lying about a rape has an incentive not to let her “rapist” face his accuser in court.

  3. Mousie00
    February 26th, 2010 at 08:18 | #3

    @quizzical pussy
    I’m afraid I really have to disagree on your evaluation of Marcella Chester’s analysis. It attempts to debunk a analysis by Edward Greer. The Greer analysis claims for one thing that the widely used 2% figure is based entirely on sources referring to sources who eventually refer to a speech to the bar association by judge Lawrence H. Cooke citing a New York police study that no one has produced. Chester does not attempt to address this claim. Chester does address other claims by Greer that the real rate is higher, but never addresses the point that the 2% is unfounded. Given that some of Greer’s numbers are based on unreliable polygraph interrogations, and Chester’s numbers are based on the Cooke speech, I’d have to go with Greer if forced to one or the other.

    But, I don’t think there are or can be any good numbers on sexual assault for the same reasons it is so hard to judge at trial; it’s all about consent, which is ephemeral, almost invariably privately expressed, and usually implicitly expressed. If there were a sure way of sorting false accusations from true ones, trials would be much easier. Compared to gathering data for statistics, the legal system devotes enormous resources to each case, and still can’t determine the truth or falsehood a lot of times. I don’t see any way a statistician could do better.

  4. February 26th, 2010 at 14:17 | #4

    This is an excellent post. I like your emphasis on consent, and what is and isn’t consent.

    I’ve don’t know anything about the numbers dealing with false accusations. And while I agree that rape is a far bigger problem afalse accusation is no cake walk for the accused, and those that have been the victim of it ar going to be more sympathetic to those that claim it is the case.

    That said I’ve never had someone tell me they were raped and had any reason to doubt them. I do think rape happens far more often than false accusations of rape, bt for the victims of either crime the numbers don’t really matter. What matters is that it happened to them and it was a horrible thing to have happen.

    I also think it is natural for men to be more worried about false accusations than rape. I think men, in general, see that false accusation as a more likely personal threat than rape. What happened at Duke University is something I remember, and I was one of the people who wanted those guys strung up. I don’t ever want to be on their position, and it’s something I worry about in reference to myself. It’s something I am conscious of my vulnerability to. It’s not likely to happen, but it could. So I can understand being concerned with it, but at the same time it doesn’t automatically make me doubt every accusation of rape.

  5. March 4th, 2010 at 17:21 | #5

    Excellent post. I just added you to my Reader.

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