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Joanna Williams: The rape culture narrative does no one any favours

‘You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.’

This is not the start of a novel but the beginning of a statement read out in court last week by a young woman sexually assaulted while unconscious.

Former Stanford University student Brock Turner was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault and will spend the next six months in jail. The judge argued that a longer sentence would ‘have a severe impact on him’. In response, the young woman Turner assaulted provided a powerful account of how the attack had affected her.

The statement provided a nameless victim with an opportunity to address her attacker directly.  To her, this was not ‘20 minutes of action’, as Turner’s father so inappropriately described the assault. She was able to tell him, and all those present during the legal proceedings, of the devastating impact on her of the attack, the subsequent trial, and Turner’s continued refusal to accept responsibility for the crime he had committed.

In making her statement, Tuner’s victim also had in mind an audience beyond the courtroom; she moves from a powerful account of what she has endured to end with a message ‘to girls everywhere’. Her 7,000 words, first given to and published on BuzzFeed, have since been reproduced on websites around the world and viewed over 15 million times.

Her statement concludes: ‘When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you.’ In drawing a parallel between the attack she suffered and the experiences of ‘girls everywhere’, Turner’s victim taps into a broader narrative of rape culture. Others have been more explicit. The leniency of the sentence, Turner’s refusal to admit his crime and the idiotic, insensitive remarks made by his father are all, we are told, symptomatic of a ‘rape culture’. Other details locate the attack more specifically within campus rape culture: Turner was an athlete, a swimmer with Olympic aspirations, the assault took place at a frat party, alcohol had been consumed.

Placing this terrible attack so firmly within a rape culture narrative does no one any favours. It lets Turner off the hook. He is not personally responsible; a culture of misogynistic song lyrics, pornographic images, sexist banter and alcohol-fuelled laddishness made him do it. Worse, it tells girls everywhere: this could happen to you. Rape culture assumes all men are potential rapists and all women victims-in-waiting.

But the rape culture narrative is premised on a lie. Thankfully, ‘girls everywhere’ are not likely to be raped. The facts in Turner’s case are newsworthy precisely because they are not an everyday occurrence.

Talk of a broader rape ‘culture’ bypasses the need for statistics. Where figures are used, the claim that ‘one woman in five’ will be sexually assaulted is most often cited. However, even the researchers that arrived at this statistic have cast doubt on its validity. They argue: ‘There are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the number as a baseline when discussing rape and sexual assault on campus.’ American statistics suggest the rate of rape and sexual assault among women aged 18 - 24 is slightly higher among non-students (7.6 per 1000) than students (6.1 per 1000). This is under one per cent.

Of course, as Turner’s victim articulately portrays, sexual assault can be devastating for the individuals concerned. But unnecessarily scaring girls everywhere can also be devastating. On campus, some young women are being prevented from enjoying their independence and the freedom to forge relationships, experiment and take risks - not by overbearing Victorian fathers but by campaigners against rape culture.

Such is the grip of the rape culture narrative that it is difficult to challenge. Those who defended Turner during his trial have been vilified; members of a band that spoke out have had gigs cancelled. Closing down discussion means that important questions such as the difference between regretted sex and rape, or sex that was not formally consented to and rape, or the role of individual responsibility are not raised. All is shrouded behind a veil of ‘I believe’. For the sake of girls and boys everywhere we need to replace believing with questioning and explode the myth of rape culture.

Dr Joanna Williams

  • Craig Martin

    What is very interesting in this case are the (rather significant) contradictions in her statement.
    For someone who claimed to have passed out, left completely vulnerable and unaware of the assault, she seemed to remember quite a few details.
    I’d advise people to read through it, you will understand why the judge was reluctant to send him down for any longer.

    Was it assault?
    I think yes, and his sentence is just. He knew better, but acted selfishly.

    • porcelaincheekbones

      The key question is: does alcohol become an excuse to break the law?
      Put this bluntly, the question is ridiculous.

      • Craig Martin

        No it isn’t.
        There was no excuse and he has been fairly sentenced.
        However using alcohol as no excuse to break the law: this woman has no excuse to provide contradictory statements – alcohol is no excuse – essentially lying under oath to strengthen her case against him.
        What is her sentence for perjury?
        Oh that’s right. It wasn’t even brought up.

        Thankfully the judge saw through it and gave him a minimum sentence – which was the right call.

        • porcelaincheekbones

          Perjury can be proven. If prosecution cannot prove it…
          Flashbulb memories do exist during trauma.

          • Craig Martin

            Trauma?

            She stated that she didn’t know it had happened until she read a story on the internet and realised it was about her.
            She also says that she was out unconscious due to a large amount of alcohol being consumed and can’t remember anything.

            Defending this case with ‘flashbulb memories’ is quite dishonest.

            He saw her flaked out and took advantage – jailed, fair result.

            Making contradictory statements about the events which exposes the whole story as ‘iffy’ at best is the very reason as to why the judge gave him a minimum term.

          • porcelaincheekbones

            In general, rape victims have flashbulb-style memories. It relates to PTSD flashbacks like those in veterans.
            She was so out of it, but she had witnesses, so what does her statement really matter? Does it change the material fact she was raped? Even by Sharia standards he was guilty AF.

      • DollarPound

        Alcohol means you are not capable of understanding the consequences of your actions, and therefore not capable of giving consent, so the state must protect you.
        Unless of course you are a man, in which case – however much alcohol you have drunk – you are still responsible for your actions.

        • porcelaincheekbones

          Technically, the choice to imbibe any substance that causes an alternative state is suspect. You’re right that men are unfairly charged when drunk and many male rape victims were drunk, but the law also says people can’t consent to engage in other risky behaviours like driving.

  • UKCitizen

    Not condoning any of this but women’s sexual appetites at uni are similar to men’s. Had he professed his love for her the next day would we have had the same outcome?

    • porcelaincheekbones

      No, they don’t. A minority of students partake in hook-up culture (I read on HUS about 30% tops?) and most of the women dislike it (as do some, fewer men). Women have less testosterone and lesbian bed death is a thing. Their behaviours may appear similar at a distance due to feminist peer pressure and the social expectation of androgyny. They have it wrong. Acting like a man is not a yardstick for a good woman.

  • Colkitto03

    I’m not commenting on the case above but I did want to make the point that the law and rape culture in the USA are inherintley sexist towards women.
    When alcohol is involved the man remains totally responsible for his actions wheras a woman does not. Its enshrined in Law.
    This clearly implies that women are inferior mentally in regards to their cognitive capability. How esle can it be explained?
    Of course its nonsense. But this shows how feminist thinking and the law must be twisted to enable rape culture to exist.
    Men hold women in much higher regard than feminists.

    • Craig Martin

      But Feminists don’t want women to be held in high regard- Feminists need women to believe that they are helpless infants and need Feminism to survive in this world.

      • Colkitto03

        Quite agree, 5% of both men and women in the population are either, sociopathic, psychopaths or narcissists. Seven percent of women proclaim themselves feminists. I believe these figures are linked.

    • NeoCon without the Con

      “How esle [sic] can it be explained?”

      easy, I think……
      When a woman is unconscious or near unconscious through intoxication she can still be penetrated.
      When a man is unconscious or near unconscious through intoxication it is unlikely that he will penetrate anything or anyone!

      …and you suggest that women are inferior mentally in regards to their cognitive capability

      Are you thinking with the ‘little head’ perchance?

      • Colkitto03

        To make you point you are replacing an argument about cognitive responsibility with an argument about pyhisical capability. This is a straw man.
        To make another point you try to make out that I suggest women are inferior? Actually my point is that it is what the Law implies.
        Both are fantastic attempts at misreprentation! Good try! An absence of any true rebuttal of my point requires these tactics.
        The legislation in the USA makes it clear that after two alcoholic drinks a woman’s ability to think clearly is inhibited and so his her ability to take responsibility for choices. Whereas a mans capability is not.
        This is nonsense. But diminishing women in this way is the only way to see the required number of ‘regretted’ liasons increase.
        Rape culture cannot survive without this manipulation. If it means feminists being sexist to sisters, then they see that as a price worth paying.

        • NeoCon without the Con

          You said: “This clearly implies that women are inferior mentally in regards to their cognitive capability. How esle can it be explained?”

          I provided an explanation (not the only one). An answer to your question. Aren’t you even a little bit grateful. No?

          This is a UK site and I regret that I am not familiar with USA legislation -but I hope it gives you similar protection from being penetrated if you are inebriated. It is not just females who can be easily ‘raped’ when incapacitated.

          The “two drinks” rule you quote seems bizarre if correct. It is however obvious that it is likely to take more alcohol to intoxicate a man due to body bulk and liver size.

          • Colkitto03

            Thankyou for both your contributions and your suggested explanation.

  • Mazrick

    I think conservatives are completely missing the boat on this. We need more rape culture not less. Allow me to explain. Feminists really haven’t thought this one through at all. When they jettisoned the female lifeboat of marriage in the seventies, they drove the price and value of sex to the level of junk bonds and penny stocks. Today only a fool would put a ring on a western woman’s finger. The overwhelming majority of them are simply not wife material in any sense of the phrase. With the advent of rape culture, this is poised to change. Why? Men are very risk and reward oriented. If casual sex becomes too risky for men they will stop picking up women. When it hits critical mass, the only way a western woman will be able have sex without batteries will be if she’s wife material. Furthermore, since she had such an unbelievably hard time finding that guy willing to risk all for her, she’ll think twice and possibly three times before she pulls the divorce trigger. A woman with a ‘d’ for divorce after her name wouldn’t be able to find a man with a possee. Where does that put us? Right back to the nuclear family model of the 1930’s complete with societally enforced monogamy. All courtesy of third wave feminism. Of course there will be growing pains and women will be the ones qualifying themselves to prospective mates in this brave new world but, turnabout is fair play. So I say bring it on gin up the hysteria. There’s a rapist behind every tree!

  • Bonce

    Some facts the third wave feminists do not want you to know.
    Women are less likely to raped on college campus than they are in society at large.
    The real issue here is the following:-
    Scenario 1- Women gets blind drunk, has casual relations with man she barely knows, fees like a sl ut the next day, calls it rape, man’s life is ruined.
    Scenario 2- Women likes man, has relations with him, he never calls back or does not want a serious relationship, she gets angry and wants him to feel her pain, calls it rape, man’s life is ruined.
    These two scenarios are happening all the time…
    This at the same time as the UK has imported a real rape culture from Muslim countries, that the media and police are doing their absolute best to ignore.
    This is not about rape, this about the war on the white male.