Rape is a heinous crime against an individual. At least that’s the way we see it in this country. Rape is recognized by social scientists as an expression of power, of dominance, almost always perpetrated by men against women, or men against other men. As such it is considered a violent crime and is punishable. Yet even in our enlightened and relatively stable society where we recognize the value of equality between the sexes, there are de facto values that undermine a just application of the norms against the monsters who dare such violation.
The victimizer can still rely on archaic, medieval constructs of female sexuality and purity as a tool by which to avoid punishment. Rape victims internalize shame and self loathing as a response to being victimized. The rapist counts on such internalization, such destruction to the self, to ensure that the victim will not report the violence. Indeed, this is effective strategy even in today’s so called enlightened society. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey 2006 only 43% of rapes are reported.
In the event that rape is reported the same medieval constructs that define women as lesser beings, despite our postmodern certainty that they are not, results in relatively few convictions. The victim must still undergo the humiliating gaze of a system that isn’t quite immune to archaic forms of knowledge. We try to determine if it was the woman’s fault, if she was asking for it. What was she wearing? Why did she go to his apartment? Or we define the woman as being a femme fatal, that she’s spreading false accusations (and there are typifying examples to make our case compelling). We figure she’s just mad because, “he didn’t give her flowers after.”
These forms of knowledge are petty attempts to reclaim the archaic episteme that victimizing women is nothing more than a property crime against a man. Of course, we no longer know men to be the proprietors of women, so there must be a deferment of the archaic constructs that persist. Women are no longer the property of man, and man no longer keeps the sexuality of women as a privilege of possession. Women own their own sexualities. And yet, in a bizarre twist of applying archaic knowledge to the postmodern body, if women are in full possession of their sexuality, then they are responsible for what happens to it. In old times assault against the woman’s body was a violation of the patrons of that body, the girl’s father or husband, for which the woman is no longer of value. Today such a violation may be an assault against the woman, but still the woman must carry the shame of allowing or even tempting such a crime against her.
There is an obvious lag between the genesis of new forms of knowledge, such as female equality, individuality and self possession and the archaic knowledges, such as male proprietorship of women and their bodies. Wherever these lags intersect the practice of values and norms in society is distorted into profound perversions of reason. Hence the rapist of old was not guilty of a crime against a woman, but rather against her patriarch, so now the rapist remains not guilty of a crime against a woman, but there’s no patriarch unto which to place possession of the woman’s body. So fault of the crime must, by means of twisting the archaic with the modern, lie in the woman’s neglect, poor judgment or “hysteria.”
Perhaps one day archaic constructs of knowledge will be abandoned. There must be a process of this though surely it’s lengthy. We’ll evolve socially to truly recognize the autonomy of women as well as the interrelatedness of all people. We will recognize that rape, or any trespass for that matter, is not only an assault on an autonomous self, but an insult to humanity on the whole. And unfortunate victims (as surely our knowledge of the crime will evolve faster than universal aversion to it, so there will still be victims) will be able to deal with the real consequences of their victimization without being further burdened by medieval constructs that have no relevance to the postmodern lived experience.