Rape is a Violent Crime

The standard conservative view of rape, which has seeped into large swaths of the American punditry as well as most men’s rights activists, is that it’s a sexual crime. As such, it’s a lot like consensual sex: the victim can enjoy it, the perpetrator can be easily influenced by what the victim is wearing, and overall the best way to make people rape less is to make them have less sex. Ironically, in a certain way it’s also present in a segment of radical feminism, except that the generic category “sex” is specialized to kinky sex, rape fantasies, and pornography.

That view has very little evidence accompanying it. Increased sexual liberalism generally has no effect on rape. Actually asking victims, as opposed to conjecturing, reveals that they never enjoy it. If the accounts of rape victims I’ve read are any indication of the general trend, the act itself is anything but erotic. Profiles of rapists reveal that their issues are mostly about power and domination rather than about sexual fantasies.

Another view is that rape is a violent crime – in particular, the second worst, so that it shares some characteristics with murder and some with assault and robbery. In this view, it’s as enjoyable as being beaten up; it’s certainly more traumatic, in accordance with its being a more serious crime than simple assault, but once you aggravate a non-sexual assault enough, for example by making it a near-murder, you more or less get equivalence. More importantly, the best way to reduce the rape rate is to reduce the overall rate of violent crime.

Unlike the conservative view, the law-and-order view has a strong empirical basis. Rape rates generally go up and down with general violent crime rates; this does not hold for the violent crime rape is most often compared to, battery. In the US, intimiate murder has been going down for 30 years, even through periods of increases in general homicide rates. In contrast, rape has only diverged significantly from the general violent crime rate in the early 1980s and early 2000s.

But there’s another view, one that’s noisily expressing itself on Feministing right now: the idea that rape is a hate crime, like lynching. That rape is a violent crime is almost incidental in this view; the main charge is that it’s an act of oppression, that it’s about male domination of women. As such, the best way to counter it would be to reduce the level of gender inequality, and to make it clear to men that rape is unacceptable.

And, as it turns out, this view doesn’t have much more empirical backing than the conservative view. Some victims feel oppressed; others just feel victimized. The key book behind this theory, Against Our Will, also provides the most compelling reasons why it’s wrong: rapist profiles are too similar to robber and assaulter profiles, the use of rape as a psychological weapon is similar to this of looting and murder, and the only times the patriarchy ever enters the equation are when people use “They’re raping our women” as a propaganda item and when people who hold the conservative view of rape don’t believe victims.

One of the rallying cries of people who adhere to that theory is that women are always at risk of rape. Several commenters on the Feministing thread have complained that they’re consistently afraid of rape, and one went as far as saying that the perception that it is oppressive is all that matters.

However, perception isn’t reality, and Americans’ perceptions of crime have never been rational. The seminal book about that is The Culture of Fear, which documents how media hypes of crime have gotten Americans afraid of a mythical crime wave and several mythical problems, like road rage.

Rape is no different; an American woman’s lifetime chance of being raped, if current rates hold steady, is about 5%, and can be much lower or higher depending on her specific profile. Against Our Will‘s introduction says that rape is a weapon used by all men to subjugate all women, but then when it comes to presenting evidence, it only says that not all women are at a high risk of rape, and those who are have the same profile as men who have a high risk of assault, robbery, or murder.

Besides, if feminism reduces the risk of rape, the countries with the lowest rape rates would be the most feminist ones. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, judging by the fact that while the US has a sexual assault rate of 67/100,000, Sweden’s reported rate, which is probably an underestimate, is 11,700, i.e. 130/100,000. Considering only rapes reduces the rates to 35 and 42 respectively.

For what it’s worth, the international crime victimization survey (which, mind you, has a pretty bad methodology) shows no obvious correlation between a country’s sexual assault rate and its level of gender equality. The developed country with the lowest rate, Japan, is also the most patriarchal; in the West, the sexual assault rate seems to correlate with other violent crimes’ rates a lot better than with gender equality.

21 Responses to Rape is a Violent Crime

  1. Roy says:

    I’ll have to give this more thought, but I feel that I should clarify my own stance- When I made my original comment, my feeling was that many/most rapes could be considered hate crimes, not that all rape is a hate crime. I don’t, however, think that the best way to combat rape is to reduce inequality or make it clear that it’s unacceptable. I’m wondering now, about the motivations.

    Robbery is usually about money.
    Murder has a lot of different causes- it can happen over money, but it can also be about power/control, or it can be a crime of passion.

    Most of what I’ve read about rape has suggested to me that it’s about power and control, but I freely admit to not having done extensive research on the subject. If women are targetted for rape out of a desire to inflict harm upon a woman- regardless of who she is- that still sounds like a hate crime. She’s being targetted for belonging to a certain group.

    It’s not something I’d really thought about at length, though, and you’ve raised some interesting points. I’ll have to consider this at more length, I think.

  2. Axel says:

    I’m perplexed by the enormous high Swedish crime rates. Are you really sure that the numbers for the US are comparable? I’m not thinking of the dark figure of crime but of same categories and legal definitions. As an example, in some countries it’s not “possible” to rape your own wife – from a purely juristic point of view. The Swedish report says: “The greatest increase is found in relation to reported rape offences, which increased by 44 percent [...] A legislative change introduced on 1 April 2005 has meant that some acts previously classified as sexual coercion are now regarded as rape, suggesting that much of the increase in the number of reported rapes is due to this change in the legislation.”

    According to the German Kriminalstatistik, there were 55, 203 cases of reported “offenses against sexual selfdetermination” in 2005, including for instance 8,133 cases of “rape and sexual coercion” [9.9/100,000], 13,962 cases of “sexual abuse of children” and 8,834 cases of “indecent exposure and indecent acts in public”. 4.3 percent of the rape victims were men.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    I’m reasonably certain the numbers are comparable. The “reasonably” part comes from the Swedish murder rate; Swedes tend to overreport murder, for example by reporting murders of Swedes that took place outside Sweden.

    For a while, I actually conjectured that the reason American rape rates dropped in the early 1980s was the criminalization of spousal rape, which then deterred husbands from raping their wives (who would’ve answered “yes” to a survey question about rape regardless of legality). But when I asked Zuzu about it, she said the relevant case is from the 70s.

    Rape victims are usually not targeted for belonging to a specific group. Wikipedia’s rapist profiles suggest that the motivations of most rapists lie not in oppressing women as a class, but in gratifying themselves with power and control. Only one profile out of four, accounting for 28% of rapists, even includes the characterization, “often feels a general animosity toward the gender of his target.” “Often” is a major weasel word, so really the number of rapists who are motivated by misogyny can be almost any number in the 0-28% range. But even toward the upper end, three quarters of all rapes have nothing to do with misogyny.

  4. Justin says:

    There is a solid consensus within the sociological realm that rape is a mechanism of control. From there, I do think that rape is a violent crime as it advocates the non-consensual overpowering of another. That’s a violent transaction if you ask me.

    J

  5. [...] 7. There’s a good sociological explanation of rape, but it’s not what most feminists think it is. [...]

  6. Men's Rights Advocate says:

    Your summary is good, but I dispute your attribution of the conservative view to men’s rights advocates generally.

    We hold little consensus about the roots of rape and are instead mostly concerned with certain ancillary symptoms, such as false rape accusations.

    No, one needn’t determine fully the cause of a problem in order to treat symptoms.

  7. HearTheFire says:

    Hate crimes are, by definition, violent crimes. Right? This may be a little “too behaviorist” of me, but I don’t think it matters (ultimately) whether the person assaulted (or murdered, or destroyed property) because they hate the world, because they hate themselves, or because they hate entire classes of people. It’s that behavior that’s a problem. We’re terribly interested in using “motivation” to classify the seriousness of the crime, when the problem really comes out in the result.

    Rape = assault; lynching = homicide. Hate crime classifications become necessary when people don’t agree with those basic definitions, and discount the seriousness of the crimes. In other words, the “hate crime” classification becomes necessary when society is ignorant and/or complicit–but it doesn’t affect the essential problem of the crime. The exceptions, I think, are symbolic actions that are meant to intimidate–those actions that are problematic because of their social context (i.e., painting “die fag” on someone’s garage is menacing, and not simple vandalism).

  8. Alon Levy says:

    I mostly agree, although motivation is important in distinguishing manslaughter from murder.

    The main reason it matters how to view rape is because the strategy to combat it depends on it. Domestic violence is a violent crime, but it’s also very gender based; and indeed, American anti-DV groups have reduced its rates by educating people about abuse and creating a network of shelters. However, similar activities on the part of anti-sexual assault groups haven’t done much to reduce rape rates. That and the less gender-based nature of rape suggest rape should be dealt with as a law enforcement problem, just like murder and assault, rather than a social problem, like abuse and battery.

  9. HearTheFire says:

    Good answer. Regarding manslaughter vs. murder, I’d say that the specific behaviors that result in someone’s death are far more significant than motivation (did they shoot someone between the eyes at point-blank range, or did the gun fire and send a bullet into someone’s stomach when the gun slipped from their hands?). If you’d said “intent,” I’d agree entirely.

    The network of domestic violence shelters (and, actually, most of the education efforts) focus on support for victims–to encourage them to come forward and to give them safe, supportive places to go. It could be that domestic violence rates have gone down, in part, because of the victims’ reactions. If they’re not in the abusive environment, then they won’t be abused anymore. The anti-DV groups also have helped change society’s view of domestic violence, and they’ve helped cultivate a broader understanding that domestic violence = assault. Family, friends, and neighbors are much more likely to encourage women to get out of abusive relationships now, where once they would have been more likely to give a smile and a pat on the hand.

    The danger of deciding to deal with rape, murder, and assault only as “law enforcement problems” is that it’s a reactive tactic. Anything that’s a law enforcement problem is also a social problem, or at least tied to other social problems. Pardon a little more behaviorism, but we need to find ways to decrease the future likelihood of all those behaviors. We know that murders, assaults, etc., are more likely to occur in some settings than in others, but I’m afraid we’re a society more interested in avenging violent crime than in preventing it.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    When I say “law enforcement problem,” I include the auxiliary social solutions that work for other violent crimes, like reducing socioeconomic inequality. My own proposal has elements from both pure law enforcement and social welfare, as well as some rape-specific strategies that haven’t been tried as specific methods but seem to be correlated to rape.

  11. sean tyson says:

    i just wanted to say that rape is a violent crime nomatter how you look at it.If women are being target by men that is a hate crime

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  13. [...] searching for other people who have written about this online, I came across and old blog post from Abstract Nonsense who shares my view that rape is a violent crime that is as enjoyable as being beaten up. Quite [...]

  14. nkanu john says:

    most female are the cost of rape.the present mode of dressing by our female is captivating and there is always that urge, that libido in us, the male. So when u approach any of them and there refused,then u have no other option than to rape if possible.

  15. Cindi says:

    If rape is about stupid men and their need for violence…. then why don’t they rape each other, and enjoy the violent fight that would ensue? Why do they rape the non-violent? Um…wow…because they are cowards?

  16. Cindi says:

    If it’s all about power for men, then why not rape each other, and see who is most powerful? If it’s all about violence, why not rape another man who is violent? If this is all it is about, then the rapists should rape each other for the ultimate power. Why not?

  17. Cindi says:

    Nkanu…lol..really? well let’s see most men are captivating if they drive a fancy car or make good money….should we just rape them? How about learning dicipline. If capitavating dress makes you want to rape, then it’s not about power or violence, is it?

  18. Cindi says:

    Rape is not about power, or violence. It’s about stupid men that want to get their ‘rocks off’ in a heightened situation” that they know they will control. Otherwise, while at war, they would screw each other. They need to learn dicipline, just like women have.

  19. Cindi says:

    and tell me why they have to rape and kill little children? Violence? Power? Really? You need power over little children? This is BS..you want the hightened sex….you have no control, and need to grow up… Oh what’s the matter hit a nerve? wait..hit THE nerve? Get over yourselves and be a productive member of society. Otherwise, go live with the cockroaches

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