I was a part of a conversation recently about rape in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). The BWCA is in northern Minnesota. Trips through the BWCA are very remote, and people usually travel in groups for safety reasons. I don’t think anyone ever expects to be sexually assaulted in the BWCA, though, and “safety reasons” cover things like animal attacks, near-drowning or injuries instead of “fear of crimes against you.”
Anyway, what struck me about our conversation was the victim-blaming. I don’t mean the type of victim blaming where people say the victim could have prevented the rape by doing x, y or z differently. I mean the type of victim blaming that consists of people saying they feel bad that the victim feels traumatized, but maybe the rapists didn’t know they were raping the victim. The type of victim blaming where people are hyper-skeptical of the victim’s story, but don’t question what the alleged perpetrators say.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know what happened last June in the BWCA. I realize that Julia’s story isn’t a particularly convincing one for a variety of reasons which I won’t go into here because they don’t really matter. Whatever happened, whether she was drugged and raped or just didn’t give enthusiastic consent or was a consensual partner (I doubt that one), I know two things.
First, rape victims are traumatized. Do you really expect every rape victim to have a rehearsed and perfect story? Have you ever been through a traumatic experience? Certainly some people have brains that seem to hit “record” as soon as something bad starts happening, but a lot of people don’t. It seems pretty inevitable to me that your traumatized brain may have a difficult time sorting out what the hell just happened to you. I don’t think we should be holding that against victims of any crime.
Second, saying that a rapist didn’t know he (or she) was raping someone is ridiculous. If you do not have enthusiastic, voluntary consent, don’t have sex. It’s pretty simple. I don’t care how horny you are, or how hard your dick is, or how much you’re craving whatever gets you off, if the other individual(s) does not give voluntary and enthusiastic consent*, don’t touch them. (Feel free to go off alone and touch yourself.)
I am tired of hearing people say things like that. I am tired of hearing rape victims blamed. Rapists may not explicitly know they’re raping a victim, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s not so hard to figure out if the sexual acts you are about to enter into are consensual or not.
If you didn’t scream out, “NO! Don’t take my wallet and purse!” at a burglar, would that mean the burglar didn’t know he was stealing from you? Would it mean he/she is somehow less guilty?
*[UPDATE] I just wanted to add something about enthusiastic consent. There are problems with the term “enthusiastic consent” that Cliff Pervocracy wrote a fantastic post about. This particular situation (stranger in the middle of nowhere), though, is a rather appropriate place to require enthusiastic consent. I just wanted to add that I’m aware of possible issues surrounding that phrase.