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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Kobe Bryant case affects rape survivors

The New York Times has a good article today about how the never-ending press coverage in Colorado around the Bryant case is affecting the people of Colorado, specifically the rape survivors who are getting the message loud and clear about how victims of acquaintance rape can expect to be treated.

I'm not saying that he's guilty or not. But I am troubled by the whole situation. The defense's strategy of ruining this girl's reputation in the press by releasing every salacious detail of her sex life has worked like a charm. A good number of people I talk to now believe that there's no possibility whatsoever that he's guilty, because they have fallen for the myth that sluts can't be raped. (The odious word "slut" must be used, because that is exactly what people are calling the alleged victim.)

The myth comes out in two variations. The more common one is the sluts can't be raped because sluts automatically consent to all sex acts. Of course, you won't hear it stated that way, but something more like, "She had sex with __ (everyone seems to have a different number) guys in __ days. Why would she suddenly say no?" This belief hinges on a larger belief that women are passive sexual objects with no sexual agency or desires of their own. When I point out that it's possible, for example, that she intended to have sex with him but then he did something that made her change her mind and that caused him to lose his temper, it's like watching a light bulb go on. Most people haven't even thought of that possibility. Of course, I haven't yet convinced anyone that it's possible that he's guilty. After that, they usually say that they don't believe that she would turn down a basketball player after having sex with a bunch of nobodies.

The other version of the sluts can't be raped myth is the point-of-no-return variation. The reason that it's more rare is that I've never heard a single woman say this and very few men do. But the ones who do scare me way more than those who believe the first variation. The point-of-no-return argument is that once a woman does __ with a man, she forsakes her right not to consent. What it is that takes that right away varies with the teller, but the most common action is going into a private room with a man. The act of shutting the door restores the traditional balance of power between men and women, which is to say that he has it all and she has none. The men I've heard say this will actually admit that it's possible that she refused to have sex with him, but they say it's too bad since she was stupid enough to get alone with him. How many men she's had sex with is only supporting evidence that she's a slut; in this case, any woman who doesn't scrupously avoid being alone with a man is automatically a slut, even if she does it only once. It reminds me of reading Victorian novels where couples are forced to marry just because they were out of sight of chaperones for a short period of time.

This one alarms me even more than the first variation because it's a thinly veiled argument for restricting women's freedom of movement and association. It's also supposes that men cannot be held accountable for their sexual behavior, so it's up to women to make sure that men never have an opportunity to rape. If a rape does occur, then it is always a woman's fault because she fell down on the job of protecting herself. If that sounds extreme, consider what those making this argument are saying about the Bryant case--that it should be thrown out altogether, that arguing over what happened behind closed doors is a pointless exercise.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This whole case has been bothering me a lot. Some guys I work with--perfectly nice people who wouldn't hurt a fly, let alone a woman--were talking about this and one of them said something to the effect of "He's so hot he wouldn't need to rape her, and she's not all that attractive anyway." I responded by saying that *I* sure as hell wouldn't consent to sex with Bryant, so what made them so sure this girl would? Somehow all these myths about rape are still prevalent. This kind of thing makes me want to support mandatory rape education classes from the age of three onwards.



Blogger sofie said...

The case isn't something we hear a lot about in the UK, but I've tried to keep up with it in the blogosphere as best I can. We had some controversy at college with some male sports students wearing "Free Kobe" t-shirts; at the time I found it hard to explain why I objected to them so much. To be deemed innocent until proven guilty is, of course, very important to the justice system, but it casts such a shadow over the alleged victim that it seems unfair; for him to be innocent she must be lying. At the very least such shirts seem insensitive; at the most they seem to be saying "she's lying". Any thoughts on this?


Blogger Amanda said...

The irony of that is that unless he is convicted, he's pretty much has freedom of movement. The alleged victim however is supposedly a prisoner in her own home and has to move a number of times because angry fans keep finding her and threatening her.


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