Creating Anti-Rape-Culture In the Midst of Yet Another Montana Rape

[Editors note: I wrote this in February]

I’ve got some ideas for creating anti-rape-culture, which I will describe in a moment. But right now, my blood is boiling and my stomach is wrenching in knots. I’m sure you’ve now heard of Missoula, Montana, the town where the mishandling of rape cases which took place, and drew attention to the national epidemic of campus rape. Well, another rape has taken place, this time on the iconic M trail overlooking the town on Tuesday [Feb 16.]

As Judith, a Fulbright Scholar teaching at the University of Montana simply put it, with regards to the fact that rape is more about power than sexual desire, and the fact that this took place in broad day-light on a busy hiking trail, “It’s as though this rapist is shoving it in our faces.”

The Kaimin, the University of Montana’s newspaper in Missoula, reported, “Three witnesses found the victim stumbling and bleeding from her head on the trail… The victim was off the mountain and en route to the hospital in an ambulance by 5:30 p.m.”

I have not felt this way before, but lately, when I’m in Missoula, this case has made me live fearfully. You can see the M trail from nearly everywhere in town. And now… I look at it differently. Whenever I drive under the shadow of the mountain where the trail is clearly displayed, these days, my stomach churns thinking about the man who raped a woman up there, over the city, in broad day-light. (I can hear contrarians saying, “but you weren’t there so you don’t know if it really happened.” To that I say, look at the research: 90-98% of rape allegations are found to be real,  meaning false allegations are, in fact, extremely rare.)

This is the very same town that John Kraukauer, author of Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven, wrote a book titled Missoula, about the rapes  that created a national outcry. And now our town is again in turmoil over another devastating case of a man raping someone. But remember, what’s worse, is that this isn’t a problem unique to Missoula: Horrifically, it is the norm. But now,  our town needs to become the model for how to make positive change. Already, Missoula has improved how it handles rape cases: Both qualitative and quantitative reports show major progress and the police department has vowed to not backslide. Our town has potential to be a role model for how to turn things around for the better. But here we are again.

The Missoulian, the city’s newspaper, stated the woman reported she was raped on the M trail by a male-acquaintance. A male-acquaintance. Time and time again we see this. The rapist is someone they know. Why? Well, because it is rooted in our grander society’s culture.

Rape culture can be seen in the fact that violence against women in porn has gone way up, and so has viewership, meaning more and more people are getting-off to watching women get beaten and forced to vomit. That is rape culture. We see rape culture in questions like “what was she wearing” and in the “pick-up artist” Daryush Valizadeh, who said, “Let’s make rape legal.”  We see rape culture in the fact that the phrase “non-consensual sex” exists. There is no such thing. She or he did not consent? That’s rape.

But another crucial, often overlooked, piece of ingrained rape-culture is the absence of the perpetrator in speech and text. We say things like, “a woman was raped,” instead of “a man raped a woman.” Did you notice a shift in conscious thought in that second phrase? It’s a seemingly subtle difference, but it gets into your mental process, which affects how you think, talk, and act on issues. In English and Spanish grammar, constructing a sentence by saying something WAS done to someone is called a no-fault construction. Think about that: Grammatically, no one was at fault. This is an act of making the victim very visible, while making the perpetrator invisible. I see it as part of the reason so many of the considered causes of rape aren’t directed at the rapist. Because the rhetorical power and blame cannot rest on the rapist, if they are rhetorically absent from the conversation.

To shift blame off of the victim, I think we need to use “perpetrator-first language” when discussing rape: So that perpetrators are blamed first instead of victims. As Camille Perry, Portland activist and musician said, when we were discussing the term, “This is not to say that our focus should drift from supporting the victim. On the contrary, this lingual shift helps spotlight the horrific person to person nature of these instances.”

News of the man raping a woman on the M trail came a day after other devastating news: Jordan Johnson, the rapist in one of the Missoula rape cases that garnered national attention, (and the rapist discussed in Krakaur’s book) has been awarded 245,000 dollars based on supposed “predetermined guilt.”  He’s been awarded money. Are you kidding me…

I would be speechless if I weren’t so incensed, angry, frustrated, and fed up with this rape-culture we are all surrounded by. When will it stop? How will it stop?

We need to construct anti-rape culture. Here are some ideas about how to accomplish this:

We all need:

  • To continue speaking up, rallying, blogging, fighting and having difficult conversations with people who don’t get it.
  • To use perpetrator-first language to further prevent victim-blaming from ensuing: So perpetrators are blamed first, not survivors.
  • To have laws prohibiting violence against women in porn and/or, at the very least, accessible porn sites that are not-violent-against-women. Is that too much to ask? (Because as it is now, it appears most accessible porn sites have violent, degrading porn interspersed with other porn.)
  • To demand judicial systems that adequately penalize the perpetrators of violence against women and a system that does not cause further harm to survivors.
  • To construct an educational system for current and future generations that teaches consent-culture and exemplifies a critical eye on media.
  • To require comprehensive sex education including the obligation of teaching consent.
  • To ensure boys are taught to internalize the fact that masculinity is not rooted in taking power.
  • To enable men to teach each other that nurturing isn’t a stigmatized, “female” trait, but an important, human quality.
  • To develop an educational system that teaches emotional literacy, media literacy, and empathy.
  • To ensure the media does not promote power-taking as the only acceptable masculine trait, and instead, ensure the media values the whole-man and exemplifies what it means to fully respect women as people.

What are other ways we can construct anti-rape culture? A thought provoking blog posted on Dating Tips for the Feminist Man says the opposite of rape-culture is “nurturance culture:”

“To heal rape culture, then, men [must] build masculine nurturance skills: nurturance and recuperation of their true selves, and nurturance of the people of all genders around them…To completely transform this culture of misogyny, then, men must do more than ‘not assault.’ We must call on masculinity to become whole and nurturing of self and others, to recognize that attachment needs are healthy and normal and not ‘female,’ and thus to expect of men to heal themselves and others the same way we expect women to ‘be nurturers.’”

Rape is not an intrinsic human, or male, characteristic. It is (and was) not as common in all cultures. Education and media are essentially assimilation systems. They can either continue rape-culture and assimilate people into it blindly, or, rape-culture can be eliminated and a new, better path can be created for everyone. Education and media can and should be used to promote consent-culture.

Rape-culture is a multi-faceted and complex, ingrained problem, and therefore requires equally complex solutions. We can, and will create anti-rape culture. But it takes time.

What if Missoula changed from rape-culture to consent-culture? Could we show the world how to change things for the better? Missoula has improved it’s process for for victims after rape crisis and is turning the corner for improvement. Maybe this is the storm before the calm…. I just don’t know.

But I do know humankind is better than this. Just as other seemingly unstoppable horrors have been abolished in history, I believe we can also eradicate rape. I have to believe in a world without rape. We need a paradigm shift.

Behavior is learned and it can be unlearned too.