Tactical Sexual Assault Prevention (part three)

Women (and men) can dramatically improve their odds of avoiding sexual assault if they are armed with accurate information. Specifically, information about what typically happens in the mind of the perpetrator prior to a sexual assault. Part One and Part Two give the background for this post.

Awareness gives women the capacity to apply their knowledge for the thousands of potential scenarios she may find herself in. Tactical Sexual Assault Prevention is meant to be a dynamic approach; allowing women to apply knowledge gained in a variety of situations. This shouldn’t be seen as a cook book approach, or a step-wise process. This rigid approach is doomed to fail, as there is no “one size fits all” sexual assault. A woman must be armed with knowledge she can wield in a manner she sees fit as a dangerous situation unfolds before her.

The sex-as-a-tool-for-power, duct tape wielding, bush hiding rapist is very real, but definitely in the minority of sexual perpetrators. Training women to deal with this type of person is very limited in scope, thereby reducing effectiveness. The model below was developed by a guy named David Finkelhor, and it describes the four barriers a perpetrator must overcome in order to sexually assault somebody.

Barrier 1: Motivation

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not my image

Motivation refers to the desire somebody must possess to sexually assault another person. Possible motivators could be:
-Seeing a woman as a sexual object
-Acting out sexual thoughts and fantasies
-Recreating excitement they may have felt from sexual abuse they endured when they were young
-Reenacting sexual abuse they experienced as a “get back” or a power grab
-Sexual release acts as an effective, temporary “pick me up” for emotional problems
-Lack of confidence around people their own age, level of inebriation, or mental capacity.

Barrier 2: Internal

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not my image

The internal barrier is basically your conscience, i.e., Jiminy Cricket, or the “still, small, voice.” Basically, a perpetrator has to delude themselves in to thinking what they are doing is okay. Believe it or not, most sexual perpetrators are not sociopaths. They do have a conscience, but they’ve managed to squash it down or ignore it. They may tell themselves:

-“She wants it.”
-“It won’t hurt.”
-“She won’t remember.”
-“She seems okay with it.”
-“I won’t get caught.”
-“She won’t tell.”
-“I’m ONLY doing (seemingly less damaging behavior), it’s not like I’m doing… (seemingly more damaging behavior)”
-“Just this once.”
-“She’ll be in to it once I start.”

Barrier 3: External

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not my image

The external barrier refers to any environmental limitations that prevents a sexual assault from happening. Overcoming external barriers may be seen as:
-Getting potential victim away from the presence of other people
-Regular access to the potential victim (social media, texting, sexting)
-Being alone, out of the line of sight of others
-Ensuring the victim is out of earshot
-Luring victims in to risky environments, i.e. bars, clubs, parties and/or remote areas

Barrier 4: Overcoming Victim’s Resistance

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not my image

If a sexual perpetrator has the desire to act out sexually, succeeded in quieting their own conscience by talking themselves in to sexually abusing somebody, and has managed to put himself and the potential victim in a situation where he won’t get caught, he still has to overcome the victim’s natural resistance to being sexually abused. Overcoming victim’s resistance may be done in a variety of manners, i.e. force, bribes, coercion, intoxicating substances, sexual pressure, threats, and manipulation. Examples are:
-Intentionally intoxicating her
-Putting her in a position to where she feels she is obligated to perform sexually
-Physically forcing, or implying violence or aggressive acts
-Playing on the potential victim’s vulnerability
-“We’ve come this far, don’t make me stop now.”
-“If you don’t do (sexual act), then I’ll tell people (something incriminating).”
-“You led me on! You have to now. Don’t be like that!”
-“I’ll send all those pictures you took to your family if you don’t (sexual act).”

So, I realize I didn’t offer much of what to do with the information provided. I could offer suggestions for each situation, but again, that would be following the cookie cutter approach that dooms a lot of these programs to fail. Anything you can do to disrupt the perpetrator’s thought process at any point throughout the four barriers will improve the chances of evading assault. Being able to “put yourself in the perpetrator’s shoes” may sound bizarre, but in this context, should be considered as a method for deterring assault.


6 thoughts on “Tactical Sexual Assault Prevention (part three)

  1. Pingback: Tactical Sexual Assault Prevention (part two) | Killer J

  2. This is pretty good in terms of how the perpetrator thinks. I’m really curious about barrier two. I’ve always assumed that the perpetrators do what they do because they genuinely believe that they aren’t doing anything wrong. I never really thought that there are some people out there who are doing what they do because they know that what they’re doing is wrong, but they just don’t care.

    So what can we do with this? How do we prevent people from pursuing people to sexually assault others? I think teaching (mainly) preventative measures is partially a good idea, but I also think it gets the wrong idea across. As an example, my university is right next to a bad neighborhood, but some of the student housing is in this bad neighborhood. So we have shuttles that can move students from the university to the student housing. But the gender dynamics are interesting. I once polled a class how safe they felt moving about in their neighborhood. Most of the guys said they didn’t have a problem, but only a few women said that they felt relatively comfortable, as long as they were with a group. What this shows is that the movement is space is already structurally gendered where only a group of people can move about comfortably.

    Think of it this way: I think date rape is a common example of how men think what they’re doing is morally ok. The action is wrong, but they don’t know that it is wrong because our culture has not deemed this as wrong. But what makes it different is that it doesn’t involve any physical injury.

    Now in cases of rape, physical injury is often the only criterion that’s used for evidence for a sexual act that’s nonconsensual. So if there is no evidence of physical injury, sexual assault is mistaken for seduction.

    Guilty of sexual assault means that a man must have mens rea (“guilty mind”) (he must either have believed that his victim did not consent or that she was probably not consenting). Notice anything weird about this. It’s based on the rapists’ mentality. In a case in the UK in 1975, four men were acquitted of rape because they sincerely thought that their victim had consented, despite their admitting that she had protested vigorously. Thus, mens rea can be defeated in a court of law if the defendant has a reasonable belief that the plaintiff consented.

    This is the problem: rapists can lie, and then there’s the entrenched attitudes of the predominantly male police, judges, lawyers, and jurists who handle sexual assault cases. The court system, the laws, and thereby the culture is structured in a way where if his belief is reasonable, they are more likely to believe in the sincerity of his belief. If it’s reasonable, this consent took place. In other words, the very things that make it reasonable for him to believe that the defendant consented are often the very things that incline the court to believe that she consented.

    Now what’s missing in this whole scenario? It’s the victim, which is typically the woman. What about her account? What about an account that would be reasonable for her to agree to? Part of this criterion is the mythology surrounding date rape: we can’t make a difference between seduction or assault. A criterion of reasonableness regards submission as consent. This fails to offer persons who are vulnerable to these assaults. This criterion says that consent is implied in the duration unless some emphatic episodic sign of resistance occurred, and that the resistance could be established. It is usually seen that the resistance wasn’t serious, and that there was consent. So on the one hand, we have a situation where women are vulnerable to the most exploitative tactics at the hands of men. On the other, almost nothing will count as evidence of their being assaulted, including their having taken an emphatic stance in withholding their consent.

    Here’s a common story that I’m sure you encounter a lot: A young woman sees someone and is attracted to him. He feels the same way. She goes out with him hoping for mutual enjoyment and mutual interest. Unfortunately, it doesn’t turn out like that. She’s pressured into having sex with him and she really doesn’t want to. At first she wants to refuse him, but then something is holding her back? What could possibly hold her back? Maybe that he’ll be sexually frustrated and that she’s to blame. If he is in need, she should provide. Now he, on the other hand, feels no dating obligation. He uses the line “my desires are uncontrollable” as a way to tell her how frustrated he’ll be if she leaves him. He switches back and forth from saying that she is so desirable, but also with misleading him, of being deceitful. This sex is now demanding sex. Now at this time, the young woman wishes to go away. But she doesn’t display any anger because perhaps she thinks to herself, “wow, maybe he’s right. I’m the one to blame here.” Or else if she gets angry then he’ll get really angry which will make things worse. It seems that the only option left is to go along with it and get it over with.

    After the sexual experience, she found it disagreeable but he doesn’t notice. Later, she may feel that she has been raped but paradoxically tells herself that she let herself be raped. This criterion will suggest that these sorts of stories will be within the realm of sexual assault. Now she knows that she didn’t want sex, but she’s not sure if her desires count. The thing though is that our culture takes the presumption that this was consensual. It’s the idea that she maybe didn’t want to have sex, but our laws and culture is structured in a way where her reluctance, even with high-pressure tactics, still constitutes consent.

    If this was presented before the courts, they would say that the woman “went along” with the sexual encounter, thus making it consent. If the courts somehow agreed that she did not consent, there is little chance that the male would be charged with sexual assault. Since the courts see that she “went along” with his advances, this constitutes reasonable grounds for his believing in her consent. So a man can have aggressive tactics and have extreme pressure as a way to seduce the woman. If so, then this means that mens rea has not been established. The courts, then, will sympathize with the rapist in this regard rather than the victim because through this structure of the law, the courts will be inclined to believe that the victim had “asked for it.” This is part of the myth and courts believe it along with our society: male aggression and female reluctance are normal parts of seduction. If a woman is going to be reluctant, then her reluctance is consistent with her consenting.

    Part of the problem is rape myths. Let’s look at some myths behind date rape. And these myths are perpetuated by our culture (“rape culture”) and these myths still come out through people in the legal system.

    “She asked for it” is the most common defense that males used who are accused of sexual assault.
    Part of the idea is that women shouldn’t be sexually provocative, and if she is sexually provocative, then she’s asking for it and she deserves to suffer the consequences. So why can’t a woman be sexually provocative? Why does this behavior warrant any aggressiveness toward her? Notice that this is a cultural phenomenon. This isn’t just for people who hold to the traditional view where men are dominant, or those who hold on to traditional family values. Even those who find no problem with premarital sex, our culture still holds onto the idea that women must not behave sexually unless they’re prepared to go through with it. When a woman behaves in a sexually teasing, tempting or open way, she is implicitly committing herself to having sex with the man she is with. She is entering into a non-verbal contract to have sex, which she is not entitled to break. The reason this contract is binding is that it is unreasonable to expect a man who has been sufficiently aroused, to respect any subsequent verbal or even physical protestations. But what if she isn’t sexually provocative, what then? Why should this behavior warrant any kind of aggressive response whatsoever?

    The idea is that if a woman is acting in a certain way, then she is making an implicit contract and she must fulfill her duties under the contract. The woman’s behavior commits her to some sexual encounter, or at least to be part of it. Just because the woman is provocative does not entail that she deserves any sex that she doesn’t want.

    “Males are naturally sexually aggressive” is another common excuse, where it is thought that men are by nature uncontrollable unless his sexual needs are met. Even rationality can’t control the sexual urges. Women are much better at controlling and containing their sexual urges. So it’s woman’s responsibility not to provoke the irrationality side of the male. He has these uncontrollable urges and he’ll be aggressive unless those needs are met. If they do provoke the male, don’t be surprised if he starts being aggressive. As you know, this is a ridiculous claim, as you posted in your previous post.

    “Women are more reserved and contained in their sexuality” is another one. It’s their responsibility not to aggravate the male. If they go too far, they have failed in their responsibility. It’s like saying if you go in a lion’s den, don’t be surprised if you get eaten. She’s taught to be coy. Yet, they also want to be sexual. Women are really sexual creatures but they’re taught to hide it. So in effect, they really want to get raped so that they can fulfill their sexual needs without the responsibility of wanting the sex. Men won’t be blamed because they’re naturally aggressive. Boys will be boys. Thus, the suspicions immediately go toward the women.

    This problem, I think, is how our culture not only looks at the gender differences of sex, but in how we view sex as some sort of contractual agreement. The argument is like this:

    1. People should keep their agreements.
    2. Sexually provocative behavior is making an agreement.
    3. The nature of male and female sexuality makes agreements in a special category.
    4. Women are not to be trusted in sexual matters.
    5. Therefore, the courts are more likely to agree with the man that she was consenting if it makes sense in the circumstances.

    This makes it virtually impossible to prove in court that the man is guilty. Since our view of rape is revolved around consent, they also inform our rape laws, but there’s a practical problem without consent operates here that go some distance toward explaining why so few rapists are punished. Under US law, the accused is innocent until proven guilty, so the burden of proof is on the accuser.
    Supposed Jack was charged with stealing Jill’s wallet, Jill has to prove that it was her wallet and that Jack took it. Standard of evidence she has to meet is quite high: she has to prove his guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But she doesn’t, typically, have to prove at the same time that she didn’t consent to his taking the wallet: it’s assumed that she didn’t, unless you can prove that she did. And it doesn’t matter if she was drunk and left the wallet lying on the bar – that’s irrelevant to the question of whether he took something that did belong to him. So, in cases of theft, the presumption is that no consent was given.

    With rape it’s different. There, Jill has to prove not only that Jack took her, but that she didn’t consent to being taken. And this amounts to having to prove a negative, which is generally not easy to do, and if she can’t, she is presumed guilty of making a false accusation. How can we account for this difference between rape and fast as consent theories understand them? The difference has to do with the conditions under which rape or theft occur. Wallets are stolen regularly by perfect strangers – by pickpockets or other people with whom the victim isn’t in any special relationship of trust. There, it makes a certain amount of sense to presume that no consent was given. It’s only within the small circle of people we trust with our wallets that “you gave it to me” could count as a reasonable defense against accusation of theft.

    Rape, on the other hand, is often inflicted by someone with whom the victim is the special trust relationship: he is her friend, her date, her father or brother. Within that kind of relationship, so she might trust him with her wallet, it doesn’t follow that she also trusts him with her body, her dignity, physical and emotional nakedness, or vulnerability to disease and perhaps unwanted pregnancy. In fact, she may trust him precisely not to think that he has access to her body, so that when he rapes, he betrays that very trust.

    Under relationships among strangers consent works properly: the default assumption is that I didn’t consent to your taking my wallet. The reason that consent theories of rape don’t work as well as consent theories of theft is because sexual relations don’t typically take place in the public sphere, and the theories aren’t equipped to say much of anything about what goes on in private. In relationships of intimacy, the interactions aren’t impersonal: my boyfriend isn’t replaceable by any other single he situated individual, and I shouldn’t want him to act toward me only as he’d be willing to act toward all other woman. I’m supposed to care about his best interest in addition to my own, and he’s supposed to favor me over other woman in my position. Consent theories of rape aren’t well-equipped to capture either the personal nature of sexual intimacy or the special kind of trust that underlies the morally sound sexual relationship. They don’t have the resources for conceptualizing the betrayal of trust among friends or family, or the exportation of bodily and emotional ability. So, all these theories do pick up on the immoral importance of consent in a sexual relationship, they miss all the other morally significant features of the private and personal context in which many rapes take place. As a result, they mistake the trust relationship of the private sphere for the presumed consent, which means the burden is on the victim to show she didn’t consent. What counts as proof of lack of consent is complicated by the variety of relationships – including some pretty casual ones – in which many people have enjoyable sex.

    Our laws are set up for it automatically for the rights of the accused, not the victim. If you carry out this logic of innocence, if the defendant is presumptively innocent, then the complaining party (which is the victim) is presumptively lying. That’s just how it’s set up in our legal system. Usually with rape cases, it’s the state vs the defendant. And the victim just happened to be a bystander in the harm against the state.

    For an illustration of how uncertain the standard of proof can be, consider the case of Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers Lakers basketball star accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in his hotel room at a resort where she worked. The bruises found on the woman during the hospital examination were admitted into evidence, but the defense lawyers suggested that the woman had multiple sex partners in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant and they argued that the bruises could have been infected by any of these other men. The woman denied the defenses suggestion, but the fact that the lawyers made a point of her sexual activity after Bryant allegedly raped her reveals how differently consent operates in cases of rape as opposed to cases of theft. It’s hard to see how the fact that Jill gave money to a friend just after Jack took her wallet has any bearing on Jack’s guilt. The really striking thing though, is the defenses assumption that any other sexual encounter might just as easily have been the cause of her injuries, as if force to the point of bruising were a normal thing that happens to women during sex. Thus, the laws are structured around the idea that sex is like a contract: if you agree, you can’t back out. If a woman has initially agreed to a sexual encounter, her agreement doesn’t automatically make all subsequent sexual activity to which she submits legitimate. If a contract were to upheld, then she must uphold the agreement.

    In your second post, you mention that women need preventative measures to keep men at bay, but men also need to be wary of what is considered true consent. I agree, but I would like to illustrate this. At the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, for example, while fraternities are housed off-campus and spacious and elegant buildings, sororities are not permitted off-campus but instead are housed in utilitarian dormitories. The arrangement is justified on the grounds that it offers the woman better protection – it’s for their own good, supposedly, to be kept under heightened surveillance. All on-campus housing may indeed contribute to women’s safety, it also preserves their subordinate status vis-à-vis men: they get the inferior housing. What can be done to stop it? In the 1980s and 90s, a widespread approach to rape prevention was that of risk management. Private companies supplied women with gadgets, alarms, and pepper spray, while workplaces and colleges enticed women to attend the sexual assault prevention workshops with advertisements saying things like a woman is raped every five minutes in this country. Three out of four American women will be violently, physically, or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. These statistics speak to the need for women to learn how to be safer and more secure lives. This informative and participatory workshop will discuss sexual issues as well as include tips on how to be safer at home, in your car, and in public. They give workshops designed for woman.

    In November 1995 the American Medical Association issued a statement to the effect that sexual also “claims of victim every 45 seconds” and cautioning that patients might be “pushed into the shadows, afraid to step forward and seek help from other physicians.” While the AMA statement was not directed specifically at women but at doctors, it was titled “silent violent epidemic,” thereby implying that rape was a kind of virus a woman might catch if she weren’t careful. On many campuses, large signs posted by campus security urge women never to walk by themselves at night and to stay in lighted areas.

    What the sorority housing strategy, rape safety marketing, rape prevention workshops, talk of rape as an academic, and large signs cautioning women to watch out all having common is that no actual rapists are visible here. They are erased to the use of the passive voice (“a woman is raped every five minutes.” By what?) Or through scary statistics about how often rape “occurs” – as if it were a random force of nature, like lightning or smallpox. With the rapist pushed unobtrusively out of the picture, ,the responsibility to do something about rape falls squarely on the women who are endangered, rather than on those who have the authority to impose sanctions on their attackers.
    For sanctions, an actual perpetrator is required; for prevention, no such person person is necessary. The risk management approach to rape only targets women inappropriately as a site for interventions against rape, it also positions woman as abstract victims, thereby justifying endless intrusions into actual women’s lives “for their own good.” These prevention strategies actually restrict choice formation. Women’s choices in where to go, when to go, whom to go with and in general how to move about in the world are limited by the threat of violence. A woman might have chosen to go to a friend’s house or take a walk in a park but the threat of violence resists against that choice; or, worse, a woman might cave on her commitments to certain values or beliefs because of such limitations on actions and behaviors. These limitations undermine her autonomy by living in a culture of violence against women. Listen to that, a culture where there’s violence against women has already institutionalized women to the point where they are less free, less autonomous than men. A culture of violence against women creates a society that subordinates women. Living in a society that routinely permits violence against women undermines forms of self-appreciation such as self-trust, self-respect, self-worth and self-esteem. These forms of self-appreciation are essential to autonomy, and, thus, shows that living in a culture of violence undermines autonomy. Through the cultural ways on the sexual attitudes of men and women, the presumption of innocence turns the tables. In courtrooms, it’s pretty frequent that rape victims are the ones who are on trial. Why is this? Because if the defendant was innocent, then he either didn’t intend to do what he was accused of, or the plaintiff is mistaken, or she’s lying. Often, it’s the last one that makes it as a defense.

    There are no reasons for the “she asked for it” defense. Both men and women don’t get sexual enjoyment from rape. Male sexuality can be rationally controlled. Even if women are sexually provocative, that doesn’t mean that they “deserve” any sex that they don’t want. This is something that both you and I can agree with.

    Sorry for the long-winded post, but you know that this is something that I deeply care about, and I’ve been researching this for a while.

    • I read through that and came away with the feeling we’re looking at this from different perspectives. Your approach and mindset are very much macro level. You have large scale research statistics to back your assertion that what needs to change is our cultural perspective of consent and burden of proof. Considering you are a philosophy professor, it would make sense you look at things from the macro level.

      My job influences my perspective quite a bit, and is obviously micro level. I work with people, individually, day in and day out that are perpetrators, victims, or both. My time is much better spent helping people take control of their own lives. Rather than relying on the United States of America’s collective conscience and morality to shift, I would rather empower women with specific skills gleaned via enhancing their knowledge so they can have more control and power in these situations.

      • Perhaps. I think solving it from a mirco- and macro-level are both important. In a way, the micro-level is a “bottom-up” approach where one is informing the individual. A macro- approach is holistic and tries to capture everyone from above, so it’s a more “top-down” approach. They both have disadvantages, however. A bottom-up approach is very good at getting the individuals’ mentality to be more self-assertive and self-effective, but it’s very slow in terms of solving the big picture. There is no way we can teach a small group of individuals to change the culture of 100 million people.

        A top-down approach, however, can do this. But the major disadvantage is that some individuals are forced into a certain mentality that doesn’t fit into his/her character.

        As an example, I would say that the Civil Rights Movement eventually became a top-down approach. The Federal Government made it into a law that one cannot take away voting rights from minorities (among other things). Overall, this was a good thing, but I’m sure many individuals absolutely hated it, especially in the south where discrimination was mainly practiced. However, given a few generations, the racism and discrimination may have cooled off because incoming new generations have witnessed a culture where racism and discrimination aren’t that great. Does it work completely? No, there are definitely some racists out there. There are people who practice generosity but are still racists on the inside. So a top-down approach is quick and efficient, and it has changed the cultural landscape, but it doesn’t capture all of the individuals in terms of their own character and minds.

        I think the current same-sex marriage movement is a good example of a bottom-up approach. The Federal Government has basically stayed out in terms of making same-sex marriage legal. Thus, it’s up to the states. One by one, we can see that the states are starting to allow same-sex marriage. But look how slow it’s gotten. Gays have tried to fight for this since the 1960s, and now, they are starting to achieve marriage. So roughly, it’s taken about 50-60 years. That’s extremely slow. But the reason why it’s working is because so many individuals over time have slowly changed their minds, and these individuals convince other individuals that same-sex marriage is not a problem. (Also, it’s mainly because the newest generation is now of voting age, and they are overwhelmingly supportive of same-sex marriage more than any other demographic, but I’ll let this slide.) So bottom-up approach works, but it can be very slow for a change.

        By the way, I think that I may look at it at a macro-level, but I have neither the influence nor the power to achieve this as a philosophy professor. I can only do what’s within my power, and that is to make individuals think critically of their own values and beliefs, which is a mirco-level, but I’m also hoping to give them the tools in order to critically think about themselves and their culture as well. So in a way, I think we’re helping them but in different ways: I give them critical thinking skills; you give them social set skills in specific cases. Both of which are needed.

      • For you other reply, I’m no saying that alleged perpetrators should be presumed guilty rather than innocent. I’m saying that our culture has made the victim automatically complicit in the immoral action, so it’s as if (usually) she’s automatically guilty. That is an injustice, but because our laws can’t change that, we must change our culture to reflect our change in laws.

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