(Warning: This is not about sports. If you believe that a discussion of law and psychology does not belong on BN, please stop reading here. it is a rant on rape and the way the topic is being discussed in the "sports" threads.)
Underlying the heated debate on whether Aflord's reaction to Pierce's attacks on women was proper is a far more divisive topic -- rape.
Simply stated, studies show that men and women have vastly different views of what should be considered rape and the damage that the rapist causes. For a long time, the law has reflected those differences.
I write now because I see those preconceptions emerging in our threads.
Rather than focus on an individual or set of posts, I thought I'd put up a general response. I do no fault anyone for holding those beliefs. They are deeply held. But, they are in conflict with learned studies and what we know about rape, it's victims, and the perpetrators.
And, it causes women great harm. Both those who are victims of the attacks. And, those, like the women in our threads, who feel the burden of responding to explain why the posts are wrong.
Rape is not a crime based on sex. It is a crime based upon power and control. The greatest damage done the victims is the loss of a sense of autonomy and safety. The penetration and bruising heal. The psychological damage lingers far longer.
For many years, the law required proof of penetration. Some states also demanded collateral bruising and damage. They required that the woman fight back. The assumption was that if she was not fighting she was consenting. Even if the attacker was someone she did not know. And, even though many studies showed that women who resisted were often brutalized and/or murdered. (There are conflicting studies on the value of resistance; I'll not get into them here.)
The point is that the woman's word was not enough.
Why? Because, we did not trust women. We did not believe that "no" meant "no".
This gap showed up when I was teaching criminal law. In the classroom discussions, some men would tell us that they were conditioned to believe that sex was a form of conquest, that the woman was expected to say "no" and that they were supposed to overcome her faux objections. They felt it unfair to be at risk for going forward when all they heard was the word "no".
For a long time, the law agreed with the men. The law required resistance; and words were not resistance. We simply did not trust women when that they meant "no" when they said "no".
We also do not trust women when they say they have been raped.
The truth is that there are far more unreported cases of rape than false reports of rape. Far more. Of course, the unreported cases don't get publicity -- no one ever knows about them. False rape claims are far lower on the totem pole than false reports of most other crimes.
Yet, we draw inferences against women who do not report rapes or attempted rapes. We fall into the "if it really happened it would have been reported", or "it's her duty to report a crime" or her family's duty.
The problem here is that the social and psychological cost of reporting a rape is substantial. It's not just what the victim has to go through -- for her body, her very being is the scene of the crime and will be poked and probed. And, the event will be replayed, in detail at many public levels. We've all read about that. It's true.
But, perhaps more damaging is the STIGMA that attaches to rape victims and those who report rapes. The stigma is based in religious and cultural beliefs that a woman has been sullied or devalued by a rape and is no longer worthy.
With a team of psychologists, I've done extensive studies on the general perception of the crime and its victims. Our studies made clear one thing: When people on the street are asked about rape, or presented the facts of a rape case, they ask questions like "What was she wearing", "How was she acting" -- even if she was dragged down from behind in a park. The bottom line is that a common belief is "She deserved it". That stigma attaches at the moment the victim comes forward and carries with her even if their is a conviction of the perpetrator.
We found the reason for that belief and a way to deal with it in our studies. I'll not go into it in a lot of detail but here's a very short hand version of what we found:
Rape is a terrible crime of violence -- most often random violence. When it happens, it severely damages the victim. We have people we love. We do not want it to happen to them. The way we make ourselves feel that it won't happen to them is to believe that the victim did something to cause the rape. That she deserved it. The people we love will not do something like that. So it won't happen to them.
Seen in this light, it is much easier to see how the stigma -- the life long stigma -- can affect the victim's decision to report a crime. And, that it is totally unfair to chastise a father or family for not doing so against a daughter's wishes.
The stigma is even greater when the perpetrator is a popular public figure. Or, prominent in a small community, like a college. Or that that charge may take a key player off a team that is the pride of the campus.
In her own way, each of the women on Iowa's campus showed great strength. Each found a way to stay on campus and finish the path she had started. To fault either of them is wrong. To demean what happened is wrong. To demean their families is wrong. I am sure the dorm victim's father wanted to handle this his own way; I have great respect for his not doing so. I am not sure I would be that strong. I'm sure most father's have a deep inbred feeling that you harm my daughter at great risk to yourself.
My bottom line: I think it wrong to be defending Alford by attacking the victims or their families. Many of those attacks are built on the very same belief systems that underlie our rape laws -- belief systems that simply don't trust women.
Our focus should not be on whether the events happened -- two of them were reported and prosecuted, the third was not.
Our focus should be on what Alford did when he knew of the events. Do his actions show him to be a man of the character we require at UCLA?