Getting Real about Rape


ID-100137119Senior members of the Arlington Martin High School football team in Texas have been told not to wear their spirit wear T-shirts to school any more. The shirts, which 40 students have been wearing since August, portray a pirate flag with the words, “We take what we want.” Below the flag the shirt says, “Shhhhhhh, just let it happen.”

I don’t know for sure whether the booster club intended the double entendre. Booster club President Kevin White says, “It’s sickening to me that [it] was misconstrued. And it’s weird that it has been out for so long and just came up.”

Actually, White shouldn’t be all that surprised. In recent months, much ink has been spilled nationally about “rape culture,” generally defined as the normalization of sexual assault. California and Ohio have stringent new informed consent laws. The Obama administration has jumped on the bandwagon, releasing a much-discussed report on sexual assault claiming that nearly one in five women in college will be sexually assaulted. In this kind of charged environment, the only thing that’s weird is that it took so long for the district to pull the plug on what seems to be a pretty clear allusion to rape.

I’m all for upholding some standards in our continually coarsening culture. While I believe much of the newfound alarm over “rape culture” is overblown—such as the “20 percent of college women will be raped” stat—I’m all for cracking down on rapists and protecting women. After all, I have a wife and a daughter—and a mother, and a sister, and nieces, and aunts, and friends, and so on.

And that’s just it: The problem is immense enough in this country; it doesn’t need to be overhyped. Nearly 90,000 rapes were reported in the United States in 2008. The National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that 164,240 women were victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Most rape offenders, though clearly not all, were men; most victims, women.

While every rape is an outrageous attack on human dignity, reported rapes are actually on the decline. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the yearly rate of rape or sexual assault declined 58 percent between 1995 and 2010 among females age 12 or older.

Yet at the same time, the frenzy over “rape culture” is reaching record levels.

“On college campuses, obsession with eliminating ‘rape culture’ has led to censorship and hysteria,” writes Caroline Kitchens in TIME. “At Boston University, student activists launched a petition demanding the cancellation of a Robin Thicke concert because the lyrics of his hit song ‘Blurred Lines’ allegedly celebrate ‘systemic patriarchy and sexual oppression.’ . . . Activists at Wellesley recently demanded that administrators remove a statue of a sleepwalking man: The image of a nearly naked male could ‘trigger’ memories of sexual assault for victims. Meanwhile, a growing number of young men find themselves charged with rape, named publicly and brought before campus judicial panels informed by rape-culture theory. In such courts, due process is practically nonexistent: guilty because accused.”

One would think, then, that with all the concern about rape, our culture would take the sensible precaution of teaching women how to protect themselves most effectively. And yet, whenever someone brings up that subject, he or she is accused of victim-blaming.

Make no mistake: No woman should be blamed if she is raped. Men are fully responsible for their behavior. (Personally, I wouldn’t mind if those duly convicted of this heinous crime received the death penalty.) But why is it so awful to warn women to keep themselves out of dangerous situations?

We all know not to walk in certain neighborhoods after dark. We all understand the risks of drinking and driving. We all take care to lock our front doors and our cars. Shouldn’t women know how to give themselves the best opportunity to be safe from this particular crime?

I say this not to blame anyone for any particular attack. Sometimes rape happens despite all the precautions women take. But I am careful to counsel the women in my life to take those precautions anyway—not to blame them, but to protect them. We need to face the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. And in this world, some unbalanced and evil men are attracted—“triggered,” if you will—by female vulnerability, or by anything that they interpret as a come-on. You can complain about it all you want, but most men are aroused by visual stimuli. The bad ones sometimes act on what they see.

Writing in TIME, Camille Paglia, a cultural critic and author, agrees:

“Too many young middleclass women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense. . . .

“Misled by the naive optimism and ‘You go, girl!’ boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.”

Friends, it’s time to get real about rape.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Stan Guthrie, a Christianity Today editor at large, blogs at www.stanguthrie.com. His next book, God's Story in 66 Verses: Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book, is due out in January from Thomas Nelson.

Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.


In general, I agree with you, but I do need to pick a nit: drinking and driving is not an appropriate comparison, since that involves demonstrably culpable behavior on the part of the driver. (It is worth noting, though, that a substantial proportion of college sexual assault claims involve alcohol.)

A better comparison would be to driving defensively: Don't gun your car across the intersection without looking as soon as the light turns green, watch the road beyond the next car, wear your seat belt, don't drive in someone's blind spot, etc. In any of those cases, the fault in an accident might lie with the other driver, but better not to be in an accident than to be able to place the blame after the fact; you can't always pick up the pieces and make everything OK, even if you were "in the right."

BreakPoint Columns