Rape and mass movements

It is well known that one in four women will be raped within their lifetime. This is an extraordinarily high number, representing a level of violence that often goes undiscussed in daily life.

Many radicals are aware of this and yet, when a woman states that she has been raped, assaulted or abused by a male radical, these “claims” are often dismissed. “He couldn’t have done that,” some will say. “I’m sure he did nothing wrong.”

But women do not claim to be raped arbitrarily. In fact, they often hide their experiences out of shame and humiliation. All too often, when a woman does speak out, her name is dragged through the mud and the humiliation only worsened, while other women are made even more reluctant to speak about their experiences. So when a woman says that she has been raped or sexually assaulted she is almost always telling the truth. And if you have not heard them already, there are numerous stories from radical women about having been raped by somebody they thought was their comrade. You simply need to open you ears. To ignore a woman’s assertion that she has been abused by one of her fellow comrades is simply a continuation of patriarchal attitudes that always dismiss these “claims,” favoring the word of the man over the woman.

It would be utopian to believe that the wrongs of our society could not seep into a radical community. It would be extraordinary if this were the case. To assume that a man who claims to be a radical could not possibly do such a thing is to misunderstand the nature and prevalence of rape, as though it is carried out only by some stranger lurking in the dark. On the contrary, rape is largely carried out by men against women they know personally, and there are so many rapists that it would be nearly impossible to keep them all out of radical communities.

It is worth asking bluntly: how many men are rapists? Those one in four women, after all, were raped by somebody. Studies of rape victimization are more common than studies of the rapists themselves, but several studies provide some clues.

In two different studies of college age men, those responding “yes” to being asked whether they had sex with somebody against their will (including a woman who was unconscious or through some form of coercion) was 4.5% and 6%.

In two other studies of men in the US Navy, the number who responded “yes” to similar questions was 11% and 13%.

Based on these studies alone, between 4.5% and 13% of men are rapists.

These are very possibly underreports. For one, these are men willing to admit to having raped somebody (though the word “rape” itself was not used in the questioning). Additionally, these questions are asked of men largely in their twenties–certainly some of those who honestly responded “no” simply had not raped anybody yet.

Furthermore, these studies only ask explicitly about non-consensual sex, ie rape. They do not ask about physical abuse, sexual assault, emotional manipulation or any of the many other ways in which men abuse and humiliate women.

Nonetheless, it seems fairly certain that something like 10% of men in the US are rapists. That number is not precise, in fact it is almost definitely too low, but it is a good starting for beginning to understand the extent of the problem.

Assuming this is true, what does this mean for radicals who want to build a mass movement which includes both men and women?

First, most men are not rapists.

The bad news, however, is that at least–at least–one in ten men probably are rapists. On average, of any gathering of ten men, one is probably a rapist. In any meeting with 50 men, five are probably rapists. In any organization with 500 men, 50 are probably rapists. You can extrapolate from there, keeping in mind that this is a conservative estimate and the number may actually be substantially higher.

The point of all this is not to cause alarm–though for anybody who has not considered this before it is undeniably alarming. The point is, you simply cannot build a mass movement without rapists being involved. It is not a question of keeping them out as they do not come wearing “rapist” stamped on their forehead. Generally it will not be known until it is too late, possibly after they have raped another activist in the movement.

“But,” some will interject, “won’t the men who get involved in radical movements be less likely to rape due to their commitment to fighting oppression?” If only this were true. We would all love it to be so. But it seems incredibly naive to assume this and it is especially less likely to be true the larger a movement gets and the more it represents the population as a whole. To assume that this is even true among a small collective is simply asking for trouble.

If you are a radical–especially a male radical–and think this seems outlandish, ask around to other activists you know, especially women. You will find that examples abound of radicals dealing with rape and sexual assault among and between themselves and radical communities are torn apart because of it.

What can we do? This article does not claim to have a solution to the problem of rape, beyond the broad solution of getting rid of the capitalist, patriarchal and racist system that sustains itself from violence and oppression in general and, in this case, against women in particular.

Some will despair at this information. Certainly, the prevalence of rape in our society is depressing. This is not violence organized by the state but carried out, without any sort of official policy or direction from above, between ordinary people and which, nonetheless, furthers the oppressive powers of the state.

However, we should not abandon the prospect of a mass movement–of class struggle. The working class is both male and female and the class struggle will be as well.

Retreating into small communities of like-minded activists at the expense of building a mass movement is no solution at all, as these groupings are no less likely than any other to have to deal with this issue and, when it does happen, are even more likely to be destroyed by it.

What is crucial is that radicals get their fucking heads out of the sand. This is not just something that colonizers do to their subjects. This is not just something that an open misogynist does to a random victim on the street. Rape most often is inflicted not by a stranger but by somebody the victim is already acquainted with and maybe even trusts and, in some of our cases, by one of their own comrades.

This is not a call for separatism, nor is it a call for a witch-hunt. Assuming that all male radicals are rapists is not appropriate as clearly the large majority are not. But assuming that no male radical will ever rape anybody is an equally intolerable state of affairs. This, unfortunately, is more often than not the status quo and it needs to change.

Finally, one resource for activists who want to learn more about how others have dealt with this issue–and the many pitfalls of an “even handed” approach to rape–is the recently published zine Betrayal: a critical analysis of rape culture in anarchist subcultures.

If you have other resources please include them in the comments, especially studies of the prevalence of rape and documents like Betrayal on how activists deal with it.

NOTE: This article generally assumes male rapists and female rape victims, but only because that is by far the most common circumstance. Certainly, there are male victims of rape and even (very rarely) female rapists, not to mention people who identify with neither gender.

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