Growing up in Utah, my biases about polygamy and polyamory were deeply marked by the oppressive religious practice of control and child rape practiced by some splinter sects of the LDS faith. The obvious difference is consent, but I had to unlearn years of association of polyamory with coercion and abuse.
It’s easy to condemn those in other places that condone child rape through marriage. It’s safe and comfortable. But the painful fact is, I live in a state where child brides have been (and almost certainly continue to be) part of an ongoing system of abuse. I have a deep rage that the communities where it happens are calculatedly isolated, and they exert total control over the lives of growing children, who have even less capacity for autonomy & consent than most.
We are talking about the kind of subculture that has literally burned books intended for a local library to keep control and maintain ignorance. It’s been almost impossible to find and prosecute the child
marriages rapes because the communities have their own police and shunning the outside world is a religious imperative.
What’s even worse, even men who have admitted their child rape may not even be eligible for prosecution because within the last decade Utah’s legal code allowed the rape of girls as young as 14 so long as their parents consent.
At the time, Utah’s marriage age was 14 with parental consent. In 2005, the Utah State Legislature changed it to 16. In 2003, the legislature made any polygamous marriage involving anyone under 18 a felony of child bigamy.
Shit like this shows just how uninterested our judicial system really is in prioritizing the protection of adolescents from predators using religious coercion. When as recently as 10 years ago, parents’ will could substitute for full legal consent to sexual activity, it’s clear that far from being the enlightened moral actors we make ourselves out to be, we are just beginning to question living in the dark ages.
A criticism (I believe fairly) lodged against more moderate religious voices is they give cover to, and downplay the abuse of more extreme versions because they find criticism of religiously backed abuses uncomfortable. There is no more clear example in our modern backyard than the fact that a man like Winston Blackmore may not even have committed a crime under our laws.
Professor Myers has already more than adequately addressed two remarkable cases of strong individuals speaking against rape, but I can’t get over the injustice and horror involved in the account of Ms. Elizabeth Seccuro.
She is simultaneously one of the most courageous people I can imagine and typifies everything that is wrong with how our society and legal system approaches the unique and terrible crime of rape*. She was always a strong, proud heroic woman with incredible integrity, who was denied even token justice immediately after the rape. When her rapists arrogantly re-inserted himself into her life by making contact 20 years later, the “justice” she received just shows how far we are from where we need to be.
* Hint: stop treating it like a property crime, or a beating/assault of a non-sexual type. It’s not. It is the total violation, dehumanization and assault on another person’s self. I view it pretty much on par with murder on the bad to evil continuum of behavior.
There is a cultural predisposition that when a rape is reported in the news or discussed in any public forum, inevitably, someone (sometimes multiple someones) will decide to demonstrate the Just-World fallacy and want to discuss the actions, behaviors and appearance of the victim. And while ostensibly claiming to only blame the rapist for raping someone, all choices made by the victim are evaluated for how “risky” they were. These people will often say that they’re not saying the victim was responsible, per se, but that maybe we should make sure that women know what social rules and mores they should follow to prevent the absolute rarest of rapes, the stranger rape. (As if women weren’t already deluged with these sorts of rules and guidelines; believe me, women already fear rape even if they don’t logically examine whether their fears are rational.)
Sickeningly, not even 11 year old girls are immune. And after yet another example on Skepchick of how this sort of discussion can be derailed into “rapes are going to happen, so shouldn’t women be more careful” I wanted to make clear how vehemently I disagree with this shit. Rape “prevention” advice is not only not helpful (because it doesn’t protect women from the most common type of assault), but it supports the idea that there are circumstances where rapes are more likely, more normal and implicitly, more acceptable.
I want people to stand up and say that rape is never normal and never the victim’s fault.
The ease with which individuals attempt to ascribe some burden of responsibility to the victim of a rape makes me absolutely crazy. I would like to shed some light on why you cannot ascribe any degree of responsibility to rape victims without ending up encouraging the climate wherein rapes are excused.
The arguments of “prevention” always center on seeming like reasonable rather than extreme precautions to avoid an unpleasant result (i.e. rape). However, what these pieces of advice actually do is severely limit the choices, freedoms and dignity of women by tightening the confines within which we are allowed to operate. They create a framework of fear that we should live our lives in to avoid the unlikely event of a stranger rape.
It comes down to risk/benefit, how we all live our lives. Is there a risk in taking medication to cure illness? Is it worth commuting on the freeway to a better job even though driving is risky? Is it worth the incredibly small risk of stranger rape to pursue joys, individuality and life experiences as you choose? Or is it worth living in a cage of fear when you are far more likely to be hurt by those you know and love?
It is not.
To claim that rules governing behavior (just because you have the misfortune to be born into a less privileged group) to prevent the evil, free actions of another is the rankest kind of sexist crap. Women are not entitled to less of life’s fullness because of assholes.
Moreover, when you try to make these “prevention strategies” public, you signal to rapists and would-be rapists that those women who do not follow these rules are more vulnerable, more “reckless” and that these victims bear some burden for what you can do to them. That you will have more sympathy for their attackers because of the “temptation” to rape they experience.
When you promote these “rape prevention” tools, you are supporting the system rapists rely on to excuse their crimes. You are not being pragmatic.
So the next time someone starts to tell you about how women just need to take precautions, don’t let it slide. Help break down the attitudes that allow this sort of rationalization and rape apologetics by speaking out.