Recently, I received a very-much-appreciated request from a fellow Redditor, asking me to make a post addressing victims of repeat assaults. I was more than happy to oblige; and thinking on this topic led me to examine some of the common dialogue about the Sort Of People Who Get Raped (“typical targets of rapists”, in politically-correct-information-pamphlet-speak).
And you know what? I’m pretty fucking pissed about what most of the information that I found had to say.
You’d think that things meant to be resources for victims would try to avoid, rather than perpetuate, idiotic myths about rape and sexual assault. Apparently, I was being too optimistic in this assumption.
More than once, I ran into phrasing that said, essentially, rapists target people who they perceive as weak and easy to intimidate.
The implication of that assertion is that, if you were raped – especially repeatedly – there is something Wrong With You. Sure, the rapist is at fault too (this is a help center/crisis line/resource center/whatever), but you were Probably Targeted Because You Seem Weak. And if that happened to you repeatedly? Then, gee, you’re just Rapeable.
What the actual flying fuck.
There is so much wrong with that set of conclusions, I honestly am unsure how to start. This post is likely going to be sort of disorganized due to that, so apologies in advance. It just kills me that repeat victims (myself included) are having their often already decimated self-worth ground further into the dust by a bunch of nameless, faceless “experts” on the internet trying to tell them that they were raped because there’s something wrong with them.
there is a certain Kind Of Person who is raped
If someone is trying to claim that there’s some sort of “type” of person who gets raped, obviously they have never, ever gotten out there in the world and looked at the sheer variety and number of people who are raped.
Here’s an example.
I have been raped. My friend X has been raped. My friend Z has also been raped.*
I am a small, awkward, baby-faced girl who, I’ve been told, “looks like a doll”. I am distrusting, I am friendly, I am a workaholic and nervous and a person who almost never outwardly shows anger. I am into economics and math, and can count on two hands the number of parties I’ve been to in my life. I have also been raped by two different men, multiple times in one case.
My friend X is a massive, barrel-chested young man who is outgoing, shameless, and unbelievably easy to be around. He’s smart as hell, funny (his new thing is the school’s improv group), stubborn, and a complete pillar of strength for everyone around him. He also lost his virginity by being raped by an older girl.
My friend Z is a tall, sexy valkyrie of a woman with one hell of an attitude and the uncanny ability to make everyone in the room uncomfortable should she so choose. Her weekends revolve around raves and concerts, and she could probably lay my ass out with one punch if she wanted to. She has also been date-raped three times.
And those are just the first three cases I thought of.
There is no one, overarching Victim Kind Of Person. X, Z, and I have about as much in common as apples and oranges. To say that someone just Seems Like The Sort of Person Who Gets Raped is saying nothing more than the fact that they’re human, because rape is so goddamn prevalent and really can happen to anybody. As long as you have at least one orifice or sexual organ on your body and are not under 24-hour supervision by some asexual guardian entity, you can be raped. And given the statistics, it’s actually pretty likely.
This prevalence brings me to another point: often, repeat victims are repeat victims because of their surroundings, not because of their lifestyle.
Like anything else, there are parts of the world (or the country, or the state, or the city, or whatever you so choose) where rape will be less likely persecuted, more easily dismissed, and/or more encouraged by the prevailing set of ideologies. My hometown was one of these. As I’ve mentioned before, rapes (especially date rape) were so common in my high school that by the time I got to college – generally considered an absolute haven for date rape in the media – I was surprised to find that less of my peers had been raped than back in good ol’ high school.
A repeat victim in one of these places is not a repeat victim because they are Just A Victim Kind Of Person. They are a repeat victim because there is no fucking way to get away from it.
And even without being in one of these particular pockets of sexual-assault-acceptance, this can hold true. Because rape is a thing that happens a lot. A lot. It is not that statistically unlikely, at all, for the same person to be targeted twice for no other reason than simply chance. I’m not going to use the phrase “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, because that holds a lot of nasty connotations, but it’s a similar idea. And to anyone who says that Clearly A Previous Victim Should Know Better This Time Around…well, that segues nicely into the next fucked-up inference I want to address.
by virtue of getting raped once, you should automatically know What To Look Out For
By making an assumption like this, you are essentially saying that all rapes and all rapists have enough in common that, somehow, a repeat victim’s Spidey Senses should be set off the second they enter a situation where It Could Happen Again.
Now, to be fair, some of us go through a phase of the extreme version of this. Sometimes, there is a period of time where you act exactly like all those
pro“anti”-rape-culture PSA’s recommend. Don’t ever leave the house without an escort, carry your key so that magically you could somehow use it to stab someone should they try to grab you, don’t allow another person within six feet of you, don’t get in a car with anyone regardless of how well you know them, whatever. That does not mean you will not get raped, but it creates a false sense of security. Oh, yeah, and it’s also a fucking ridiculous, unstable, and maddening way to live.
To be fair, I still carry a knife on my person.
But it doesn’t matter. There is always, always a situation where It Could Happen Again, and asking a victim to psychically pick out the situations of Could And Will versus Could And Won’t is irrational.
This is also true because a lot of rapists Don’t Seem Like Rapists. It’s a thing I’ve brought up repeatedly: of the people you see in your everyday life, probably none of them seem like rapists. Why? Because in real life, rapists are real people, and the things you see them doing are things like folding laundry and pulling all-nighters to finish a paper and going on a late-night Arbys run. It’s not like in the movies, where the rapist shows up to rape and then presumably disappears into thin air until s/he’s needed for the next plot point. You can pick out the rapists in the movies. In the real world, good fucking luck.
Case in point: the rapists I have known. Two of these are my rapists. Several more are rapists of other people in my life. All of them, I have known personally:
A starved-looking half-Romani highschool dropout with an affinity for H.P. Lovecraft stories and never enough money to even put gas in his car. A California golden boy whose main passion was his college’s swim team, and who drank like a fish. The head of the high school newspaper, with a goofy boyish smile and the ability to make anyone cry from laughter. A stranger who followed her cab home in Costa Rica. A son of a Kazakh oil C.E.O., with enough money to pay full tuition and one of the top scores nationwide in Halo.
Clearly, all the same general “sort” of person, right? No. Wrong. Fucking wrong.
Unless you are expecting every victim in the world to treat every single person they meet as Schrödinger’s Rapist**, the “they should have known” logic doesn’t hold. And if that is what you’re expecting? Well, then, you are asking that newspaper editor not to go into her boss’ office, because as Schrödinger’s Rapist, she would be expected to treat it as equally likely that he is planning to lock her in the room and violate her as that he is going to congratulate her on her last article and offer her a raise. And you are asking that nephew not to stay with his aunt and uncle for the weekend, because he would be expected to treat it as equally likely that they are going to sexually abuse him as that they would take good care of him and return him to his parents safe and sound on Monday.
See what I’m getting at here? Rape happens for a lot of different reasons, perpetrated by a lot of different people, in a lot of different situations. Asking people to immediately connect the dots and avoid anything that could possibly lead to them being revictimized is pretty fucking unrealistic, in the society we live in.
I can really think of only one attribute of repeat victims that would lead to them being targeted: the fact of whether or not they would be considered likely to report it.
This is not about the inherent personality traits of the victim, so much as the surrounding circumstances and past experiences.
If, for example, a repeat victim made an attempt to report a previous assault and was ignored/laughed out of the room/rebuffed in some other way, that would make that person far less likely to ever come forward again. This was the case with me: I did not report My Rapist to the school for almost six months (until I thought someone else was in danger), because my one attempt to report sexual harassment back in high school*** was completely dismissed by the administration. If a rapist knows that their potential victim has been unsuccessful at getting his/her reporting taken seriously in the past, that might contribute to the rape. And I say “contribute to”, not “cause”, because as far as I’m concerned rape is caused by a rapist’s desire to rape, and everything else is secondary.
A repeat victim might also be targeted because of issues of believability. Most people don’t fucking get how common rape is. I admit it: I’m overly cautious now because I don’t know how the fuck I’d tell anyone if It Happened Again. I have this horrible, deep-rooted, and probably correct fear that anyone I told would immediately assume that I was making it up for attention. Jesus Christ, how many times does this Avvie chick think she can cry rape and still get pity? I’m terrified of it. I know that, were I ever raped again (and, statistically, that is far from impossible), I would probably never tell anyone. If a rapist knows that their potential victim might not be believed were he/she to tell anyone, that might contribute to the rape.
And, finally, I’d be willing to wager that there are a lot more repeat victims out there than we expect, for the believability reason as well as the reason that nobody talks about all this. Rape is already massively underreported; how do we go about even trying to wrap our minds around the sheer number of people who have been attacked multiple times? I know so many people, women especially. Myself, two of my best friends from high school, a roommate, so many people. Maybe the reason that society assumes there’s something wrong with repeat victims is that, like rape in general, they want to believe that it’s a distant, rare, and easily explainable thing. It wouldn’t surprise me.
But to every repeat victim out there: it isn’t you. I swear to the god I don’t believe in, I can’t think of a situation where it would be. Rape Is Never Your Fault: I’m sure you’ve read that from support sites a million times. So why are people trying to tell you that only applies if you’re raped once?
I wish I had more advice for you on how to get over that hurdle again: the one where you said That Was In The Past And This Is Now And It Will Never Happen Again And I know Better Now, only to have It, indeed, Happen again. The one where you resigned yourself to the idea that you were fucking disgusting, or worthless, or less than human. Because I feel like that, too. I talk to the young man I have feelings for, and I feel a little sick because I know I could never date him; I could never accept that someone could love me when I feel like there’s something dead and rancid where my sex appeal should be. I wake up in the morning and feel like a shoe that’s been tried on repeatedly and thrown away. I sit at my computer late at night, pinch the bridge of my nose between my fingers, and silently berate myself for whatever is Wrong With Me, that I let It happen again.
I know how it feels.
But if you believe what this post said (in a lot of roundabout, rambly ways) – and I do believe what I wrote, though I haven’t yet been able to make that leap of actually applying it to myself – then I hope it’s given you a different perspective, or at least made you feel a little better. I’ve found that it always helps to hear someone, even just one silly little college blogger, trying to remind me that I am not necessarily defined by the prevailing mythology about what I’ve been through.
*These are real people, but I don’t use real names, and I also don’t like using made-up names. So, econ major = use ALL the variables.
**To borrow a phrase from a blog post by Phaedra Starling – can’t say I’m really in love with the post itself, but I like the terminology and basic idea.
***Long story short, a younger male had been repeatedly harassing a friend and I – including things like pinning us up against lockers to feel us up, trying to take our clothes off int he hallway, etc – and it was becoming enough of a problem that we were having to avoid an entire wing of the school so he couldn’t find us.