Speaking up on rape

(Yet another blog post that’s hard to write an appropriate title for. Sorry for the lack of imagination.)

If you haven’t already read about the Brock Turner sexual assault case, you might want to do some background reading first. There are many, many articles about it. This Independent piece does a good job of showing some of the bizarre support given to the perpetrator1, along with the powerful letter from the victim. A couple of articles which helped to prompt this post, neither directly about this case, but both obviously relevant.

The latter article in particular made not writing this post increasingly difficult, compounded by tweets like this by @bookshaped:

I’d love for men to start Tweeting under a hashtag of #IRegret or something, based on times they didn’t stand up to rape culture. (I know)

… and this by @ClaireGillesp:

I’m going to retweet this from now and until I see men talk about rape culture. (Retweeting Roe McDermott’s article linked above.)

(Apologies for not knowing how to include tweets in a cooler way here.)

On the other hand, my ignorance makes writing this post pretty tricky too.

I haven’t been raped. I haven’t raped anyone. Very few of my acquaintances have told me that they’ve been raped (or sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed); I’m no longer naïve enough to believe that very few of them have been victims of those crimes, but that doesn’t help in terms of personal knowledge. Basically, I only know what I’ve read online and in a few books explicitly dealing with rape (of which Asking For It is the most obvious example) and in the general feminist literature I’ve been reading over the last couple of years. Oh, and the thinking that those books have prompted, of course.

All of this is to say that you shouldn’t expect much insight from this post. It’s more a statement of support than anything else. A small voice saying, “I acknowledge there’s a (huge!) problem, and it’s a problem men should be dealing with. It’s awful that we’re not.”

Let’s get simple things out of the way first. Things I’d love to believe are uncontroversial:

  • Rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment are unacceptable. (We could argue over the lines between the three of them. I have a fuzzy idea of where I’d draw the lines, but I’m happy to be guided here.)
  • The victim should never be blamed. Wearing sexy clothing does not make it the victim’s fault. Getting drunk doesn’t make it the victim’s fault. Passing out doesn’t make it the victim’s fault. Going from “consent given” to “consent withdrawn” doesn’t make it the victim’s fault. Rape is the fault of the rapist.
  • The perpetrator should be blamed, and held responsible. Having a promising life outside this crime doesn’t excuse it. Being drunk doesn’t excuse it. (If you can’t be drunk without assaulting someone, the onus is on you not to drink. Surely that’s a simple rule to follow.) Not having any previous convictions doesn’t excuse it.
  • A staggering number of women (and some men, of course) are victims of sexual violence and harassment. I find it hard to get my head round the statistics that are presented, but that doesn’t mean they’re not accurate – it just means the world is a nastier place than my white male middle-class privilege has shown me.
  • The conviction rates for rape are appalling, for various reasons – some of which are well-intentioned parts of general criminal justice systems, and some of which I suspect are simply male privilege at work.

The stats really are staggering – to me, anyway. I don’t remember my parents teaching me about consent explicitly, but it was just a general part of how we were brought up. I can’t get into the mindset of that sees an unconscious woman and thinks “Ah, there’s an opportunity.” When I’ve had some drinks, I certainly exercise poorer judgement in general, but that’s such an enormous leap that I just can’t understand it.

Regrets, I’ve had too few

Where I find it hard is that #IRegret part. When I said earlier that I haven’t raped anyone, I appreciate that in many cases that could be denial at work. In my case, my life has been such a stereotypically middle-class “nice boy” one that I can really be pretty confident in it. I’m likewise confident about sexual assault. For sexual harassment, it’s certainly easier to believe that I’ve inadvertently perpetrated that – and if that’s the case, I do sincerely regret it. But regretting nebulous “something I might have done” isn’t really useful.

Have I perpetuated rape culture more generally? Here I can remember one very specific remark I made while at university which objectified a woman sexually in a troubling way. (Aargh – even just finding the words now is horrible. “In a troubling way”? It was a nasty, sexist, demeaning thing to say, and I regret it.) I’ve also told a number of sexist jokes over the course of my life, hopefully decreasing over time. I’m watching myself now.

Have I tolerated others making sexist and demeaning remarks, thereby increasing the acceptance of rape culture? I’m honestly coming up blank here (my circle of friends is also pretty tame), but I think it’s pretty certain that I have. While I’d like to think that being “actively demeaning” is relatively rare for me, being too afraid to rock the boat by calling out offensive comments sounds all too plausible. I regret that, and hope to do better.

What I certainly can own up to with regret is trivializing sexual harassment. I haven’t wolf-whistled women or made comments about their cleavage etc, and I’ve always been “mildly disapproving” of such behaviour – but in the past I haven’t considered it to be as harmful as I do now. I’m never going to have the full sense of the life described in books like Everyday Sexism, but I hope I will gradually have more understanding and empathy.

Call to action

So what’s the point of this post? Why write it?

  • I hope it encourages other men to come out in support of victims and acknowledge that men have been getting away with sexual violence for far too long, and should be vocal about it.
  • I hope that in writing it, I’m encouraging myself to be less cowardly in situations where I can help to fight rape culture instead of passively accepting it.
  • I hope that it is a tiny crumb of comfort for women who don’t see men making any attempt to engage with the topic.
  • I hope it acts as encouragement to help steer money to rape crisis centres. Recently, Sarah Breen walked the Vhi Women’s Mini-Marathon in aid of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. If (like me) you’re a man feeling like you can’t do a lot to help on this issue, you can at least get your wallet out. Find a local rape crisis centre or women’s refuge to donate to, or simply skip the research and give to the Dublin RCC. (That’s a direct link to the “donate now” page. It won’t take you long. Do it now.)

1 I say the support is bizarre, but what would I do if one of my sons were in the same position? While I can hope that I’d stick to my morals, I’m not going to claim 100% certainty of that. I earnestly hope I never find out.

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Mad props to @arcaderage for the "Princess Rescue" image - see https://toggl.com/programming-princess for the full original

11 thoughts on “Speaking up on rape”

  1. Thanks for sharing this honest analysis. I have a lot of respect for you in your position, as one of the famost programmers alive, to make a stand like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All the countries that the article (link) mentions are in Africa or South Asia. Their culture would not change so easily because they inheritance violence. The culture of violence. The culture of hate.
    It’s too difficult to recognize a raper as the article mention. Even after an exhaustive test it’s difficult to predict such behavior. First, discover the mind of others persons and assure that the person is a potentially a raper. It’s impossible actually even for a group of well trained psychologist. Persons who not treat well to woman also not treat well at man. Only, technology could provide a solution to this kind of civilization problems. IMHO.


    1. I’m not sure which article you’re referring to. I don’t think any of the links I’ve got here talk about Africa or South Asia. Rape and sexual assault are certainly not restricted to those regions though.


      1. I was talking about the first link in the post it redirects to a rape case article, scrolling down there is a slide showing country with more sex violence. I agree that is not just in those country but, we can say that the concentration is most on them. European country or English spoken country have less sex violence assault crime. This is because of culture. It’s a problem of lack of opportunities and lack of education. Maybe, you can read that the statistic takes United States on the top but, I believe that there is an under reported situation in most of Africa, and Asia countries. For example: India.


        1. Ismael Tisminetzky

          You say “European country or English spoken country have less sex violence assault crime. This is because of culture. It’s a problem of lack of opportunities and lack of education”

          Two things,
          1. “Less” isn’t less enough, “some” is too much. You wouldn’t be happy if a friend gave a character reference for you that said “There are worse people than him, he has less faults than those”
          2. There’s a “get it where you can” culture in young men that transcends social boundaries, it has little to do with “lack of opportunities”, not all men are like this, no, but many are, and many think cat-calling & pinching bottoms is harmless fun. It’s not, it’s where all this starts.

          Where we agree is that it depends on education, though probably not in the way you mean. We as a society need to change the message young men get, we need to stop objectifying women. This is a cultural shift that will take decades, but the most powerful weapon to hand is the next generation, we need to teach children that no means no, and always means no.


          1. Binary Worrier,

            I guess, my words are not exactly as number, I state that is less probable in Schengen countries.
            Education is a most but, what happens in Christian Roman Education ? It’s not rape but, it’s abuse. Where I’m from Argentina, this is spread well-known in religious schools.


        2. Not sure how you came upon this conclusion that its worse in countries like India when stats shows USA is at top. Implying that English Speaking cultures have lesser sex crime than say Africa and South asia is highly offensive especially if you have no data to prove this and most likely you have never been to the region. Going by history/present you will find it is actually the other way. European countries historically have shown no resistance to violence or crime in general. Quite possible that total number of incident in India may be greater than the UK/Germany but then population of India alone is greater than entire EUROPE+USA combined.
          Please do a fact check before forming an opinion.


  3. Thank you for writing this. The stats on rape are appalling. In my region 1 in 4 women have suffered sexual violence. Those stats are for those rapes that are reported. I appreciate your thoughts and being willing to express your thoughts so eloquently.


  4. Hi Jon,

    First off, love your work on StackOverflow. Excellent stuff.

    I wanted your help clarifying something. I completely agree that the victim should never be blamed. They clearly didn’t do anything wrong by dressing a certain way or drinking or anything. This next part is tricky to say without people thinking i’m trying to blame the victim, but here goes.

    Before there is a victim of any crime, people need to behave in responsible ways. I traveled to Mexico City for work once, and there was tons of training about the area and practical advice like, don’t wear too much jewelry, stay in groups, don’t venture into empty area, etc. Had something happened to me, I would not have been at fault. The person who committed the crime would have been. However, if I were to consciously ignore my advice I would think I was acting irresponsibly. I would NOT say I was asking for it.

    I’ve had this conversation maybe twice in real life and the first time it turned into a mess. I do think that my view point is different than blaming the victim however I don’t know how to phrase it any differently than I have here.

    If you do agree that my point of view is different, how do you suggest I phrase it? If you don’t agree then can you help me understand why my position is the same as blaming the victim?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have the same internal dialogue, but I don’t have any answers at the moment I’m afraid.

      One aspect which is problematic in terms of rape is that posters, advice etc telling women how to dress, how to behave etc to avoid being raped is well-intended but all contributes to the “asking for it” culture. Wanting to be able to walk home on your own without being at risk isn’t an unreasonable request, IMO. Is walking home alone knowing that it is risky irresponsible, or is it part of trying to rebel against that being the status quo? I don’t know, and to be clear I’m not an expert on this matter at all. Hopefully if you were to ask a more accomplished feminist (where I’m just a novice) they’d have a better answer.


    2. I agree this is a very hard topic to talk about. But my thought on it, is the level of society that you’re prepared to accept. In Mexico City they’re accepting the reality of a certain level of violence and warning people is the workaround for the problem. In the same way giving advice on how not to get assaulted is a workaround. If we want to accept the level of society that we have then we go on giving advice to the potential victims. But if we want to improve the society that we have then we have to focus the attention on fixing the underlying problem.

      Forgive my analogy but as a trivial geeky example I’d bring up a similarity to Richard Stallman. When ever people I’ve seen him interviewed he gets asked about how happy he must with all the open source software that is coming out. However he always gives a grumpy sarcastic response that indicates that he’s not happy at all with the situation. He wants all software to be completely free, meeting the four essential freedoms 1 and accepting some middle ground is not acceptable to him. His unreasonableness is what pushes the boundaries of free software.

      The only acceptable result is where we don’t need to give out warning advice to anyone about sexual assualt any more. We want to push the boundary of what is currently the accepted level of sexual assault, so in my view we have to be unreasonable about expecting that people should have to read guidelines.

      We’re clearly not there though. Perhaps to keep peoples minds focussed, if any one does produce a list of guidelines at the top it should first say what is being done in the area so that the following guidelines won’t be needed anymore.


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