When I browsed trough my Twitter-timeline today, I stumbled on a debate, that has been sparked by
Adam Boulton, the political editor at Sky News, who, in a comment on an international conference
against sexual violence in war, posted the following statement:
But doesn’t it all look a bit trivial in a week when a brutal
Islamist militia took control of much of northern Iraq
-openly confounding the “casus belli” for which the British
military lost 179 lives and the US forces 4,489, and in which
more than 100,000 Iraqis died?
In short: No, Mr. Boulton, it doesn’t.
It was the same week, in which the Indian gouvenment minister Babulal Gaur
stated, in response to a brutal gang rape and murder of two young girls, that rape was “a social crime, sometimes it’s right,
sometimes it’s wrong”.
These events, and the following debate on twitter, prompted broadcaster, author and columnist
Caitlin Moran to repost a column she wrote on why
she thinks rape and other forms of sexual violence should be re-labled.
Moran realises, that the main problem, which makes dealing with sexual crime so difficult, is our
ambiguous relationship with sex. Since it is so loaded with emotion, morals and religion, she argues,
it’s hard to deal with it, so we should start treating sexual violence like we percieve any other
sort of physical assult.
The original column was written in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape in a New Dehli bus in
which a young woman was literally raped to death. Moran agrues, that in this case, the focus should
be put on the brutal violence, not on the fact that it was sexually motivated. From this observation,
she draws the conclusion, that rape, as a violent crime, should not be treated any different from
other forms of violence to put an end to the victim blaming.
I disagree. We cannot treat sexual violence the same way we treat a non-sexual violence. Just
because it isn’t the same. In many aspects it’s worse. Let’s face it, cases like the one in Dehli
that display such a shocking amount of physical violence are rare. More often than not the physical
injuries are lesser than, say on those who fell victim to domestic violence and are beaten up. And
yet, do we really need to argue that a rape would be a lesser crime, when the victim wasn’t ripped
apart? As most rape survivors will tell you the psychological injuries outweigh the physical. Of
course every form of abuse also attacks the psyche, but only few forms of violence are so damaging.
And the reason for that has everything to do with sex!
Our sexuality is, like almost everything else we do, a form of communication. Even more, it is
mostly a form of communication. The procreational aspect is just a minor side effect (really, when
was the last time you got between the sheets with someone, for the sole purpose of making a baby?).
Sexuality can be used to strengthen the bond between couples, to show outsiders, that there is no
way for them to get between two (or more) people who love each other.
It can be used to influence peoples opionons or preferences, to get an advantage or it can just be
But like every form of communication, it also has a dark side. In case of humans, sexuality is also
a behaviour of dominance. Many primates, such as chimps, use sexual behaviour to define their place
in the group and rape is not uncommon among these creatures. In many aspects, we’re not so different
from them. Every human in the world will understand the gesture of the erect middle finger. And
virtually everyone will feel insulted, when it’s directed towards them.
It’s meaning is clear: It means “I fuck you!”, or translated, “I consider myself higher ranking than
you!”. Rape is the ultimate and darkest way of communicating that message. Almost never is it done
for sexual pleasure, and it’s always seen as a demonstration of power. This is where its descructive
force originates from. It can destroy the self-conciousness of the victim by directly attacking the
victims self-perception, and her status in society. In that sense it is an attack directed at the
victims humanity itself.
Sexuality is an ancient form of communication, we inherited it from the common ancestors we share
with the great apes. It outdates spoken language and most likely the parts of our brains, where
reason and logic are located. Consequently, our initial response to sexual violence is gouverned by
the more pimordial regions of our brains, often inducing feelings of shame and guilt in the victim,
as irrational as this may seem to the mind, as well as uneasyness or fear in others. I my opinion,
this is the source of all sorts of bad things from misogyny to homophobia, it is all driven by this
This also sheds a different light on people like Babulal Gaur. His reaction to the crime, siding
with the perpetrator rather than with the victims, turns out to be an act of cowardice. He doesn’t
want to be associated with the victims, even distance himself from them, because unconsciously he’s
afraid he might be seen as one of them by others if he gets too close, and then he might have to
fight in order to keep his place in the pecking order.
Our feelings about sexualitly and sexual violence may be hard-wired, but as humans it is up to us
what we make of them. We could, of course, follow Caitlin Morans advice, and try to ignore the
sexual components in acts of violence. In other cases it might even work, because the language we
use influences our way of thinking. But in this case, in my opinion, it would be in vain, since
the part of the brain we need to address knows nothing about words, and therefore is immune to them.
Or else we could try to shine the light of reason onto our sexuality and its links with violence and
try to understand what drives us. Maybe we find out that everything I wrote here is wrong, and the
truth is entirely different. But whatever it is we find, understanding it is the key to overcoming
it. We can then give ourselves social rules, that allow us to ostracise the rapists instead of the
victims, and we could teach our children, that the first impulse you have when you hear of something
like rape, often belies reality. It’s not the easiest path to walk, because we might find that there
is a little hairy monkey inside all of us, that wants to prey on the weak and throw stones at abused
women. And all our reason will not be able to make the it go away.
But however hard it may be, we should face that monkey and put it in its place. Otherwise we’ll end
up letting it loose again and again.
In the meantime we can begin by calling the apologists of rape culture what they are: cowards.