MacMillan, Freada Klein
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Sep/Oct 1974
Anti-rape organizing began initially as a reaction against rape. Many of us are now feeling the need to stop and examine what we are doing and to engage in some self-criticism. As women organized against rape, we must define our long-range goals: Do we merely seek to broaden or refine the ways we combat rape? Or do we intend to elim¬inate rape? What does this imply?
The media, advertising, and pornography all promote violence against women, and the use of women as objects. As long as sexism is profitable, rape will not be eliminated.
In a society full of tension, rape and other abuses against women serve as a safety valve. Rape allows individual men to let off steam without threatening the status quo. Rape is a mechanism used to terrorize and subjugate women in much the same way that lynching has been used against blacks.
Patriarchal values insist that everyone must have someone to oppress. Rape is not an isolated crime, but part of an elaborate social structure in which sexism is deeply ingrained. Rape will be eliminated only when all the structural conditions which produce and perpetuate it are eliminated.
In this issue, we want to begin to examine our relationship to the criminal justice system and the contradictions it poses for us as women organized against rape. We need to develop strategies for deal¬ing with those contradictions.
As women, we cannot expect justice from a male-dominated and controlled system. This system is based on an eye-for-an-eye mental¬ity. Feelings are not dealt with under the law, only qualitative mea¬surements based on a white male experience. Because men are rarely, if ever, subject to rape, they cannot identify with the feelings of a rape victim. Thus, Inez Garcia was convicted and sentenced for killing one of the two men who raped her. (See FREE INEZ!). One male juror in Inez's case said:
"Murder is physical harm, and rape is just a guy trying to screw a woman and give her a good time."
As rape is given more publicity, more money and energy is spent prosecuting and convicting rapists. How is this after-the-fact action helping us as women? The rape rate appears to be increasing. In fact, if all men who had ever raped were incarcerated tomorrow, rape would continue outside as well as inside prisons. Incarceration
does not change the societal attitudes which promote rape. In a society that deals with symptoms rather than causes of problems, prisons make perfect sense. Confronting the causes of rape would threaten the basic structure of society.
By actively encouraging women to prosecute a rape we are helping to reinforce the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. This system convicts primarily poor and non-white men for a crime that we know is universally committed by men. In New York and Washington, D.C., of the few rapists who are convicted, most are on the street again within two years. Plus, it takes at least six months to get a conviction. But most important, prison is vindictive -- it is not concerned with change but with punishment. And its real social function is similar to that of rape -- it acts as a buffer, as an oppressive institution where a few scapegoats pay for the ills of society.
Whenever this issue is raised, it is often dismissed because there are no exist¬ing alternatives to the criminal justice system. This is a valid problem. But rather than resigning' ourselves to it, we should begin to actively seek alternatives. We pro¬pose this, not because we're "soft on rapists", but because of our own long-range self¬interest as women.
Concern over what happens to a rapist once convicted can be viewed in two ways First, we can view it as women still trapped by our "other-directed" or "selfless" socialization; or, we can view it as a logical outgrowth of our politics.
The next question, of course, is what measures can we as feminists adopt to approach realization of a rapeless society? A variety of responses have been generated, ranging from full cooperation with existing institutions that come in contact with rape victims, to formation of vigilante groups. Vigilante tactics are usually ineffectual and often personally self-destructive. Full cooperation with existing institutions too often means providing free labor to perpetuate our own oppression. Yet maintaining lines of communication with such institutions is an essential part of rape victim advocacy.
One positive direction is to force institutions to deal with the nine out of ten victims who do not report rape (e.g., pressuring emergency rooms to give medical treatment to victims who do not want to report; advocating third part or anonymous reporting to the police, etc.). In the long run, whether or not to report should be viewed as a personal decision of the victim, not as a political solution or a responsibility to other women.
Another focus which most anti-rape groups have included is rape prevention: self-defense classes or referrals and common sense guidelines for protection at home and on the streets. Women in Seattle have proposed a Special Protection Unit to deal with violence against women. (See THE SEATTLE PROPOSAL)
Another recent direction that has been discussed is feminist-controlled "treat¬ment" for rapists. Although this is once again a measure which ostensibly deals with rape only after-the-fact, it offers substantial potential for preventing rape as well. It is our belief that sexism cannot be eradicated until men begin serious examination of their prescribed roles, and determine that it is in their self-interest to struggle against sex¬ism. But until this occurs on a wide scale, women are still being raped.
With rape legislation undergoing reform in many parts of the country, the rate of rape convictions will undoubtedly rise. This fact contributes to the already urgent need for us to confront the issue of defining what "rehabilitation" for a rapist means to
us. We know that the few existing treatment programs geared towards rape are based on a ,
view of rape as aberrant or psychopathic behavior. If we reject this definition, in favor of one that defines rape as a violent, aggressive act against women, how can we expect any "treatment" to be effective?
Although we view educating men as the responsibility of men, feminists can assume the role as catalysts. Some of us have already begun to meet with men in prison (See PRISONERS AGAINST RAPE), with the short-term goal of getting these men out into the community to do speaking and to educate other men. We also hope to work with them to conduct consciousness-raising and political education in prisons and halfway houses. The role of feminist women in such programs is crucial,
both as having major input into the content and style of such programs, as well as to be visible in non-traditional roles.
In suggesting such an approach, we've encountered much criticism and have not resolved several important issues. For example, how do we deal with security problems?
By what criteria will we determine when an alleged rapist or convicted rapist is "rehabilitated"? What kinds of follow-up will we need, since the society as yet does not support either men or women for being nonsexist?
We are requesting feedback, and also are encouraging women in other cities to initiate contacting progressive men both in prison and within the community to discuss this kind of program.