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Today there is a group distributing a religious tract called Women and Girls. Right here, in the United States. It teaches girls that they make men want to be sinful.

"You may have been given this leaflet because of the way you are dressed," it begins. "Have you thought about standing before the true and living God to be judged?"

The leaflet warns particularly about tight and form fitting clothing.

Scripture tells us that when a man looks on a woman to lust for her he has already committed adultery in his heart. If you are dressed in a way that tempts a men to do this secret (or not so secret) sin, you are a participant in the sin...By the way, some rape victims would not have been raped if they had dressed properly. So can we really say they were innocent victims?

The world over, women are held responsible for sexual crimes perpetrated against them. Sometimes when a woman is raped, she is caned, shamed, and sometimes even put to death. Marianne Mollmann, who is the director for women's rights at Human Rights Watch wrote Ending Impunity for Rape. She tells us that rape is rarely prosecuted anywhere in the world, and very few sexual assaults get reported. She says that all too often laws and judicial systems determine that forced sex does not qualify as a crime, and women who tell their stories often face a difficult battle.

Although most people agree that rape is bad, it tends to get classified into many different bins -- bins that get graded on a scale from "unconscionable" to "much deserved." Mollmann argues that laws often make make particular cases difficult to prosecute, and the standards for each crime depend on factors such as family status, sobriety and ethnicity.

It's not rape if she is my wife.
It's not rape if she is my daughter.
It's not rape if she was drunk.
It's not rape if my culture mandates intercourse.

Under most state criminal codes in Mexico, incest is a crime against the family, and not the victim. So, if a girl gets raped by her father it is consentual unless proven otherwise.

Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, stood trial for rape charges in 2006. He testified that the woman signaled her arousal to him by wearing a knee-length skirt to his house and sitting with her legs crossed. He was acquitted.

Ethiopia and Indonesia define rape only outside of marriage. Elsewhere, rape is sometimes more broadly defined, but interpreted by courts and police as excluding marital rape. Brazil and Libya will exonerate a rapist if he agrees to marry his victim.

In the United States, there is a temptation to marginalize rape when it happens in other countries, as if it does not happen to us. Brutal violence gets dismissed as cultural or religious. It happens in other countries, of course. But the fact remains that violence against women knows no class, no wealth, no rank or station in life, and it certainly knows no nationality. And it turns out that the US convincts just about 10% of rape complaints filed. Britian convicts about 6%.

The violence against women in Afghanistan is endemic.
How do we know she's telling the truth?
It won't happen to me. I know judo.
She should have been smarter than that.

What do we really understand about sexual assault? Standards range from "it isn't rape unless she's visibly wounded" to "it's rape if she didn't want it, even if she didn't tell him." And it is no simple task to quantify the grey area in between. But quantifying is something we must do. But not until we look at the wrong thinking.

The ideas about that grey area are personal. They are based in our own sexual experience. All crimes carry the weight of innocent until proven guilty -- so why don't we suspect a victim of being complicit in their own mugging under ordinary circimstances?

We look a mugging victim in the eye, but cast a shameful downward glance at a rape victim. And most of the excuses we make for justifying rape carry with them an element of denial. Perhaps the perisistent victim blaming is really a way to clinging to hope that it can't happen to me.

Smart girls don't get raped.
Good girls don't get raped.
That won't happen to my wife, she knows judo.
We don't act like that.

If I'm smart, good, and strong -- and if I'm well behaved, sophisticated, and wear the right clothing -- I won't get raped. And if I can keep my gaze on the others, I don't have to be afraid.

h/t to teacherken for his Mollmann diary.

Here is a link to the Say No to Violence campaign. ht to Cleopatra.

Originally posted to rb137 on Sun Feb 28, 2010 at 11:19 AM PST.

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