Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence and Rape Culture
It’s been heartening to see the ways that sexual violence is being discussed more comprehensively and holistically in public discourse these days. More than anything else, the credit for this development rests with the brave survivors who are choosing to speak out and tell their stories while pressuring colleges, universities, and all levels of government to be more responsive to the needs of survivors.
From Know Your IX and SurvJustice, to brave individuals like Zerlina Maxwell, Angie Epifano,Wagatwe Wanjuki, and the countless others who are stepping up to share their stories, we’re witnessing a movement.
This movement has transformed many universities’ approaches to sexual violence prevention and response, and it has even made it to the U.S. Congress and the White House, with Obama standing up for all survivors of rape in a way no other U.S. president has done:
Yet whenever a movement for justice makes strides forward, there is the inevitable backlash.
You’ve got the Todd Akins of the world trying to parcel out what’s “legitimate rape.” You’ve got the Glenn Becks (or at least his employees) mocking people whose experiences with sexual violence don’t match their narrow concept of rape.
More recently, resistance came in the form of a “logic puzzle” of sorts from the ever-infuriating, self-appointed spokesperson for all atheists, Richard Dawkins:
Fortunately many people spoke out powerfully against Dawkins’ “example:”
These conceptions of sexual violence attempt to lay people’s trauma on a spectrum with one end being “shut up, it’s not that bad” and the other end being “legitimate rape.”
All this ends up doing is denying the realities and pain of survivors.
Simply put, this is perpetrator logic. Perpetrator logic says that the person impacted doesn’t get to say whether something was traumatic. The only opinions that matter are those of the perpetrator and those who defend their actions by writing off some violence as “lesser” than others.
Perpetrator logic claims that rates of sexual violence are exaggerated by feminists who define the term too broadly. After all, defining “rape” so broadly might actually mean that I’m a perpetrator of violence, even if it didn’t look like what I picture a rapist to be.
The impact of perpetrator logic, then, is the silencing of survivors. When you know people won’t believe you or give you the public and private support you need to heal, you’re far less likely to share your experience, even with loved ones.
When you’ll be shamed and questioned, you are far less likely to speak out publicly about sexual violence.
And when you know you’ll be treated like you’re the one who did something wrong within the legal system, you are far less likely to report to the police. And some wonder why rates of reporting are so low!
Collectively, we need to move away from perpetrator logic. We need to move away from that logic which attempts to define for survivors what their experience was, and we need to empower more survivors to find the healing they need.
Here are four important things we need to do in order to abandon perpetrator logic: