Advocate for Rape Victims



MEN ON RAPE: What They Have To Say About Sexual Violence by Timothy Beneke, St. Martin’s Press, 1982


A selection of interviews with men from every walk of American life provides original insights into, and disturbing revelations about the male attitude toward sexual violence in modern society.



Chapter 8 (pp. 157-168)


An Advocate for Rape Victims Responds


“The underlying assumption in these interviews is that if somehow women would change their behavior, men might stop raping.” ~ Adrea Rechtin


If attitudes toward rape are to change, we must have a clear sense of what attitudes exist. The foregoing interviews have been pre­sented to reveal some prevalent attitudes. But to present a variety of male perspectives on rape, so many of which are misguided, without at the same time presenting an informed woman’s per­spective on the men, would also be misguided. Andrea Rechtin offers this perspective. She is sexual assault counselor/advocate for the Alameda County Victim Assistance Program, District Attor­ney’s Office, Oakland, California. She has provided services to over four thousand sexual assault victims in the past five years. She is an advocate for victims in the courts, refers most of the victims she sees to therapists, and helps victims obtain compensa­tion for wage loss, therapy, and other medical expenses. She pro­vides training and education on sexual assault in the community. She is twenty-eight.



After reading these interviews, I wonder whether we have learned anything in the past few years about why men rape. It took me days to figure out why I became so incensed. It was not that men view rape that much differently than women, because unfortunately too many women see rape exactly as these men do. But what these men would have us believe is that rape is not a crime of violence but is instead some extreme form of sexual seduction; and that in some way, women are to be blamed for being raped because we provoke sexual hostility from men.


The underlying assumption in these interviews is that if somehow women would change their behavior, men might stop raping. I guess in the past five years of working with rape victims I’ve been wanting to believe that attitudes are changing, that we as a society are beginning to understand that rape is a violent crime. What makes me so angry and what even scares me is that I see these interviews as a step backward in rape education. It’s clear to me that so many of these men have spent a considerable amount of time, perhaps even years, becoming “sensitive” to rape but their con­voluted “raps” have never been challenged or questioned critically either by themselves or by others. I hope that other people reading these interviews will realize that underneath all their rationaliza­tions these men still believe that rape is seduction, no matter how brutal the crime.


How should rape be viewed?


Let me first give you an example of the double standard we set only for sexual assault victims. Compare rape with armed robbery. Armed robbery is no less a crime if the victim is unin­jured. As a matter of fact, bank employees are taught to remain calm and are rewarded if only the money is taken. It’s a real double standard in rape because if you don’t fight back, you’re blamed for not protecting something everyone tells you you’re supposed to protect, because rape is seen as a sexual crime. None of these men talk about rape as a crime of violence which is inflicted on persons, female or male, of all ages. They do not talk about rape as a form of violence, primarily against females, whether that violence is beating your wife or mother or molesting your own child. They never discuss rape as a violent crime among many other crimes. Most rapes occur along with other crimes— robbery, burglary, assault, kidnap, attempted murder, or even murder. We must realize that rape is always a crime of violence, even if the woman is not beaten. Rape is not seduction and we are never going to understand rape if we view it as sexual behavior— rape is a hostile and cruel act of violence which threatens the life of the victim.


Why is it important for us to look at rape as violence?


While looking at women’s behavior and discussing sexual tensions and role relationships make it easier for men (and many women) to talk about the problem of rape, it will not help us to understand the crime, which is one of violence. The fact is, all of us undoubtedly have sexual tensions, but this does not explain why certain men rape women, children, and other men. To look at rape, we need to look at violence in our culture and the causes of that violence.


Women are being raped every day by men who are total strangers. Women are being raped every day by men whom they trust, whom they love, whom they may have known for years. It is easy for many of us to judge the victims involved and demand that victims change their behavior. It is far more difficult for us to confront our own anger about violence that rape brings into our lives or the lives of those close to us. When loved ones or women close to us are raped we are angry and fearful at having to admit we live in a violent community. We will also feel angry that we were unable to prevent that violence from happening. Violence breeds violence and it is terrifying for many of us to recognize that violence within ourselves. To accept rape as a crime of violence is equally terrifying.


The men interviewed, especially the therapists and psychia­trists, are not acknowledging that they have these feelings deep down. After all, labeling rape as a “psychiatric symptom” gives these professionals a fairly simple explanation. They see rape only in terms of the psychological stresses of certain situations triggering the sexual impulses over which rapists have little control. This thinking subtly shifts responsibility for the crime back to the victim and allows the professional to distance himself from his own feelings of anger about violence. These professionals would have us believe that rape is not really a crime of violence but only a sexual aberration on the part of rapists which is brought on by some action of the victim. It makes the crime easy to dismiss. It keeps your own life safe from the horror of the crime.


Some men I interviewed spoke freely of their rape fantasies. What does this tell you about the causes of rape?


Many of these men have the attitude of “yes, I do acknowl­edge my fantasies but I would never act them out. I’m not a rapist-type person.” The premise is that it is the acting out of the fantasies that distinguishes a rapist from the rest of men in society. This attitude promotes sympathy once again for the rapist—that some provocation has unconsciously pushed him over some thin boundary from fantasizing about rape to committing the act. These men also want us to believe that sexual manipulation by women has confused and blurred the line between seduction and rape. Such confusion then makes it more difficult for rapists to know whether they are even committing a rape or not. I do not believe that rape fantasies tell us why certain men rape in certain situations and why others do not. Most if not all of us have sexual fantasies, but most of us do not rape others. Whether expanding our knowledge of rape fantasies will improve our knowledge of sexual tensions is questionable. I strongly believe that rape fanta­sies are not the cause of the crime. Instead we should look at why some men need personal violence and choose rape as an outlet.


You say men should be more self-critical of their feelings about rape as a crime. Why is this important?


The men interviewed rarely talk about their own reactions to rape. For those with wives or girl friends as victims, their reactions to rape dealt mostly with how their lovers responded during or after the rape and whether their relationship was terminated as a result of the rape. The men seemed capable of only two reactions to rapists: a passive empathy for the assailant who is somehow sexually provoked and/or a blind rage in which they want only to kill the rapist. The men feel this rage only if the rape is inflicted on someone close to them. The men see rapists as either perverted criminals or as ordinary men like themselves who were trapped into rape and are not criminals. They are uncomfortable with the reality that most rapists are otherwise normal men who succumb to criminal violence against women. Equally hard for these men to face is that rape is always a crime.


When confronted with the facts of a situation these men will rarely deny that a rape has occurred but will typically argue that under the circumstances the act was not a crime. The Vietnam war vets, for example [see Chapter 2, A Variety of Men, “Daniel” and Chapter 4, Husbands, Lovers, and Friends, “Gary”], describe rape of Vietnamese women as somehow different from rape in the U.S. They say that you have to see rape in the larger context of American attitudes toward Vietnamese women, who were seen as stupid, to be killed if you wanted to, that they weren’t human. That’s exactly what happens when a rapist rapes a woman in America. One man [see “Daniel”] says the Vietnamese women became objects of fear and dread and that it was easy to feel angry at them. That’s exactly what the “All-American” rapist [see Chapter 3, Rapist, “Chuck”] says, that it was easy to feel that kind of hatred toward women when he raped. Another man [see Chapter 2, A Variety of Men, “Mark”] fantasized about raping female Nazi guards. His ratio­nale for doing that, he says, is to righteously punish them for what they had done to others.


It is important for men to begin to question how they feel about rapists if they are going to dispel their myths about rape as an extreme form of seduction. It is especially difficult for men to accept the mentality and actions of a rapist for what they are. A rapist is punishing a woman for what he believes she or someone else has done to him. Typically, the rapist will say to his victim. “I’m going to degrade you, show you who’s boss; I’ve got power over you and you better accept it, bitch, because that’s the way it is.” How can this be mistaken for seduction? Rape is brought on by a rapist’s need to commit personal violence and feel the power it creates, and not by the pressures of seduction fantasies.


Would you expand more on how you see rapists?


Rapists are not passionate. During the crime, they become cold, ruthless, and violent. The women become faceless objects. Women walk into court to testify and rapists will turn around to watch them. Some have even said “Oh, that one.” What rapists tell women who they rape is that they feel degraded, angry, and inferior. They’ve been raised to feel superior to women and to other men. When a rapist feels put down, he tries to become superior again by raping an inferior human being, whether that be a woman, child, or another male. The rapist uses females primar­ily as a convenient target for his rage, not his sexual frustrations.


And it makes no difference if you know the man beforehand. Most of the men in these interviews don’t take acquaintance rape seriously; it’s somehow only really rape if someone breaks into your house and beats you. As one of the investigators said, “If only the man would be nice to her afterward she wouldn’t report it.” There is usually a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality to the rapists. In nearly every rape case I’ve seen, the man has apologized to the woman after raping her. He may give her a glass of water after breaking in her house and raping her in bed, he may drop her off at her house after kidnapping her, he may send her flowers two days later, he may call her up and ask her out for a date. I even had a case where the man said during the rape, “I really hope I’m not messing you up, I really hope I’m not because I know what it does to women, I know what it’s done to the other women I’ve raped and I don’t want it to happen to you.” However, during the rape he was also telling her what a whore she was; he hog-tied, raped, and robbed her, and stole her car.


Typically rapists constitute a cross-section of society. They do not stand out as degenerates or sexual deviants. Many rapists are physically attractive, employed, have wives and/or girl friends, a normal sex life, and children. They wear nice clothes to court (sometimes suits and ties) and their family usually appears at court to support them. Most of these same men have long criminal records which include assault, robbery, burglary, and occasionally murder. A few rapists have long records for sexual assault only. A few men have a long history of sexual assault with no prior arrests. There is no typical rapist or typical rape situation. The common factor in rape situations is premeditated violence, whether the victim is a stranger or an acquaintance. A rapist may wait on the street for a woman to walk by or a rapist may ask a woman out on a date and “set her up” to be raped by himself and his friends.


I disagree with the interviewees who say we should view rapists as victims of their sexual fantasies. Many of the men inter­viewed obviously feel sympathy for the rapist’s plight, of seeing the rapist being suddenly overwhelmed by a woman’s provocative behavior and wanting her sexually no matter what the cost. Ra­pists are not out-of-control sex maniacs. They are calculating, deliberate, and dangerous.


What do women go through when they are raped?


Rape injures the core of your being. You can be robbed and beaten but being raped violates something very primitive and basic to your psychic being. You grow up believing that you have the right not to be violated. The fear is that you are not going to live through it, that this man will never let you go. The experience of being raped has little if anything to do with sex. Your mind is going fifty directions at once. How am I going to deal with this man? How am I going to calm him down? Do I fight? Do I submit and promise to do anything if he’ll let me go? What’s going through your mind is that your life is in danger. You’re going to be raped and you may be killed. So if you can get out of it alive any way you can, by God you’re going to do it.


What rape does is destroy for a woman her concept of what the world is—everything is turned upside down and demands reexamination before she can go on with her life. Rape can destroy your ability to respect and trust others, to be independent and learn self-confidence, to see yourself in the future as someone other than a victim. You question your intuition and your ability to judge another’s intentions and motivations. You question whether you will ever feel safe again. You may live in terror for years believing the rapist will return or that you will be victimized again by someone else. You may isolate yourself emotionally, deny your terror, become immobilized. You question whether the future holds anything positive for you—you blame yourself for your own victimization. You feel angry, sad, confused. You also feel that “they” told me it was going to happen and “they” were right. You start taking responsibility for the rape and ask yourself how you could have prevented it. And what’s worse, you have to deal not only with your own emotions but with everyone else’s around you. Rape is one of those crimes about which everyone has something to say.


How are rape victims forced to respond to other people’s emotions?


Immediately after you’ve been raped, you are incredibly vul­nerable to other people’s reactions. That’s why sensitive police officers are so vital to a woman’s emotional well-being after the crime. Here you’ve gone through this hellish ordeal, thanking God that you are alive, and the last thing you need is someone question­ing you about your motive for reporting or asking you questions about your personal life or why you didn’t resist more. If you’re hysterical, people think you’re crazy or psychotic; if you’re with­drawn and speaking in a monotone, people wonder why you’re not more upset. No one, not even yourself, realizes that you are in shock, sometimes for weeks later. Victims, however, are acutely aware of other people’s reactions. Do they believe me? Who should I tell? How will my family react? Will my father, my boyfriend, my brother want to kill the rapist? What will they think of me? Will they treat me differently? Will they blame me?


Rape victims are put in a terrible bind. Men expect women to remain innocent yet women are blamed if they’re not constantly on the lookout. Rape victims are blamed if they do anything that men call stupid or bad judgment. You are blamed if you are angry after the rape—anger disturbs other people and they are uncom­fortable if you become hostile and bitter and resentful. You are expected to be forgiving and become your “old self” again, which of course is impossible. You’re blamed if you don’t talk to others about the rape; you’re blamed if you talk too much about it and take “too long” to “get over it.” You’re blamed if you want to escape everyone associated with the aftermath of the crime and just go off somewhere else by yourself. If your boyfriend wants to kill the rapist, you have to calm him down. You probably won’t tell your family because you don’t want to deal with your father’s anger and your mother’s tears, because then you’ll have to tell them everything is fine even when it’s not and you feel like you’re cracking inside. And so you internalize all your emotions in order to cope and people tell you how wonderfully you’re doing and how proud of you they are. And deep down they wonder about the rape and feel rejected and angry because you shut them out.


People do not understand that being raped is not just “bad sex” but is violence inflicted upon your mind as well as your body, and that it can affect your life for years. Many police investigators say, “I went out and saw her and showed her some mug shots. She’s okay, she’s back to normal. You don’t need to bother her.” And only months later, she’s tried to commit suicide or she’s gotten a divorce. For over half of the three thousand victims with relationships that I’ve seen, the rape precipitated a breakup within a year. Many of the remaining relationships break up within two to four years after the crime. Persons who are raped are of both sexes, all ages, all races, all socioeconomic groups. And each rape victim responds a bit differently to the assault depending on her upbringing, the way she has dealt with tragic incidents in the past, and the amount of support she receives from people close to her after the rape.


Why do you think violence is so threatening for people to think about? Why are there such strong reactions to rape?


Violence is threatening because we want to believe we have control of our lives at all times. Somehow if we take precautions then rape should not happen to us. Men are the ones who are given permission in our society to be violent and women are raised to be passive. Threats to your security are something women have from day one. You grow up female knowing that your life is inhibited and restrained in many ways because of the violence men can inflict upon you. But the anger doesn’t tend to come out until after you’ve been attacked and you realize how truly vulnerable you are. It’s difficult for both men and women to realize that no matter how many restraints women impose on their own lives, rape cannot be totally prevented. It is the irrationality and ran­domness of rape which is so terrifying deep down for us. So we find ways to blame the victim.


I was raped during my first week at a women’s college. I was at a coed orientation dorm party. I had only dated one other person in my life before. The graduate school of the nearby college had been invited to the dorm. We were all sitting around and this graduate student invited me out for a walk around campus. We were walking along talking and all of a sudden he throws me in the bushes and starts pulling off my clothes. I never reported the rape. I knew it was my fault even if I couldn’t figure out exactly why. Sometime later a woman was raped in the dorm adjacent to mine. I never heard anything else about it except rumors that she had left the college. When I was young I was also molested by my next-door neighbor. He was a “friend of the family.” I always felt that was my fault, too, and never told anyone until recently. He always told me what a bad girl I was.


It is also terrifying to realize how prevalent rape is. Some­times I wish that for one day I could believe that everybody in the world wasn’t violent and that I could walk down the street and not have to look over my shoulder. I take a dance class. Of the sixteen women in the class, there are now five who I know have been raped in the last five years. I don’t know about the others. The statistics say that one in four women will be sexually abused by the age of eighteen. Now it’s being confirmed in my own life. Most women I talk to have been previously sexually abused. It may not be rape; it may be child molestation or incest or at­tempted rape. And it doesn’t just happen to you once, it happens three or four times. I think most men have no idea what it feels like to grow up in that kind of reality.


You work in the courts. How do you feel about the way the courts see rape? How do you feel about what the lawyers and police say in these interviews?


Even though rape is a felony, as are other crimes of violence, and is legally prosecuted as The People vs. The Rapist, a crime against one’s community and state, the courts do not view rape as a societal crime. They personalize the crime. This explains the police officers and D.A.s who react so emotionally to the sixteen- year-old virgin and who want to put their arm around her and tell her they will get that son of a bitch for her. The cases that are prosecuted vigorously are those where the D.A. is personally outraged by the crime. The D.A.s have a protective attitude to­ward the rape victim, just like they have toward their wives and daughters [see Chapter 5, Lawyers, “Robert”]. This attitude, how­ever, also explains the reaction of the courts when the system fails in some way to protect the victim or convict the rapist. The blame is immediately shifted back to the victim—she wasn’t credible enough, the facts weren’t good enough, the victim had unreason­able expectations—instead of a failure of the court system. The courts see rape as a crime against the individual, not against their community.


Like others in society, police and lawyers and judges want to see rapists as different from themselves. It is far easier to see rapists as different from themselves. It is far easier to see rapists as sexual aberrants than as otherwise normal people who choose rape as the outlet for their violent feelings. The courts tend to deal harshly only with repeat offenders or those who severely beat the women during the rape. There is an underlying sympathy for the rapist who only threatens violence, rapes, and then apologizes profusely to the victim. It is difficult for people to believe that it is precisely that threat of violence, whether actualized or not, that is so terrifying and life-threatening to the victim.


Rape is epidemic in my county. Only one in ten reported rapists is ever prosecuted and only one in fifty is sent to state prison. Rape is on the increase in our society and more women are reporting it. What is happening, though, is that the more rape is reported, the more society wants to ignore it, and the more ration­alizations the courts will find for blaming the victim, rationaliza­tions that will deny the prevalence of violence. The incidence of rape is so high that the justice system is unable and/or unwilling to contain it. The professionals in the justice system are angry at their own inadequacies to combat the increase. They are also angered by our indifference to the crime; most people do not want to hear about the pervasiveness of rape.


These frustrations make justice system professionals angry and defensive. Their personal views of rapists are ambiguous and confused. They view rapists as either victims of sexual entrapment themselves or as incorrigible sexual deviants who should be incar­cerated for life. What society tells our justice system is equally confusing. We pass laws for stiffer penalties for rape and determi­nate (fixed) sentences for all crimes of violence. At the same time, we tell our justice system professionals to incarcerate fewer crimi­nals because the prisons are full and imprisonment has failed to rehabilitate rapists.


It is clear to me that all the recent emphasis on sensitivity training for police and lawyers will not solve the problem of the lack of prosecution and punishment of rapists. That became clear to me through these interviews. They epitomize for me what can be so damaging about rape sensitivity training as a solution to the problem of rape—professionals can appear sensitive to others by what they say, but underneath they have not changed their ideas or become self-critical in any way. It’s all well and good to have persons in the system who in one hour or one week learn the sensitivity “rap” for rape victims but this will not help them deal with their own attitudes toward the rapist and crime he has com­mitted. More importantly, sensitivity training does not say to the professional that rape is a crime against society instead of only against an individual. The rationalization in the courts is that as long as you treat the rape victim well, you are doing your job.


Unfortunately, while the rape victim may feel better emotionally while going through the system, sensitivity training does not in any way ensure that the case will be prosecuted vigorously. As long as our society and our court system, as a mirror of that society, continue to see rape as sexual conflict between two in­dividuals, then we will never understand the proper role of the courts: to enforce the idea that rape is a crime against society, regardless of circumstance.


Do you have any general thoughts about the interviews as a whole?


Yes, I do. After many hours of thinking over these interviews and feeling such total anger at what is said in them, my view of them is that they are written for men but directed at women. By that I mean that they almost constitute an “I’m okay, you’re okay” manual for rapists, male professionals, lovers, and friends. The interviews help men identify with other men about their attitudes on women and their attitudes on rape in a noncritical, nonjudgmental manner. The interviews are directed at women because the moral of these interviews is that once again women need to change their behavior, not men, and that rape will de­crease as a result. By reading the interviews we, as women, are supposed to learn about men’s anger at women and forgive their hostility and frustrations. There is no recognition by these men that rape epitomizes all violent crime where there is no respect for the value of another human life. As long as we view rape as seduction, and at worst unwanted sex, we will never understand rape. If we push ourselves to see the violence in rape for what it is, perhaps then we can begin to understand the degradation of rape victims. Rape is a crime which degrades us all and not just another form of aggressive sexual behavior between individuals, as these interviews would have us believe. We do not need yet an­other elaborate apology for violence, but the resolve to end our tolerance of it.





Conclusion (pp. 169-171)


A woman, having been harassed by men, protested: “Why are they so angry?”



It will take much thought as yet unthought, by men in states of perception as yet unattained, to answer her. And any answer must serve primarily to assure women’s safety. At this point in history men have only begun to acknowledge their anger at women, to reflect on its origins, to confront its manifestations. This book is, in part, an exploration of that anger, an attempt to give it air and light. In a culture where women are brutalized, where few men acknowledge that brutalization and fewer still evince indignation over it, just getting men to talk (more or less) honestly about rape has value. If a major attempt is to be made to confront the problem of rape, many things must happen. I will mention a few.


First, rape (and violence against women generally) must be perceived, pure and simple, as a man’s problem and one that results directly from the way men regard women in American culture. Since 1971, when women first made of rape a contempo­rary political issue, women have agitated, educated, lobbied, learned self defense, formed rape crisis centers, rewritten archaic rape laws, provided better treatment for rape survivors, and given each other strength, confidence, comfort, and love. But what of the response of men? It is men who rape and men who collectively have the power to end rape. The enormous resources of American men—intellectual, economic, political—must be marshaled to that end. This will only begin to happen when men cease blaming women for rape. The many insidious and cruel maneuvers by which this is done—treating rape as natural, relating a woman’s appearance to a weapon, regarding women as commodities, pro­jecting sexual desire onto women, treating rape survivors as dupes, distrusting women’s credibility, and generally imputing motives alien to women’s intentions—must be clearly confronted.


Second, rape must be comprehended both in terms of the crime itself and the effect of its threat on women’s lives. The ways in which the threat of rape alters the meaning and feel of the night and nature, inhibits the freedom of the eye, hurts women economi­cally, undercuts women’s independence, destroys solitude, and restricts expressiveness must be acknowledged as part of the crime.


Third, rape must be seen as part of a continuum of acts of violence against women which together constitute a major mental health issue for all women in American culture. Starting at the less severe end of the continuum such acts might include: harassment —rude stares and noises accompanying women as they walk down the street, grabbing or touching women’s bodies without permis­sion, unwanted attentions and intrusions, and suggested rewards for sexual favors in work situations; obscene phone calls; exhibi­tionism; Peeping Toms; spouse battering; dating rape, marital rape, and rape by strangers; incest; and femicide, the murder of women because they’re women.


Fourth, marital rape must be given its full acknowledgment as a crime; laws must be passed in the forty states where it is currently legal.


And finally, a conversation must begin between men and women. Perhaps for a long time, the most urgent part of that conversation will consist of men listening to women describe their sufferings. In the past, most men have not listened. It is painful but necessary to acknowledge the sense in which men benefit from violence against women. Men compete with women in myriad ways, both professional and personal; the threats to women give men definite advantages. It is sometimes said that men tolerate violence against women because they benefit from it. This is doubtless true of some men. But few men seem to consciously tolerate it because they perceive benefits. And it is only from a competitive or antagonistic view of women that men can ulti­mately claim benefits. For men who care about women or (finally) themselves, violence against women benefits no one. It mystifies and poisons relations between men and women and vitiates the potential for trust, love, and surrender. I am convinced there are many men who, if they were to listen to women, would awaken to the reality of violence against women and take action. And “action” can range from contributing to a rape crisis center to joining an anti-rape group to talking to one’s son.


How much longer will men accept as normal lives of con­straint and abuse for women? I don’t know. American men have an opportunity to reverse a part of history as old as history itself. History can happen fast. We must see that it happens soon.