There's no such thing as 'survivor privilege'

<i></i>

Conservative old white men don’t have the best track record when it comes to discussing sexual assault in a sensitive and intelligent manner. In the US, there’s Republican congressman and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, who once referred to ‘honest rape’; Republican state representative Richard Rivard complained that “some girls, they rape so easy”; Republican Gubernatorial candidate, who famously stated that “if [rape] is inevitable, just relax and enjoy it; and who can forget the Republican congressman and former Senate candidate Todd Akin advising that, where pregnancy and rape are concerned, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”? Yes Todd, but only if she’s a duck.

Now we can add one more to the list of men who really shouldn’t be given a platform to share opinions on things they clearly know little about. Just over a week ago, Pulitzer prize winning journalist and conservative commentator George F. Will wrote a column for the Washington Post in which he lamented the ‘progressivism’ that American college campuses have been embracing, particularly in regards to the “supposed campus epidemic of rape”. Such ill thought out capitulation to a leftist liberal agenda has only resulted in one thing, Will writes: “That when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.” As Jessica Valenti wrote in response, “Rape victims get called a lot of things [but] the last word I ever expected to hear to describe a rape victim is ‘privileged’.”

To suggest that victimhood of sexual assault delivers a ‘coveted status’ to anyone not only shows a huge disregard for the severity of that crime, it also betrays a latent sympathy for the perpetrators of it. You don’t have to stroll too far into the seedy alleyways of the internet to find people who believe women routinely file false rape accusations to enact revenge on men for either scorning them or just existing, and arguments from a respected journalist like Will lend legitimacy to those half baked theories. To the cries of ‘vengeful females!’ and ‘regretful sluts!’ that already echo across society whenever a typical sexual assault occurs will now come hoots calling for survivors to ‘check their privilege!’ while scoffing at their ‘coveted club membership!’

Shortly after Will’s piece was published, the feminist writer and activist Wagatwe Wanjuki began tweeting under the hashtag of #survivorprivilege. On Twitter, she wrote, “Where’s my survivor privilege? Was expelled & have $10,000s of private student loans to attend school that didn’t care I was raped.”

Wanjuki isn’t the only survivor of sexual assault who feels let down by the system and further traumatised by the judgments made against them. And Will isn’t the only person who thinks that “victimhood” (to employ the scare quotes he places around sexual assault) comes with its own exclusive set of perks, one of which is seemingly the right to make ‘bad decisions’ and then later call it rape.

Back in February, the Wall Street Journal published a piece by James Taranto in which he referred to alcohol related sexual assaults on campus as “drunken students colliding” and fretted about the “disruption” caused to young men’s lives when sexual assault charges are brought against them. Like Will, Taranto’s views were angrily dismissed by people for whom ‘boys with promising futures will be boys with promising futures’ actually isn’t a defence against rape. But they were also parrotted by people who believe in the forgivable naughtiness of impish young men while chastising ‘provocative’ young women for failing to protect themselves against their well documented urges.

Indeed, the rights of sexual assault survivors are actually not held in very high regard by a significant portion of the public no matter what Will and Taranto might think. Survivor privilege isn’t actually something that exists in any way shape or form. Instead, survivors are often subjected to rank victim blaming, a lax response from law enforcement and the judgment and hostility of communities who cannot understand that the vast majority of rapists are not the shadowy monsters we imagine them to be, but the brothers, fathers, partners, friends and colleagues whom we love.

And what about all the men who insist that any discussion around sexual assault be prefaced with the ‘not all men’ disclaimer that has become so tediously popular lately? Consider, for example, the former boyfriend of Pamela Anderson. When Tyrone Anderson heard that the actress and philanthrophist had revealed details of a group of boys raping her while she was at high school, was his first response was to contact her to offer her support? No, it was to contact the media and announce that his ‘high school sweetheart’ - whom he admitted to having physically abused at different points in their relationship - had a “moral responsibility” to reveal the names of her rapists because if she didn’t “some people might point the finger at me”.

There is no such thing as survivor privilege, but it’s clear that we still live in a rape culture that suffers from an abundance of ignorance and male entitlement. Will and the coterie of similarly offensive men who share his predilection for ignoring those survivors forever impacted by sexual violence might like to tell themselves that shining a light on these things will only encourage false claimants to try to ‘join the club’ - but as flash activism like #survivorprivilege (and new media projects like Project Unbreakable and Surviving In Numbers) demonstrate, the only thing that continues to proliferate at alarming rates in a rape culture is misconceptions, blatant untruths and the pompous waffling of people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

 

20 comments

  • I can feel Clementine building up to a big column on child brides, domestic violence, barbaric misogyny and honour killings in Australia.

    Her take no prisoners approach colliding with vile multi-generational behaviour will be amazing to read.

    Commenter
    mark
    Date and time
    June 17, 2014, 8:40AM
    • "it’s clear that we still live in a rape culture that suffers from an abundance of ignorance and male entitlement"

      An abundance of ignorance? The opinions of some old, out-of-date Americans is not an abundance. The opinion of a minority doesn't speak for everyone.

      Commenter
      Jak
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 9:17AM
      • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is America’s largest and most
        influential anti-sexual-violence organization. It’s the leading voice for sexual-assault victim advocacy. Indeed, rape-culture activists routinely cite the authority of RAINN to make their case. But in RAINN’s recent recommendations to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, it repudiates the rhetoric of the anti–”rape culture” movement:

        "Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime."

        This is not the opinions of some old, out-of-date Americans but an advisory body to the President. Are they to be discounted too?

        Commenter
        Bev
        Date and time
        June 17, 2014, 2:26PM
    • Why must this issue be turned into a "search for someone who doesn't fully understand or support, or respect etc" rather than concentrating on assisting survivors and working to prevent rape, and develop strategies to educate the very few men who rape to get help at the beginning of their troubles.?
      Surely these are the most pertinent issues to develop?

      Commenter
      david
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 9:17AM
      • We live in a "rape culture" ... are you serious? You actually do believe that men aim to loathe and detest and fear and wish to dominate and oppress women, rather than love and protect them, don't you? What went wrong in your life that you reached a conclusion opposite to the truth, such that the fact of criminality among a few legitimizes your general hatred of "Conservative old white men?" You should examine your premises, leave Marx out of it, and examine the actual mentality of men rather than saying "some of these people are bad, damn them all." But then, you aren't much interested really, are you?

        Commenter
        adboughton
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        June 17, 2014, 9:24AM
        • And the relevance of some Yankee tea party bigots to Australia is? This would have been more relevant in the LA times or the Huffington Post

          Commenter
          Towering Intellect
          Location
          God-like appearance
          Date and time
          June 17, 2014, 11:23AM
          • Rape is considered a horrendous crime in almost all countries and cultures.
            So is there a rape culture? RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
            is America’s largest and most influential anti-sexual-violence organization.
            It’s the leading voice for sexual-assault victim advocacy. It has come out and
            said that it is a hysterical over reaction, there is no rape culture. At present there are 8 men suing their universities in the US for lack of due process who were accused of rape and were cleared by a police investigation. They however were convicted by a university tribunal made up of non judicial members on the probabilities (50 - 50) standard and not the normal criminal standard of preponderance of evidence without due process to the point where they were unable to properly put their case, have a lawyer present or produce witnesses. They were not allowed to graduate and had their fees confiscated
            (a large amount of money). They are disbarred from attending any university so cannot get a degree. This is wrong you cannot brand a person for life as a rapist on just the say so of a woman without a fair trial. This is not justice for anybody but a throw back to the middle ages. Is this were society wants to go?

            Commenter
            Bev
            Date and time
            June 17, 2014, 11:35AM
            • Getting the balance right on the sensitive issue of sexual assault on campus isn't easy and I fear Obama's directive to drop the presumption of innocence completely will only have a damaging effect in the long run. This is the context the US debate needs to be seen in.

              The most recent case at Duke University with the expelled Australian student is a pretty clear-cut case of guilt being a foregone conclusion and the opportunity to defend the claims being denied (even the judge has confirmed he has a strong case). And Duke should also know that presuming guilt will punish the innocent - when they mishandled the lacrosse case in which students were eventually found completely innocent, it cost them an estimated $100 million in legal costs. If Duke and the other universities named in similar lawsuits continue to have made the same mistakes, it could be very costly for them.

              The issue, and each individual claim, needs to be taken seriously. But part of that is conducting proper investigations and giving all parties due process, so there can be confidence in the outcome being fair. Whether it's privilege or not, presuming guilt harms the innocent without the appearance of actually taking the issue seriously.

              Commenter
              Stuart
              Date and time
              June 17, 2014, 12:02PM
              • The one and only sane and sensible comment so far Stuart, thank you, no arrogance, no smugness, no hysteria, brilliant and sensible. More like this please.

                Commenter
                Belinda
                Date and time
                June 17, 2014, 2:43PM
            • 1. The only thing that has even a remote chance of ending rape culture is the death penalty for rapists. Full stop. Its the only way to stop the incessant mental torture that a rape victim goes through knowing her tormentor is out there and could harm her again. But this measure is complicated by the insistence to throw things like 'date rape' and 'marital rape' into the same category as sexual assault.

              2. Although there is no such thing as 'survivor privilege', unfortunately - and I am sure the people behind this have the best of intentions - there is definitely such a thing as 'survivor back thumping'. This happens in the form of giving 'medals' to people who speak out about their victimhood. Think about it - the sum total of the whole episode becomes that the woman gets a medal for getting raped while her abusers walk scot free. Look up the case of Mukhtaran Mai for example. Victims of rape don't need 'medals', they need our full sympathy and support, and the solid knowledge that their abusers are no longer around to torment them.

              Commenter
              Concerned Aussi
              Location
              North Sydney
              Date and time
              June 17, 2014, 12:03PM

              More comments

              Comments are now closed