Archive for April 7th, 2011

Today the blog, Feminist Philosophers, reported on an article from the Guardian, that describes how one police officer who specializes in sexual crimes became a victim of sexual assault and the ways in which his perspectives changed as a result of the experience. First I will quote some of his experience, with a few brief comments; then I want to say a few words about why I think this article is philosophically interesting.

This police officer’s experience began as a casual brunch with friends where he was having a good time, and decided to stay to talk with some people at the pub after his original group of friends decided they had enough fun for the day. There was nothing particularly intimidating about his assailant when they first met:

I can’t remember when I first noticed the guy who ended up assaulting me, but he stood out from the rest of the group – he was more extrovert, a bit larger than life. But he didn’t do or say anything that made me feel uncomfortable – or that gave the slightest suggestion of what he would be capable of doing a few hours later.

Often, when a woman is raped, people question her perceptions of the situation. These critics suggest that she somehow should have known that the situation was dangerous and should have avoided the situation. But, as this article describes, rapists are often difficult to identify. Even a police officer, who has extensive training in sexual assault and its prevention, was unable to identify any suspicious behaviour on the part of the to-be-assailant. The problem with suggesting that women should have been able to identify that the situation they were in was dangerous is that in many cases the dangerous situation looks and feels exactly like any other non-dangerous situation. It is impossible to identify the danger.

My next memory is at about six or seven the following morning. I woke up in a bed and that guy was raping me. My first thought was: “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” The second thought was fear, channelled into self-preservation: I jumped out of bed and grabbed my clothes from the floor. It didn’t occur to me to arrest him. It did not even cross my mind that I was a detective. My only thought was my personal safety. He didn’t try to stop me. We didn’t say a word to each other.

Again, this description highlights some of the problems with many typical responses to rape victims. Critics often questions the behaviour of rape victims after the assault. They have some idea in their minds about what a “real” rape victim would do after the assault, and doubt the credibility of the victim when her behaviour does not conform to the idealization they imagine (for example, in the Assange case, some people have doubted the allegations because one of the victims continued with a party she had planned in his honour). I find the police officer’s description interesting because it shows how in actual situations our reactions often do not conform to idealized expectations. It is difficult to think of our self as a victim and many of us might resist doing so.


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