Fate worse than Death

I’m not sure I’ve been hearing the term “Fate Worse than Death” recently. It was big during the Victorian period, referencing (for anyone who hadn’t encountered it before this) rape.

Given that in those days a woman raped was a woman shamed, who would probably never be accepted in “polite society” again, it did pretty much end her life as a member of the community, whether or not she was injured, impregnated, or got a disease from her rapist. Then, as now, the attitude expressed by the patriarchal society was “she wanted it” (must have). It seems odd that the men who are accused of rape don’t seem to have “wanted” the consequences of their activities becoming known, even though they instigated the activity, and generally got off without punishment (and sometimes with approval of some of their peers).

The attitude was so overwhelmingly male-dominated that (according to some scholars) Freud’s entire Oedipus Theory was based on the large numbers of women who reported that they had been raped by fathers, uncles and other family members; since this seemed “impossible” to Freud, he assumed that these reports were all fantasies, interpreted them as such, and built his theory based on this premise. Obviously, if the rapes could not have happened, the women dreamed that they did because they craved them, whether because they were masochistic, or because it was a twisted form of love. This foolishness dominated psychology for far too long, probably because the patriarchal foundation of it continues to flourish.

Recently Alabama legislated involuntary chemical castration for child molesters. While the chemicals do reduce recidivism in those who have requested it in the past, I am not sure whether it will have the same result with non-volunteers. I am pretty sure that the legislators are simply thinking that the “Threat of Castration” will reduce the occurrence of the crime, without looking at the science. “Make them afraid to” seems to be their answer to all social problems. I’m sure they’re terrified of the idea of not being able to “get it up”, but I feel they’d do better to reform the legal system to make it more fair for accused and their victims. At what point will the race and money of those involved no longer be deciding factors in the verdict?

Moreover, I feel we totally ignore the long term psychological effects of rape, much as we do most psychological Trauma. Clearly we do not care to provide medical support to rape victims, much less psychological support. Simply having a female officer take a statement, or sending a social worker to fill out some forms, does little to help the victim- not when rape kits languish untested in evidence lockers, and most women are too intimidated to come forward.  Our culture doesn’t totally ostracize victims of rape; we don’t behead them, as some say is done in Muslim countries. But we sure don’t support them. We don’t even seem to acknowledge the issues that go on for the rest of the victim’s life.

If the trust and faith in safety we have for our homes is lost (and it often is) when a house or apartment is broken into, it’s hardly surprising that having been raped, a woman is nervous around all men. Chances are good she was raped by someone she trusted, not a creepy stranger, so it’s the people she used to trust who are now sources of fear. Those who say “not all men” may feel offended that they are included in the group of potential attackers, but the rapist has proven to the victim that seeming and claiming to be a good guy is no proof against attack.

This is only made worse when rather than having the entire population rise up in indignation to sympathize and censure her attacker, a significant portion instead question her role, and defends him; she has lost any sense support within her community, of safe haven. I think it’s worse because the law, which should protect victims, seems far more focused on the “innocent until proven guilty” concept than that we should be trying to prevent repeat offenses. Yes, a false rape accusation would harm someone’s reputation; however, shall we follow the statistical probabilities rather than allowing the system to give greater benefit of the doubt to men and those they see as like themselves (especially if they know them)? A fair system can only benefit everyone involved. Reinforcing the trauma does our society no benefit.

I hope that there are enough rape support groups out there to help those who need it today, although I fear there are not. But as a first step, we should remember that like any trauma, the effects will continue for years, if not a whole lifetime, and stop suggesting that the victims just “get over it”. By not supporting victims we may be turning rape from a simple trauma to a “fate worse than death”.