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Amy Sneaks Into The LA Times Again
Heres my letter to the LA Times Calendar Editor, printed in the August 3, 2003 Sunday Calendar section:

Of sex and force

Contrary to the Sandy Banks column David Shaw quotes in "If the Accused Is Named, the Accuser Should Be Too" (July 27), rape is not a crime motivated by violence but a crime motivated by sex. Banks was just restating the same-old same-old put out there by Susan Brownmiller and others without lifting a brain cell, a book or a telephone to investigate that claim. There's actually a book filled with data showing that rape is motivated by sex "A Natural History of Rape, the Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion" by biology professor Randy Thornhill and anthropology instructor Craig T. Palmer (MIT Press, 2000). After looking at mountains of data, they view rape as biologically based but not inevitable. Like me, they suggest that the victims can sometimes prevent rape by acting prudently and reasonably (say, by recognizing that going up to a hotel room with a famous basketball player probably won't result in a friendly game of checkers). Of course, this kind of thinking does run contrary to feminism's infantilization of women.

Amy Alkon
Santa Monica
Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, is a syndicated columnist in over 100 newspapers.

The Evolutionary Basis For Rape
Using scientific methodology and reason, Thornhill and Palmer show (in well-documented detail) that there's an evolutionary basis for rape; that rape is a sexual act -- most likely an evolutionary adaptation that originated as a way for men to spread their genes.

Thus, although rape can be violent, this doesnt mean a mans motivation to rape is violence. Thornhill and Palmer note that "rapists rarely engage in gratuitous violence, defined as expending energy beyond what is required to subdue or control the victim and inflicting injuries that reduce the victims chance of surviving to become pregnant or that heighten the risk of eventual injury to the rapist from enraged relatives of the victim (all ultimate costs of rape)."

Thornhill and Palmer explain that theres a difference between "instrumental force, (the force actually needed to complete the rape, and possibly to influence the victim not to resist, not to call for help, and/or not to report the rape) and excessive force (which might be a motivating end in itself). Only excessive force is a possible indication of violent motivation. Use of forceful tactics to reach a desired experience does not imply that the tactics are goals in themselves ( is willing to argue that a mans giving money to a prostitute in exchange for sex is evidence that the mans behavior is motivated by a desire to give away money). Here again the crucial distinction between goals and tactics is blurred when rape is referred to as an act of violence."

Thornhill and Palmer understand what theyre up against -- years of ingrained feminist propaganda that "the patriarchy," violent TV shows, and nasty old American culture are to blame. "Debates about what causes rape have been evaluated not on the basis of logic and evidence," they observe, "But on the basis of how the different positions might influence people to behave." What the propaganda purveyers don't understand is key: It's the actual truth about why some men rape that will have the greatest influence on whether or not they do, and on whether or not women can avoid being raped (and feeling stigmatized if they are).

Posted by aalkon at August 3, 2003 2:24 AM


I agree Amy. When we say that a woman can sometimes bear some responsibility for being raped, we are not suggesting for a second that she bears any moral culpability.

Point two. We are not morally educating people like we used to. Males in particular need strong moral male figures in their lives. And girls also need strong fathers in their lives or they will seek that in inappropriate relationships.

Posted by: Luke Ford at August 3, 2003 11:17 AM

It's the actual truth about why some men rape that will have the greatest influence on whether or not they do, and on whether or not women can avoid being raped (and feeling stigmatized if they are).

How is that? Are you really suggesting that if people across the board were to agree to accept Thornhill and Palmers theory about rape, men would stop raping? Its funny (not really), but Thornhill and Palmer seem to be throwing up a rethinking of the classic, All Men Are Rapists. How is this not a step on the road to She asked for it?

Also, Im not sure how women are stigmatized by the argument that rape is, most often, an act of violence. Wouldnt you agree that women are stigmatized primarily by how the crime is reacted to by the system the idea that it is a crime that belongs in the shadows and that a woman must be protected from public exposure as though she is too destroyed by the crime to have the strength of, say, the family of a murdered child?

Rape is an incredibly difficult crime to define. But the idea that only excessive force is a possible indication of violent motivation is unmitigated bullshit. Firstly, I think you would have to agree that putting a gun or knife is someones face is a serious act of violence. Or does a criminal have to pull the trigger in order to prove violent motivation?

But more on point, the coercing of consent is a long established male goal. Where is the line? The greatest show of power is to get what one wants without excessive force regardless of real consent. Like you, Amy, I am not fan of people whining about their choices after the fact. Most of the time, we are active participants in our victimization. But the slope is slippery on both sides.

Of course, "the patriarchy," violent TV shows, and nasty old American culture are not the source of rape. And there is a difference between a drunk 22 year old who wakes up to find that she has had intercourse, remembering only that she stripped naked and started foreplay in some frat boys bed before passing out and a woman who is walking down a street and has a knife put to her throat and, ultimately, Kobe and his accuser. But the inability of traditional dogmatists to see past their own lies is hardly a reason to promote dogma on the opposite side. Every case has its own life its own motives its own facts.

Men have consensual sex for sexs sake, for love, for procreation, for power, for violence, etc, etc, etc. The same is true of rape. But riddle me this is forcing someone else do something they do not want to do a form of violence? For me, yes. And it doesnt matter whether the force is physical or emotional, with a loved one or a stranger. You can quit your job. You can end a relationship. But rape involves, by its definition, a lack of choice, not just an emotional inability to make a choice, as with most things.

Was that girl idiotic to be in Kobes room after midnight if she wasnt looking for sex? Of course. But if Kobe forced her into a non-consensual sex act, he too has to be responsible for the circumstances and for how he chose to use his power not only his power to control someone physically, but the power of his charm and fame.

I get a strong I am powerful and smart and I will not be labeled a victim vibe from you, Amy. And I respect that. But not everyone has gotten to that point in their lives. And while everyone irritatingly seems to choose to be a victim these days, it does not mean that there are not victims. It does not mean that having your power taken away from you, whether male or female, is not devastating. It has nothing to do with logic. And it never will.

Posted by: David Poland at August 3, 2003 1:28 PM

David, it's a shame when women are raped. This isn't meant to trivialize their suffering. But society has limited resources of law enforcement, prosecution and pure insight with which to respond. Shouldn't we concentrate on cases where it's clearest that the woman's own conduct played no role in her rape?

There's nothing wrong with asking people to take reasonable steps to protect themselves... And to protect you and me from having to serve on a jury for he said/she said trial. If you stay out of hotel rooms with strangers, you won't get raped there.

I think bringing the (psychotherapeutically loaded) words 'victimization' and 'dogma' into this discussion belittles the practicality of Alkon's posture, which seems to be about responsibility and not about nuanced measures of interior condition.

I don't want to have to deal with the slippery slopes of others. IOW, "my inner child has trouble playing with other inner children."

Posted by: Cridland at August 3, 2003 7:28 PM

I don't think anyone's denying that there's an element of violence to rape. But the hardcore feminist line has always been that "Rape is not about sex, it's about violence." IT IS ABOUT SEX -- how can it not be? It is a form of sex -- the nonconsensual form. To say that it isn't is like saying murder is not about death, or that mugging is not about coveting your neighbor's goods. All involve violence -- and frequently a power-trip on the part of the perp -- but that isn't the only thing they're about. Most male rapists do have a hard-on, which means they're sexually aroused, and thus the crime is at least somewhat about sex.

Posted by: LYT at August 3, 2003 7:56 PM

"Society has limited resources of law enforcement, prosecution and pure insight with which to respond. Shouldn't we concentrate on cases where it's clearest that the woman's own conduct played no role in her rape?"

Again... please think about that statement.

The answer to your question has to be "no" or there is no law at all. And that is the trouble with law. It requires that you go through the whole shebang every time in order for it to remain fair.

But focus even closer... "the woman's own conduct played no role in her rape."

So, rape only exists when the victimization is absolute? Now we're back to "Did you see what she's wearing?"

As I wrote before, I respect Amy and I am sure that he intention is not to send all rape victims who did not have a weapon pressed to their flesh into the closet, blaming themselves. But that is the road we end up going down when we start to attach what "we know" to the court of law. This is not to suggest that the legal system is infallible. But I'm not ready to give up the appeal process for people we "know" are guilty. And I'm not ready to have anyone outside of a courtroom where protective rules are well in place determine whether a date rape is rape or not. I do believe that sometimes an accused rape is not a rape... even if the woman has convinced herself otherwise. Male intent and female communication are critical to making this determination. But as soon as we decide to allow this determination to be made in the press, on a web log, or on a bar stool, the end is nigh.

Posted by: David Poland at August 4, 2003 1:08 PM

It requires that you go through the whole
shebang every time in order for it to
remain fair.

I disagree. This disagreement has no features: It's polished and shiny.

Go to the courthouse and tell me how there are no limits to legal resources. To hell with the prosecutors and the prosecuted: Talk to one of the tens of thousands of LA County taxpayers who's lost considerable income this year to provide jury service that was never exploited (I are one). Or go down to the 'hood, where it's the oldest saw in the citadel: There's never a cop around when you need one. But there's still plenty of law! And there'd be more for the wronged if we had less for the naive.

He said/she said has been going on for thousands of years. There haven't been any breakthroughs in the field lately. Giving more time to it WON'T HELP.

If you're "not ready to give up the process," then YOU can take time from work to serve as jurist. YOU can pay the taxes for the police, lawyers, and judiciary. And you can give your diciest intuition to the matter of when a seduction becomes rape, arguing the point with eleven people who are going to be equally precious about their shadings of truth. And you can leave me out of it.

Alkon's principle costs nothing but her own girlish illusions about human nature. It saves you and me a whole of lot trouble. It's "the end" of nothing you're going to miss.

Posted by: Cridland at August 4, 2003 8:25 PM

Here's the point we're all confused on.
Are you saying girls with double d cups can't walk down the street without a knife being pulled them while a girl with a training bra can walk down the street alone at midnight unharmed?
Or are saying girls with double d bras will get invited to parties where a ruffie will be slipped into their 3rd beer while the girl with the training bra will sit at home on Saturday night, not being raped?

Posted by: Sandra at August 13, 2004 10:27 PM

Are you on crack or are you just trying to simulate the effects of a near-total lack of reading comprehension?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 13, 2004 11:56 PM