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Alabama Conference Report
by Judy Smith
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Jan/Feb/Mar 1975

Editors' Note: The following report was written by Judy Smith of the University of Montana Women's Resource Center who attended the national rape conference sponsored by the University of Alabama. (Reprinted with permission from Borrowed Times.)

The first national conference on rape, "Rape: Research, Action, Prevention," was called to bring together rape crisis center workers, law enforcement personnel and rape researchers - a widely diverse group with very different orientations and political positions. There were over 20 workshops focusing on different aspects of rape, and varying degrees of agreement and hostility emerged.

Rape has become a national issue in the last few years. While it is the fastest growing violent crime, it has been largely ignored, if not condoned by the criminal justice system. It is the one crime where the victim has to prove that she did not consent to the crime. The acquittal rate for rape is much higher than the acquittal rate for other crimes: 46 per cent for rape, 29 per cent for robbery. Very little interest has been shown in discovering who the rapist is and why he rapes. Society has been content with stereotypes of provocative women asking for rape and the contradictory images of the rapist as a psycho or as a nice guy overcome by his biology. Even less attention has been focused on rape prevention and the effect of rape on the victim. 

Feminists have focused on rape as a crime of aggression and hostility perpetrated by men on women; a crime which is encouraged by a sexist society. Law enforcement personnel, who have finally become concerned about rape, often see it as a problem of law and order or moral decay rather than a symptom of a sexist society. Recently the LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance Agency) allocated money to law enforcement programs for rape research and prevention. The criminal justice system is responding to pressure to change the way rape victims are treated and to do something about the rising incidence of rape.

The conference represented the first attempt in the U.S. to put together different groups working on the question of rape and to draw some kind of picture of where rape research and prevention now stand.

Conference participants identified the areas of concern:
1) rape statistics and what they mean, 2) who is the rapist? 3) what type of offender treatment works best? 4) who is the rape victim and what happens to her? 5) methods of rape prevention, 6) cultural roots of rape, 7) legislative reform of rape laws. Workshops and discussions centered on these topics and the most obvious conclusion drawn at the conference is that rape is still a little-understood crime. Hardly any documented research is available and that which is tends to refute myths, but offers no definite answers.

Two of the myth shattering areas covered at the conference were "Who is the rapist" and "Methods of prevention," Geraldine Boozer of the Sex Offender Program at South Florida Hospital and Ascher Pacht of the American Association of Correctional Psychology, both of whom work with sex offenders, discussed the rapist. They pointed out that there are different kinds of rapists who range on a continuum from the normal male sex role to the psychopath. They felt that some rapists are psychotic, but the large majority are not.

They characterized the "average" rapist as an emotionally immature and sexually inadequate man who uses rape as a means to release frustration and hostility through violence toward women. They derive satisfaction from overpowering women rather than in the sex act. Also, many rapists are married and have children.

Boozer found that many of the rapists she worked with had developed patterns of raping women several times a month before they were apprehended. She reported that most of the men she counseled had picked victims on the basis of availability - physical attractiveness of the victim had nothing to do with the rape.

On the question of rape prevention, a major political difference emerged at the conference, Many law enforcement personnel and National Rifle Association literature stressed that women must modify their behavior in order not to get raped. They offered a long list of "don'ts"; e.g., don't hitchhike, don't be out late, etc. Feminists rejected this approach, arguing that women should not have to live on a "rape schedule." If women organize their activities out of fear of rape, then their mobility is extremely limited. Feminists suggested more direct action such as anti-rape squads, self-defense classes, better sex education in the schools, identification of the rapist as an enemy of the community (as with heroin pushers), curfews for men, etc.

Recent research reported at the conference supports the idea that women can successfully resist rape. Selkin, at the Denver Violence Research Unit feels that stranger/stranger rape follows an identifiable pattern. He outlined five distinct stages: target selection, testing, threat, sexual transaction, and termination. In the first two stages, he feels women can successfully resist rape by acting immediately with determination. He urged that women should not talk first and then resist, but to resist immediately.

Other research presented at the conference backs up Selkin. If physical removal (i.e. running away) is not possible, an immediate refusal in a controlled voice seems to be the best response. Anger is much more effective than fear. If the victim acts unsure or afraid, she just reinforces the rapist. However, a woman must always judge the circumstances and respond differently if necessary. Statistics indicate that most rapes do not involve other physical abuse. Less than ten per cent of rapes involve serious bruising and less than one per cent are rape-homicides.

Feminists stressed self-defense for women. It is important for women to escape passive roles and to develop their bodies. However, self-defense instructors emphasized that self-defense techniques must be taken seriously and practiced often in order to be effective. Many women are psychologically unable to inflict serious hurt on someone even when they are attacked. This part of self-defense must also be dealt with if a woman is to be able to protect herself.

Many feminists attending the conference felt that the whole question of rape was being co-opted by the criminal justice system and the professional researcher. They noted that there are now many professional "rape experts" who were not around when there was no money in being a rape expert. Some of these experts are touring the country charging thousands of dollars for programs similar to those that local rape crisis centers have been offering for free. These people rely on academic titles and group affiliation and 'have no more expertise than local groups.

Feminists at the conference also noted attempts by LEAA and non-feminist groups to separate rape from the question of sexism. Financial support has often not been available to local groups if they have an affiliation with feminist groups.