Send To Printer
ENDING RAPE: a concept essay on strategies
by Jan BenDor, Michigan Women's Task Force on Rape
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Jan/Feb/Mar 1975

The September/October FAAR Newsletter posed the dilemma in which anti-rape feminists find themselves caught: how to use a corrupt and racist criminal justice system to enforce the laws against sexual assault, without rein- forcing corruption, racism, and classism.

Anti-rape activists are asking how it is that we can hope to be part of the solution rather than part of the aggravated version of the problems; whether in our present society it is possible to both protect women's democratic rights and avoid the trap. That trap is the overwhelming pressure among bureaucratic law enforcement institutions to take away the rights of one group in the name of protecting another.


Nationally and locally, we are all faced with important and immediate decisions about our priorities. Should we encourage victims to prosecute? How much energy should we devote to victim counseling services, when we know that public education might find and save the lives of a few more potential targets? Should we trust men to become involved in anti-rape projects? What strings can we accept when we seek money to survive? What ,joint ventures can we develop with hospitals--police--legislators? And not get co-opted? How long can we go on trying to warn the nation of this cancer of domestic and genital violence against women? Will we be better believed as victims en masse than we were as victims alone? Rape takes away our power to establish our own reality: can we get that power back?

Since so little of our experience has yet accumulated, none of these decisions can be made with complete information about the risks and benefits of a specific alternative. Faced with uncertainty, we base our choice on our values and our needs. Often these conflict, and disputes within and among us eat our energy and devour our already scarce resources.

Too many times we are trapped in conflict because we lack strategic perspective: a sense or vision of how a series of actions or projects can build, stepwise over time, to a larger goal. Feeling hopeless, insecure, and deeply powerless, we avoid discussing and agreeing on large, concrete goals. We--all feminists, all women, but entirely unique selves--wind up fighting over abstract rhetorical symbols, rather than negotiating to maximize our diverse dreams.

TO-waste energy' in circular in-fighting is a mistake we can little afford. We need to think through our anti-rape goals in ways that avoid intellectual booby traps and false dichotomies. While we must decide for ourselves, and with our groups, where to concentrate effort, we need a framework in which to recognize the value of diversity. We can coordinate among simultaneous yet diverse tactics with a shared overall strategy; to produce change on as many levels as possible to get the maximum momentum for the total effort.


Coordination requires that we share our understanding of the critical dimensions of action. Here I would like to propose five ways to understand an anti-rape project (or any change project):

(1) The level of the change agent in the society.
Is the agent a person -- a collective -- or an institution?

(2) The expected time range of the change process.
Will the change take months -- 2 years -- 10 years?

(3) The cause of the problem that the change will affect.
There appear to be three general theories about the causes of crime, and specifically of rape. Most change efforts are implicitly buying one or more of these ideas:
  • a. That the major cause of crime is situational opportunity. Eliminate unlocked doors, deserted spaces, dangerous public housing structures and easily coerced victims, for example, and you will prevent the otherwise unpreventable criminal from choosing to victimize in those places ..... ._.~_~_

  • b. That the major cause of crime is that-ff~. The usual consequence for the offender is successful completion of the criminal act and subsequent anonymity. To stop crime, what is needed is therefore certainty of apprehension, conviction, and deprivation of the payoff (whatever it might be) as well as deprivation in the form of fines and jail.

  • c. That the major cause of crime is the motivatlon within some individuals (some or all men) to be aggressive, brutal, macho, greedy, desperate, or whatever; as a result of their experience in family, school, economic system, society, culture, etc. Obviously, these structures which produce the motivation must be changed, based on this view. Part of the approach is to intervene in the socialization of children into violent ways of meeting their needs. Cut out violence on TV, for example. Stop the socialization of adult males into hating women through forcing an end to sexist and violent treatment of women in the media. Find ways for all people to explore their aggression in a safe setting and learn to control it.

(4) The process of the-change.
Will the change come about through an independent individual's decision to alter habits; through the sum or aggregation of individual patterns; through a synergy or whole of the changing parts; or through fiat (a conscious decision to exert control) such as a formal vote?

(5) The level of the change target.
- Is the target at a one-to-one level (the mini level) at the level of the organization or neighborhood (the midi level) or at the level of the institution and the culture (the maxi level)?

If I carry my keys and whistle just so in my hand whenever I leave my residence, or if I install deadbolt locks, I'm applying a personal, short-range strategy at the mini-level, aimed at decreasing crime opportunity. I might change my target to getting better locks into the doors of all the women's residences in my neighborhood; that would develop a midi-level strategy using aggregation as the change process.

A collective is the agent in a program where women organize to patrol a dangerous neighborhood. This strategy is short-range (the effects lasting for the duration of the patrols and their reputation), the target is the midi-level (neighborhood or community) and the change process is a fiat aimed at decreasing crime opportunity by decreasing the availability of vulnerable women.

The typical institutional strategy is the police department's speech to the women's club, where police discuss numerous "do's" and "don't's" for individual women. Here an institution (through its representatives) is advocating a short-range solution aimed at the mini-level, based on the assumption that less crime opportunity will result from an aggregation of individual patterns.


What has limited us so far is our reliance, as anti-rape feminists, on primarily those projects aimed at changing individual or aggregate habits. We have tended to identify the strategies of prosecution and conviction with the corrupt institutions that claim the authority to administer them, and with the process by which individual convictions are used to achieve the short-range effect of getting a rapist off the streets. (The institutional representatives claim, however, that conviction and certainty of punishment--anti-payoff strategies--affect more than just the offender who is made an "example" of.)

We can broaden our efforts by developing projects as collectives and as feminist institutions (which crisis centers, to endure, must creatively become) acting on law enforcement institutions to get them to fund and implement more long-term functions with more emphasis on eliminating crime opportunity and crime motivation. In these projects we will find ourselves directly confronting the institutional corruption that promulgates the single-minded, short-range, anti-payoff approach of police, prosecutors and judges.

We can multiply our process from affecting individuals habits and aggregates only, to synergy:- we can develop networks of communication among women who have been raped (and/or beaten at home) on the models of A.A., Weight Watchers, etc. We can form lobbies to change laws that affect public construction, media broadcasting, and criminal prosecution, and which mandate the specific training of individuals to effectively carry out these changes in law (enabling women to become agents of change within the institutions.) . __

We can, as individuals and collectives, use local and federal agency resources to do our own research and development on preventing opportunities for crime. We might explore, with the help of "invited" senators and police chiefs (announce they will attend a public meeting on crime in your community), possibilities for technology which could provide more rapid intervention in violent situations. Why should police be the only ones to own radios when it's the citizens who need to be able to call in help? New technologies could enable us to cheaply develop citizens' band radio communications and provide the needed infrastructure to get a clear emergency "help-needed" message from one person to another. If you scream on a busy street, no one knows if you're serious, and what Samaritan wants to undergo embarrassment of a mistake? If you shout "Mayday" on a coastal radio band, your message is ' more likely to be acted upon. With more reliable emergency communications, more people might intervene in situations where they observe theft or brutality.


Returning to the original dilemma, we can recognize that one woman's prosecution of a rapist is a personal, short-term, mini-level fiat solution to stopping the great rape payoff. Rather than discourage such tactics for fear of reinforcing the evils of the system, we must add to these a simultaneous collective effort to bring about change in the system itself. Through individual prosecutions, we learn more about the institutions involved and their weaknesses; through retrieval of this knowledge we can challenge those institutions on their own ground and expose their hypocrisy. Through our imagination, we can challenge those with much greater resources to do better at preventing crime, until we ourselves control the institutions.

We need to think bigger, yet also more concretely. When one feminist group in town is engaged in courtwatching and law reform, and another collaborates with a hospital in assisting victims, do the two groups share a common strategy? Can they get together and map out how they see their efforts relating over a specific time period?

Ending rape is synonymous with the beginning of self-determination for women. It also happens to represent the rejection of ultra-violence, the opiate of oppressed people in every class in our society. To end rape we must take back control over a big chunk of our reality. Let's be strategic -- we have a long struggle ahead.