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Readers' Responses
by San Francisco Women Against Rape, Pat Marion, FAAR Staff
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Nov/Dec 1974


San Francisco Women Against Rape

You put this question to rape crisis groups: Are we wise and just to support the criminal prosecution of rapists, when this action strengthens (by appealing to) the male-dominated social structure which we must destroy in order to stop rape?

San Francisco Women Against Rape would reply that women's needs and rights come first with us and that some social sanctions are necessary.

In connection with the first point, our society affords precious little support to any of its members now. If there are government funds and trained counselors available, shouldn't what limited resources exist be put at the service of victims, rather than rapists? (Most victims requiring post-rape supportive therapy now have to pay for it themselves.) There is also the fact that guarantees of a victim's (and other women's) continued physical safety sometimes depends on the incarceration of the accused rapist - most rapists do not act on impulse but plan and repeat their attacks. Further, we support a woman's right to strike back. If a woman wants to use the courts as a means of redress (and it is practically her only means), we are not going to lay yet another guilt trip on her by labeling her behavior anti-revolutionary. Besides, by prosecuting a rapist in her own and other women's defense, she is advancing her own revolution, which is our revolution, too. Something else to consider here are the ways in which a woman is punished by being raped. Isn't the abolition of this kind of punishment the first place for our energies to go?

In dealing with the second general problem of sanctions, we recognize that every society limits and controls the behavior of its members. A post-revolutionary society will not condone rape, but because it is a more humane society, it will impose more humane sanctions. How can we move against criminal prosecution of rapists when this is the only sanction vs. rape now possible in society as a whole? You suggest only one alternative means of dealing with rapists: group therapy for convicts. We doubt the adequacy of this solution to the problem because the number of convictions for rape is such a tiny fraction of the number of rapes committed, since group therapy in prison must be to some extent compulsory, and since it is unlikely that sexism can be eradicated in personalities inside prison when most forces outside work to promote rape and feed the ego of the man who commits it. The rehabilitation of rapists depends on their arriving at a concept of their sexuality that is not socially vicious. This is a male task and a male problem, however, not ours. Interested men can do many things to stop rape, for instance staffing crisis centers for potential rapists. In order to stop rape, society must be drastically changed: men can help in our efforts at public education.

Finally, sisters, we have a question: is FAAR feminist in name only? If not, why have you devoted an entire newsletter (only your second issue) to arguing male (rapists') needs and rights? We demand a clarification of FAAR's position on this question. If this is the kind of emphasis we can expect from FAAR, SFWAR will withdraw our membership.

Response from the FAAR Editorial Staff

FAAR has not suggested "group therapy for convicts" as an alternative means of dealing with rapists. In the "FAAR Editorial" in our last issue, we stated, "Although we view educating men as the responsibility of men, feminists can assume the role [of] catalysts. Some of us have already begun to meet with men in prison, with the short-term goal of getting these men out into the community to do speaking and to educate other men."

Prisoners Against Rape, for example, are not involved in group therapy or treatment programs. Because they have come to view the act of rape from a feminist perspective and are willing to educate men outside of prison, they present an actual possibility for men changing the attitudes of other men.

We oppose prisons in general, for the reasons we outlined in our editorial (primarily, that prosecuting does not serve our own self-interest.) We should not impose this viewpoint on individual women who use our services, but we do have a political responsibility to examine these issues among ourselves.

The sisters from SFWAR have romanticized an individual action (prosecuting) into a revolutionary act. This same reasoning has produced a strong trend among many of the newer anti-rape groups towards actively encouraging women to report and prosecute. We advocate that rape crisis groups have a policy of neither encouraging or discouraging a woman from reporting or prosecuting. It is the responsibility of such groups to give a woman the information and support she needs in order to make her own decision. We do feel, however, that individual counselors should be aware of the alternatives available to a victim and the political implications of each of these choices. The counselor's role then becomes one of helping. the woman sort out the alternatives and arrive at a decision that applies to her individual life situation.

What we are saying is that we don't believe that increasing the conviction rate will lead to the elimination of rape. Therefore, we question whether we as feminists should devote our energy to winning individual convictions, or whether we should examine alternatives which may have a greater influence on society as a whole.

Pat Marion, East Los Angeles Chapter of NOW

A lengthy article, by Wayne Sage, entitled "Crime and the Clockwork Lemon" appears in the September (1974) issue of Human Behavior (news magazine of the Social Sciences). Towards the end of the article, under the heading Social Skills for the Outside World, the author describes a behavior therapy approach used at Atascadero State Hospital in California. Although most of this section deals with the hospitals' program for homosexuals, some space is devoted to the rapist. To quote directly from the article -- "Sex offenders generally, including rapists and child molesters of any sexual orientation, were very bad at sensing when they were being rejected or accepted." Therefore the behavior therapy aimed at the rapist is geared to help him "learn to communicate with others on this level without such mistakes."

Admittedly the program at Atascadero is not aimed at the average rapist, as only those offenders, who the court deems mentally incompetent for imprisonment are hospitalized. However I was encouraged to learn that at least one established institution is attempting "to teach prisoners how to relate to adult women." The author claims some success for the program (and I hope it is non-sexist).

Perhaps further research in areas such as this would help to lessen the dilemma of conflicting perspectives between the woman's and the social-criminal point-of-view. One of the most helpful (for the Crisis Counselor) books on rape I have recently come across is a Prentice-Hall publication entitled Rape: Victims of Crisis, by Ann Burgess and Lynda Holmstrom. Chapter two of this publication, "The Rapists' View of Rape", sheds some light on the psychology of the offender and paves the way for further investigation of this aspect of the problem.

Response from FAAR Editorial Staff

There are a number of assumptions in this letter and in the article referred to which merit a closer look. First of all, we need to investigate the backgrounds of men locked up in mental institutions and the mechanisms of civil and criminal commitments. All too often men working at white collar jobs or with 'stable' families (a wife and 2.3 kids), and deemed respectable in their communities will be ordered by the court to undergo psychiatric 'treatment' for crimes other men serve penitentiary time.

Classifying rapists under the label of "sex offenders" implies defining rape as an act motivated by sexual desire rather than one motivated by a set of attitudes towards women. An additional indicator of the perspective of the article is its assumption of homosexuality as an illness requiring behavior therapy.

Further, we need to question whether or not an "average rapist" exists, and if he differs markedly from an 'average male' in our society. Feminist rape groups and the recent books written by women in the anti-rape movement all point out that the rapist is generally not a psychopath. Therefore, one wonders if the same findings of insensitivity of men in mental institutions to women's feelings would be duplicated by sampling any group of men -- in or out of institutions.

Getting men to be more sensitive is important, but obscures many more basic issues. As women, we are still expected to barter our bodies for economic survival. Placing the responsibility on individual men to become more sensitive is not going to alter the sexism that is endemic to our societal organization. Similarly, to say that a single woman's perspective and a single social-criminal perspective exist obscures the issue by reducing it to a debate between two static viewpoints.

Working with men incarcerated for rape -- in mental 'hospitals' or prisons -- may contribute to our understanding of rape, but we should distinguish between working with individual rapists to increase their sensitivity and encouraging them to assume some responsibility for reeducating potential rapists.

In sum, the article quoted in the letter still reflects predominant myths not realities, about rape.