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More Power For the State
by Linda Kupis
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Sep/Oct 1974


The following is part of a letter we received last summer from Linda Kupis, who was seeking information about the Prisoners Against Rape. Enclosed with the letter was the paper which is printed in part below. We have been forced to edit the paper for lack of space. We have summarized her proposal which introduces some ideas that are developed to a greater extent in the rest of the newsletter.

Dear Sisters:

The enclosed Proposal is the product of a Philosophy course which I completed this past semester at Livingston College (Rutgers University) in Piscataway, New Jersey. It reflects the problem I have been agonizing over since the initiation of our Rape Crisis Center on campus. In those planning stages, there was much to do and little time for reflection or philosophizing. Nevertheless, I briefly mentioned to my prospective sister members that we were most likely going to be criticized at one point or another for our collective (though covert) stand on the necessity of prosecuting rapists, since we were also in general collective agreement about the atrocity of prisons and their political undertones. Unfortunately, the press of organizing activity forced us to shelve any discussion of this contradiction. I let it rest in the back of my mind.

It was violently jarred back to life by two events: 1) we were contacted by the County Prosecutor and offered monetary assistance as well as input into a federally funded project for the purpose of alleviating rape (by reporting it and convicting the rapist); and 2) Cinda Firestone's movie, Attica, was shown on campus, with a discussion following it between the audience and two convicts who had been granted a five-hour leave from Rahway State Prison. Although I have tried desperately to avoid seeming paranoid, the sudden, benevolent support from the Prosecutor's Office brought many questions to my mind: why now? no strings attached? who is it they want to help? what are their true motives? I came to the conclusion, after a number of discussions with the County personnel, that all the outcries women have been making about rape (and of course, I agree with them all) have unwittingly played into the hands of the Nixon mentalities who are only concerned with lock-em-up law-and-order and NOT with the dignity of Woman.

This conclusion was strongly reinforced after seeing Cinda Firestone's powerful film and then hearing the low-key, mind-wringing, non-sexist words of the two prisoners. I became determined that there are realistically only two sides -- the State and the prisoners -- and I proposed that we choose working with the prisoners in any attempt to eliminate the rape syndrome ...

Linda Kupis

As members of the Rape Crisis Center, we are dedicated to offering victims an alternative to solitary, guilt-ridden introspection and despair; we offer support, understanding, empathy, hope and as women, we recognize the vulnerability of ourselves and our sisters to this ever-increasing, vicious crime against our lives and our dignity. We are outraged, bitter and defiant; we demand redress. Yet these feelings characterize much of what is wrong with society. We are not alone in our recognition of the political undertones of violence against the powerless, as the voices of those walled away in prisons are crying out to tell us. Because we know the horror and frustration of oppression and exploitation, we must decide if the only way of alleviating our own is to cooperate with the criminal justice system, to shift this burden of oppression onto other shoulders. Where does women's moral responsibility lie: with herself and her sisters, or with society as a whole?

Let us examine these two perspectives closely. Seen in logical order, we may be able to pinpoint their strengths and/or weaknesses.

WOMAN'S PERSPECTIVE

1. Rape is an act of violence committed by men against women. (According to FBI statistics, it is estimated that one rape occurs in this country every minute.)

2. Most women, if raped, do not report the crime to the authorities for reasons of shame, guilt, fear, court consequences, etc. (Criminologists estimate that only one out of ten rapes is reported.)

3. Therefore, many rapists and/or sexual molesters were allowed to go free. (And perhaps to rape, molest or kill other women.)

4. Therefore, all victims of rape should report the crime, in order that the rapist(s) may be apprehended.

SOCIAL-CRIMINAL PERSPECTIVE

1. "Crime" is a normal response to an abnormal situation.

2. In particular, rape is not merely a spontaneous, personal attack, but is caused by historical, political, social and economic ingredients of an inherently chauvinistic, racist, sexist society.

3. Therefore, criminal prosecution and/or incarceration will not eliminate rape. (Two-thirds of ALL criminals return to prison at least once.)

4. Besides being generally ineffective, the majority of our prisons are inhuman, over-crowded, repressive monuments of vengeance which are morally offensive to humanitarian ideals.

5. Therefore, rape should not be channeled through the criminal process.

Viewed separately, each of these perspectives seems logically correct. Taken together, they present an agonizing dilemma. The woman's perspective encourages us to bury the misplaced guilt we've carried for too long; the other fosters a climate for a new guilt to flourish and grow. Perhaps there is a way for us to purge ourselves of guilt once and for all. I believe, however, that this cannot be done by merely ignoring one perspective in deference to the other. The fact that it is a "dilemma" we are facing means that the problem is not over inconsistencies but rather over two logical perspectives which happen to be diametrically opposed to one another. The solution must take both of them into account.

The women's perspective gives an outward appearance of an active stance on the part of women for the purpose of eliminating rape. It encourages women to break the unwritten code of silence and speak out against the atrocities of rape -- its physiological, psychological and legal consequences. But is this action really active? On the contrary, I believe it reinforces passivity, for it simply gives the State more power to do what we supposedly cannot do ourselves, namely, protect ourselves and our sisters. We have experienced a great deal of enthusiasm and cooperation from district attorneys, judges and legislators; they have responded quickly to calls for repeal of corroboration laws, an end to insensitive questioning of the victim, a speed-up of the trial process, etc. But are they really, after decades of sexist neglect, responding apologetically to our angry voices raised in righteous indignation? More realistically they see this indignation as a way to loosen the binds of law enforcement. By playing on our fear of rape, they can convince us that the powerful State is not really powerful enough. In so doing, they've enlisted our wholehearted support in strengthening the police while allowing us to believe we've won a major victory against them. Rather than defer to us, they use us; they capitalize on our fear and sense of passive helplessness. The following is a quote 14 from Sidney Baumgarten, Assistant to the Mayor of ~w York City, who wrote in reply to an article printed in the New York Times Sunday Magazine which dealt with the Police Department's current offensive against rape in that City:

"In September, 1973, a Mayoral Task Force on Rape was established, consisting of representatives of the Police Department, Health and Hospitals Corporation, Department of Health, District Attorney's offices, Corporation Counsel, Mayor's Office and concerned women's groups. (Note order of importance). The Task Force has accomplished two major objectives: It influenced city officials to support new legislation eliminating the corroboration requirement from the state sex-crimes law. The new law should encourage more women to report rapes. It developed new hospital procedures for the treatment of rape victims that insure proper medical attention, collection of evidence for court cases, and patient referral to a psychiatrist or social worker .... All these efforts of the Task Force are aimed at encouraging women to report rape by offering new services and sensitive treatment for rape victims. The best police work in the world is useless if the crime is not reported. "1

Meanwhile, in spite of this attitude, what has been accomplished by way of eliminating rape? Social statistics abound on the fact that prosecution and/or incarceration do not deter crime but rather perpetuate 'and perfect it. If we accept the validity of punishment not deterring crime, we must accept the absurdity of prosecuting rapists. It is not enough to say that we can at least get them off the streets for a while; we seek elimination, not postponement. ------

------ Clearly, the social-criminal perspective does nothing to allay a woman's personal fear for safety. If she does not report the crime and help to apprehend her attacker, she is allowing him the freedom to rape again. Her silence implies consent. But is she not accused of consent even if she does report the rape? She is interrogated repeatedly by police and defense attorneys with the aim of having her "admit" consent, if not enticement. Even if her attacker is convicted -- if ALL rapists were convicted and incarcerated tomorrow -- would rape end? Would we feel perfectly safe to go out alone tomorrow night?

The Feminist Movement is one of rebellion: we do not want to give society what it expects of us, but rather what we expect of ourselves.

Obviously, I have no right to claim total understanding or insight regarding the social-criminal perspective, for I have never been a prisoner. But the contradictions I have raised here are currently being realized within prisons by convicted rapists themselves. In the Lorton, Virginia prison, for example, there is an educational project called "Prisoners Against Rape." It operates under the auspices of A.L.E.R.T.S. (Associated Library and Educational Research Team for Survival), which encompasses a broad range of social, political, cultural and other activities involving prisons and the general community .

[The rest of the paper is a proposal that feminists place emphasis on rape prevention and self-defense; and that we attempt to work with groups such as the Prisoners Against Rape. She concludes ]

It is not a matter of turning the other cheek but of recognizing the inadequacy and inequity of the criminal justice system, and the concomitant necessity for an alternate approach to the epidemic of rape.

1. The New York Times Magazine, April 14, 1974, p. 72.