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Rape, and a glimpse into the future

He thought I was a baby-raper,” he said. “I explained that we were just friends.”

Rape?”

When you fuck someone without their wanting it,” Ignacio said. “Sex is like a game. It takes two people – or more, I guess, if you want – to play, and both players have to agree to the rules ahead of time. Anything else is cheating.”

That’s a little snippet from iD, in case you were curious. Javier is having a flashback to his life in a Nicaraguan prison. I wrote those flashbacks to grant a better sense of the experiences that made Javier who he is, and to explain a bit (but not too much, as this book was already the cause of much drinking) about the role of vN in enclosed societies like prisons. Enclosed societies are a theme in the book, so it seemed relevant.

But I’m really writing today to talk about rape. Because what Javier’s roommate tells him about sex are what I wish more people heard, growing up. That’s it’s not okay to suddenly change the rules of play, in sex. That it’s okay to feel betrayed and frightened if the other person does. “Well, I know I told you I was wearing a condom, but I really wasn’t,” is about the same as “Well, I know y’all are wearing Nikes, but I thought I’d bring my cleats, so don’t, like, let me slide into you, or anything.” Obviously, cleats can’t give you HIV or get you pregnant, but it’s still unfair play, just like fucking someone (or stripping her, or photographing her, or sticking your fingers inside her) when she’s passed out is unfair play. Fair play requires an equal playing field. So does consent. That unconscious girl who was flirting with you may indeed have wanted to have sex with you. But that was an hour and three Cherry Comforts ago, and it is not now, and now you will never know, because the only thing you’re going to do with that girl is pull a blanket over her and get her some water and maybe a bucket, because you are a man, and not a monster.

I know that rape is not a game, and sex really isn’t, either. But what we learn about fair play — online, on the field, on the gaming table — has value in the bedroom, too. A long time ago, we pushed kids into sports not so they could lose weight, but so they could gain ethics. I know that’s hard to believe after Lance Armstrong, Jose Canseco, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, and the lot of them, but that’s how it used to be. Once upon a time, we wanted to teach kids not just how to win, but more importantly, how to lose. How hear “no.” How to take it on the chin and walk away. But now, schools protect accomplished student athletes from accusations of rape. Now, high school football players expect their coaches to take care of rape allegations. Now, football coaches can rape little boys and their universities will let them get away with it. So much for fair play. So much for “no.”

I bring this up because Christie Blatchford seems not to get it. Writing about the late Rehtaeh Parsons of Nova Scotia, who killed herself in response to the bullying that followed her sexual assault, Blatchford goes to great pains to explain that “there are two sides, even in this wrenching tale,” and explains, ever so delicately, that maybe Parsons was just asking for it. In so doing, Blatchford is taking advantage of Parsons’ absence of life in much the same way that the boys accused of raping her may have taken advantage of her absence of consciousness. She’s not awake. She can’t say no. She can’t push back. It’s possible that, as Blatchford asserts, the local RCMP would not have pursued a case. But Parsons didn’t kill herself because the RCMP didn’t make a case. She killed herself because she wanted to. Because it seemed like the best idea at the time.

Parsons is not the only woman to come to that conclusion. She’s part of a trend. Amanda Todd. Jessica Laney. Lizzy Seeberg. Samantha Kelly. Recently, it has become all too common for young women to choose suicide as their response to rape. And that’s dangerous, because suicide is viral, and those who know someone who has committed suicide or hear of someone committing suicide are 3.5 times more likely to attempt it themselves.

You know what else is viral in its epidemiology? Mass shootings. Mass shooters copy each other, possibly because they hear so much about each other on the news. Although research is ongoing, we do know that mass murderers also tend to kill themselves, either because they sincerely wish to die or because suicide is now part of the standard mass shooting process.

Inevitably, these two trends will converge.

Think about it.  What’s to stop a young woman whose accusations have been ignored by police to decide that killing herself, her rapists, and some of the victim-shaming bitches who made her life a living hell on Facebook? Certainly not the strength of America’s gun laws. Or how its media treats “promising” young rapists. At what point does someone decide that the rage, the pain, the betrayal, and the despair should be focused outward, not just inward? At what point does a victim decide that the world is better off without the people who victimized her, and that if the cops can’t keep him off the streets, maybe she should? Statistically, women are not rampage killers. But all it takes is one. One girl, and a family gun collection.

As a human being, I don’t endorse this course of action. But as a futurist? I think it’ll take an event like the one I’ve just described to get the majority of American public schools to start talking about consent, rape, and victim-blaming with any degree of nuance. In much the same way that Columbine galvanized the school security movement after 1999, a rape revenge murder at school could provoke a change in how we handle accusations of rape among students. I think that’s what it would take for educators and legislators to realize that rape isn’t a private problem, it’s a community problem. It’s sad that I think that’s what it would take. I would love to be wrong. Only time will tell.

6 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. As a futurist, your analysis is scary…and very very plausible.

    • Madeline

       /  April 26, 2013

      It’s something that’s been on my mind lately. All the elements described here have been in the news so close together that it just cooked up together in my imagination.

  2. Pete Chapman

     /  April 26, 2013

    People forget about Brenda Ann Spencer and the Cleveland Elementary School Shooting despite her alleged remark, “I don’t like Mondays” being turned into a popular Boomtown Rats song. (for anyone whose memory needs jogging : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brenda_Ann_Spencer) Your speculation is highly probable, given the motive and opportunity it’s just a matter of time. But I shudder to think what the likes of Blanchford will write about it. To them revenge killing is just another thing that good girls don’t do.

    • Madeline

       /  April 26, 2013

      That’s right! I completely forgot about that, despite having been reminded about it a few days earlier in a completely different context. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. Okay. I’ll qualify that as interesting. You’re right: in the past 100 years of North American violent youth we’ve seen one (two?) young women commit indiscriminate mass murder with a firearm.

    That puts them in the minority.

    But your question (if I’m interpreting correctly) isn’t “Why do young men kill?” but “Can the tragic situations that some young women find themselves in motivate them to kill?”

    The hard answer is “I don’t know.” None of us know with certainty.

    But I have to think that if we’re going to have a clearer understanding of why young people of any gender become violent towards themselves and others, we have to look at the case studies we have.

    The last few shootings in America have used words like “mad-men” “sickos” and “evil” to describe the people and crimes they commit. I think that sort of terminology really limits out ability to understand these people. It’s really scary for us to examine these people as “not monsters” because their acts are monstrous.

    I don’t believe the combination of a gun cabinet and a young girl who has gone through the experience of rape and its aftermath is a cause for a mass shooting. But I believe a more calculated study into how and why these things happen is necessary.

    It’s a topic that we shouldn’t have to worry about so much. But with the deluge of information afforded to us right now: it’s on the minds of many, and we don’t have much for answers.

    • Madeline

       /  April 26, 2013

      You’re right, I think we’d be looking at an extremely specialized set of circumstances. But that’s usually what is said after most school shootings, or rampage killings in general. They receive a lot of media attention, but they’re actually quite rare in terms of general crime — which is trending overwhelmingly downward. It takes an alienated, disassociated person to pursue that course of action — the people who do are already outliers, not just statistically but socially. I just wonder if we’ll see a gender outlier as well.

  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, Tor.com, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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