Monthly Archives: November 2013

Survivor, Courtney Andrews, speaks out

“It’s OK to take the time you need to heal. OK?” via Feministing:

*trigger warning*

[Please click the following link to watch the powerful video associated with this article] http://video.msnbc.msn.com/mhp/53651444/#53651444

Yesterday, Melissa Harris-Perry and her team – including friends of the show producer Jamil Smith and MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon – did something remarkable. They had an honest, heartfelt, wrenching conversation about sexual violence, and about surviving sexual violence, that wasn’t sensationalized, but that fully conveyed the pain, outrage, and fear that so many survivors and their loved ones feel.

Courtney Andrews was raped three times by the same man. Earlier this month, an Alabama judge ruled that her rapist would serve no jail time, and sentenced him to just two years in a community correctional facility, and three years of probation. For raping a child. Repeatedly. The ruling has, understandably, sparked outrage.

There aren’t a lot of people who could have handled interviewing Andrews and her aunt with the compassion that Harris-Perry, who is herself a survivor of rape, displays in this segment. This is one of the conversations we need to be having about sexual violence – about the myth of the perfect victim and about the incredibly light punishments, institutional and otherwise, that we hand out for inflicting that violence, and about the remarkable courage of the people who come forward and say, in public, “this happened to me.”

Transcript available here.

Fighting child pornography in Maine

This woman is raising $100K to help Maine State Police investigate child pornography, via Bangor Daily News:

With child pornography crimes the fastest-growing crime in America, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Mainers often feel like there’s nothing they can do to stop it. But a former educator from Rockport is stepping up and hoping to lead the way for others to help change that.

Mary Orear, who founded a nonprofit organization 17 years ago aimed at empowering girls, is not the kind of person to wring her hands and look away from something she finds troubling. Instead, the executive director of Mainely Girls is now working to raise $100,000 to purchase a mobile forensic lab for the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit.

“I believe people are very frustrated by reading for the last few years about child sexual abuse — by coaches, by teachers, by doctors, by the clergy. And now all of this child pornography — we in the general public feel helpless to do anything,” she said Friday. “By making a donation to help purchase this vital piece of equipment, people feel as if they are doing something to help.”

That aid is sorely needed, she and others say. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in 2011 that the country has seen “ historic rise in the distribution of child pornography, in the number of images being shared online, and in the level of violence associated with child exploitation and sexual abuse crimes. Tragically, the only place we’ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims.”

The growing backlog of cases at the Vassalboro-based unit could be reduced if investigators had better equipment than the two retrofitted GMC cargo vans currently used. Lt. Glenn Lang said last week that the vans just don’t have the space or power to preview computers outside the homes of people suspected to have downloaded, shared or even created child pornography.

“It’s not a great set up. We’ve been trying to band-aid it together for awhile now,” Lang said. “One of the things we’re hoping with the new vehicle is that we’ll have sufficient power to run desktop units. That will allow us to run previews much more efficiently.”

He said that he sends teams into the field between one and four times a week to investigate suspected cases of child pornography. They arrest between 70 and 80 Mainers a year, generally on charges related to possession of child pornography. But Lang said that investigators now know that the bulk of child pornography is produced in the United States, with some even made in Maine. Better equipment might mean that authorities can help rescue children who are victimized, like in the cases of two Maine men investigated on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography.

Wade Robert Hoover of Augusta pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in February for production of child pornography and was sentenced in July to 40 years in federal prison. He awaits trial dates in Kennebec and Somerset counties for multiple charges of gross sexual assault against two children. Patrik Ian Arsenault of Norridgewock was arrested in August on charges of sexually assaulting two children and distributing photographs of the assaults over the Internet. The former special education teacher has pleaded not guilty of the crimes.

With a new mobile forensic lab, Lang said, the state’s ability to help children will grow.

“This is a community problem. When you see someone in a community step up like this and say ‘I want to make a difference,’ it means everything to us,” he said of Orear’s efforts.

So far, after receiving special permission from the Maine attorney general’s office to fundraise for a state agency, Orear has raised a quarter of the goal. People have given donations of $5 to $2,000, and Orear hopes that local businesses, especially those that deal with technology, also will step up to help.

She said her decision to learn more about the problem and help solve it hasn’t always been easy.

“People say, ‘Oh, it’s a victimless crime.’ It’s not a victimless crime in any way,” she said. “A lot of what Mainely Girls has done — it’s about empowerment. But in this case, these children and adolescents are victims, and somebody else has to help rescue them. They can’t rescue themselves.”

To help, visit www.mainelygirls.org or email mainelygirls2@gmail.com

We’re hiring!

Rural Outreach Advocate

Job Description:
Northern Oxford County Advocate will identify, assess and appropriately respond to victims of sexual assault, in rural areas or rural communities. Provide victims/survivors information about community resources and strategies for enhancing safety. Staff school drop in services and respond to advocacy and support needs of students. Provide educational/support groups for survivors of sexual assault. Support survivors with obtaining protection from abuse orders when needed. Connect with school personnel, law enforcement, and other community resources to facilitate referrals for services. Staff helpline, and provide direct client service when necessary.

Job Requirements:
Knowledge of sexual violence and its impacts, excellent verbal and written communication skills, ability to work independently and as part of a team, reliable transportation a must.

Education Requirements: 
Bachelor’s degree in related field, or equivalent life or work experience.

Benefits:
paid vacation and sick time, health and dental insurance, 403b plan, professional development opportunities.

Full time, annual salary $30,000.00

If you are interested, please submit your resume, cover letter, and references via e-mail, mail, or fax by December 2nd to:

Stephanie LeBlond, Oxford Site Coordinator
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services
P.O. Box 300
South Paris, Maine 04281

Phone: (207) 743-9777
Fax: (207) 743-2677
Email: steph.leblond@sapars.org

Teaching consent

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1 – 21, via The Good Men Project:

A list of parenting action items, created in the hope that we can raise a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

The ongoing horror of rape in the news, from Penn State to the young women raped and killed in India to Steubenville, has proven to be a wake-up call for many parents. We always knew that rape was a problem, but never before have we been so mobilized to create change.

As writers, educators, and advocates of sex-positivity and healthy consent, the four of us have been inundated with requests from parents for advice on how to help create a future with less rape and sexual assault.

We believe parents can start educating children about consent and empowerment as early as 1 year old and continuing into the college years. It is our sincere hope that this education can help us raise empowered young adults who have empathy for others and a clear understanding of healthy consent.

We hope parents and educators find this list of action items and teaching tools helpful, and that together we can help create a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

There are three sections, based upon children’s ages, preschool, grade school, and teens and young adults.

Sincerely,

Julie Gills, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder

♦◊♦

For Very Young Children (ages 1-5):

1. Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. Use langauge such as, “Sarah, let’s ask Joe if he would like to hug bye-bye.” If Joe says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay, Sarah! Let’s wave bye-bye to Joe and blow him a kiss.”

2. Help create empathy within your child by explaining how something they have done may have hurt someone. Use language like, “I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don’t want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him.”

Encourage your child to imagine how he or she might feel if Mikey had hit them, instead. This can be done with a loving tone and a big hug, so the child doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.

3. Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble. Talk to kids about helping other children*, and alerting trusted grown-ups when others need help. Ask your child to watch interactions and notice what is happening. Get them used to observing behavior and checking in on what they see.

Use the family pet as an example, “Oh, it looks like the kitty’s tail is stuck! We have to help her!!” Praise your child for assisting others who need help, but remind them that if a grown-up needs help with anything, that it is a grown-up’s job to help. Praise your child for alerting you to people who are in distress, so that the appropriate help can be provided.

4. Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words and should be honored. One way to explain this may be, “Sarah said ‘no’, and when we hear ‘no’ we always stop what we’re doing immediately. No matter what.” Also teach your child that his or her “no’s” are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says “no”, that our friends need to always stop when we say “no”, too.  If a friend doesn’t stop when we say “no,” then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends. If you feel you must intervene, do so. Be kind, and explain to the other child how important “no” is. Your child will internalize how important it is both for himself and others.

5. Encourage children to read facial expressions and other body language: Scared, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and more. Charade-style guessing games with expressions are a great way to teach children how to read body language.

6. Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody, for any reason. If Grandma is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, offer alternatives by saying something like, “Would you rather give Grandma a high-five or blow her a kiss, maybe?” You can always explain to Grandma, later, what you’re doing and why. But don’t make a big deal out of it in front of your kid. If it’s a problem for Grandma, so be it, your job now is doing what’s best for your child and giving them the tools to be safe and happy, and help others do the same.

7. Encourage children to wash their own genitals during bath time. Of course parents have to help sometimes, but explaining to little Joe that his penis is important and that he needs to take care of it is a great way to help encourage body pride and a sense of ownership of his or her own body. Also, model consent by asking for permission to help wash your child’s body. Keep it upbeat and always honor the child’s request to not be touched. “Can I wash your back now? How about your feet? How about your bottom?” If the child says “no” then hand them the washcloth and say, “Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Go for it.”

8. Give children the opportunity to say yes or no in everyday choices, too. Let them choose clothing and have a say in what they wear, what they play, or how they do their hair. Obviously, there are times when you have to step in (dead of winter when your child wants to wear a sundress would be one of those times!), but help them understand that you heard his or her voice and that it mattered to you, but that you want to keep them safe and healthy.

9. Allow children to talk about their body in any way they want, without shame. Teach them the correct words for their genitals, and make yourself a safe place for talking about bodies and sex. Say, “I’m so glad you asked me that!” If you don’t know how to answer their questions the right way just then, say, “I’m glad you’re asking me about this, but I want to look into it. Can we talk about it after dinner?” and make sure you follow up with them when you say you will. If your first instinct is to shush them or act ashamed, then practice it alone or with a partner. The more you practice, the easier it will be.

10. Talk about “gut feelings” or instincts. Sometimes things make us feel weird, or scared, or yucky and we don’t know why. Ask your child if that has ever happened with them and listen quietly as they explain. Teach them that this “belly voice” is sometimes correct, and that if they ever have a gut feeling that is confusing, they can always come to you for help in sorting through their feelings and making decisions. And remind them that no one has the right to touch them if they don’t want it.

11. “Use your words.” Don’t answer and respond to temper tantrums. Ask your child to use words, even just simple words, to tell you what’s going on.

♦◊♦

Guidelines For Older Children (Ages 5-12) 

1. Teach kids that the way their bodies are changing is great, but can sometimes be confusing. The way you talk about these changes—whether it’s loose teeth or pimples and pubic hair—will show your willingness to talk about other sensitive subjects. Be scientific, direct, and answer any questions your child may have, without shame or embarrassment. Again, if your first instinct is to shush them because you are embarrassed, practice until you can act like it’s no big deal with your kid.

2. Encourage them to talk about what feels good and what doesn’t. Do you like to be tickled? Do you like to be dizzy? What else? What doesn’t feel good? Being sick, maybe? Or when another kid hurts you? Leave space for your child to talk about anything else that comes to mind.

3Remind your child that everything they’re going through is natural, growing up happens to all of us.

4. Teach kids how to use safewords during play, and help them negotiate a safeword to use with their friends. This is necessary because many kids like to disappear deep into their pretend worlds together, such as playing war games where someone gets captured, or putting on a stage play where characters may be arguing. At this age, saying “no” may be part of the play, so they need to have one word that will stop all activity. Maybe it’s a silly one like “Peanut Butter” or a serious one like, “I really mean it!” Whatever works for all of them is good.

5Teach kids to stop their play every once in a while to check in with one another. Teach them to take a T.O. (time out) every so often, to make sure everyone’s feeling okay.

6. Encourage kids to watch each others’ facial expressions during play to be sure everyone’s happy and on the same page.

7. Help kids interpret what they see on the playground and with friends. Ask what they could do or could have done differently to help. Play a “rewind” game, if they come home and tell you about seeing bullying. “You told me a really hard story about your friend being hit. I know you were scared to step in. If we were to rewind the tape, what do you think you could do to help next time if you see it happen?” Improvise everything from turning into a superhero to getting a teacher. Give them big props for talking to you about tough subjects.

8. Don’t tease kids for their boy-girl friendships, or for having crushes. Whatever they feel is okay. If their friendship with someone else seems like a crush, don’t mention it. You can ask them open questions like, “How is your friendship with Sarah going?” and be prepared to talk—or not talk—about it.

9. Teach children that their behaviors affect others. You can do this in simple ways, anywhere. Ask them to observe how people respond when other people make noise or litter. Ask them what they think will happen as a result. Will someone else have to clean up the litter? Will someone be scared? Explain to kids how the choices they make affect others and talk about when are good times to be loud, and what are good spaces to be messy.

10Teach kids to look for opportunities to help. Can they pick up the litter? Can they be more quiet so as not to interrupt someone’s reading on the bus? Can they offer to help carry something or hold a door open? All of this teaches kids that they have a role to play in helping ease both proverbial and literal loads.

♦◊♦

Guidelines for Teens and Young Adults

1. Education about “good touch/bad touch” remains crucial, particularly in middle school. This is an age where various “touch games” emerge: butt-slapping, boys hitting one another in the genitals and pinching each other’s nipples to cause pain. When kids talk about these games, a trend emerges where boys explain that they think the girls like it, but the girls explain that they do not. We must get kids talking about the ways in which these games impact other people. They will try to write it off, but it’s important to encourage them to talk it through, and ask them how they would feel if someone hit them in that way, or did something that made them feel uncomfortable or violated. When you see it happen, nip it in the bud. This isn’t “boys being boys”, this is harassment, and sometimes assault.

2. Build teens’ self esteem. In middle school, bullying shifts to specifically target identity, and self-esteem starts to plummet around age 13. By age 17, 78% of girls report hating their bodies.

We tend to build up our smaller kids by telling them how great they are. For some reason, we stop telling kids all the wonderful aspects of who they are when they reach middle school. But this actually a very crucial time to be building up our kids’ self-esteem, and not just about beauty. Remark to them regularly about their talents, their skills, their kindness, as well as their appearance. Even if they shrug you off with a, “Dad! I know!” it’s always good to hear the things that make you great.

3. Continue having “sex talks” with middle schoolers, but start incorporating information about consent. We’re often good at talking about waiting until marriage to have sex, or about sexually-transmitted infections, or about practicing safer sex. But we don’t usually talk about consent. By middle school, it’s time to start. Ask questions like, “How do you know whether your partner is ready to kiss you?” and “How do you think you can tell if a girl (or boy) is interested in you?” This is a great time to explain enthusiastic consent. About asking permission to kiss or touch a partner. Explain that only “yes” means “yes”. Don’t wait for your partner to say “no” to look for consent. Educating our middle schoolers about consent means we don’t have to re-educate them later and break bad habits, perhaps after somebody’s been hurt.

4. Nip “locker room talk” in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy. But as parents and educators, we need to do more than just stop kids from talking about other kids like they’re objects. We also need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people. If you overhear a kid say, “She’s a hot piece of ass” you could say, “Hey, I think she’s more than just an ass!” You can keep it jokey, and they’ll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in. They need a model for grown-ups who are doing things right. Even saying something like, “It’s also cool that she (or he) is so awesome at tennis, isn’t it?”

5. Explain that part of growing up is having changing hormones, and that hormones sometimes make it hard to think clearly. Sometimes that means our desire feels overwhelming, or that we’re angry, confused or sad. It’s common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by these new feelings. Tell your kids that no matter what they’re feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one’s responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.

6. Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Men need to talk to boys about what’s good about masculinity. Ask what hasn’t been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future.

Boys need to start talking about building a healthy masculinity starting in middle school and continue through college, because transforming masculinity is vital to transforming rape culture.

7. Talk honestly with kids about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re drinking. Questions such as:

– How will you know when you’ve had too much to drink?

– How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink? (Make clear that your child can always call you to come get him or her if needed).

– How will you know if your drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level, or crossed into addiction?

– How does your behavior change when you’ve had too much to drink? How can you protect others from yourself in that situation if, perhaps, you become an angry drunk or start violating people’s space or safety?

– How will you know whether it’s okay to kiss someone, touch someone, or have sex with someone when you’ve had a lot to drink? Explain that decisions sometimes become cloudy, and signals become unclear when we are impaired. How will you be sure that you are reading the other person’s signals accurately? Suggest that they always ask for permission to touch or kiss another person, especially when there’s drinking involved.

– Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed or sexually assaulted. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had to much too drink.

– Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.

8. Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they’ll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you. It also normalizes talking about consent, so talking openly and respectfully with partners becomes second nature to teens.

9. Finally, teens are thirsty for more information about sexual assault, consent, and healthy sexuality. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information—lovingly, honestly and consistently—they will carry that information out into the world with them.

Having good information encourages kids to be UPstanders, not BYstanders. Not only does the world need more Upstanders, but kids really want to be a force for good. And we can give them the tools to do so.

Human trafficking in Maine

Community solutions to help trafficking victims, via Bangor Daily News:

Human trafficking is making Maine and national headlines more and more frequently.

Some of the news is about how much work there is left to do. But more recently, it’s about exciting successes in the field, such as the $400,000 federal grant that Maine just received to develop victim services for human trafficking victims in southern Maine. One thing that these successes often have in common is that they are built on a foundation of teamwork and collaboration: that grant was made possible by two years of effort by the Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking and Exploitation, a multi-disciplinary sex trafficking response team.

Another exciting development – one which hasn’t received a lot of news – shares that history of team work and community energy. As of October 9, Maine has a crime of “Aggravated Sex Trafficking”, (17-A section 852) on the books. Aggravated sex trafficking is a class B felony, and occurs when a person promotes the prostitution of a minor, or compels an adult to enter into or engage in prostitution through a number of means – primarily different kinds of force, fraud, or coercion.  The bill, LD 1159, also included a number of other elements, including expanding the definition of a human trafficking offense in Maine’s civil rights code, which makes civil remedies and restitution available for victims, and makes being a consumer of sex trafficking – in other words, being a john – a “jail-able” offense after three strikes.

The bill was developed with a coalition, including the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Work Group (in existence since 2006, with members from social services and law enforcement), and went to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee with the full support of the Criminal Law Advisory Commission. Supportive testimony was given by local law enforcement officers, prosecutors, service providers, and former victims of human trafficking who are currently working to meet the real and pressing needs of trafficking victims in Maine.

It remains to be seen how Maine law enforcement and prosecutors will use this new tool. Still, we know that LD 1159 and the protections and accountability that it creates is a real success story for Maine. It’s a story of partnership, of coalition-building, and of creating Maine-based solutions to meet the real needs of vulnerable Mainers. LD 1159 is the perfect example of a community-driven solution.

We can’t wait to see how this comprehensive new law changes the landscape for public safety, for social services, and most importantly, for victims of human trafficking. And we are confident that it will.

This post was written by Destie Hohman Sprague, program coordinator at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She may be reached at destie@mecasa.org.

Alcohol and victim blaming

Actually, The Link Between Sexual Assault And Alcohol Isn’t As Clear As You Think, via Think Progress:

It’s become common knowledge that alcohol is a major factor that contributes to sexual assaults. On Monday, USA Today published a story quoting doctors and experts who point out that alcohol is the most common date rape drug, far more likely to be used to incapacitate a victim than “roofies” are. And that’s just the most recent piece on the subject. After Slate columnist Emily Yoffestoked controversy earlier this month by writing that young women should avoid getting drunk, since it’s been proven that drinking is “closely associated” with sexual assault, the dialogue about alcohol and rape has been re-opened.

This entire conversation is predicated upon the assumption that the presence of alcohol increases the likelihood of rape, so we need to encourage college students to drink less. Yoffe played into a decades-long tradition of framing that discussion specifically around women, a method of victim-blaming that feeds into rape culture. But even when the discussion is properly framed around the perpetrators rather than the victims, how strong is the correlation in question? Will getting kids to drink less actually get them to rape less?

Toward the end of the USA Today article about alcohol’s function as a date rape drug, one of the experts who agreed to be quoted in the story noted, “People don’t get raped because they have been drinking, because they are passed out or because they are drunk. People get raped because there is a perpetrator there — someone who wants to take advantage of them.”

That gets to the heart of the complex issue: Even though alcohol is associated with sexual assault, it’s not actually a direct association. Getting intoxicated only leads to rape when there’s someone present to commit that rape. When you remove rapists from the equation, the risks of getting drunk — which, of course, do involve serious public health consequences — don’t include getting raped.

A 2001 research project into sexual assault and alcohol commissioned by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism puts it this way: “Although alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur, this phenomenon does not prove that alcohol use causes sexual assault.” In some cases, the researchers pointed out, it may actually be the other way around. The desire to commit a sexual assault may actually encourage alcohol consumption, as some men may drink before assaulting a woman in order to help justify their behavior.

National statistics dispel the direct correlation between alcohol and rape, too. The Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey has found that the number of Americans who say they’ve been raped — regardless of whether they reported that crime to the authorities — has been declining since 1979. During that same time period, binge drinking has been steadily rising. As Slate’s Amanda Hess points out, that suggests something else besides alcohol consumption is actually factoring into the nation’s sexual assault rate. Indeed, research has found that intimate partner violence declines not as people drink less, but as society moves toward gender equality.

Of course, that doesn’t mean alcohol has no relationship with sexual assault whatsoever. The same National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study estimated that alcohol is present in about half of sexual assaults, although researchers noted that’s a rough estimation because it’s hard to gather data in this area. It’s certainly possible that alcohol clouds some perpetrators’ judgment and encourages them to push the boundaries of consent further than they would have otherwise. And it’s undeniably true that alcohol is one of the tools that rapists use to prey on women and lower their defenses.

But the important point to note is that alcohol is just one of many tools at rapists’ disposal — and if alcohol isn’t available, that won’t necessarily stop a rapist from assaulting people.

David Lisak, a former clinical psychologist who now consults the U.S. military and college administrations on issues of sexual assault, has done extensive research into the nature of sexual crimes. In one of his research papers, he details some “common characteristics of the modus operandi” of the people who he refers to as “undetected rapists” — that is, the men who are violating women’s consent and getting away with it. According to Lisak’s observationsover two decades of working with this population, these people:

  • are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;
  • plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
  • use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
  • use psychological weapons — power, control, manipulation, and threats — backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
  • use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.

Alcohol, of course, appears on that list. It makes sense that alcohol would be a tool that’s useful for rendering a victim powerless; that’s what USA Today’s piece is getting at when it refers to alcohol as a “date rape drug.” But Lisak points out there are several other strategies that can also be used to achieve this end.

This profile isn’t simply hypothetical. Last year, a user on the social media site Reddit started a thread for rapists to give them a platform to explain what motivated them to commit their crimes. The thread was eventually removed, but not before it garnered hundreds of comments. One of the comments that went viral came from a man who described himself as a “serial rapist” during his college years. He wrote that he began forcing himself on women because he liked the “thrill of the chase,” and described how he selected the girls who he would rape: “I would find attractive girls that were self-conscious about their looks… Hopefully a girl who was a bit damaged, had a shitty ex-boyfriend, or family issues, came from a small shut in town, that sort of thing… So, when I showed interest in them they’d be completely enamored, they’d almost be shocked that a popular, good-looking, and well liked guy would be talking to them.”

That Redditor mentioned that “alcohol helped.” But most of the tactics he employed were actually about carefully selecting his victim, using emotional manipulation, and testing their boundaries — the first bullet points on Lisak’s list. That points to a largely undiscussed aspect of sexual violence: often, the “drunk victim” was targeted as a victim before they took a sip of alcohol on the night of their assault. It didn’t matter how much they ended up drinking.

It’s difficult to identify rapists, so there isn’t a huge body of research that has investigated their behavior in this way. But a few other studies in this area echo many of Lisak’s findings — most notably, the uncomfortable reality that most sexual predators don’t simply “slip up” after having too much to drink and accidentally violate someone’s consent. Rather, they’re often making calculated decisions to achieve their goal of assaulting multiple victims, just like the Reddit user. A 2009 survey of rapists enlisted in the navy found that the vast majority of men who had committed rape admitted to raping multiple victims, and many of them said they used alcohol as one of their tools. A recent large international study on sexual violence also found that repeat offenses are very high among rapists, and more than 70 percent of the participants who admitted to rape said they did it because they believe they’re entitled to women’s bodies.

Those type of conclusions turn most of the conventional wisdom about rape and alcohol on its head. All of a sudden, it becomes clear that preventing sexual assault is a much more involved process than simply encouraging young people to chug fewer beers.

And perhaps more broadly, it’s important to remember that sexual assault isn’t actually unique in its relationship to alcohol. In fact, at least half of all violent crimes occur after the perpetrator, the victim, or both have been drinking alcohol. Sexual assault simply fits neatly within that larger pattern — yet we’re much less likely to assume that alcohol factored into an armed robbery, or call on people to stop drinking so they won’t get mugged.