Utah’s Rape Problem Isn’t About Porn and Hooking Up

The Standard-Examiner’s Editorial Board recently wrote about Utah’s rape problem:

According to the Utah Department of Health, 64 of every 100,000 Utah women have suffered a rape. The national average is 57 women out of 100,000.

While I applaud the board for taking sexual assault seriously, their diagnosis of the problem indicated that a sex-negative perspective might be clouding their understanding of the real causes of sexual assault.

The board chose to focus on sexual assault committed by and against young people.

According to the 2011 Crime in Utah report, the demographic most often arrested for sex assault are males ages 10 to 17. Also a recent state Rape in Utah report notes that 78 percent of female rape victims were minors when assaulted. Also, forced sex between males under 18 in Utah is higher than the U.S. average.

The focus on young men makes sense. Research I’ve seen which says that a quarter of registered sex offenders are juveniles. But do young men commit sexual assault for different reasons than adult men? The board blames pornography and hooking up for the prevalence of sexual assault.

Some of the reasons that sexual assault among the young is prevalent include exposure to pornography and hooking up, which is made easier through social media and other technology.

There are no good studies showing that porn causes men or boys to commit sexual assault. None even show that it is correlated with a rise in violence. There are numerous studies showing that rising porn usage correlates with fewer incidences of sexual violence. In fact, when child pornography was legal in Denmark, Japan and the Czech Republic the incidence of child sex abuse decreased significantly.

As for blaming the so-called “hook-up culture” for sexual violence, this seems to confuse casual, consensual sex for rape. How would hooking up lead to rape? Similarly, how would consigning sex to long-term committed relationship decrease sexual violence? It’s hard to see how this idea doesn’t lead to victim-blaming. Many women have to answer probing questions about their sexual histories when they press charges against their rapists. This disincentivizes coming forward. And it’s totally useless and irrelevant. There are plenty of reasons to not want to hook up, and to recommend others do the same. But preventing sexual violence is not one of them.

However, the Board definitely gets it right when they point the finger at a culture of denial around sexual assault.

Another key reason, though, is not observing — or ignoring — signs of these crimes and being in denial when a sexual assault occurs. If we have suspicions that someone has been sexually assaulted and we don’t report our suspicions, we are enablers of these evil deeds.

From Steubenville to Canada, we see instances of rape being swept under the rug and ignored by parents, teachers, coaches and authorities. And when the crimes are reported to police, victims have to walk through invasive swabbing and extensive questioning only to have their rape kits expire, untested, while their rapists walk free. Police departments claim they don’t have the manpower to test the kits or arrest the suspects, but it’s clearly a matter of priorities. One Utah police department had enough time to bring 114 (so far) fraudulent drug cases.

Blaming porn or hooking up for rape can’t be supported by the evidence. It reinforces sex-negative attitudes and victim-blaming and distracts from the systemic problems with how we deal with rape as a culture.

This post was originally published at BlueBoutique.com. I’ve got a gift certificate coming! Tell me what I should get in the comments.

Photo by fabbio

7 Comments

  1. JPeron

    A lot of teen males get listed as sex offenders for consenting relationships with teen girls of a similar, or same age. Typically the police assume the boy is a “perpetrator” and the girl a victim, even if both consented. In fact, I remember a Utah case where two young teens were arrested for making out and charged with mutual molestation.

    • York Luethje

      Is it really that pervasive? I didn’t grow up here but I recall finding the whole sex thing confusing and terrifying enough without thinking about any legal consequences.

  2. Mycenae

    Yeah, thanks for blowing the porn thing to pieces. Looking at porn does not cause rape. Wanting to have consensual sex with women does not cause rape. And I do think that this kind of sex-negative attitude does lead to victim-blaming.

    I do have a few issues with some of your other points, though. First, in order to prosecute any criminal case, the police have to collect evidence. With rape, that means a medical examination of the alleged victim. This may not be a pleasant experience, but it’s necessary to establish proof.

    Of course, it would be helpful if the police would actually examine the evidence.

    Also, I’m a bit worried about the consequences of telling people to “report” every time they see a possible indication that someone MIGHT have been raped. Talking to someone if it looks like there’s something wrong is a good idea, but encouraging people to just run to the police seems like it would lead to witchunts, which could end with innocent people getting sent to jail. It would also mean that the police would be bogged down by a lot of bogus cases, meaning that actual rapes would be harder to prosecute.

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