A long, long time ago, I wrote about BNN’s controversial “decide who gets a kidney” reality TV show “The Great Donor Show.” In the end, rather than being one terminally ill person deciding who got her kidney, it was one actress “highlighting the plight” of the families who desperately needed kidney transplants, in an effort to push forward dialog on transplantation laws in the Netherlands.
I remain skeptical of the efficacy of the concept, and firmly in the “that’s pretty damned tasteless” camp.
Somehow, I think BNN’s latest is going to have a hard time even crawling out of the muck to “damned tasteless”: their new debate show, Raped or Not?
This time around, the TV show is going to air re-enactments of rapes to male and female panelists, and will then ask them if they agree with whatever verdict was reached at trial.
the alleged sex attacks didn’t involve incidents where “someone is dragged into a bush” and attacked, but was instead about “murkier” cases. “Those are personal dramas. One says rape, the other sees it as an innocent sexual encounter. Our show is about that grey area.”
Yeeeaaah about that.
There’s this persistent narrative of the grey area in rape and assault cases, which basically comes down to “she said no, he heard yes.”1 Oh, it might be vaguer – it might be she pushed and struggled and he overcame her, it might be she said no, he didn’t listen, she was afraid and so went along with it, it might be something as simple as “the power differential was so great, she didn’t think she could say no without facing other repercussions.” Repercussions that come about specifically because of the quaint belief in these “grey areas” – that somehow, we should be able to talk about whether an employee really “wanted it” when, say, she was called to her boss’s office and he was there in his boxers.
But what we actually know about that “grey area” is that it’s really only a grey area to the men who will rape – especially those who admit to rape, so long as you don’t say rape. Back in 2009, Thomas MacAulay Millar of the Yes Means Yes! blog, looked at two large-sample surveys of undetected rapists. Turns out, as long as you don’t use the word rape, plenty of guys will admit to it – and these aren’t the oogyboogy stranger rapes, but the “grey area” date rapes and nice guys and friends of friends, raping. “The rapists who are out there are mostly using intoxication, and mostly attacking victims they know.”
And more importantly, especially to this idea of “grey areas,”
the sometimes-floated notion that acquaintance rape is simply a mistake about consent, is wrong. The vast majority of the offenses are being committed by a relatively small group of men, somewhere between 4% and 8% of the population, who do it again … and again … and again. That just doesn’t square with the notion of innocent mistake.
In case you’re holding out hope that Millar’s data is nearly a decade old, well. Let me just dash those hopes on the nearest set of pointy rocks; at the end of 2014, researchers from the University of North Dakota found that 1/3rd of surveyed college men say they’d rape if they could get away with it – again, as long as you don’t call it rape. The minute you use “the r word,” oh no, fully 2/3rds of those men all turn into good boys who would never ever.
What we have known since the 1970s, when people started looking beyond convicted rapists in prison (“the generalists who will steal anything, including sex”) and out into the community, at the specialists who get away with repeated assault: men are open about repeatedly ignoring consent, and although they have raped, these men don’t believe they are the problem.
But they are, and paying homage to the “grey area” and then putting up rape cases – cases that went to court, which is rare no matter what country you’re in – to discussion of “did they get this right?” only does one thing: it underscores, rather than undermines, the notion that there is some grey area of assault, where perception counts and one person can believe they were assaulted and another thinks they had a consensual encounter. The research is clear: that doesn’t exist. All that does is a bunch of men who know they shouldn’t admit to rape, not that they shouldn’t rape.