Does It Even Matter What Causes Rape?

To the highly inflammatory question of whether rape is really about sex or really about power, one blogger offers a new and potentially powerful answer: who cares?

Zuska's post comes apropos of a commenter dispute, but it's her response to said dispute that's interesting. She writes, "When douches like [commenter] hibob are trying to figure out what "causes" rape, they would do well to remember that rape - more accurately, sex crimes and sexual battery - have myriad manifestations and causes." She goes on to quote Mart Carmill:

...it's a mistake to argue about the causes of rape...We define [rape, murder, and war] by their properties and their effects, not their causes, and there's no reason to think that acts that share an effect also share a cause...[A]ll homicides share the same effect...but they don't all have the same cause...Seeking the cause of murder, war, or rape may be a fundamental mistake, like asking for the cause of things that weigh 10 pounds.

There is, of course, a reason to push back against the notion that rape is "about" sexual desire. This notion can lead to victim-blaming and the canard of the powerless male inflamed by female attractiveness — she was so hot, he just had to have her. It can also lead to a dangerous blurring of the lines between consensual BDSM and assault, as, Femonomics blogger Coca Colo points out, all too frequently occurs in fiction and film (example: The Killer Inside Me, pictured above). But rather than countering that rape is always about power and domination, can we simply set aside the idea that it's always about any one thing?

It's disgusting but true that there are many, many rapists in the world — and making sweeping generalizations about them can get us in trouble. Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, for instance, presents some interesting stats on pornography viewing and sexual aggression — apparently men at "moderate or high risk for sexual aggression" seem to experience an increase in their aggression if they look at lots of porn. Marcotte extrapolates,

I've noted in the past that I think the outsized role that misogyny plays in porn probably has to do with the fact that a small percentage of heavy duty porn users dictate the market. I speculated that most men spend not very much time looking at porn compared to other activities, but that some men are complete pornheads who have to be staring at it all the time. I suspect that men who look at porn well beyond the basic "get on, get off, get on with some other activity" amount are way more likely to be in it to see women hurt and degraded, on top of just wanting to get off.

She adds that the research shows "that men are highly likely to assault women do often have an extremely intense relationship with porn. And I'm guessing they prefer the meanest, nastiest shit you can find." Marcotte acknowledges that all this is mere speculation, but it may not be all that productive to speculate about the porn tastes of sexually aggressive men as a group, which probably differ widely. And as blogger Charlie Glickman, whom Marcotte quotes, is careful to explain, we can't conclude that porn causes aggression even in highly aggressive men who watch a lot of it.

In fact, there's only one proven cause of all rapes: rapists. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if rape is motivated by a desire for sex or for domination — it's always wrong. And rather than arguing over the motivation for a crime committed by so many different people in so many different circumstances, maybe we should simply concentrate on lifting the blame from those upon which it all too often falls: the victims.

Isn't Rape Really Just All About Sex? [Thus Spake Zuska]
The Complicated Relationship Of Sexual Aggression And Porn [Pandagon]
The Both/And Of The Porn Wars [Charlie Glickman: Adult Sexuality Education]
Sexy Rape: What Ayn Rand, Michael Winterbottom, And Ang Lee Have In Common [Femonomics]