As new readers might not know, I am a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau. This means I regularly go out of my way to talk about rape with people who might not know what it is, or how it impacts peoples' lives, or how they themselves may be contributing to the epidemic of rape in our culture. Writing about things like the Josh Duggar sexual abuse "scandal" is something I might describe as "what I do."
Which means, unfortunately. dealing with the aggressive rape-apologists of the world is also, pretty much, "what I do."
Last week I published a piece about Josh Duggar, and the comments from men's rights activists (MRAs for short) and rape apologists came pouring in. I know, never read the comments... but I'd like to take this moment to talk about what these people said, what they believe, and how dangerous and wrong these ideas can be.
First among these is the idea that this was just a simple childish mistake. That Josh Duggar was a kid, and he shouldn't be tarnished now by the brush of having made a mistake, a bad mistake, but just that- a mistake. One commenter went so far as to compare this to potty training.
"You're dirty. And, you're not fit to raise children because when you were a kid, you used to poop your pants."
What this commenter is saying is that, for a fourteen year old boy, molesting a sleeping sibling is an inevitable part of growing up. Just as every child must be taught to use the toilet rather than a diaper, every boy must learn not to rape through the technique of trial and error. According to this guy, raping your sister is just part of growing up. Just like potty training, everyone does it.
What's terrifying about this idea is, actually, he's kind of right about that last part. In surveys done of college aged men, more than half confess to committing acts of rape, if the act is not explicitly named as rape. They will confess to having sex with somebody too drunk to consent, or hearing "no" and going ahead anyway, or pressuring and pressuring until the girl gave in. All of those are called "rape" by legal definition, but the men who commit those acts don't consider it rape, because to them, rape is something overtly violent that doesn't occur between people who know each other. This is why, according to new studies, nearly one in five girls is raped during her freshman year of college alone. And we know from decades of study that girls who are sexually assaulted during adolescence are more likely to be raped again- because to them, having their consent negated or ignored is normal.
By that right, yeah, most men may be rapists. But that does not make it okay. That means the need for comprehensive sex education, which includes consent as a fundamental element, is essential for reducing the instance of sexual assault.
Another argument that many of the commenters used was that Josh Duggar didn't rape his sisters. How dare I call him a rapist?
This is how the state of Arkansas defines statutory rape:
Sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity with someone less than 14 years of age where the defendant is more than 3 years older than the victim.
Deviate sexual activity is defined as: any act of sexual gratification involving the penetration, however slight, of the anus or mouth of one person by the penis of another person; or the penetration, however slight, of the labia majora or anus of one person by any body member or foreign instrument manipulated by another person.
So yes, Josh Duggar raped his sisters, one of whom was only five years old at the time he assaulted them. And it's extremely important that we call that what it is.
Victims of sexual assault are used to being told their experience "doesn't count." That it doesn't count because they were asleep. Or it doesn't count because they knew the perpetrator. Or it doesn't count because they didn't fight back. Or it doesn't count because they "let it happen." Or it doesn't count because they were dressed provocatively. Or it doesn't count because they weren't virgins. Or it doesn't count because they were drinking. Or it doesn't count because they were made to perform oral or anal sex rather than vaginal intercourse. Or it doesn't count because they were penetrated by something other than a penis. Or it doesn't count because they were assaulted by a woman. Or it doesn't count because they were a prostitute. Or it doesn't count because it happened a long time ago. Or it doesn't count because he thought she said yes.
It is still rape. It still counts. The experience is traumatic, and real, and valid. Any time a person claims that another person wasn't really raped, what they are saying is that another human being's trauma and pain are irrelevant. And that is not acceptable. Josh Duggar raped his sisters, let's call it what it is, and acknowledge that his sisters have been horribly maltreated by living under the shadow of this for over a decade. That after being raped, they were forced to live with their rapist, smile for their rapist, pose in pictures with their rapist. Attend museums and political rallies and family picnics with their rapist.
We all have to acknowledge how incredibly painful and degrading that must have been. That it continues to be.
The last comment I'd like to address is the idea Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are not complicit in Josh Duggar's crimes. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are absolutely complicit in these assaults. They taught their children that men are superior to women, a tenet of the Quiverfull ideology. They hid the actions of their oldest son from the authorities, to the detriment of their other children. They protected their son, who raped their daughters, before protecting their daughters from a teenaged boy who raped them. They sent him to stay with a family friend rather than calling the police. I can't imagine they'd have been so forgiving if they had caught him dealing drugs, or holding up liquor stores. But rather than send him to actual treatment or the actual juvenile justice system, they shipped him off to spend a summer free from the responsibilities of home, and when he was no longer a minor, and no longer accountable for his crimes as a minor, they had him speak with a friend of the family who happened not only to be a state trooper but also a connoisseur of child pornography about not repeating his mistakes.
Worst of all, they taught their daughters to accept being raped.
They taught them this not only by prioritizing Josh's safety and success over the safety and success of his victims, they taught this explicitly. Here is a worksheet from the Christian home schooling program the Duggars used, specifically for teaching about sexual assault:
Now, the whole purpose of life according to the Quiverfull movement is to become as close to God during life as possible. As holy as possible. This worksheet specifically asks of children, would you rather that? Being made more holy and more full of spirit? Or would you rather not be raped?
This is a worksheet that essentially gives permission to any potential predator to attack a child who has answered that question with what they no doubt believe is the right answer, that they would rather be made more holy. If Josh Duggar sat around the home schooling table with his many sisters and heard them answer, "Oh yes, I would rather be mighty in spirit," he could easily believe he had already been given permission, by his parents, his sisters, and even God, to go ahead and put his hands all over his sleeping sisters' genitals.
This is a toxic philosophy. It is a toxic environment. It is a toxic culture. And it is a toxic family.
To all the women trapped in the Quiverfull movement, know there are other ways to live. Know there are ways out, people who have escaped, people who are prepared to help you. To the girls of the Duggar family who are still trapped and victimized, there is a way out. There is a better life for you. There is a world full of people who respect your physical and bodily autonomy.
To all the rape apologists out there, stop. Just stop. You are wrong, and your ideology is dying fast. Time to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you really want to align yourself with this belief structure. If you really want to say it's okay to rape so long as you feel bad about it later. It's okay so long as you do it while you're young. It's okay so long as the girl never has a chance to stand up and demand justice.
It is never okay. Rape is never okay. It is never acceptable. It is never excusable.
It is never just a mistake. That's the biggest lie there is. Rape costs lives. Whole lives lost to a labyrinth of PTSD, depression, substance abuse, suicide. Rape isn't something you accidentally do, like wetting your pants. It's something that permanently alters the life of another human being. It's the sort of "mistake" that might be compared to texting while driving, resulting in putting somebody in a wheelchair for the rest of their life.
It's worse than a mistake- it's a crime. And there are always victims involved.
I am on the side of the victims. I am here, along with RAINN.org to help you find the help you need and that you deserve.
I hope you can find it in yourself to stand here with me.
As an experiment, I decided to treat potty training and rape prevention as essentially the same for a day. Every time my two year old sat on the potty, I reminded all the children, "It's not okay to touch somebody without asking. It's not okay to touch somebody who's sleeping, but if they tell you it's okay to wake them up, it's okay to wake them up. It's not okay to touch somebody's penis or vulva unless they want you to, and if ANYONE asks you to touch THEIR penis or vulva, you need to tell mommy or daddy. Okay?"
The sky didn't fall, and so far, the kids haven't raped anybody. So even if in some bizarre alternate universe rape IS like potty training, it's just as easy to keep the kids from shitting all over another human being later in life.
Read more about my crusade against sexual assault here: The Difference You Don't Know Between Normal and Right
Read my latest post here: Poor Little Rapist, Josh Duggar Edition
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