Rape Victims Condemned and Dismissed: Then and Now

In 1970 Jerry Plotkin and three others gang raped an acquaintance. Plotkin pleaded not guilty: He was a sexual libertine; he did what he wanted without limits. Through innuendo he implied that his victim was a libertine, too. Proof: she’d had sex without marriage.

The jury acquitted: A woman who’d had sex outside of wedlock could not be raped.

A rape victim condemned, her suffering dismissed.

Turning back 20 years earlier, an article from the 1952-53 Yale Law Journal explained why rape was illegal: “Women’s power to withhold or grant sexual access is an important bargaining weapon… it fosters, and is in turn bolstered by, a masculine pride in the exclusive possession of the sexual object… whose value is enhanced by sole ownership.”

The victim’s pain dismissed.

Discounting rape reaches far into history – at least when women are prey. In the Old Testament (Judges 19:22-29) we find depraved men pounding at the door of a Levite’s home, demanding a male guest be turned out to be raped. The Levite refuses, sending out his virgin daughter and his guest’s concubine, instead:

23 No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.

25: So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. 27 When her master got up in the morning … 28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer.   

No distress arises as the concubine’s “husband” turns her out to be raped or finds her dead. If anyone has been harmed it is him, his property defiled.

If you think we’re past these attitudes, think again.

A lack of compassion continues in the Middle East. Instead of nurturing a victim through her trauma, she faces an honor killing as punishment for the sin of being attacked.  

In today’s India, female rape victims can be subjected to a “finger exam” to see if her hymen is intact, or whether her vagina is “narrow” or “roomy.” A focus on virginity leaves her suffering of no import.

In the U.S., things are better. But problems remain. Helena Lazaro was raped at knifepoint at a car wash. She has spent 13 years trying to get her case properly investigated. But her attacker remains loose while authorities fail to test her rape kit.  Currently, 180,000 rape kits are left untested nationwide, creating more rape victims.

Meanwhile, too many women are blamed for a crime that is committed against them.

Rape victims undergo depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Many become sexually dysfunctional.

Rape is the crime women most fear outside of murder. But you wouldn’t know it by the way victims are ignored and condemned.

Georgia Platts


Susan Griffin. “Politics: 1971.” The Power of Consciousness. HarperCollins. 1979

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 14, 2010, in feminism, gender, sexism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. After reading this it reminded me of an incident that till this day I still remember. I was at a “family party” and a “family friend” that I hadn’t seen in many years was sitting across from me started staring at my 13 year old cuzin who was wearing a skirt. I caught him staring at her in a weird way and it disgusted me so bad I told him to have some respect or to leave, what he told me still shocks me. He told me that she obviously was asking for the attention and trouble because she was wearing a skirt!! I told him to leave and that he was sick then I immediately called my father over and he made him leave. My father was 1 second away from causing some violence. Sometimes I wish he wouldve beat his ass because “humans” (Animals) like that are in my point of view a waste of human beings and have no right to be here. I haven’t seen that man ever since, last I heard he got sentenced life in prison but I don’t know for what. I’m so glad he’s in jail because who knows what a person (Animal) like that is capable of. Words can’t explain how bad I feel for women who are raped and even more for those who don’t get justice! Our world needs to fix this! Yet it will never until we address the issue and fix that we favor men and we favor the powerful. It’s sad to see reality, and know many women who have been raped have been seen as guily! Instead as the victims.

  2. Reading this passage about the amount of women that face this tragedy every day in the world first of all breaks my heart. To think about the fact that it really could be anyone who goes through this, scares me to death. Many people have attacked, and violated the dignity of what characterizes women and are getting away with it, and something needs to be done to stop it. There are many people, aside from the actual victim, who are affected by a tragic and violent event like this. All of their relationships change, their future will change because everything about who they were, who they are, and who they will be has changed. I think many women who go through something like this face much more then society understand and not enough is being done to prevent rape from happening. Awareness needs to be published with a stronger emphasis of the importance of what is going on so that we can prevent it from going unnoticed. If I think about my life now, and my future if I were to be in the situation of so many young and innocent women, absolutely nothing would be the same. To have such little control over your life because of something you couldn’t avoid is not right.

  3. I find it troubling how we view or react to rape in our own society and in other countries. It doesn’t seem that we treat rape victims any better now than we did in the past.

    As an example, prominent figures who are accused of sexual assault seem to be given a pass. Such as, high profile sport athletes who are accused of rape seem to be less likely to be convicted. Instead, we see an accused athlete crying on TV expressing his remorse, that it was not rape, that it was consensual. This should make us feel better about the situation. Yet, people are willing to accept their apology. Their own league would suspend them with a heavy fine as their punishment. In time, society will soon forget, and still view the accused as a hero. But where does this leave the victim? Oh , she was too intoxicated; she was asking for it, she was willing. Really?

    In regards to other countries, such as the Middle East, killing a rape victim to say she committed a sin is a tragedy. I do not claim to be an expert on the Middle East. I understand religious ideology differs from country to country. However, killing an innocent victim just to have honor? At times I think the meaning of traditions appears to have lost their meaning, such is the case of killing for honor.

  4. This whole situation is indeed abhorrrent (as is the larger issue of violence against women, here and abroad). As I have often said, “If I were God, it would be close to my highest priority to change.)

    We have made some, slow, progress in this country over the years (like sexual harassment in the workplace), and I guess are beginning even more slowly to open some minds in other countries. But as we have said before, the “cultural assumptions” that have evolved over the course of history inevitably make the process of change glacially slow.

    It seems we actually know part of the process of change (like MADD’s campaign against drunk drivers, or the change of attitutudes toward smoking) is to keep speaking out at any and every opportunity to emphasize the disastrous consequences for the individual victim, and for society as a whole. Refute the accepted “assumptions” that she actually liked it”, or “she deserved it” because of how she was dressed.

    The natural process of waiting for the older generation who were brought up within a culture that accepted that rape was normal to die out and be relpaced with a new generation who recognizes the horror of it all for the human psyche is indeed glacially slow and results in great suffering along the way. The only way I can think of to speed the process is to select more women (not those who already accept the woman’s place is in the home) to positions (legal and in the churches) where they can influence laws and attitudes fasted from their own perspective as women.

    Maybe some horrific event will happen to someone really well known and sympathetic to all who can really shine the media’s light on the issue. Not that I wish that fate on ANYone; but ust recognizing the reality of our world.

  5. On a similar vein, it is bizarre that the shame over being HIV-positive in many developing countries is worse for women than men, since women more often get the disease from men who do not disclose their status.

  1. Pingback: Cheerleader Ordered To Cheer Her Rapist, and Other Stories | BroadBlogs

Thoughts? (Comments will appear after moderation)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: