Capitalism and sexual assault

Toward a more comprehensive understanding

All those fighting for women’s liberation are aware that sexual assault and domestic violence are among the most damaging manifestations of women’s oppression, the world over—they are inextricably linked to women’s low social status and the sexual objectification and dehumanization of women’s bodies. Yet legal and law enforcement systems, university administrators, and so-called “conventional wisdom” in capitalist society are all predisposed to disbelieving women when they say they have been raped or sexually assaulted. In contrast, feminists and socialists are predisposed to believing women who make accusations of rape and sexual assault. 

This article examines the phenomenon of sexual assault from a Marxist perspective—that is, analyzed in the context of capitalist social relations. Like imperialism and war, oppression is a necessary byproduct of the rule of capital. Exploitation is the method by which the ruling class robs workers of surplus value; the various forms of oppression (such as sexism, racism, and homophobia) play a primary role in maintaining the rule of a tiny minority over the vast majority, on a global scale. This approach allows Marxists to understand not only the root causes of oppression but also which strategies can most effectively combat it.

To be sure, sexual assault is not inflicted by “the system” as a whole, but by individual people. Nevertheless, women’s oppression does not originate with individual people—it stems from institutional inequality that is organized from above, in the traditional family structure, the legal system, and other social structures that define women as second-class citizens. It therefore can be ended at the individual or personal level only if we do away with the capitalist system.

Likewise, Marxists understand that police and other law enforcement agencies function as an armed wing of the capitalist state, enforcing laws that maintain class and social inequality. The prevalence of police terror against unarmed Black men and boys demonstrates the role of the police all too clearly. On this basis, we know that increasing police power can never be the remedy for oppression, including rape and sexual assault—as feminist legal scholar Aya Gruber argued after she examined FBI reports of the 8 percent of reported rapes in 1997 that police had determined to be “unfounded or false.” Gruber notes that  “‘Unfounded’ does not mean ‘false,’ but only that police decided the case was not pursuable, a decision that itself could be influenced by gender stereotypes.” She goes on to quote legal scholar Michelle J. Anderson:

 Police may think a rape claim is false or unfounded if the victim had a prior relationship with the attacker, used drugs or alcohol at the time of the attack, lacked visible signs of injury, delayed notifying police, did not have a rape exam, blames herself for the rape, or did not immediately conceive of the assault as a rape.1

Police thus play an outsized role in determining whether a reported rape even enters the judicial process.

Rape and the US legal system: when “no” means “yes”
In 1927, the US Justice Department defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That definition was not revised until 2012, when it announced a sweeping change in the definition: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

The press release announcing this change in definition acknowledged that until 2012, “the Department of Justice thus included only forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina and excluded oral and anal penetration; rape of males; penetration of the vagina and anus with an object or body part other than the penis; rape of females by females; and non-forcible rape.” Because “the definition is used by the FBI to collect information from local law enforcement agencies about reported rapes,” the Justice Department’s own statistics on rape and sexual assault are thus unreliable in most respects prior to 2012.2

In the twentieth century, the legal system espoused standards of “proof” that assumed women claim to say “no” when they actually mean “yes.” The Yale Law Journal argued in 1952: 

When her behavior looks like resistance although her attitude is one of consent, injustice may be done the man by the woman’s subsequent accusation. Many women, for example, require as a part of preliminary “love play” aggressive overtures by the man. Often their erotic pleasure may be enhanced by, or even depend upon, an accompanying physical struggle. The “love bite” is a common, if mild, sign of the aggressive component in the sex act. And the tangible signs of struggle may survive to support a subsequent accusation by the woman.3

Nearly fifteen years later, the same approach remained intact. As the Stanford Law Review claimed in 1966:

Although a woman may desire sexual intercourse, it is customary for her to say, “no, no, no” (although meaning “yes, yes, yes”) and to expect the male to be the aggressor. . . . It is always difficult in rape cases to determine whether the female really meant “no.” . . . The problem of determining what the female “really meant” is compounded when, in fact, the female had no clearly determined attitude—that is, her attitude was one of ambivalence. . . . Furthermore, a woman may note a man’s brutal nature and be attracted to him rather than repulsed.4

The women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s challenged these assumptions. Yet legal and law enforcement opinion continues to embrace the same myths from a century ago: that “real” rape occurs only when a stranger jumps out of the bushes, not on dates or between acquaintances or family members; that women’s sexual assault claims should be distrusted because women often “ask for it” by dressing certain ways, flirting, or sending nonverbal signals that mean “yes” even if they say “no”; that women cannot be believed unless they can provide convincing evidence that they physically “resisted”; that women whose sexual histories show they have previously had sexual intercourse must be considered “promiscuous” and therefore untrustworthy; and the list goes on and on.

On January 24, 2011, Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti unwittingly demonstrated how little law-enforcement opinion has changed in recent decades when he advised female students, at a forum on campus safety, “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this—however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”5

This attitude, like those described above, is drenched in sexism and represents just part of a substantial body of legal and law enforcement opinions dismissing women’s claims of sexual assault with derision and contempt, especially if the accuser and the accused were not strangers—even though, as we now know, such situations comprise the vast majority of rapes.

What we now call “marital” or “spousal rape” did not exist within the US legal system until 1975. Until then, every state had a “marital exemption” that allowed a husband to legally force sexual intercourse upon his wife, presumably because this was considered a husband’s “right” to demand and a wife’s “duty” to accept. By 1993, thanks to the 1970s-era women’s movement, all fifty states and the District of Columbia had passed laws criminalizing marital rape. However, married women still find it very difficult to prosecute their husbands for rape due to varying state laws that require a higher standard of “proof” (such as demonstrating injuries suffered); courts also tend to be far less punitive in such cases than in stranger rapes.6

Thus, the problem extends far beyond the legal and law enforcement systems. The notion that “she was asking for it” is the all-too-common reaction to women’s accusations of rape and sexual assault, especially in situations of “acquaintance rape” or “date rape.” While reactionary legal codes and practices do not automatically reproduce themselves in popular culture, history has shown that in the absence of a broad-based opposition, so-called “conventional wisdom” tends to reflect the prejudices dished out by legal and other societal “experts.” This is certainly the case at high schools and on college campuses, where the concentration of young people makes date rape a more common occurrence than in the population at large. 

Colleges and universities systematically cover up rape accusations—while callously mistreating young women who gather the courage to come forward to make them.7 The age of social media has brought about yet another way to rape and demean high school and college-aged women: groups of young men gang-rape young women at parties and then post pictures of the attacks on social media, as in the 2012 Steubenville, Ohio rape case. 

 Thus, after being raped, these same women suffer the humiliation of being shamed and called “sluts” by their peers—which, on a number of recent occasions, has led to suicide.8

The racial component of rape
It is not the case, however, that legal and law enforcement systems treat all sexual assault complaints equally. Rape has had a toxic racial component in the United States since the time of slavery, as a key weapon in maintaining the system of white supremacy. Both Black women and Black men have been its victims; as legal scholar Susan Estrich notes, “Between 1930 and 1967, 89 percent of the men executed for rape were Black.”9

In Women, Race and Class, Angela Davis argues that rape is “an essential dimension of the social relations between slave master and slave,” in which white masters routinely raped enslaved Black women.10 She describes rape as “a weapon of domination, a weapon of repression, whose covert goal was to extinguish slave women’s will to resist and, in the process, to demoralize their men.”11 The institutionalized rape of Black women survived the abolition of slavery and took on its modern form: “Group rape, perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist organizations of the post–Civil War period, became an uncamouflaged political weapon in the drive to thwart the movement for Black equality.”12

Davis goes on to argue that “the fictional image of the Black man as rapist has always strengthened its inseparable companion: the image of the Black woman as chronically promiscuous. . . . Viewed as ‘loose women’ and whores, Black women’s cries of rape would necessarily lack legitimacy.”13 Often, the same Southern racists who systematically lynched Black men in the name of protecting the “virtue” of white women were also systematically raping Black women, as Danielle L. McGuire shows in her important book At the Dark End of the Street. As McGuire argues, “Decades before radical feminists in the women’s movement urged rape survivors to ‘speak out,’ African American women’s public protests galvanized local, national, and even international outrage and sparked larger campaigns for racial justice and human dignity.” 14

One of the most famous examples of the “Black man as rapist” stereotype is the 1931 case of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young Black men between the ages of thirteen and nineteen who were accused of raping two young white women on a freight train in Alabama. A lynch mob gathered outside the jail where they were held. All but the youngest, Roy Wright, were quickly found guilty by all-white juries and sentenced to death. Even after one of the women, Ruby Bates, recanted her rape accusation and appeared as a witness for the defense—arguing that the women had had consensual sex on the train with white men—the court battles continued. The Communist Party campaigned on their behalf for many years—with Ruby Bates speaking publicly on their innocence. All but two of the accused served time in prison. Andy Wright, the last remaining prisoner of the group, was not released on parole until 1950. Finally, on November 21, 2013—eighty-two years after they were first arrested—the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to issue posthumous pardons to the three Scottsboro Boys who had not yet been pardoned or had their convictions dropped. 

This history is not a relic of the past. The race of both accuser and accused continues to strongly influence the outcomes of rape accusations, and a substantial number of inmates have been exonerated after being convicted of false rape charges and serving years or decades in prison. Author Brandon Garrett examined the first 250 DNA exonerations in the United States—and found that 62 percent were Black inmates. When combined with DNA exonerations of Latino prisoners, the rate went up to 70 percent. In all, Garrett discovered that 89 percent of prisoners exonerated had been convicted of sex offenses: 68 percent of cases were rape convictions and an additional 21 percent were rape/murder convictions.15 Unlike the Justice Department’s statistics, exoneration studies are rooted in empirical reality rather than supposition. 

In 2012, a report by researchers from the National Registry of Exonerations estimated that the number of exonerated prisoners numbered roughly two thousand, although that number is being updated all the time. It also disclosed that, of the exonerated inmates in their database, “93 percent are men, 7 percent women; nearly 50 percent are black, 38 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Native American or Asian; 48 percent had been falsely convicted of homicides, 35 percent of sexual assaults (23 percent adult, 12 percent child), five percent robberies, five percent other violent crimes, and seven percent drug, white-collar and other non-violent crimes.”  The researchers also reported that “in adult rape cases . . . false convictions were typically based on eyewitness mistakes, ‘more often than not, mistakes by white victims falsely identifying black defendants.’”16

Estrich notes that the difficult-to-meet burden of proof that prevents white men from being convicted of rape appears to vanish when the accused is Black: “The stranger (particularly the black stranger engaging in intercourse with the white woman), is at one end of the spectrum, in which no resistance is required” for prosecutors to win a rape conviction, adding, “White women are not required to resist black men, but black women are.”17

Racial, ethnic, and religious oppression: necessary features of global capitalism
Racism is endemic to the United States not only due to its history of slavery. Indeed, sustained discrimination against immigrant groups has played a prominent role, forcing many Latin Americans and Asians into low-wage labor. More recently—and especially since the onset of the “War on Terror” in 2001—Arabs and Muslims have been targeted for repression and stereotyped as innately predisposed to violence and the oppression of women. Such propaganda has been all too successful in depicting Muslim men as unredeemable terrorists and Muslim women as their willing and subservient accomplices.

Racial, ethnic, and religious oppression are all necessary features of capitalism on a global scale—with ramifications far beyond US borders. As Tithi Bhattacharya, author of “Explaining Gender Violence in the Neoliberal Era,” (ISR 91) comments, 

In August of this year, a young Hindu woman in the Sarawa village in India claimed that a group of Muslim men had gang-raped her and then and one of them had forcibly converted her to Islam and married her. Given the context of a recent Narendra Modi victory, this allegation immediately fuelled the flames of ethnic tension and nearly led to riots with armed Hindu gangs hunting down Muslim “rapists” to protect the virtue of “pure” Hindu women. Last week, the young woman retracted her claim and revealed how her rightwing anti-Muslim family had forced her to bring rape charges because in reality she was in love with one of the accused.18 

Bhattacharya adds, “Since the colonial period in India, the figure of the Muslim male as ‘rapist’ has been in sustained usage by the Hindu Right to whip up violence against Muslim communities who are a minority in India. Scholars have shown how a rhetoric of ‘defilement’ is frequently used to paint Muslim minorities’ relationship with the Indian body politic—Muslims have ‘raped’ or are hell-bent on ‘raping’ India.”19

Likewise, Bhattacharya notes, 

A similar sinister figure of the Muslim male “rapist” is part of the dehumanizing trope created by Zionists in the context of the continued violence of Israel against Palestinians. Ali Abunimah correctly situates this phenomenon to share key features with US racism. 

The “rape libel,” writes Abunimah, “is one of the worst that can be leveled against any group of people, for it is often a justification for dehumanization and organized violence.” He further points out that such a libel “was notoriously used to justify lynchings of black men in the southern United States during the Jim Crow era. But now the defamatory stereotype of the ‘black brute’ intent on raping white women is being joined by the racialized Muslim brute.”20 

US women’s liberationists and the contradictions of rape awareness
The generation of 1960s-era women’s liberationists successfully brought the issue of rape to the nation’s attention. Unfortunately, white separatist-feminists such as Susan Brownmiller conceived of rape as a biologically determined phenomenon. As Brownmiller argued, 

When men discovered that they could rape, they proceeded to do it. . . . Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to prehistoric times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe. From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.21

In defining rape in purely male-female terms, Brownmiller ignored the profound impact of racism and white supremacy, which led her to draw racist conclusions. Brownmiller uses the case of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Jim Crow Mississippi. Brownmiller describes Till and his killer as sharing power over a “white woman,” using stereotypes that Angela Davis calls “the resuscitation of the old racist myth of the Black rapist.”22 Brownmiller’s own words were, “Rarely has one single case exposed so clearly as Till’s the underlying group male antagonisms over access to women. . . . Emmett Till was going to show his black buddies that he, and by inference, they could get a white woman and Carolyn Bryant was the nearest convenient object. In concrete terms, the accessibility of all white women was on review.”23 

As noted above, Black feminists such as Davis criticized Brownmiller’s racist conclusions scathingly, but their criticisms were largely ignored by the political mainstream—and even by many liberal feminists. Because of the centrality of racism in the United States historically, adopting an intersectional approach—which integrates race, class, and gender oppression—is much more appropriate than treating rape as purely a “women’s issue.”

Nevertheless, the women’s liberationists of the 1970s did manage to gain mass recognition that rape is a result of women’s oppression and that it is far more common than had previously been acknowledged. Brownmiller’s book was named one of the ten best books of 1975 by the New York Times Book Review, while TIME named Brownmiller one of its “Women of the Year.”

By the 1980s, liberal feminists were beginning to succeed in challenging the prevailing myth that “real rape” necessarily involves two strangers. In 1982, Ms. published an article arguing that “date rape” or “acquaintance rape” was far more common than rape committed by strangers. The response from readers was so enthusiastic that Ms. sponsored an extensive study of rape directed by psychologist Mary P. Kos, that surveyed 6,100 undergraduate students from thirty-two college campuses across the United States. The study, published in the 1988 book I Never Called it Rape, finally provided the evidence: one in four women students surveyed “had an experience that met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape.” 24 The publication of this report gave confidence to campus feminists to begin organizing against date and acquaintance rape—a struggle that continues today. Although the right wing has continued to agitate against what it describes as so-called “victim feminism,” this has proved a center of struggle for women students on college campuses.

Our evolving understanding of sexual assault
But our understanding of the phenomenon of sexual assault has continued to evolve since the start of the twenty-first century. Recent studies have unveiled numerous problems with previous statistical analyses. Researchers have begun to document that sexual assault is far more widespread than previously acknowledged—and that most prior studies drew conclusions based on unreliable data and/or outdated assumptions. The following list outlines numerous problems with previous sexual assault statistics:

1. The percentage of rapes and sexual assaults reported to police is so low that most statistical studies base their conclusions on conjecture rather than fact.

Since the majority (and perhaps the vast majority) of sexual assaults are never reported to police, Gruber argues, “As a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown.”25 

2. Relying on law enforcement statistics means that researchers vastly underestimate the occurrence of sexual assaults.

As Soraya Chemaly argued in the Nation in June 2014, 

Corey Rayburn Yung, associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, concludes that between 1995 and 2012, police departments across the country systematically undercounted and underreported sexual assaults. . . . After nearly two years of work, he estimates conservatively that between 796,213 and 1,145,309 sexual assault cases never made it into national FBI counts during the studied period. That’s more than 1 million rapes.26

In addition, though law enforcement agencies rarely acknowledge it, police themselves engage in domestic violence and sexual misconduct. According to the National Center for Women and Policing, “at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence”—based on self-reporting by police officers.27 Moreover, as Zoë Carpenter reported in the Nation in August 2014, 

There are many opportunities for someone, if they were a predator, to engage in crimes of sexual violence that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do because of the power and authority they have [as a police officer]. . . . Researchers have to rely on arrest reports and press accounts, which leave out unreported or unprosecuted cases. But even that limited evidence suggests sexual assault is a significant issue in police forces. . . . According to the Cato Institute, more than 9 percent of reports of police misconduct in 2010 involved sexual abuse, making it the second-most reported form of misconduct, after the use of excessive force.28

3. Until quite recently, sexual assaults of men have been systematically underestimated.

The assumptions that sexual-assault victims are overwhelmingly female and that nearly all rapists are male have guided the vast majority of previously available research. That assumption meant that researchers did not ask the kinds of questions or survey the populations that might show otherwise. 

Thus, in 1997, the US Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 91 percent of rape victims are female and 9 percent are male, and that 99 percent of arrestees for rape are male.29 But as noted above, the FBI acknowledged in 2012 that its previously narrow definition of sexual assault—which defined rape as a crime committed only against women—has resulted in unreliable statistics, since it has not properly documented police records of sexual assaults that did not fit this restrictive definition.Moreover, most previous research on sexual assault (including that conducted by the Department of Justice and the CDC) did not include research on transgender people, while sexual assault among prisoners was systematically undercounted. Likewise, all those not living in households (the homeless, immigrants held in detention centers, people with disabilities in a variety of institutional settings, people in nursing homes, etc.) went either uncounted or greatly undercounted.30

Researchers have only recently begun to try to estimate the occurrence of male sexual assault. In June of this year, legal scholars Lara Stemple and Ilan H. Meyer published the results of their exhaustive two-year study in the American Journal of Public Health, which found “widespread sexual victimization among men in the United States.”  This research is not grounded in anti-feminist “men’s rights” principles. On the contrary, as they explain, their groundbreaking research is guided by explicitly “feminist principles that emphasize equity, inclusion, and intersectional approaches; the importance of understanding power relations; and the imperative to question gender assumptions.” 31 They also argue: 

The sexual victimization of women was ignored for centuries. Although it remains tolerated and entrenched in many pockets of the world, feminist analysis has gone a long way toward revolutionizing thinking about the sexual abuse of women, demonstrating that sexual victimization is rooted in gender norms and is worthy of social, legal, and public health intervention. We have aimed to build on this important legacy by drawing attention to male sexual victimization, an overlooked area of study.

We take a fresh look at several recent findings concerning male sexual victimization, exploring explanations for the persistent misperceptions surrounding it.32

The rigid (and binary) gender ideal of the “dominant male” and “submissive female” imposed by capitalism has led to the common assumption that men cannot be raped or sexually assaulted—and that, if they are, they are less traumatized than women because they are “less emotional.” The caricature of “real men” is that their voracious sexual appetites can never be satisfied—leading to the false conclusion that a man’s erection or ejaculation must indicate that he enjoyed an unwanted sexual encounter. Stemple and Meyer concluded that “contemporary depictions of sexual victimization reinforce the stereotypical sexual victimization paradigm, comprising male perpetrators and female victims. As we demonstrate, the reality concerning sexual victimization and gender is more complex.”33

Social attitudes about gender and sexuality have begun to shift substantially in recent years. Although there is still a very long way to go, the struggle for LGBTQ rights has begun to break down rigid gender stereotypes, especially among younger people. A 2014 Gallup poll showed that 55 percent of the US population supported the right to equal marriage—while among those ages eighteen to twenty-nine, support stood at 78 percent.34 

Moreover, the epidemic of pedophile priests over the last fifteen years—and the Catholic Church’s massive cover-up—began to demonstrate in the mainstream media that men and boys are far from safe from sexual assault. Other scandals, including the exposure of Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky as a sexual predator, have begun to make it easier for male victims to speak out.

Just as the FBI finally redefined its definition of rape in 2012, other federal agencies began to also change their methods for gathering sexual-assault statistics. Beginning in 2010, the Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey began to include a category for an additional form of sexual violence: being “made to penetrate” due to physical force or coercion. More research needs to be done to examine these results more closely, but they indicate that men are sexually abused at a significantly higher rate than previously acknowledged when the definition of what constitutes sexual assault is expanded.35

4. Until very recently, most studies of sexual assault neglected to include dependable statistics on prison sexual assault (despite the fact that one in ten people in the United States will be imprisoned at some point in their lives).

In the last couple of years, the US Justice Department has revised its statistics-gathering methods and, as a result, has drastically raised its previous estimates of inmate sexual abuse in 2008—from 935 instances to 216,000 prisoners who had been sexually assaulted (often multiple times) during the previous year.36

A breakdown of the statistics shows that while female inmates were more likely to be abused by fellow inmates, men were more likely to be abused by prison guards—many of them female. This is especially the case for juveniles: 89 percent of juveniles who reported abuse by staff were boys who said the abuse came from a female staff member.37 Two of the most horrifying photos of US military torture of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Afghanistan in 2004 featured Army private Lynndie England. In one, she is laughing as she points at the genitals of a naked man whose head is covered by a hood. In the other, she is mocking a naked prisoner as she drags him around with a dog leash. England and her accomplices, like increasing numbers of male rapists, posted their sexual torture on social media for others’ amusement.38

Once again, Stemple and Meyer’s statistics need to be examined more closely to determine their precise reliability, but they do point to a higher rate of sexual assault among inmates than acknowledged previously. In addition, since most prisoners are male, this significantly raises the overall estimated number of male sexual assaults.39

There is still much to learn about rape and sexual assault
There are still many aspects of rape and sexual assault that we do not yet understand or for which dependable research is lacking. Much of our understanding of pedophilia and of sexual assaults among the LGBTQ population, among people with disabilities, and among homeless people remains anecdotal rather than scientific. Nevertheless, we know that the strict and binary gender definition of rape and sexual assault as perpetrated overwhelmingly by (heterosexual) male rapists against female victims is obsolete. The distortion of sexual relations under capitalism affects not only heterosexual relationships and the treatment of women by men, but also same-sex relationships. Indeed, no one is immune from these distortions and the violence and abuse they create. This has many implications: for example, pedophiles are neither heterosexual nor gay, but are child predators. Hopefully, new research will help to both deepen and broaden our understanding of rape and sexual assault in contemporary capitalist society.

Researchers are beginning to understand more fully the ways in which sexual assault is a more comprehensive product of capitalist social relations than most activists realized before. Capitalism relies not only on the alienation of labor and not only on explicit discrimination: it also produces personal alienation and the suppression of sexuality. In the absence of class and social struggle on a mass basis, individual people develop themselves in the “dog eat dog” mentality that the system produces. Some people—not all, but some—of those in a position to physically overpower, intimidate, or coerce others into sex sometimes do so, at the expense of those who are overpowered, intimidated, or coerced into sex. One or more individuals can physically overpower another; someone in a position of authority can intimidate or coerce another person—a prison guard over a prisoner, a teacher over a student, a priest over an altar boy, or an adult over a child. The experience of sexual assault is extremely traumatic for all who survive it. All of them deserve the unqualified support of Marxists and feminists.

Developing a more rigorous and comprehensive understanding of rape under capitalism that includes assaults against male victims does not lessen the importance of women’s oppression as the root cause of rape and sexual assault among women. On the contrary, it allows us to increase our understanding of the social and class inequality produced by the capitalist system—and to build solidarity among all those who are oppressed in a variety of ways by that same system.

  1. Aya Gruber, “Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime,” College of Law, University of Iowa, December 2009, In the final sentence, Gruber is citing Michelle J. Anderson, The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault, 84 B.U. L. REV. 945, 956–60 (2004).
  2. FBI, “Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Revisions to the Uniform Crime Report’s Definition of Rape,” January 6, 2012,
  3. Quoted in Susan Estrich, Real Rape (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 39.
  4. Ibid., 38.
  5. This advice, given to women students while addressing the issue of campus rape at a York University safety forum at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, touched off the Slutwalk movement in 2011.
  6. See, for example, R. Barri Flowers, Domestic Crimes, Family Violence and Child Abuse: A Study of Contemporary American Society (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2000), 83–84.
  7. See Jennifer Roesch, “Protecting the University, Failing Rape Survivors,” Socialist Worker, October 2, 2014,
  8. Jessica Valenti,In Rape Tragedies, the Shame Is Ours,” Nation, May 6, 2013,
  9. Estrich, Real Rape, 107.
  10.  Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race and Class (New York: Vintage Press, 1983), 175.
  11. Ibid., 23–24.
  12. Ibid., 175–76.
  13. Ibid., 182.
  14. Danielle L. McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (New York: Random House, 2010), xix–x.
  15. Brandon L. Garrett, Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (Harvard University Press, 2011), quoted in Matthew Johnson, “Sex, Race and Wrongful Convictions,” Crime Report, October 3, 2013,
  16. Elizabeth Chuck, “Researchers: More than 2,000 False Convictions in Past 23 Years,” NBC News, May 21, 2012. The National Registry of Exonerations is a database of US prisoners exonerated  of serious crimes since 1989, created by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. See also Matthew B. Johnson, Shakina Griffith, and Carlene Y. Barnaby, “African Americans Wrongly Convicted of Sexual Assault against Whites: Eyewitness Error and Other Case Features,” Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice 11(4) (2013): 277–94. 
  17. Estrich, Real Rape, 32, 37.
  18. Tithi Bhattacharya, personal correspondence. See also Neha Dixit, “Love Jihad: War on Romance in India,” Al Jazeera English, October 14, 2014,
  19. Tithi Bhattacharya, personal correspondence. See also Dibyesh Anand, “Anxious Sexualities: Masculinity, Nationalism and Violence,” British Journal of Politics and International Relation 9(2), 257–69.
  20. Tithi Bhattacharya, personal correspondence. See also Ali Abunimah, “Debunked: The Zionist and Islamophobic Libel of a “Rape Epidemic” by Muslims in Norway,” Electronic Intifada, December 29, 2011,
  21. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), 14–15. Emphasis in original.
  22. Davis, Women, Race, 178.
  23. Brownmiller, Against Our Will, 272.
  24. Robin Warshaw, I Never Called it Rape: The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 2.
  25. Gruber, “Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime.”
  26. Soraya Chemaly, “How Did the FBI Miss Over 1 Million Rapes? Systematic Undercounting of Sexual Assaults in the US Disguises a Hidden Rape Crisis,” Nation, June 27, 2014,
  27. National Center for Women and Policing, “Police Family Violence Fact Sheet,” 2013, Emphasis in original.
  28. Zoë Carpenter, “The Police Violence We Aren’t Talking About,” Nation, August 27, 2014,
  29. Lawrence A. Greenfeld, “Sex Offenses and Offenders: An Analysis of Data on Rape and Sexual Assault,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, February 1997,
  30. The Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)—which bases its information on interviews with household members—has proven to be less than thorough. It is now acknowledged, for example, that the NCVS statistics vastly underreported the sexual abuse of prison inmates, male and female, until 2014, when reporting guidelines were finally issued.
  31. Lara Stemple and Ilan H. Meyer, “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions,” American Journal of Public Health 2014 104(6), e19–e26,
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Justin McCarthy, “Same-Sex Marriage Support Reaches New High at 55%,” Gallup, May 21, 2014,
  35. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 Summary Report ,; Stemple and Meyer, “Sexual Victimization of Men.”
  36. Jill Filipovic, “Is the US the Only Country Where More Men Are Raped than Women?” Guardian, February 21, 2012,
  37. Stemple and Meyer, “Sexual Victimization of Men.”
  38. Optus Zoo, “What It’s Like to Be Tortured by the CIA,” August 6, 2014,
  39. Filipovic, “Is the US the Only Country Where More Men Are Raped than Women?”

Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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