An entire subgenre of urban legends consists of lying about how rape culture works. They’re not helping.
One of the charms of the internet age is how near-forgotten urban legends can suddenly flare to life again, like an intellectual herpes outbreak. If the right Tea Party grandma puts something up on her Facebook, then all of a sudden we’re hearing this one anew:
A woman left her office after working hours and saw a little girl crying on the road. Feeling pity for the child, she went to ask what happened. The child said: ‘I am lost. Can you take me home please?’ Then the child gave her a slip of paper and tells the woman where the address is.
The woman, being an average kind person who, didn’t suspect anything took the child there.
When they arrived at the ‘child’s home’, the kind hearted woman pressed the door bell and she was electrocuted as the bell was wired with high voltage, and fainted.
The next day when she wokeup, she found herself in an empty house up in the hills, naked. Condoms were all thrown around with semen flowing. She has not even seen her assailants.
That’s why nowadays crimes are targeted onkind people like her.
Needless to say, it’s not true. It’s just another vaguely racist way of deflecting the fear of rape away from actual situations and onto “gang members”. I mean, has anyone even thought through the logistics of how this would work?
“I dunno, I really feel like some rape today, but I don’t know how I can possibly get within raping distance of a woman. That is such an insurmountable obstacle… perhaps we could come up with some sort of cunning plan?”
“I’ve got it! You wire the front doorbell with exactly the amount of electricity that knocks out, but does not kill, someone we don’t know, because that is how electricity works! I’m going to go engage a small child in our gang-rape plan, because that makes total sense! Then we just wait around this booby-trapped house until someone tries to bring the kid back to us!”
“What if it’s a man?”
“Why would a man help a child? You’re talking crazy.”
“So when do we get to the rape?”
“I don’t KNOW when. We have to wait for it.”
“I could just call up my girlfriend and we could rape her. She’d come over if I asked.”
“NO, man, it has to be some random white lady!”
“How do you know it’ll be a white lady?”
“Well, that’s just sort of taken for granted.”
“Can we order a pizza or something?”
“We booby-trapped the doorbell, remember?”
“But the pizza delivery person might be a woman…”
“That DOESN’T COUNT.”
“Dude, is this going to be another one of your rape parties that turns into a YouTube party?”
The grim, undramatic fact is that the overwhelming majority of people who are raped or sexually assaulted suffer at the hands of someone they know and trust. These legends, and there are an awful lot of them,
are about projecting fear onto the Other. It’s way more emotionally comforting to believe that rape is about scary Other People lurking in the shadows with nefarious schemes than it is to believe, you know, anything realistic.
On a certain level, these legends are a form of victim-blaming, presenting a series of increasingly elaborate ways of protecting oneself from rape, and therefore implying that those who do not follow these procedures, who don’t turn around three times and spit to ward off the evil spirits of rape, have no one but themselves to blame if they get assaulted. This allows the legend-believers to take refuge in the Just World Fallacy, to inhabit a world where they are safe because they know not to help children or flash their headlights, and to hell with everyone else.
On another level, these legends occupy the same space as the paranoid stories about black helicopters and the constant machinations of the Antichrist. They allow those who believe them to live in a more exciting and morally satisfying world. In the world of these legends, rape isn’t an ugly violation of trust from someone you know and love, it’s an elaborate plot, involving a whole organization with hidden identities and disguises and knockout spray and electrified booby traps. I suppose the logic is that if one has to suffer the trauma of sexual assault, it’s better to do it in a mid-70s James Bond film.
One of the ongoing roadblocks to getting people to acknowledge and confront the realities of rape culture is stories like these, thinking like this. We want to believe in villains rather than systems, in conspiracies rather than conditions, in culprits rather than culture. As long as people would rather inhabit an alternate reality that’s more comforting, we’re going to have a hard time convincing them of the realities of this one.