I. Legal Hellscape
We need to talk about why survivors of rape use “rogue” and “guerrilla” tactics to call out rapists, like speaking vaguely or anonymously about rape, naming names of rapists publicly, and making claims without the legal system.
We need to have a conversation about this and look at the nasty fabric of reality, or else we will all break.
Let’s first look at some quantitative evidence:
Of every 100 rapes, 32 rapists are reported to the police, seven rapists are arrested, two lead to a felony conviction, and two spend a day in jail.
This means that 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
This means that there is, literally, almost a zero percent chance of being protected by the legal system if you are a survivor of rape.
It’s tempting to dismiss this: There is, literally, almost a zero percent chance of being protected by the legal system if you are a survivor of rape.
Another statistic can help us through the quandary of “guerrilla” tactics, too: Just like all other crimes, false reports of rape are extremely rare. The most reliable evidence puts them at two percent—the same percentage of false reporting for all other felonies.
This means that there is hardly a chance of somebody lying about being raped or abused.
If we are meeting reality on reality’s terms, we should be cultivating the mental and emotional default-mode of believing survivors when they talk about abuse and name names. We should simultaneously be cultivating the mental and emotional default-mode of questioning a person’s motives when they don’t believe a survivor.
The statistical likelihood that somebody is falsely claiming or implying that a survivor is lying is exponentially higher than the likelihood that a survivor is lying.
If one insists on some kind of math or evidence to hold on to in this hellscape, to be some tiny map, there’s a start.
II. Social Hellscape
The legal system’s massive failure aside, navigating the world as a survivor is a still a physically and mentally dangerous task. This is a tiny sliver of the social hellscape:
There might be reason to believe the rapist will kill us or rape us again if we speak.
There might be reason to believe the rapist will hurt or kill our children or a pet.
Another survivor’s safety and rights might be at stake.
The safety and comfort of a witness might be at stake.
We might be an undocumented immigrant and the rapist might turn us in.
We might become homeless because we are financially dependent on our rapist, who might be a partner, parent, roommate, or boss.
We might live with a certain developmental or physical disability that hinders us from telling people we were raped, or our rapists might be our caretakers.
People are re-traumatized by disclosing too many details of a rape too many times, and so might only share as many vague details as are necessary, even if it’s only a name.
38 percent of rapists are a friend, 28 percent of rapists are a lover, and 7 percent of rapists are a family member. (Source) People love their rapists and want to protect them from harm, no matter how little sense this makes to outsiders.
Cultures and subcultures do not believe us because they don’t want to have to contend with this hellscape, even when there is an abundance of “evidence”. There is no way to convince people who don’t want to be convinced.
Rapists can tell our secrets or blackmail us with things like revenge porn.
If we are LGBT survivors, rapists can threaten to “out” us, and if we’re male survivors, rapists can falsely “out” us as gay.
99 percent of female survivors and 85 percent of male survivors were raped by a man and men get away with things in this society. (Source)
52 percent of rapists are white and white people get away with things in this society. (Source)
Entire social activist movements such as the “men’s rights movement” and fundamentalist churches successfully organize to mentally destroy and pathologize us. People support these organized activists by giving them funds, supporting their publications, and literally voting them into government positions.
Public conversations relentlessly revolve around the well-being of the rapist and not us: Whether or not he is believed. Whether or not someone is oppressing him by accusing him. Whether or not he was abused, too, and whether or not he was troubled with depression, oppression, or social problems. Public conversations demand we take every last step to understand and be empathetic to his psychology, even though he is an autonomous adult, fully capable of making the choice not to rape.
When we “call out” rapists, even via the legal system, we risk death threats and public shaming, and sometimes have to go into hiding, move, and change our names.
Even the most “radical” and “intellectual” subcultures enact deep, dark rape subcultures while wearing sneaky costumes of caring and feminism.
Often, those who are supposed to fight for us, alongside us (mothers, fathers, families, friends, partners, teachers, employers, lawyers, judges, cops, political allies, journalists, spiritual leaders) desert us and attack us.
III. Three Remaining Options for Rape Survivors
We name names anonymously and vaguely with supposed “guerrilla” tactics and without the law’s official permission because, despite being boot-stomped from all angles, we feel a desperate need to save others from anonymous rapists.
We use “guerrilla” tactics because we have righteous anger and despair, and if we do not express it or process it somehow, we risk mental, emotional, and spiritual toxicity and death through substance abuse, eating disorders, panic disorders and PTSD, self-harm, general deterioration of quality of life, and/or suicide. We have decided, against all evidence, that it matters if we live.
In short, rapists and their enablers have created a situation in which there are three options for responding to rape:
1) sharing vital information anonymously, secretly, or vaguely
2) risking one’s life and well-being by openly naming names and accusing
3) potentially deadly silence.
When people speak of the inappropriateness of vague, anonymous, extra-legal naming of rapists’ names, the conversation is precisely backwards: Given the aforementioned legal and social hellscape, we should be demanding to know why so many rapists get to remain anonymous and why so many survivors don’t.
We need to ask why anonymous rapists don’t bother us nearly as much as anonymous survivors do.
Why do rapists get to be sneaky, destroying survivors at every turn, from every angle, from behind every post and tree?
Why do rapists get to be pretenders, gaslighters, liars, shamers, subversively seducing and brainwashing troops of protective enablers by any means necessary, but we cannot use the only miniscule means available to expose them?
We need to ask why almost every rapist is nameless and faceless, quiet and safe.
Anonymous. Invisible, unpredictable, and uncontrollable.
It’s almost like they’re rogues. Guerrillas.
IV. Case Study: Anonymous Hellscape
Many years ago I was at a party. I woke up and someone was raping me in my sleep. They were behind me. I did not know who it was at first. I do not know how long I was being raped for. They weren’t using protection. It turns out he had an extensive sexual history, including having had unprotected sex with at least one male sex worker.
There are only two people in the world who know about this. I did not tell them until very recently. Even my best friends do not know. Here is why:
1) I couldn’t tell myself. There was no ability to tell, to say. It wasn’t that I forgot or repressed it; it was never lost in my subconscious or banned to anxiety dreams. I always knew exactly what had happened. But it was stuck in that awful space between my consciousness and my emotional and cognitive processing abilities. Every time it tried to get into my language, into my story-telling, into the part of my brain where reasoning takes place, I could not. When the memory knocks at the door of my cognitive and linguistic processing, the sense of not being able to open it is physical. A pressure in my forehead. The only conscious decision I was able to make was to never open the door. To force my language away. I didn’t have the ability to contain the process.
2) I loved my rapist. I still do. He was one of my best friends, a soul-mate friend, and he did something to me that was the exact opposite of love, and these contrary facts had nowhere to go. They could not dance with each other. Nothing fit.
3) He suffers from a mental illness. Not coincidentally, my abusive father, the man who raised me from birth into my teens, also suffered from a mental illness. My very body and neurology has literally developed to protect all abusive men, to make every attempt to love, excuse, and forgive them until they heal. It takes monstrous effort to go against this stream.
4) Many others love this person, for he is very loveable. Many rapists are. Mutual friends have desperately tried to help him stay stable, stay out of the hospital and on medication, stay out of the legal trouble he gets in while manic. If he were outed as a rapist, there is reason to believe he might stop taking his medication, become delusional, or actually kill himself. I was and remain unwilling to be even peripherally implicit in these possibilities. I feel that pressure in my skull.
5) My rapist had a girlfriend and then he had a different girlfriend and then he had a different one, and how horrifying to be the one who might tell them if they didn’t already know, and what if they killed themselves like I sometimes wanted to, and what if they developed eating disorders like me. What if they didn’t believe me and tried to sabotage me publicly. What of the absurd notion that I somehow had a responsibility to prevent further rapes and that if more rapes happened it would be because I failed and not because a rapist chose to rape. The human heart and neurobiological system is not equipped to deal with these kinds of questions in a clean, fast, and linear fashion, if at all.
6) There was a witness to my rape.
Someone was in the same room just feet away during my rape, somebody I also loved, who both I and the rapist loved, somebody who had also just woken up. We looked each other in the eye as I was being raped. The witness clearly did not understand what was happening. I had to make a quick decision about what to do.
I told them to look away.
Most rapes have no witnesses, which rape culture delights in, because it makes rape so difficult to “prove”. But bad things can happen when there is a witness. I cannot tell you any more about this because I obsess over every last social, legal, financial, and psychological possibility of what could happen if I risk the anonymity of my rapist’s witness.
And I obsess over what would happen if I let go of my story, grant it to a witness who could technically do with it what they please.
7) I don’t want my family to worry about my mental health. I don’t want the children in my family to read this because they are too young. I don’t want to be publicly shamed. I don’t want partners to be so angry they seek revenge. I don’t want to caretake and be a therapist for the secondary trauma of a partner or friend. I don’t want friends to feel like they failed me. I don’t want employers to read this and fire me. I don’t want the unjust burden of being accountable to other people my rapist has slept with and/or potentially raped. I don’t want to have a nervous breakdown attempting to educate the ignorant. I don’t want to see them in my dreams. I don’t want well-meaning hippies telling me it’s karma or well-meaning fundamentalists telling me to pray. I don’t want to be stalked and threatened by anonymous internet ghosts and men’s rights activists. I don’t want my heart broken by those survivors who preach about the best ways to heal and sometimes do not comprehend what it means to empower fellow survivors.
When there’s rape in your life, you stop existing and other people’s interests replace you. Someone feels entitled to your body. Then many someones feel entitled to your name and to the past, present, and future of your story. I simply cannot hold, organize, and respond to all these demands.
V. There is violence in demanding survivor’s names and stories
I’m writing this from desperation. I care about “rape lies” in the same manner that I care about any other general “lie” as a human. But in a world of limited attentional opportunities, I care more about the statistical and social evidence that survivors don’t lie and that rapists and their protectors do. The men’s movement and the world’s countless bastions of patriarchy has the “rape liars”, whatever that means, covered for all time at an exponentially higher level than is necessary. The responsible thing to do now is make a radical attentional shift.
I cannot think of one woman and/or trans friend I have who has not experienced a form of abuse. Many men have experienced abuse, too, especially as children. I wish I had the bravery to pass around an anonymous letter with my rapist’s name on it, with the names of all the rapists and abusers I knew as a teenager when I didn’t know the world was supposed to be safe, with the names of all the rapists and abusers of my woman and trans friends who’ve almost all been raped and abused, with the names of rapist teachers and bosses, with the name of my abusive father, with the names of the abusive fathers, brothers, and uncles of my friends.
In the USA there’s one assault every 107 seconds. Rapists are warmongers. The only way this is not a war is if one double-speaks it, tries to alter war’s definition for comfort’s sake.
Please consider the inherent violence in asserting that the only way for a survivor to speak is to take some vague social construction of a polite social, moral, or legal high ground. We cannot seek justice and safety through means that simply do not exist. It is unreasonable to demand, when our physical and mental lives are immediately at stake, that we wait for the social and legal system to change. We cannot wait patiently for the safety to tell complete stories about unsafe hellscapes.
Please consider that when people, however well-intentioned, partake in versions of this by saying things like
“But you shouldn’t have been anonymous; how are you expected to be believed”
“We need more facts; some people do lie, after all”
“But he can’t be an abuser; he’s great and has his own struggles and was abused, too”
“Be patient. Systems take a long time to change”
“Your anger is alienating; more people would listen if you took a different tone”
“You should/shouldn’t (xyz)”
“I was abused too, and I don’t agree with your tactic; you should pray/call the police/go to therapy/take a self-defense class/meditate/forgive and forget like me”
“Why didn’t you call the police?”
“I’ll know what to believe when the verdict comes back”
then this reflects a misunderstanding of the very qualitative and quantitative facts of the current sociopolitical reality. It helps abusers and hinders justice, even if that is not the intention.
If survivors “shouldn’t” take things into their own hands—if that is really the problem—then the logical response is not to be angry at survivors. It is to facilitate a different legal and social atmosphere.
Please consider that when people are enraged about public naming of rapists, anonymity, claims made without lawyers, and other “guerrilla” tactics, they must, as a logical extension of this rage, actively create new social possibilities for justice and ending rape. It is required that all enraged parties endlessly educate themselves and the world about statistics and misogyny, actively make safer spaces, and actively support survivors with whatever compassion, time, and/or money they have.
Consider that when people are enraged by these tactics, they must, as a logical extension of this rage, actively change the possibilities in the official justice system by raising consciousness about its abject failures, demanding politicians and leaders attend to these failures, supporting activist lawyers and victim advocacy programs, and protesting at statehouses, courthouses, and law firms.
Commitment to creating a system in which “guerrilla” survivors can speak safely and seek actual justice must be as loud as any discomfort towards their “tactics”. If it’s not, then that discomfort is simply self-righteousness.
Please realize that naming the names of rapists is not an act of oppression and equalizing, bounced-back hostility. It is impossible for a victim to be oppressed by a system/person and then go on to “oppress” that system/person in return. This is not the nature of power. Victims fight back with anonymity and imprecision not because they are unhinged aggressors, but because their literal survival is at stake.
Please realize we are fighting for everybody else’s safety, too.
Please realize there has never been a system of justice for rape survivors, and there has never been safety or equality anywhere without the brave actions of those who sought “guerrilla” justice for countless historical and political cruelties.
If one feels burdened by the self-defense of victims, realize the solution is simple: Stop raping. Stop others from raping. Stop aggressors and stop enabling situations in which people need justice served at all. Situations in which people need to fight for their lives with no social, psychological, legal, cultural, subcultural, spiritual, or economic support.
I only hope to someday be so brave as to actively self-defend and selflessly protect others by naming names of rapists. For now, I am too afraid and tired. It is their names and every last one of their details all sane people should be demanding. Not ours. Right now and forever. Until there is no rape.
The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous.