Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society

Froma Harrop argues that stranger rapes are “more horrendous” than date rapes. Here’s how wrong she is.

I could hardly believe what I was reading when I encountered Froma Harrop’s opinion piece “Is ‘stranger rape’ more troubling than ‘date rape’?'” in my local newspaper, The Raleigh News & Observer, reprinted from Creators Syndicate. Froma Harrop advocates that yes, stranger rape is more horrendous than date rape, while seeming unaware of her piece’s false equivalencies, unexamined assumptions, prejudices and logical flaws. The only value I could see in the piece was to use it as an opportunity to illuminate and deconstruct the many rape myths and corrosive attitudes that still exist in our society. Here is my rebuttal, which has also been submitted to the News & Observer as an opposing “Point of View” column:

Froma Harrop says stranger rapes are “more horrendous” than date rapes. Here’s how wrong she is. by Amy Tiemann, PhD, co-creator of DoingRightByOurKids.com and Kidpower International Senior Leader

If only columnist Froma Harrop’s article “Is ‘stranger rape’ more troubling than ‘date rape’?” was a satire along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” it might have given us some insight. But unfortunately, Harrop serves straight-up misogyny, rape myths and victim blaming with her argument that stranger rape is objectively more horrendous than date rape. She creates a hierarchy of “abhorrence factors” that “adjust the circumstances” of the crime of rape to assign varying degrees of blame to each victim. While Harrop says “this has nothing to do with sexual mores,” her hierarchy seethes with judgment. She even states, “this discussion clearly makes a distinction between victims who took precautions and those who didn’t.”

It is telling that Harrop lumps all date rapes into a Tinder hookup scenario, further illustrating her judgmental approach by choosing an inherently slut-shaming example as a stand-in for rapes by known assailants. What if a person is assaulted by their parent, sibling, step-parent, partner, priest, doctor, teacher, or spouse? Those are all part of the 80-90% of rapes committed perpetrators who are known by their victims. Abuse by someone in power, known and trusted by a victim, is extremely damaging, whether it occurs on a Tinder date or by a relative or other authority figure.

Harrop mentioning that spousal rape is finally illegal offers little comfort. North Carolina-based domestic violence expert and victim advocate Kit Gruelle says, “Marital rape can be especially brutal because the perpetrator sees his wife as his property, to do with as he pleases. (Sadly, some in the criminal justice system and the legislature think about it the same way.) Plus, it is an extreme violation of trust. The man a woman marries is the person she wants to trust and respect more than anyone else, so rape and sexual assault committed by that ‘trusted’ person shatters her ability to trust anyone. North Carolina has the dubious distinction of being the LAST STATE in the country with an exemption for ‘marital rape.’ It was LEGAL in NC until Oct. 1, 1993.”

What is behind Harrop’s reasoning? I believe that on an unconscious level Harrop is protecting her own sense of safety by telling herself that since she is not the kind of woman who signs up for Tinder hookups, she is safe. Stranger rape is therefore scarier because that is the one scenario that feels beyond her control. Our larger culture falls into this trap on a regular basis. When 18-year-old Priyanka Kumari of Apex was attacked with a machete on the way home from her school bus stop last week by Neel Salil Mehta, news stories quickly pointed out that the attacker was someone she knew who was stalking her. Do we ever stop to think about why stories are reported that way? It is so that we can feel a distance from it, feeling “better” that there is not a dangerous killer on the loose attacking random people? But is it also to subliminally give readers false reassurance that that since we think “we make good decisions,” this kind of violence would never happen to us? The effort to reassure the general public about domestic violence makes us feel immune to familiar violence. Police routinely say in the case of domestic violence murder-suicides, “there is not a threat to public safety,” misguided words that minimize the seriousness of this horrendous crime.

The truth is that any of us could be a target of domestic violence, stalking or acquaintance rape. More than 20 years ago, as a graduate student living 3000 miles from home, I was stalked by the jealous housemate of my then-boyfriend, who repeatedly slashed my car tires. It was terrifying, knowing that I had spent a great deal of time under the same roof with this person who wished me an unknowable amount of harm. The police said they could not help me, and I don’t think I ever even told my parents what happened because I felt that nothing could be done about it.

I knew I was blameless for this aggression directed at me. Also blameless are victims of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, and women or men who went on a date and who did not consent to sex, whatever the circumstances were. Harrow herself fails to grapple with the fact that if 80-90% of assaults are acquaintance rapes–by far the most likely to occur–why don’t these assaults represent the “greater threat to the female public” and deserve intense police investigation and protection? This can only be explained by her devaluation of the seriousness of this too-frequent crime, and judgmental characterization of victims of these assaults.

It is time that we look beyond blaming myths and illusions, and realize that domestic violence, sexual abuse, assault and acquaintance rape are major public health hazards that deserve as much time, attention, prevention and justice as stranger rape.

Schedule an interview: Dr. Amy Tiemann is an author, educator, and child safety expert. She is the co-creator of www.DoingRightbyOurKids.com and a Kidpower International Senior Leader. She is frequent guest expert on parenting websites, national radio tours, magazines from Redbook to Glamour, and TV including ABC News, the CBS Early Show, and NBC’s Today Show. To schedule an interview, call Spark Productions, 919-448-6690

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