The Rape Switch, Again

Stephanie Zvan wrote a post re-addressing a few earlier posts she and I had written a few years ago which caused a firestorm of testosterone drenched reaction from men (and a few women) who somehow had a problem with the political, social, and scientific investigation of wartime rape. (A rape in progress, A rape in progress, Part II, Is there a rape switch?, and When Is a Rapist?) In my view, and those of you who know me will recall that I’ve noted this before, this set of posts was actually the first Internet Event in the current Holy War against women and their allies. Certainly, Elevatorgate was an event unto itself and started its own currents of sewage, but some of those involved in the earlier June Rape Month posts continued and this now three year old event could be viewed as the Boston Massacre as Elevatorgate is the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

My posts were about an idea called the “rape switch.”

The idea of a “rape switch” came from the work of a student of mine at Harvard, who’s name I would normally provide because this was a research project and one cites one’s sources. However, given the lengths to which sick puppies like The Justicar and others will go to harass people forever if they say things not agreeable to them, I’ll not mention the name.

I only watched a small part of a video made by The Justicar who had apparently discovered the Boston Massacre and could not stop himself from commenting on it, just enough to be certain that he is willfully misrepresenting the idea. I am not sure why he has this fascination with the idea and spends so much energy on this. It looks to me like a strong case of denial of one or more of his own inner switches.

The idea has always been discussed as a model, or as a hypothesis. There is not a hypothesis that men who at home and in non-war time situations do not rape do so in war time situations. This is established fact, not in dispute, and not hypothesis. The rape switch is one version of an approach to explaining this, and it remains a reasonable idea, if somewhat oversimplified.

An aside to address a question Stephanie brought up in her post: As I recall, the idea of writing about war time rape at that time was presented by Sheril Kirshenbaum to a couple of her fellow bloggers then at Scienceblogs.com, including me and Dr. Isis, and I mentioned it to Stephanie.

This post has some 20 or so references that address much of the discussion in the comment section of Stephanie’s post.

The “rape switch” is not a trigger, and it is not “conditioning.” The concept of a “trigger” is already there and in use and was not cooped by the original research. The “rape switch” is different.

One of the points of confusion caused by my initial wording in my post, and also clarified by me then (but that clarification was duly ignored of course) is this: That in the context in which the theoretical “rape switch” is turned on the men for which it is turned on (not “all men” as is often misstated) are rapists. This was meant to indicate that given certain circumstances (and here you can have your triggers if you want) this man would now have the possibility of rape on his list of actual possible behaviors to carry out, as opposed to when the switch is turned off. This is a unique and nuanced use of the word “rapist” which is usually used to refer to someone who has actually raped. The two concepts are clearly different, and as mentioned I did clarify that at the time, but that clarification was willfully ignored by many, as it is being ignored today. The problem is that the word “potential rapist” does not work either because at some level all men and maybe even all women are “potential” anythings. I chose the term “rapist” to indicate men with the “rape switch” turned on (hypothetically) quite intentionally. I was correct in using the word. But I was wrong to assume that nuance would be understood and appreciated.

I will put that another way to be clearer, because the fog of ignorance is thick. The following is a metaphor that will be especially useful for people who regularly smoke or have regularly smoked.

If you smoke tobacco for several years, you are a smoker. One could say that you are a smoker because you smoke. Then, say you quit. One could say you are no longer a smoker. But, smoking is still very much something on the list of things you could do in a very different way than smoking is considered by a non-smoker who has never smoked. A smoker who has quit, for quite some time, is still quite capable of smoking but does not do so because of willpower and other reasons (supportive friends and family, anti smoking rules or agreements in the workplace or at home, etc.) After a person becomes addicted to smoking the “smoking switch” is on, even if the person does not smoke (because they quit).

This is not to say that the “rape switch” has anything to do with addiction (there are those individuals who will willfully take the above paragraph out of context and abuse what I’ve said to suggest I meant that). The point is that a person who is capable of smoking and wants to smoke and could smoke but does not smoke is by one definition of “smoker” not a smoker, and by another definition of “smoker” is.

Let me give you another example. Because I know this is hard for some of you. A person might learn a second language. But then, they never speak it, or hardly ever. For example, I am proficient in KiNguana, a Central and East African language. But I never really use it these days. I am, however, still a KiNguana speaker. In theory, one could even learn a language with intense private study and never utter a word in that language to another human being. Such a person is still a speaker of said language. The rape switch hypothesis says that in certain social settings most men walk around not having rape on their list of things to do. It is unthinkable to them, they are not motivated to consider it at all on a day to day basis, but then, under other social circumstances, the idea of actually carrying out rape is within the range of possibility for them. Wartime would be one of those social setting. Many men in a wartime setting would have the “rape switch” on with simply means that raping someone is a possibility for them. They may also have reasons to not light up, not speak the Esperanto they quietly learned on their own without telling anyone, or to not rape. What they do is not necessarily what they are psychologically capable of doing, in an immediate and easily retrievable way.

The reason that a “rape switch” is an interesting idea is that a wide range and a large number of men in the context of war (but not all war-time situations) become individuals who are quite capable of rape. A very small proportion of women who work for Neiman Marcus or any other corporate entity in New York City or some other place not in a state of war might possibly be raped by their bosses. A much larger proportion of women who work for the military and are deployed in war zones are. A very small number of men walking around on the streets of Saint Paul, Minnesota rape the women they encounter now and then. A very large number of soldiers on patrol in the country side in Viet Nam and World War II and other wars did. These men are all different, from different backgrounds, with differing moral and ethical codes, ideas, and experiences, but a lot of them end up raping women anyway. A switch is an interesting hypothesis exactly because it is a direct connection between simply being a man and being in a war time situation, without going through all the other conditional variables. The rape switch is not a trigger and it is not conditioning. The rape switch hypothesis is interesting, and it may be incorrect.

This is all interesting and worth discussing, but there is a more immediate question that comes to mind. Why do people like The Justicar do what they do? What is wrong with them?

Comments

  1. #1 j_kanev
    September 17, 2012

    Interesting, I hadn’t seen this before. What this basically says is that most men are rapists but just don’t rape. Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood. The reaction to this is of course understandable. A similar reaction faced Freud when he announced his theory that most dreams are sexual, but the dreamer is not aware of it.

    I have some mild criticism on the switch concept. I’m not sure whether that concept makes sense. Technically all men are capable of rape. What actually makes them do so is not a secret switch turned on, but the situation.

    Man is equiped with a complex moral system — moral feelings and views he got from his upbringing and education, some instincts. In war, man is put into a situation where he is told to commit the most hideous crime of all—murder. Not just commit, but exercise on a large scale basis and what’s more important consider it not a crime but a virtuous job. This asks him to overthrow his complete moral system. Predictably, less grave crimes (like rape) become acceptable in the process. I guess some soldiers manage to live with that gaping contradiction that murder is okay, but rape, theft, looting, and others are not. Others don’t manage and succumb. You can call this a switch if you want.

    The problem here is the following: What is possible with murder is probably possible with rape too — making men commit something hideous and think it is a virtuous job. The concentration camps of the Third Reich jump to mind, and the Milgram Experiment. If that were possible — and I strongly believe it is — just as any man can become a soldier, *all* men are rapists, because the switch can be switched in anybody.

    You then have a category (Rapist) that includes everybody. I don’t know whether such a category is of much value. But noting that most men will rape given the circumstances certainly is.

  2. #2 j_kanev
    September 17, 2012

    Ok, great, I’ve misunderstood as well. This is particularly vexing as your post was meant to clarify. I apologise.

    After reading you’re post a second time: You say the switch *can* be switched on anyone, but only men in whom the switch *is* turned on are rapists. Please disregard my criticism about the one-that-includes-all category.

    I’m still not sure whether it makes sense to call it a switch or just the inability to exercise a contradictory moral system (murder: yes, slaughter: yes, killing: yes, rape: no).

  3. #3 Brian
    September 17, 2012

    Laden, I disagree with you much of the time, but here I think you’re right on the money. There is no question AFAIC that rape exists in the behavioral repertoire of humans, likely independently of gender but historically preponderantly men. It surprises me not at all that some folks who previously would never have dreamed of doing such a thing do so.

  4. #4 Marnie
    September 17, 2012

    I wonder how many of the people who disagree would agree that most, if not all humans have a “murder switch” or a “cannibal switch”. Humans are all capable of horrible acts that they could not justify in normal situations. But extreme situations and trauma change our moral framework. The Stanford prison experiment, the Milgram experiment, the behavior of military personnel at Abu Ghraib and countless other examples show that given the right climate and especially given the peer pressure and/or authority to act out, humans can act in ways they would have otherwise never dreamed they were capable of.

    If you won’t buy into the rape switch you have to explain what mechanism makes rape unique from all these other ways humans are known to respond to terrible situations.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    September 17, 2012

    Marnie, this is why I don’t understand the motivations of those who are not merely disagreeing, but who are spending so much energy doing so. Disagreeing is one thing. Trying to create a movement to get everybody else to join in a hate campaign against those with whom you disagree must have some other, stronger motivation.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    September 17, 2012

    “What this basically says is that most men are rapists but just don’t rape. ”

    Your first mistake here is the word “basically.” By oversimplifying the argument you may have changed it into something easy to disagree with, but misrepresented. So no, you have that wrong.

    Regarding the idea that war causes a shift in a man’s code of behavior, yes, that is a good way to put it.

    “You can call this a switch if you want.”

    And, in fact, she did. I have the sense here that you really want to argue against the point, but when you do so you end up agreeing with it!

    “You then have a category (Rapist) that includes everybody. I don’t know whether such a category is of much value.”

    Right. But we don’t have such a category. It isn’t true that every word needs a simplistic definition and then all other thought has to follow that. We really can differentiate between things like a general potential for rape, a rape switch that causes a real shift in potential repertoire to include something that was previously not there (even if all men are somehow potential rapists by some general definition) and men who have carried out the act of rape.

    And now I read your second comment, but as I noted, I think your first comment was a process on your part of understanding what we are talking about and I think you are on the right track.

    “I’m still not sure whether it makes sense to call it a switch or just the inability to exercise a contradictory moral system (murder: yes, slaughter: yes, killing: yes, rape: no).”

    Here you are talking about mechanism….the inability you mention. That could be one proposal to explain how this might work. The idea of “rape switch” is really to NOT explain the mechanism bur rather define the behavior. The term is intentionally non-specific about mechanism.

  7. #7 daedalus2u
    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/
    September 17, 2012

    There is another switch that might be easier to understand, the infanticide switch.

    This is a switch that essentially all mammals have. If female mammals are put under a lot of stress in the postpartum period, a great many of them will commit infanticide where infanticide is rare in the absence of stress.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    September 17, 2012

    That could be. I would argue that for the infanticide switch to be equivalent to the rape switch, it would not just be that there are specific conditions that cause infanticide to happen. Rather, one lives under conditions all the time in which infanticide does not occur, and even if the conditions arise for a particular person, it is unlikely no matter how much Darwinian “sense” it make. Under other conditions, it would be come more a part of how society actually works, so everyone’s switch (more or less) is “on” … which does not lead to the wholesale killling off of babies, as it still requires the specific conditions to occur, but when they do, the person is more likely and able to do it.

    This is not meant to equate infanticide and rape as valid Darwinian strategies. The evidence is pretty strong that in humans, rape is not really ever a Darwinian strategy, but infanticide can easily be.

    It also does not mean that in a society where the average person has the theoretical (and it is theoretical) infanticide switch “on”, that we would see infanticide taken as “normal” or “everyday” or “OK” in any way. I have lived for extended periods in a society where infanticide is an option in this way. Yet, it rarely happens, would never be done in the open, and is considered a horrific thing to have to do.

  9. #9 Mike Olson
    September 17, 2012

    Once you cross a line it becomes easier to cross a line in the future? Actually, it sounds as if you’re discussing a sort of behavioral conditioning in which different individuals are going to have different thresholds before engaging in a behavior. E.G. If you are a pacifist it may take a lot to get you to engage in physical violence. But, as you are repeatedly exposed to threats or danger you’re violent responses happen more quickly and with greater vigor.

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    September 17, 2012

    I wonder what happens these days in a war with U.S. participation, how it compares to what happened in Vietnam. The thing is, I don’t know that we had a culture then in which the overwhelming majority of guys didn’t rape, or at least sexually assault. They simply didn’t do it particularly violently.

    We’ve seen rates of rape decrease since then, despite a broadening of the definition of rape to include things like marital and date rape. Has that changed what happens in combat? Has it changed how many soldiers rape? If it has, we may not be looking at a rape switch so much as the addition of violence to an existing entitlement.

  11. #11 elspi
    September 17, 2012

    “The evidence is pretty strong that in humans, rape is not really ever a Darwinian strategy”

    What is said evidence?

    Look at it this way. Given a egalitarian hunter gatherer society as the place where human evolution happened, why would there be any sociopaths? A sociopath would be ejected from the group. The same for a rapist (yeah I know, they are often the same people). Yet we still have both.

    I postulate that a single sociopath (male as usual) or a small group of male sociopaths could probably survive by themselves for a while. They could not of course support women or children, but why would they want to? They could reproduce through rape. Their children would be raised by the hunter-gather group. If their children were like them, they would start the cycle all over again.

    (just to avoid the straw, I am not suggesting this as a good thing, just as a reason why there are SO MANY DOUCHEBAGS)

  12. #12 daedalus2u
    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/
    September 17, 2012

    Stephanie, potential differences might be the availability of drugs for self-medication, opiates, pot and alcohol as stress relievers. Drug testing prevents use of opiates, being in a Muslim country reduces alcohol availability and HIV and local sensibilities reduces potential access to sex workers.

    Also many of the Vietnam US soldiers were draftees, not people who chose to go to war (or were compelled to do so instead of go to prison as was rumored in Track Palin’s case).

    Also, it is my understanding that modern training methods are much more effective at teaching soldiers to become dehumanized so they don’t have human feelings of empathy for potential enemies. I think that is why PTSD is more of a problem these days, and why the present suicide rate is so high. Suicide is killing more US soldiers than combat. My understanding is that was true for Vietnam, but it took quite a few years after the war was over for the suicides to catch up to the combat deaths.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    September 17, 2012

    elspi

    Click the rape category in the right column and go a post or two back for some discusion on that.

  14. #14 Mike Olson
    September 17, 2012

    Soldiers today are more effectively taught to dehumanize others? Have you ever watched, “Looney Tunes,” made from about ’42-’45? Further, suggesting that someone is violent, or more pre-disposed to violence in a volunteer military seems a bit self serving. In short, it maintains a liberal predisposition which implies that non-military people are somehow more intelligent or more compassionate than those who serve. At the very least, it suggests the notion that due to this “less violent nature” non-servers or non-volunteers are simply better people. As a liberal, and a veteran who served in Navy medicine I am, to say the least offended. Yes, some folks who serve in the military are going to have criminal issues, as are some folks who teach at university. Through out history there has been a reason for countries and cultures to defend themselves. A continued portrayal of those who protect your life, your freedom and frequently your greater standard of living as criminals, ne’er do wells, sociopaths, far right wingers, racists, women haters and redneck yahoos does not speak well of your supposed open minded nature, your supposed idealism, or your supposed level of higher intelligence.

  15. #15 Keith M Ellis
    Kansas City, MO
    September 18, 2012

    “Marnie, this is why I don’t understand the motivations of those who are not merely disagreeing, but who are spending so much energy doing so.”

    I think this is an example of a more general phenomena and it’s not necessary to darkly theorize about someone’s motivations.

    That is to say, people are extremely sensitive and defensive in response to arguments that they might willingly, even easily, violate strong conventional moral standards in a different context. You wonder how many of those outraged in this example would be so outraged with regard to the same argument involving murder or cannibalism. But I think a very large portion of them would, indeed, be similarly outraged. (I do agree that people are especially sensitive about rape, though, and I’ll address that in a moment.)

    A good, timely example of this kind of defensive reaction is the discussion of the new (currently limited screening) film, “Compliance”. Many people are a) deeply annoyed at the idea that anyone could believably do what the character in the film do; and, b) deeply angry at claims that many people actually would, and do.

    Another very relevant example, and the one which led me to began more explicitly considering these issues many years ago, is, well, the Holocaust. Recall the controversy and outrage surrounding the publication of “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”.

    Speaking generally, people have a very strong emotional investment in “othering” people who violate moral convention. This is the very essential of the notion of evil. It sees moral violation as something essential external, something that not only exists outside one’s own self, but when it’s found in others, it is an infection that was imposed upon them from elsewhere, too. It “others” moral violation as much as it possibly can be othered.

    So when we see examples of moral violation, our psychological need is to make it as external and distinct from ourselves as possible. Firstly, we’ll want to insist that the violator is out-group; the more, the better. If they’re literally of another tribe, then that’s ideal. Hopefully, they’re of a tribe that is entirely or almost entirely unrelated to our own (like, say, some strange people inhabiting some strange island). If they’re more closely related to us (like, say, they’re a European ethnicity), then we’ll want to isolate them from that tribe into some sort of exoticized subgroup. If the moral violation is something that happened on a vast scale and involved many perpetrators, we’ll have to isolate that group into some very narrowly defined time-and-place that safely makes them psychologically deeply alien to our own culture and time-and-place. So, with the Holocaust, we’re left with highly-indoctrinated SS officers who may even have indulged in Himmler’s occultism!

    I think key issues are whether this defensive represents this delusion and whether this delusion is functional and productive relative to its absence (and not replaced by something equally or more productive). I’m ambivalent — strongly so, actually. Part of me believes that it’s long, hard work to internalize a morality that is moderately independent of convention and therefore would, for example, be more resistant to participating in genocide or wartime rape and that we can’t, as a practical matter, expect more than a small minority of people to do such. Another part of me believes (and feels) that this denial of one’s own capacity to do horrible things in other circumstances plays a very large role in creating barriers for developing exactly the resistance to doing such things that I just mentioned. And later studies about Milgram’s experiment seem to indicate that the more people understand about the sociocultural factors that could give rise to they doing things they otherwise would find abhorrent, the less likely they are to do those things.

    Anyway, I do believe that this almost crazed defensiveness (that itself becomes the impetus for aggression) is not particular to discussions about sexual violence. It’s found wherever and whenever anyone suggests that people like us (or, well, *us*) could do “evil” things under some circumstances.

    With regard to rape and sexual violence (because you’ll find this touchiness about harassment and all related, too), I think there’s heightened defensiveness because in the the last few decades, particularly the last two, the ubiquity of rape and sexual violence has been revealed into national discourse. Previously, it was safely exotic, isolated, rare. Increasingly, there’s a recognition that it’s ubiquitous, even endemic. That dramatically increases the psychological difficulty of exoticizing it, and creates a heightened need to defend its exotic status. You should note that while men make up the majority of people who go sort of crazy antagonist in denying stuff like this about rape, there’s a significant minority of women who do, too. You won’t see it so much with something like wartime rape, for reasons that I think don’t need to be explained. But you will see it more with discussion of acquaintance rape. Women, too, have an incentive to exoticize rape, though for very different reasons.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    September 18, 2012

    Nicely put.

  17. #17 Mike Olson
    September 18, 2012

    Brilliant, Keith Ellis. I wish I had been able to frame my response in such a manner. Nicely done.

  18. #18 Keith M Ellis
    Kansas City, MO
    September 18, 2012

    Thanks for the kind words. I wish I’d caught a few typos.

    Stephanie, I have absolutely no data or personal experience from which to answer your questions, but I’ll just say that my suspicion is that while the underlying (not measured) rate of sexual violence in American society hasn’t changed that much since the Vietnam era, the rate of wartime rape committed by American troops has fallen quite a bit. (Again, that’s just a suspicion.)

    I could be very wrong about this. But my sense is that, per the theory of my previous comment, there’s less a sense for troops on deployment in combat environments being in some “other” place and time that’s wholly distinct from the American cultural norms ow than there was then. That’s not because it’s any less a horrifying and brutalizing environment inherently with regard to actual battle and related, but that the military culture of deployed troops has changed in a way that has lessened the psychosocial distance from what it previously was. And no small part of this is the gender integration of troops.

    But the larger part, I suspect, is a combination of technological changes and changes specific to military culture. Technologically, in terms of everything from transportation to communication to supplies and amenities, the deployed environment is not (on average) nearly as exotic as it previously was.

    And military culture in these environments has changed, too.

    We’ve heard about far fewer atrocities committed by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than we heard at the time in Vietnam, even with a longer engagement at high levels, and much increased opportunities for such things to leak. (That is to say, the press is arguably more limited and controlled, but that’s more than balanced by people with digital cameras recording and releasing things that otherwise wouldn’t have been seen.) I don’t think that this is a fluke or an illusion, I think it represents an actual improvement. A part of what I think has improved has arguably been a decrease in command naivete (or the deliberate turning of a blind eye) to the possibility of this stuff. Instead, there’s an institutional awareness that it’s possible and should be prevented. I don’t mean to sound naive — I think that it’s self-interest on the part of the professional military.

    That doesn’t explain Abu Ghraib — but then, it really does because there’s a lot of evidence that all those structures sort of broke down there with everything from the CIA contracting interrogators providing role-models for what would have otherwise been unacceptable behavior, to a whole command subculture that was corrupted. And, yeah, arguably this is representative of the whole armed forces in those two occupations — but I don’t really think it is. I think it’s more likely that it’s representative of a certain kind of repeated exception. I think things like that happened elsewhere, but I suspect that all require a kind of exceptional confluence of events.

    Incidentally, the reaction to Abu Ghraib fits my theory. On the one hand, there’s the effort to make the perpetrators extremely exceptional and exotic (which wasn’t that successful). On the other hand, there’s the effort to simply redefine what previously had been a heinous moral violation into something entirely acceptable. Prior to that, I’m pretty sure that an American seeing an example of waterboarding by a foreign torturer against an American would have elicited outrage and horror — but, given the practical realities, it was easier for Americans to psychologically redefine what was “evil” and what is acceptable. Personally, I never would have believed before that moment in time that Americans, in aggregate, could just redefine torture away. But they did, and it was instructive. And, I want to make clear — I don’t believe that people’s before and after beliefs about this were in either case (before or after) anything less than genuine. Indeed, that’s the point: when it was defined as torture, it elicited a visceral moral disgust. When it was redefined as something not-torture, it didn’t. This is the power of cultural convention to shape moral intuition.

    Anyway, back to the rate of wartime rapes, in short, I think that part of it is that there’s more “home” there than there was for the troops forty years ago. But I also think that there’s a more strongly and widely established alternative “professional military” culture that is its own cultural norm that actively tries to keep the rape switch turned off.

    None of that is to say that I don’t think that if my guesses are correct that the military is wholly or even mostly successful at this … I think what we’re arguing about here, implicitly, is that normalized extreme, institutionalized violence — war — psychologically primes human males to have that rape switch be “on”. Maybe that’s not what anyone else here suspects is true — but I’m inclined to think it is. If so, it’s inherently difficult to keep that turned off in battlefield conditions and if the US military has gotten better at this, it’s still likely only partially successful. As we know from certain incidents that have been reported. If we know of one, there must be some like it we’ve not heard about.

    Still, if my ideas about how this works psychosocially are true, then there’s hope that, aside from the “more deeply internalized personal morality that prohibits rape” possibility I mention above, this can be mitigated by establishing and maintaining wartime cultural norms that disallow it; probably by some combination of being more like “home” culture and some strongly inculcated specific combat cultural values that *explicitly* disallow it.

  19. #19 Mike Olson
    September 18, 2012

    Combat, is of course an extremely stressful situation. I do question the idea that all person’s have a “rape switch,” or any other atrocity committing switch. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting it isn’t possible or denying it, simply I’m not convinced that all person’s respond to stress in the same way. Wartime rape is a unique situation in many ways because there is the potential to have a whole group of people who have lost some inner sense of civilization and thus commit atrocities, any member of that group risks their safety by questioning atrocities, or perhaps even by not participating in said atrocities. None the less, having said that, there are men and women in combat or similar situations who don’t cave to stress and do the right thing, despite the level of trauma they have suffered. I’d point out as well, in rain forest tribes rape is common. And in primitive societies women can be held accountable for their rape. My point being, from an evolutionary stand point, it could pay off for a man without wives or access to females to engage in an act of rape. Even that, however really doesn’t suggest “everyone” has a rape switch. As societies become more civilized women gain more rights and rapists are seen in a more negative light. It seems to me that for this sort of thing to happen, there would always have to be someone with access to power who sees rape as something heinously wrong, something they would not do. I understand that it is possible for anyone to be a saint or a demon. But, let’s face it, serial rapists and killers didn’t get that way based simply on learned behavior or exposure to stress. These individuals come from a wide variety of backgrounds some highly stressful, some very privileged.

  20. #20 Wow
    September 19, 2012

    If men have a rape switch, then women have a rape-me switch.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    September 19, 2012

    Well, I tend to doubt that.

  22. #22 Wow
    September 19, 2012

    I doubt it too. There is no “rape switch” on men and no “rape-me” switch on women.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    September 19, 2012

    I’m not sure what your point is. Are you saying that since a female “rape me switch” is highly unlikely that therefore there would not be male “rape swtich”?

  24. #24 Wow
    September 19, 2012

    No, I’m saying that neither exist.

    If I say that there is no teapot around Jupiter and that there are no Invisible Pink Unicorns, the statement of nonexistence of one is not the cause of the nonexistence of the other.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    September 19, 2012

    Also, bringing up an argument that can’t exist does not disprove a hypothesis!

  26. #26 Wow
    September 19, 2012

    So why did you do it?

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    September 19, 2012

    Weak.

  28. #28 Mike Olson
    September 19, 2012

    Teapot around Jupiter…Dawkins on God? You can’t prove it or disprove it, but it seems highly unlikely? Personally, in an age of growing understanding of genetics, mental illness, bio-chemistry, a phrase like “rape switch,” sounds a lot like something a ‘therapist’ would use to make a post-hypnotic suggestion. e.g. “When you see an unlit cigarette, your ‘stop smoking switch’ will come on and you’ll be short of breath with an upset stomach.”

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    September 19, 2012

    Mike, that is not how it was used.

  30. #30 Wow
    September 19, 2012

    Has anyone ever looked for a rape-me switch?

    Mind you, has anyone looked for the rape switch either?

    If not, then how do you know that one exists but the other doesn’t?

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    September 19, 2012

    Wow, have you read any of the original blog posts on this topic or are you responding only to this post, the title, or what?

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    September 19, 2012

    And by the way, I am not disagreeing with you in order to defend the idea of a rape switch. I’ve never claimed that there was one. But, I did propose it as an idea to discuss, and since then 9 out of 10 of the negative comments on this idea, roughly, are not responses to the idea, but rather, to something else. I am pretty sure that so far your objection (I won’t call this an argument because so far I’ve been unable to parse an argument) is in that category.

  33. #33 Keith M Ellis
    Kansas City, MO
    September 20, 2012

    It’s really kind of remarkable how reliable are certain kinds of arguments from certain kinds of people in this kind of discussion. If we’d been talking about a “killing rage switch” that’s flipped for soldiers in combat, would a tendentious commenter like “wow” above have reached for the rhetorical device of disingenuously asserting the existence of a “be killed switch” by others in combat?

    Well, no, it clearly would have been a non-sequitor but, more to the point, it wouldn’t have the shocking, offensive emotional resonance. Even more to the point, it wouldn’t be deflecting the discussion about men raping toward a discussion of women being responsible for being raped. It was done in bad-faith — unlike many such arguments, it wasn’t an earnest attempt to argue that women ask for it. But, see, “wow” thinks he/she wins both ways: either we redirect our disgust at the proposition back onto our own proposition (the preferred response), or we seriously consider the possibility and the discussion is successfully diverted and obscured. As the result of an absurd rebuttal proposition that wouldn’t have been offered were we talking about a “cannablism switch”.

    Also, I think that this is related to the “why do people react this way” question. Because a sad and revealing aspect of people who get worked up on that side of discussion about sexual violence is that they very frequently move very quickly to rhetoric and actions that are deliberately threatening to women. They’ll assert, either in earnest or not, that women are responsible for the sexual violence they suffer. They’ll stalk and threaten. They will become, in a word, transgressive. And that tells us a lot.

  34. #34 Wow
    September 20, 2012

    I would say there is no killing switch in soldiers.

    But I guess if you get to posit someone else’s thoughts that makes you win any argument you like, huh?

  35. #35 Wow
    September 20, 2012

    Funny how nobody is allowed to say there’s a rape-me switch in women.

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    September 20, 2012

    Wow, you certainly are “allowed” to say it, but to be taken seriously you would be better off proposing it as a hypothesis and discussing why it is a hypothesis worth considering.

  37. #37 Marnie
    September 20, 2012

    Wow, the whole “I’m rubber you’re glue” argument (see also, “I know you are but what am I”) isn’t an argument. While a man might want to force his choice of mate to copulate with him, a woman has no evolutionary or psychological drive to have someone else decide to force her to copulate with a mate she didn’t choose. Ultimately, women are as driven as men to find mates who produce healthy offspring and being raped takes that choice away from her so if you are going to propose the idea of a “rape-me switch,” you need to propose a mechanism by which this response would evolve into the human species. If you can’t offer that, if you can’t explain why a “rape-me switch” would exist, you can’t ask us to consider your point.

    But, of course, you are being disingenuous, you won’t accept the rape switch and won’t explain why you reject the idea, you just pull a completely nonsense theory out of your tush and claim that if we can’t refute the nonsense, every other theory must be rejected too, in the same way a creationist might argue that if evolution cannot explain the origins of life, their personal vision of god must be true.

  38. #38 Keith M Ellis
    Kansas City, MO
    September 20, 2012

    “Wow”, yeah, the issue isn’t that you wouldn’t assert, in my hypothetical scenario, that “there is no killing switch in soldiers” but, rather, that you wouldn’t contest a “killing switch” by disingenuously asserting that there’s a “kill me switch”. Which, I notice, even now in your attempt at rebuttal to my hypothetical, you did not. You simply denied the killing switch. So why did you jump to the rhetorical device of a “rape me switch”?

    It’s not whether you’re allowed to propose such a thing, or not, because, contrary to your new rhetorical tactic (now you’re trying to divert us into arguing about censorship or somesuch), you’re “allowed” to suggest this possibility. What’s important is that you think to do so, when you clearly don’t believe there is such a thing, and when you haven’t and clearly would not propose something similar in a similar argument, such as a hypothetical “killing rage switch”. You should stop and think for a long, careful moment why you reached for that particular counterargument, knowing that it’s as provocative as it is. That is to say, you should face up to the implications that you chose it because it’s as uniquely provocative as it is and then consider why you are relying upon provoking rather than arguing something more substantive.

  39. #39 Yuri
    September 24, 2012

    It is an interesting concept. I strongly believe that there are people that think about rape, want that control, consider rape, but refrain from it because of risk of punishment and social standing in society. I also believe that there are people that never consider rape and are disgusted by the idea. In war time, in countries that are in so much chaos, the ones that have considered rape see a chance to do so without fear of punishment and think they can get away with it or do so when they feel they can rape someone who won’t tell. The thought is there, the want is there only for some. Not all men/woman have this impulse or want to rape. Some do. Your theory is interesting, but I don’t think war time is a trigger. It’s a chance to do what they have always wanted to do without getting caught. Those who have never wanted to rape and never have wanted won’t.

  40. #40 Survivorsoldier
    October 11, 2012

    Re: the upthread musings on how wartime rape rates may have changed from the Vietnam era to the present day.

    I’m not sure how much I’d trust any stats that were available anyway, as there are so many inherent difficulties with gathering such data in any meaningful and comprehensive manner. Therefore, I admit that I do not know whether the rate of wartime rapes committed against the enemy have changed substantially.

    I do know that according to anonymous surveys, about 1/3 of *military women* report having experienced serious sexual assault. Having taken a few of those “anonymous” surveys myself while in service, I know that those answers only represent the women who had reason to believe that they were in a place that was “safe enough” for them to disclose, and where their responses would truly be anonymous. My unit was not among those safe spaces, so despite having endured numerous sexual assaults (whether or not I was raped depends on how you define rape… if you include being drugged and coerced-consent and date-rape, then yes, multiple times. But if you only include “forcible” rape, as the military culture does, then no) from literally my first DAY, my survey answers reflected nothing but sunshine, roses, and rainbows.

    Clearly, as a female veteran, I did and do support the gender integration of the US military.

    But I also recognize that this integration has been implemented in such a way as to provide a safe and target-rich environment …for the rapists.

    They no longer *need* to rape the enemy, they can just rape their sisters-in-arms, and the whole institution will aid and abet them in so doing, and in silencing, shaming, and ostracizing their victims.
    http://m.guardiannews.com/society/2011/dec/09/rape-us-military?cat=society&type=article

    I hear it’s getting better for those on active duty since Panetta took over, but it’s still an incredibly long way from “acceptable”.

    Likewise for those vets in the VA system – unlike my sisters who served before me, at least I’ve been able to get a modicum of grudging treatment for my MST(Military sexual trauma, sort of an informal subset of PTSD), but even now, 4 years after first seeking treatment and compensation for this, I’m one of the vets who has “personality disorder NOS” listed as my official diagnosis, NOT PTSD. Why? PTSD is service-connectable and compensable. “Personality disorder” is not.
    http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/12/30/42665.htm

    That’s just another facet of how the rape culture continues to re-victimize survivors long after the initial assault.

    Back on-topic…
    I think the “rape switch” idea is useful for dialog, and real in the sense that yes, demonstrably, people will do things under stress that they would consider morally repugnant otherwise, and rape is not a special case that is somehow immune from that mechanism. Refraining from putting people in such positions, and policing them stringently when this is unavoidable are good solution-ideas that can come from framing it this way.

    I also find “Schoedinger’s rapist” a useful conceit, because it aptly describes that sense of uncertainty when confronted with an unknown person in an insecure setting. But I always find myself wanting to clarify that for me, the point of telling that story is not to convince every man that he could be a rapist, nor to make every man responsible for my fears, but to try to help EVERY man and woman understand why those fears exist, and to enlist the help of EVERY man and woman in reinforcing by their own words, behavior, and influence on others, to simply acknowledge that fear, accept it as real and valid, and to contribute to creating a culture in which it is neither dismissed nor pandered to, but simply made unnecessary because sexual assault becomes so rare, and its impact so reduced that it’s just a non-issue for all practical purposes.

    We don’t fear the bubonic plague anymore, because it’s known, diagnosed readily when it does occur, and readily treated without blaming and shaming the victim.

    When sexual assaults are likewise rare, identifiable in the sense that no one dismisses, denies, or shifts blame for them, and treatment for the victims is accessible, effective, and stigma-free, I’ll consider the point of that story to have been successfully internalized by our society.