I’d like to suggest a mindfulness practice for you to use as you read. The topic is a rather controversial issue right now.

While reading the information, try to be aware of your response to it. If you find some of it difficult to believe, ask yourself why that is. If you find yourself getting upset or frustrated, explore that and find out where that may be coming from.

Mindfulness practice is about challenging our assumptions and beliefs. Mindfulness doesn’t mean conformity or agreement, but it does entail us being aware of the reasons and motivations for our beliefs.

Why is society so obsessed with victimization?

This may seem like a strange question. Who would want to be a victim of something? Nevertheless, there’s an increasing classification of victimhood in our society, which seems to be obsessed with victims. From books, to movies, to television shows, to organizations, we see the stories of those who’ve been victimized all around us.

Before I explore this phenomenon a little more closely, I’d like to make a clarification. In dealing with the issues that’ll be covered, it must be understood that researchers and clinicians have essentially two different modes of thinking when processing information.

First, as researchers, we must approach the data and issues in an unbiased, rational manner that essentially separates facts from feelings. It doesn’t matter how the results of a study make me feel; the only thing that should matter is if the results are accurate.

Second, as a clinician, when I’m working with clients, facts are often not the central focus in therapy.

Let me explain. While working with a recent adolescent client, he claimed that he’d witnessed someone executed right in front of him, over drugs. This client claimed that he was in a person’s home when two individuals clothed all in black, with their faces covered, forced their way into the home while armed with shotguns.

The client stated that after the person refused to say where the drugs were, he was shot, point blank, with a shotgun. He stated that the men then went right to where the drugs were hidden, took them and then left the house with him still standing by a couch.

This would, of course, be a very traumatizing event to witness. However, as this person began to detail the events of that evening, some things started to jump out at me that just didn’t sound right.

I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, of course, because people do process trauma differently. Yet, after a couple more sessions with this client, I was growing more and more suspicious of the validity of his story.

Now, there was no doubt that this young person was suffering. He was referred to a residential treatment facility by the court and was being held in a locked/secure building.

This type of treatment centre is secured almost like a detention centre or jail. While there are no bars, the residents are assigned to locked living quarters and their rooms are locked at night. To enter or exit the building, someone must pass through two sets of locked doors that are remotely controlled and monitored via video camera. This young person strongly disliked being held at the treatment centre.

Sad teenage boy on couch - Questioning rape culture

Why would he make up such a story?

In this type of situation, to focus on the facts or reality of the story is to miss the point. Instead, I see the story being provided as an indicator of the degree of stress, pain or suffering that the person is going through internally. The closest scenario the client could imagine, that accurately reflected how he was feeling, was one that involved watching someone being shot.

I decided to stop focusing on the reported event and instead, focus on the relationship disruptions within his family. After some time and after finally developing a good therapeutic relationship with the client, he disclosed the fact that he’d been sexually molested as a young child. The way he responded in sessions when discussing these events was much more closely aligned with how people generally respond to trauma.

One day, in session, the client wanted to share a song with me that meant a great deal to him. While listening to the song, I found it interesting that one part spoke about the pain and suffering experienced when someone watches their friend being shot and killed in front of them. The song spoke about the feelings of helplessness, fear and anger often experienced in this sort of situation.

I knew, then, where the story of watching someone being shot and killed came from. The client strongly identified with the feelings of helplessness, fear and anger sung about in the song. Yet, his shame in being molested prevented him from being able to openly discuss what happened to him. As such, if I’d focused on whether his story of watching someone being killed was factually accurate, he would’ve shut down and we would’ve missed the chance to help him finally disclose what truly had happened to him.

Sometimes facts aren’t the most important thing

There’s a specific reason why I made the clarifications above. On numerous occasions, when I’ve been engaged in discussions that focused on facts, not feelings, someone has become outraged, stated that they’ve experienced the issue being discussed, and then proceeded to respond from a perspective of emotion and personal experience.

So let me please clarify that the following discussion is focused on statistics and evidence, and not on personal experience or all the issues related to personal experience.

Here, I’ll speak to evidence and facts, which don’t involve feelings. In session, I’ll speak about feelings and if needed, ignore facts.

Statistics and evidence

On March 27, 2017, USA Today College ran a story entitled, “Alarming UT-Austin report: 15% of female undergrads say they’ve been raped.” In the article, author Brianna Stone states:

The report showed that 15 percent of undergraduate women at UT-Austin reported that they had been raped while attending the university. For a campus of more than 50,000 people, that would mean thousands of women were reportedly raped during their undergraduate years.

The article includes a statement made by UT-Austin President Greg Fenves in response to the survey findings. Fenves said,“No voice is too quiet to listen to. No story of abuse is too minor to ignore. No truth is too uncomfortable to face. We support you.” The article in USA Today College is, essentially, about rape culture.

What is rape culture, and are we living in it?

Time discussed this issue in an article entitled, “Rape Culture Is Real.” In the article, author Zerlina Maxwell defines rape culture as, “a culture in which sexual violence is the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults.”

The article then cites the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which states that “97 percent of rapists never spend a single day in jail for their crimes.” These statistics are horrifying—if they’re indeed accurate.

Remember that the focus, and the only focus, of those in research is to determine if the results are accurate—regardless of how offended we may be or how we feel about the results and the subject matter.

How accurate is the information we’re being fed?

Who, exactly, among busy college students, would have the interest and willingness to set aside enough time to go online and complete the survey?

To begin, let’s review the survey study that was completed at UT-Austin.

Remember, the report stated that 15 percent of undergraduate women reported that they’d been raped while attending the university. In the article, Stone reports that 45,000 students were invited to participate, yet only 7,700 students actually filled out the online questionnaire. In other words, only 17 percent of the student population completed the survey.

The first question to ask is whether 17 percent is a sufficient amount of participants by which to generalize the entire student population. Another important question is who, exactly, among busy college students, would have the interest and willingness to set aside enough time to go online and complete the survey?

According to research, individuals who have prior experience in a certain area are more likely to complete a survey on that subject. In other words, those with a history of sexual assault/rape are more likely to take the time to complete surveys on it than those who’ve never had such experiences.

This makes sense and can be seen in other areas as well. Parents who lose a child to drunk driving may become very impassioned and seek to help improve the laws against drunk drivers. A person who loses someone they love to suicide may become very involved in spreading awareness about it. A person who has experienced sexual assault/rape will likely try to help educate others and contribute towards efforts to prevent such crimes. In fact, this has been demonstrated to occur.

Defining rape

An article in Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) reported that a significant number of survey participants had experiences of sexual assault/rape prior to entering college. As such, the group of participants answering the questions weren’t an accurate representation of the general population.

In the study, rape was defined as, “having oral sex with someone, making someone perform oral sex, or penetrating someone’s vagina or anus with penis, fingers or other objects without their consent, by use of verbal pressure, taking advantage of them when they’re incapacitated, threatening to harm or using force.”

There are two very important things to consider when examining this definition of rape. First, what does “verbal pressure” mean and second, what does “incapacitated” mean?

An example of verbal pressure was given within the survey when participants were asked if a perpetrator had ever pressured them into oral sex, after they said they didn’t want to have it, by threatening to end the relationship.

In other words, if someone threatened to end the relationship if they didn’t receive oral sex, it was considered rape. No force, no threat of force and no threat of harm were required for this to be considered rape.

Now, I’d never classify a man or woman as a rapist if they told their partner they were ending the relationship if they didn’t receive oral sex. I’d question their character and would strongly suggest that the relationship be ended and ended quickly—but to call them a rapist?

What does “incapacitated” mean?

In the study, the survey asked respondents if they ever engaged in unwanted sexual touching while “impaired” or otherwise incapacitated. This is a very important component to consider.

According to the study, drugs and alcohol were a major contributing factor. Nearly seven in 10 victims (or 70 percent of victims) of unwanted sexual contact—and 84 percent of their perpetrators—were under the influence of either alcohol or drugs at the time of victimization.

If a student tried to kiss another student and the person “froze” while being kissed, the person who kissed them is guilty of sexual assault.

According to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center, a person is a victim of sexual assault and/or rape and can’t be blamed even if they:

  • had too much to drink
  • used drugs
  • froze in response to what was happening
  • didn’t fight back
  • have little or no memory of what happened
  • have had sex with this individual or someone else before
  • said “yes” to one type of sexual intimacy but not to what happened

According to these standards, then, if a student tried to kiss another student and the person “froze” while being kissed, the person who kissed them would be guilty of sexual assault. Perhaps most troubling is that someone can have little or no memory of what happened and yet the other person may be considered guilty of rape or sexual assault.

For example, if a male and female student go out and consume large amounts of alcohol, resulting in both being highly intoxicated, and both individuals willingly and with full consent engage in kissing, touching or sex, either is in danger of having possibly committed sexual assault or even rape.

Silhouette of young couple kissing - Questioning rape cultureAll it’d take for such a charge is for one of them to claim that they don’t remember giving consent—even if they actually did. Though this situation is vastly different from the person who intends to get another person so intoxicated that they’re no longer capable of giving consent, both may now be considered rapists and may be sentenced to jail.

Another factor to consider is that around 32 percent of the participants stated that they’d never reported their sexual assault and/or rape. A woman not reporting rape is, unfortunately, a common occurrence. However, the reason given by the participants differed from most women’s reasons for not reporting. According to the survey, most participants didn’t feel it was serious enough to report.

This answer is far from the typical answers that range from fear of not being believed to fear of retaliation.

Problematic survey

Overall, the survey conducted at UT- Austin is considered very problematic. In fact, even the authors of the survey stated that they didn’t believe the cases of sexual assault and rape on campus are as high in number as what their survey suggests. In an article by Ashe Schow, he states the following:

…the actual victim rate is much, much lower than surveys and the media would have you believe, and begs the question: Why do researchers and the media so badly want women to feel like victims? Isn’t being the victim of a sexual assault one of the worst things a person can be? Why would anyone wish that on another person? Unless, of course, the narrative matters more than actual people.

The findings of these surveys suggesting that a rape epidemic is occurring in our nation aren’t new. In fact, in Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women (1994), Christina Hoff Sommers wrote:

“One in four” has since become the official figure on women’s rape victimization cited in women’s studies departments, rape crisis centers, women’s magazines, and on protest buttons and posters … it is the primary reason for the Title IV, “Safe Campuses for Women” provision of the Violence Against Women Act of 1993, which provides twenty million dollars to combat rape on college campuses.

That was almost 30 years ago!

Have there really been no advances in gender equality over the last 30 years? Have colleges truly been battling a rape epidemic and culture for all those years, and we’re just now starting to hear about it? If these organizations have made no improvements over the last 30 years, what has changed that’ll now make their efforts effective?

Again, why are we so obsessed with victimization?

According to psychologist Dr. David J Ley, Ph.D., there are actually some benefits to victimization. He states, “In our culture of victimhood, victims can be excused for victimizing others, taking away the rights, freedoms and autonomy of others, in service to their victimization.”

Unfortunately, I see this happening on a daily basis in my line of work. Young people and adults alike are “triggered” by something and that somehow excuses their antisocial behaviour.

In fact, just this past week, one client at the treatment centre struck another client because he stole the basketball during a game. The client who attacked the other resident told me that the ball hit him when it was knocked away, and this triggered his memories of being abused, so it wasn’t his fault that he became aggressive and punched the other resident.

Unfortunately for him, I’ve become accustomed to such responses. Instead of just calling him out on being triggered, I instead stated that basketball must be unsafe for him at this time, especially since he can’t control his aggression, so perhaps we needed to stop playing any basketball games for a while. He wasn’t very happy with that response.

False allegations

A very frequently cited statistic states that only 2 to 8 percent of all rape allegations are determined to be false. At face value, this statistic seems to imply that of all the rape allegations reported, at least 90 percent are true.

If someone is always rewarded with what they want when engaging in extremely unhealthy behaviour, it’s very difficult to get them to see the need to change that behaviour.

However, what it actually means is that 2 to 8 percent of allegations are proven false with evidence demonstrating them to be false. Such evidence may consist of proof that the person was out of the area at the time of the reported rape, proof that the person was at work or some other means to prove the person was in a different location. In other cases, it may be decided that the evidence for the allegation isn’t strong enough, so the case isn’t picked up by the prosecutor. These incidents aren’t included in the 2 to 8 percent statistic, though.

I do unfortunately believe that many false allegations are made for a variety of reasons. In my line of work, reports of sexual allegations can be rampant at times. In fact, in working with Child Protective Services or the Department of Children’s Services, I know that allegations of sexual abuse are made on a daily basis throughout the nation. The vast majority of these allegations will be declared unsubstantiated and won’t require further investigation. These reports of rape aren’t included in the crime statistics frequently cited by researchers.

Nevertheless, many children and adolescents within the foster care system and residential treatment care system have learned that if they want to be moved to another home, or get a staff member who is holding them accountable for their behaviour to leave them alone, all they have to do is make allegations of sexual molestation against that person and changes will be made. I’ve seen this happen many, many times in the years I’ve worked in treatment facilities.

I’ve worked with individuals who openly admit they made false allegations in order to be moved to another foster home or unit. The client gets what they want and the victim faces an investigation of sexual assault or rape.

Even more concerning, these clients are rarely, if ever, held accountable for their false accusations that have devastated people’s lives. The courts view them as sick and/or unhealthy, needing treatment more than criminal charges. In a sense, this is very true. However, if someone is always rewarded with what they want when engaging in extremely unhealthy behaviour, it’s very difficult to get them to see the need to change that behaviour.

How is mindfulness related to these issues?

For me, mindfulness includes seeing reality in the most accurate, realistic manner that we can. Mindfulness is about identifying falsehood and seeing the deceptions that we tell others and ourselves.

Woman sitting "mindfully" on rock looking out at city below - Questioning rape culture

To be mindful means to see clearly and compassionately. Even in the times of the Buddha, who really developed the form of mindfulness many practice today, practitioners were strongly encouraged to be aware of the messages they were accepting without question on a daily basis.

How would your perspective on the world change if you started questioning things? Perhaps you’re the type of person who tries to block many things from society and the world out, because they overwhelm you. Is mindfulness practice about blocking things out so you can remain happy and ignorant? No. However, mindfulness practice isn’t about taking in only negative, harmful information, either.

We must always seek a balance. Mindfulness is about being aware of what’s happening and at the same time bringing a perspective of mindful awareness to the fear, pain or frustration we may experience out in the world.

image 1: Victim by Mary Grace Cabiling via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0); image 2: Pixabay; image 3: Pexels; image 4: Pexels