The Sexist

The Morning After: Monsters and Not Monsters Edition

* Thomas MacAulay Millar on the problem with seeing sexual assailants and domestic abusers as "monsters":

I’m fine with saying that one who does monstrous things is a monster, and the data tells me that this is true. But there is a danger there, that by calling rapists monsters we may convince people that we should be able to see them. We can’t. They look like everyone else. They certainly will give some behavioral clues, but those are subtle. The rapists fit in. If they didn’t, we would all know who they are, and all their targets would avoid them.

. . . Monsters, and not monsters. Regular people that are nice to children and small animals, tip well and bring attention to important causes may also be misogynists, rapists, abusers, racists . . . all the wrong that people are capable of is not concentrated among people who look like they mean to do harm. The people who do the most harm do it, in part, because they can walk among us and not look like monsters. Monsters don’t look like monsters. They look like the rest of us.

* Monsters, and not monsters: Lloyd Mack Royal—also known as "Blyss," "B," and "Furious"—has been sentenced to 37 years in prison for human trafficking of minors in Maryland. Testimony in Royal's trial asserted that he profited off of coercing minor girls into prostitution; threatened those girls verbally and with a gun; hit them; transported them between Maryland and D.C. for the purposes of prostitution; gave them illegal drugs; raped them; forced them to lie about their ages; forced them to sell drugs; and "forced them to kiss his pinky ring."

* Emily Nagoski on sexual fluidity and LUGS.

* Via the GW Hatchet, the GW Medical Center has received a $3 million grant for HIV/AIDS research courtesy of The National Institutes of Health.

* Evil Angel general manager Christian Mann weighs in on the Stagliano trial in the comments:

What could be more absurd? That would be the U.S. government, represented by the real Fetish Fanatics (AKA the DOJ) spending taxpayers’ dollars to clog the judiciary and bring such a case to trial in 2010. My elation at having my boss (and friend) exonerated is tainted by one small regret: I quietly hoped we would have a chance to bring milk enemas and squirting orgasms to the U.S. Supreme Court and douche the archaic obscenity laws from the Criminal Code once and for all.

Photo via George Eastman House

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  • fish

    I think the real problem with seeing sexual assailants and domestic abusers as "monsters" is that it constructs these issues as isolated, individualistic problems. There is no doubt that men like Lloyd Royal are horrible people, but saying that they are monsters is a limiting explanation for why these things happen. To really address these problems, we obviously need to confront larger issues, such as hostile masculinities, normalized violence against women, etc. But looking at domestic violence and sexual assault as an issue that is about "monsters" leads us to believe that the men who commit these crimes don't reflect broader social issues. It leads us to believe that societal influence are irrelevant because these men are such deviants to the norm. But they do reflect social issues, very much so. Lloyd Royal made these women kiss his pinky ring because this act has symbolic meaning relating to dominance and submission. Did he come out of the womb knowing the symbolic significance of this act? Did he come out of the womb thinking that it's okay to abuse and rape women?

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  • http://toysoldier.wordpress.com Toysoldier

    I think the real problem with seeing sexual assailants and domestic abusers as “monsters” is that it constructs these issues as isolated, individualistic problems.

    They are in large part isolated, individualistic problems. There is no data whatsoever demonstrating that any men who commit abuse do or did so as a result of "hostile masculinities, normalized violence against women, etc." Most of the men who abuse others behave that way because of their individual experiences coupled with their general personalities. This can be demonstrated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of men who experience the same things as abusive men do not abuse other people.

    But looking at domestic violence and sexual assault as an issue that is about “monsters” leads us to believe that the men who commit these crimes don’t reflect broader social issues.

    Domestic violence and sexual assault are not only committed by men. Half of domestic violence and a substantial amount of sexual assault is committed by women. By framing those acts as something only men do to only women, you engage in a logical fallacy similar to calling abusers "monsters, " which leads to the second point.  We do not call abusers "monsters" just because we consider their acts monstrous. We call them "monsters" in order to separate ourselves from them because there is rarely a noticeably difference between the women and men who abuse others and everyone else. Anyone (yes, even women) can be an abuser, but since no one wants to think of themselves as potential abusers, we separate ourselves from the abusers by calling the "monsters" and therein implying that those people are "different" from the rest of us or that there is a "system" that caused those people to behave that way.

    All of this is done to avoid a very basic fact about committing abuse: in the right circumstances it could be you. In the right circumstances, or I should say the wrong circumstances, it will be you.

    Personally, I do not use such terms, no matter how tempting, because I think undermines the humanity of the person being labeled and it prevents us from actually understanding why people abuse others by prompting us to draw highly subjective, often politically biased, conclusions.

  • Mandy

    I have the same problem referring to some criminals as "animals" because it implies, at least in my mind, that they can't help their actions. If someone commits rape because he or she is a "monster" or an "animal" then s/he is not responsible for the action because it couldn't be helped. It's almost like, if that's true, why bother prevention? It also lessens the rapists responsibility for his or her own actions.

    Lastly, seeing someone as a "monster" or "animal" for committing a crime is an easy way out. It's so easy to believe someone would have to be that terrible creature in order to rape, and much harder to identify that the rapist is a human being. To accept that would mean that anyone is capable of rape and that is really scary (of course, it's really great that, while anyone is capable of rape, most people don't do it).

  • Mandy

    Also @ fish, I think our comments compliment each other. If you understand that anyone is capable of rape, then we can better look at who commits rape and why, and the role society plays in that. Just wanted to clarify I'm in no way agreeing with Toysoldier.

  • fish

    "There is no data whatsoever demonstrating that any men who commit abuse do or did so as a result of “hostile masculinities, normalized violence against women, etc."

    There are tons of studies that help shed light on various social influence that make an environment more conducive to rape. Which is why rape is more prevalent in some cultures compared to others. Also, I'm not saying that personal and psychological issues don't play a role in these cases. Of course they play a role, but these are issues that need to be understand from both a social and psychological perspective.

    "Domestic violence and sexual assault are not only committed by men. Half of domestic violence and a substantial amount of sexual assault is committed by women."

    Are you serious? Women are 5 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than men. Women make up 2% of sexual assault offenders. That is not substantial.

  • kza

    Not everyone is capable of rape. That's false.

  • http://twitter.com/scaryjoann scary joann

    Under the right circumstances, I will not rape someone. Or under the wrong ones. Or any others. Yes, people are scared of realizing they can see themselves reflected in people they consider horrible. That doesn't mean that everyone will behave a certain way when under certain circumstances. That is in itself a huge generalization.
    And yes, there is a massive amount of evidence stating that men who are hyper happy about masculinity.
    "When compared to men who do not rape, these undetected rapists are measurably more angry at women, more motivated by the need to dominate and control women, more impulsive and disinhibited in their behavior, more hyper-masculine in their beliefs and attitudes, less empathic and more antisocial."

    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/03/25/predator-theory/

  • Mandy

    @ kza - true. I was wrong to make a generalization about everyone being physically able. There are some with physical conditions which are not capable. Sorry for that assumption.

  • kza

    Hmmm I'm not angry at women and feel no need to be hyper masculine. What a hero I am!

  • http://toysoldier.wordpress.com Toysoldier

    @fish: The studies I have read have only shown that an environment may influence the behavior of people who already holds certain views. Nothing I have read suggests, for instance, that a person who does not already harbor hostile views towards women will become a rapist just because of social influences. This is confirmed by the Lisak quote scary joann cited above. Lisak does not state that the men were made rapists by social influences, but that those men already harbor hostile views about women. Coincidentally, women who abuse boys and men tend to harbor hostile views towards males.

    According to the National Violence Against Women Survey 835,000 and 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence in a given year. That is a ratio of 1:1.56, meaning women are 1.56 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence. Other studies (listed on my blog) show an equal amount of violence against men and women. The 2% stat for female rapists comes from the arrest rate, which is not representative. Of the few studies concerning female sex offenders, most admit their statistics are low estimates, and the stats range from 8% of overall sexual violence to 20% of sexual violence against children to 40% of sexual violence against boys. These stats vary depending on the study and are in many instances much higher.

    @scary joann: I would agree with your argument except the underlying implication about social influences causing men to rape women is that men will behave a certain way when under certain circumstances. That is in itself a huge generalization, which you did not take issue with. The difference in my position is that I am not talking about circumstances; I am talking about people. To use an analogy, think about the One Ring. The Ring does not make a person evil; it only preys the evil already in the person's heart. My "it will be you" was a rhetorical flourish. My point is that people use labels like "monster" or blame "systems" in order to view themselves as inherently good and incapable of hurting others, as you did. We do this to separate themselves from abusers (or to pretend that the Ring could not effect them) rather admit the difference is minimal.

  • fish

    @Toysoldier: Let me clarify that I'm not suggesting that someone is going to go rape someone simply because of a random social influence. Like I said, I am arguing that we should consider both social and psychological factors. For example, studies by Boswell and Spade (1996), Burt (1980), Flood (2008), Kimmel (2005), Lefkowitz (1997), O'Sullivan (1993), Sanday (1990), and Martin and Hummer (1989) all consider how homosocial environments (particularly college Greek life) influence rape environments.

    The problem with conflict tactic scales used by studies such as the NVAW survey that you mentioned is that they don't consider severity of the injury or how the attack is used (for example is it instrumental- commonly used by men to control women, or is it self defense- commonly the case with women)? Also, despite what some people believe, women are more likely to under-estimate their victimization and men over-estimate their victimization (Schwartz 1987; Rouse et al 1988; Kincaid 1982; Ferrante et al 1996). I'm not saying that women are never perpetrators of domestic violence or rape, because statistically there are a few abusers and rapists that are women. But, as Fagan and Browne (1996) discovered in their study, "it is misleading to characterize marital violence [and sexual violence] as mutual violence."

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