Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The moral crusaders who confuse sex with rape . . .

Frank Furedi has written a provocative piece, The moral crusaders who confuse sex with rape, where he zeroes in one particular aspect of what he dubs our "abuse-obsessed contemporary culture." According to Mr. Furedi,"sex has been recast as an activity that involves intense peril" and that is "inextricably linked to the idea that human beings are damaged, that men are innately violent."

Furedi examines a culture of fear. "Britain’s Lib-Con government wants to ‘raise awareness’, particularly about sexual violence among tenagers."  He notes that "[a]ccording to the promotional material put about by various moral crusaders, rape is a ‘hidden problem’ and the majority of its victims are too humiliated or scared to speak out about it. Apparently many of them – especially teenagers – are not even aware that they have been violated or what it means to be violated. The key message of these campaigns is that the problem of rape is far worse than we suspected, and despite the sturdy work of moral entrepreneurs our awareness of rape is still dangerously low."

Exactly how have "intimate relationships between young people . . .been pathologised"?  Furedi says: "One of the ways in which the culture of abuse is maintained is through expanding the definition of harm. This can be seen very clearly in the conceptual inflation of rape."

We recently discussed one such attempt here. Furedi recalls Mary Koss’s "methodological exaggeration of male violence," which established the idea of an "epidemic of rape." Rape, we are told, is normalized, where many "have absolved themselves of the hassle of interpreting each encounter on its own terms, prefering instead to talk about a ‘continuum’ of sexual misdeeds that begins with pressure and culminates in rape."

Furedi notes how a new UK Home Office campaign to raise awareness of rape "effectively erases the conceptual distinction between pressure and rape." This campaign "is based on the premise that teenagers cannot distinguish being loved from being raped."

"Yet pressure – unwanted or wanted – is integral to every attempt to strike up a sexual relationship," he writes. "Such relationships never occur spontaneously; they always involve someone taking the first step and putting the other person under pressure to respond."

"Once rape has been redefined as a normal feature of human relationships, it will end up being ‘discovered’ everywhere."

Furedi then takes aim at how underreporting is used to create pandemic fear.  "A common argument made by moral crusaders is that rape is far more prevalent than we imagine. From this perspective, what is really important is what people do not report and what the public does not see. ‘The hidden’ is more important than the visible. That is why Mumsnet’s claim that 80 per cent of women do not report rape or sexual assault can be interpreted as hard evidence of a pandemic of sexual violence."

"First, an online poll carried out by an advocacy group is miraculously transformed by a journalist into ‘research’. And of course, there is no need to raise any questions about how the poll was conducted or how representative was the sample on which it was based. Then, by the time the story hits the rest of the media, it is yet another case of ‘New research shows…’ – a phrase we hear all the time these days, and which should always set alarm bells ringing. Finally, the 80 per cent claim is magically converted into fact."

"For moral crusaders it is very important to elevate ‘what we do not know’ above what we do. Because promoting ignorance of the real state of affairs has the effect of marginalising reasoned argument in favour of promoting fantasy. And it is precisely because we are ignorant about the hidden epidemic that they, the authorities, are entitled to raise our awareness!"

"The mission to pathologise human relationships through normalising rape is a very worrying development. It fuels suspicion and makes people unnecessarily wary of intimate encounters. Through presenting a caricatured idea of sexual violence, it also trivialises the horrors of real rape. As a society we should of course deal with sexual predators and protect their victims. But just now, we should be worried about the moral crusaders who prey on our worst fears."

Frank Furedi’s On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence is published by Continuum. (Order this book from Amazon(UK).) Visit his personal website here.