On January 11, 2015, the news media reported on a new study by Dr. Sarah Edwards at the University of North Dakota and her colleagues that suggests almost 33% of college men admitted they would force a woman to have sex against her will if they thought they could get away with it; when the word “rape” was used, however, to describe the same behavior, about 13% of men admitted the same thing.
These data call into question the oft-touted claim that it is a small percentage of men who commit most of the rapes – or rather, who force women to have sex against their will; Dr. Edward’s data suggests this is not the case, if 13-33% of men are willing to do it.
This data is disturbing, but so is the recommendation that illogically follows, which is that what is needed is more and better consent education and teaching about healthy relationships. These recommendations are featured, even though these researchers report that admitting a willingness to force women to have non-consensual sex is not a function of confusion about consent or a misunderstanding of healthy relationships, but rather, is instead highly correlated with hostility toward women and hyper-masculinity: key components of rape culture.
Consent education will not make men believe that they should not rape women, whether or not they can get away with it, and understanding what constitutes a healthy relationship will not necessarily make men want it, particularly if their goal is to perform a version of masculinity which debases and devalues women as lesser, as other, as objects for the taking.
Self-defense training, in its enactment and practice of women’s bodies as powerful, as strong, as something other than inherently rapeable, is far more likely to change men’s and women’s concepts of gender and performance in sexual relationships. And more importantly, it significantly decreases the likelihood that men will “get away with it”; knowing that they could be seriously hurt if they try to force a woman to have sex against her will may make more men considering rape to pay close attention to conversations about consent.
It’s disconcerting research. It likely has its flaws, but regardless, it is a serious wake-up call to those that felt this wasn’t the case. Having been on the side of abuse too many times in my life, I think it is more common that many would let on. Many people don’t view unwanted sex with someone as rape unfortunately. I do think some education is still warranted, but I have always said that education doesn’t appear to help the masses as much as is claimed.