Trigger warning: rape, rape apologism, and all associated awfulness.
For some of us, it’s been obvious—and ignored by the mainstream—for far too long: Donald J. Trump is rape culture incarnate. His overt misogyny and objectification of women, and the fact that he has a well-documented history of abusing women both verbally and physically, meant that many of us, while disgusted, were not even surprised to hear the GOP candidate bragging to Billy Bush that he forces himself on women he thinks are attractive and they “let him” because he’s a powerful man. My local weekly, The Stranger, recently wrote that Rape Culture is Running for President. I couldn’t agree more.
When anti-feminist men tell us (feminists) that rape culture doesn’t exist, they invoke the following “facts”: 1. Everyone knows rape is wrong. 2. No one treats rape as acceptable, and 3. We jail rapists. The facts of this election should prove the existence of rape culture to these folks beyond the shadow of a doubt by illustrating that points 1 and 2 above are simply not true, and the facts of reality tell us that point 3 is a fantasy. The facts should put it all to rest, but they won’t. And yet, I’m going to break it down anyway because it’s been eating my brain from the inside out.
1. Everyone Knows Rape is Wrong
Rape and sexual assault are certainly things most people would tell you are “wrong” were you to walk up to them on the street and ask them what they thought of these things using the exact words “rape” and “sexual assault.” But studies and recent events have shown that consent is a cloudy issue, that many believe women owe men sex in return for dinner and drinks, and that people who coerce others into sex or fail to obtain consent before engaging in sexual acts or use the bodies of drunk or unconscious people do not always believe what they are doing is wrong and are happy to soak up validation from those who cloud the issue by talking about what the victim wore, drank, or did before or after the event. In other words, when rapists hear the people around them blaming victims and making excuses for perpetrators and laughing at rape jokes, they eat that shit up. And many (if not most) are serial perpetrators, like the GOP candidate for president, if you choose to believe the dozen or so women who have come forward since the Trump Tapes revelation—y’know, the guy who brags about assaulting women to men like Billy Bush, who laugh and egg him on by pimping women for hugs. So give all this some thought the next time you assume that “everyone knows rape is wrong.”
2. No One Treats Rape As Acceptable
Contrary to the ubiquitous Twitter and Facebook apologism from anti-feminists and probably rapists, most voters surveyed said they believe Donald Trump is guilty of most or all of the acts of which women have accused him.
Forty-two percent of Republican voters and 35 percent of Trump’s own supporters think the accusations are probably true. Men and women are about equally likely to think so. -AP
If you’ve been paying attention to the polls, you know that too many of these same voters (68% of Republicans, according to the survey above) are willing to vote for him regardless because he’s not Hillary Clinton or maybe because they think he’s “pro-life.” These people have signaled their willingness to vote for a serial predator for president.
For leader of the free world.
That is the very definition of accepting rape and sexual assault.
No one treats rape and sexual assault as acceptable except the people who believe Roman Polanski and Woody Allen raped children but are willing to work with them and watch their films anyway. No one treats rape and sexual assault as acceptable except the people who ignore the Jane Does of the world while lamenting the impacts of rape accusations and convictions on rapists. No one treats rape and sexual assault as acceptable except the people who believe Donald Trump is a serial predator and are willing to vote for him for President of these United States of America regardless.
3. We Jail Rapists
No, we don’t. Statistics tell us that only 3% of rapists ever do jail time. Most rapes are not reported and among those that are, most are never investigated much less prosecuted (in the best cases this happens because rape is notoriously hard to prove in court unless there are witnesses or evidence of violence, and often even then). The Bureau of Justice Statistics believes at least 200,000 rapes went unreported between 2006 and 2010, and I can tell you from experience and from my discussions with and readings of dozens of other survivors that many of us are victims of multiple assaults and many of us do not bother reporting most of them. It’s just not worth what we go through when we report, and if you’re like me and you reported and endured that painful process twice with zero justice both times, why would you choose to go through it again?
I chose not to. And when I was a child, my parents chose not to put me through the trauma that would have resulted from the incidents of abuse I told them about. And there are many I didn’t. When I do the math, that’s a hell of a lot of predators out there walking free doing what they do to other victims who in turn must make their choices, endure the scrutiny and shame, stay silent, or simply find other ways to work through it. We are legion and no, society does not punish those who harm us.
This is a good time to mention that if you think you don’t know anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault, you are very likely wrong and should examine the possible reasons why the survivors in your life haven’t trusted you with this information.
Oh, and though Donald Trump was, until Friday, facing a civil charge that he raped a 13-year-old girl, his accuser has dropped her case after receiving threats resulting from an announced—and later cancelled—press conference where she planned to finally break her anonymity. Despite over a dozen accusers, he will never see the inside of a jail cell or very likely any legal consequences.
Of course, not all of Trump’s supporters believe his accusers. Some of them have questions. Why did these women wait to come forward? Why speak right before an election? The timing seems “off.” Another tenet of rape culture: assuming the victim is lying if they don’t behave the way we’ve been taught victims behave. But really, let’s look at this question.
Imagine a person has harmed you in some major way (please take a moment to apply this to your experience, if you will), and imagine that this is a person with power over you. Now imagine this guy goes on TV and says he does stuff like that all the time. Brags about it. Laughs about it. You feel vindicated! LOOK! He’s admitting to the world that he’s exactly the person you knew he was!
Then a couple of days later, he goes on TV again and says he never did it. It never happened. Not even once. Not even the time he did it to you.
Now imagine he makes this statement during a presidential debate. Imagine that after getting caught admitting what he did, he now lies about it on national television in a presidential debate. Imagine that he might become your president. Imagine that you never felt like you had any power in the situation (maybe you even felt unsafe speaking up), but now people are talking about it, other people he wronged are coming forward, and maybe someone will listen.
Now ask yourself. What the hell would you do?
Listen. False rape allegations are rare (and did you know that if a victim withdraws their statement due to coercion by police or others or because they’re afraid or for any other reason, that incident goes into the “false” or “unfounded” column, i.e. the 2-10% of “false” rape allegations?) and they generally don’t occur in clusters. (In fact, I’d be very interested to know about any cases where a large number of victims accused a perpetrator and that perpetrator was cleared and the accusers proved liars, but I don’t think there are any.) But that brings us to another tenet of rape culture: the fact that when women are the victims of rape and sexual assault and they give sworn testimony regarding what happened to them, it is not seen by society in general as “evidence” even though it legally is exactly that. So it doesn’t matter if one accuser comes forward or 12 (Trump) or 20 (Jian Gomeshi) or 60 (Bill Cosby), too many will never see that as “evidence” that a crime was committed and will cite “absolutely no evidence” as their reason for dismissing a clear pattern of abuse on the part of a powerful man. Women are simply not seen as credible witnesses to our own experiences.
Listen. There are thousands if not millions of people out there who have been abused by rich, powerful men and who have not seen justice and never will because they’ll never have a safe situation in which to come forward and expect the kind of legal and emotional support one needs to get through something like that. In a case like this, when a victim does overcome the fear and break her silence, and then another one, the damn breaks, just like with Cosby and Gomeshi. That’s why it’s happening now, just before an election. Because this man who is running for president is happy to lie about anything and everything including something he’s already admitted to: the fact that he feels entitled to sexually assault women and has successfully avoided consequences because of his position of power.
As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults who did not see justice even once despite reporting twice, I know how hard justice is to come by. I know that most rapists walk free while victims suffer the consequences. I know the toll that rape culture—the culture that calls Trump’s bragging about sexual assault “locker room talk”—takes on us. As a victim who was not believed when it mattered, it’s frankly heartbreaking to see people behaving as though these women are lying and just in it for some kind of glory. Trust me, there is no glory in being the woman who “cried rape.” These women have made targets of themselves, and one of them has already left the country because of the death threats she received. I believe them, and I believe Donald Trump is a serial predator.
Donald Trump’s history of sexually abusing women has brought this subject to the forefront of the national conversation and for that, I’m grateful. He will walk away with whatever power he has left after this election and his sycophants will continue to believe that he’s innocent while those who held their noses and voted for a man they knew in their hearts to be a serial assaulter of women will have shown us that some people don’t actually understand that rape and sexual assault are wrong; indeed, a large percentage of people in this country treat it as acceptable.
Donald J. Trump is the Rape Culture Candidate—proof that rape culture is alive and thriving in the United States of America.
Note: As is often the case, this post has undergone some post-publication edits for clarity.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Most Believe Allegations About Trump and Women (AP/GfKPoll)
An Unbelievable Story of Rape (Propublica)
I Am A False Rape Allegation Statistic (The Orbit)
Lots of Men Don’t Think Rape is Rape (NY Mag)
Not All Men, But These Ones (Make Me a Sammich)
A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version) (Make Me a Sammich)
For anyone who thought that Penny Arcade and their lovable firebrand Gabe had learned anything from Dickwolves, Tentacle Bento, Gabe’s most recent outburst, or anything ever at all, news out of PAX yesterday should set you straight. In a Q&A, Mike “Gabe” Krahulik said he believed the company made a mistake in removing the “Dickwolves” merchandise they created not only to celebrate a rape joke but to ridicule critics (many of whom are rape survivors). If this is all new to you, you can read the whole sad, sorry timeline and catch up. The kicker? This time it wasn’t just Gabe talking out his ass. PA’s business manager backed him up.
Here’s yesterday’s entry from the Dickwolves Debacle timeline (emphasis mine):
On stage at PAX, Mike Krahulik (Gabe) says he regrets removing the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store. Robert Khoo, Penny Arcade’s business manager, agrees that those who were offended by it should have been ignored rather than engaged.
There’s video if you have the stomach for it. So far, I do not.
And from Alex Hern at The New Statesman this morning:
Today, that excuse is not available. These ideas have been mainstreamed to the extent that Krahulik and Holkins cannot get away with pretending that it’s only a vocal minority who see problems with using rape as a punchline which don’t extend to problems with using murder in the same way. But the last three years have not seen the pair toning down the rhetoric. From Holkins writing about the “censorship” of criticising a game’s exaggerated female characters to Krahulik being dismissive of trans people (leading to a $20,000 donation to the Trevor project), there have been no end of sub-dickwolves controversies, causing one prominent indie developer to pull out of their shows entirely. The Financial Post’s Daniel Kaszor summed them up in an article titled “Penny Arcade needs to fix its Krahulik problem“.
I’m going to say this again for anyone who didn’t hear me the first couple of times: Penny Arcade and Gabe/Tycho are major game industry influencers and as such, they have a responsibility to Not Be Dicks about stuff that affects a large portion of their audience and their community. In Gabe’s last apology for being an ignorant ass, he said he was going to keep his mouth shut to avoid doing any more damage to the PA/PAX brand. Apparently he forgot to do that. Now he’s doubled-down on his rape-apologist bullshit, and his BUSINESS MANAGER BACKED HIM UP. And I imagine Tycho is doing his ostrich act as usual.
Please don’t tell me this is “just Gabe,” and that “Penny Arcade does Childsplay” or “look, Tycho defended a rape victim the other day!” because none of that matters in this context. You don’t get to do Bad Things and get off the hook because you also do Good Things. Gabe just told a room full of fanboys (like the ones who supported PA’s original rape joke by dubbing themselves “Team Rape”) that Penny Arcade’s mistake when it came to the Dickwolves Debacle was NOT SELLING T-SHIRTS. If you’re still willing to give him a pass–to give Penny Arcade and PAX a pass–then please at least examine and acknowledge the fact that you are doing so despite the fact that they repeatedly shit on rape survivors and anyone else who calls them out on their shit.
I understand that some of my friends have to go to PAX for work. I get that some people feel that they don’t have a choice. I’m not judging them. I’m judging Mike Krahulik, Robert Khoo, and Penny Arcade and finding them rape apologists with no remorse. And considering how many people are rape survivors, they are apologizing for the perpetrators of rapes committed against a significant percentage of their audience and the games industry/community at large.
I’m not launching a campaign–not today, anyway. I’m just asking each of you to really stop and think about this if you’re in any doubt–about costs and benefits and consequences and influence. I’m asking you to speak up about this. Talk to your friends and colleagues. Have a conversation about how industry influencers who spread the message that rape is funny and rape survivors need to “get a sense of humor” are doing damage to our society. How rape culture is a real thing and Penny Arcade are currently its standard-bearers in the games industry. And then let’s come up with a way to either counter that influence or get them to once-and-for-all denounce all this bullshit and take steps to make it right.
Clever closing here. I’m just so sick of this shit. I’ll leave you with another line from Alex Hern’s piece in The New Statesmen (emphasis mine):
But by reopening the wound that first suggested that all was not well at Penny Arcade, Krahulik has also firmly reopened the debate about whether the pair can be trusted with the power they have in gaming.
Update: Because I wasn’t there and haven’t watched the video, I was not aware that the audience cheered these remarks. I am just sick.
Update 2 (9/4): I just learned about this. From what I understand, a member of their Enforcer staff accused another of repeated incidents of sexual harassment, they quietly got rid of the guy, and PA mods shut down the forum thread where people were discussing the incident/issue, offering support and corroborating stories of harassment. I don’t know about you, but I feel kinda like putting another tick in the “Ways Penny Arcade Perpetuates Rape Culture” column.
Update 3 (9/5): Gabe has published a response to the Internet response to his comments at the Q&A. I think he has a lot of good things to say, but I do not think he has adequately explained why he thinks continuing to sell the shirts would have been a good idea. He has listed it among several other “mistakes” that fueled the fire, when the only fire removing the merch fueled (that I know of) was that of Team Rape’s entitled rage. He is still saying that NOT selling t-shirts that ridiculed survivors was a mistake. And that tells me that even though he’s sorry he hurt people on some level, on another level he still doesn’t get how selling those shirts would have hurt–and kept on hurting–those very same people. What do you think?
Update 4 (9/5): Here is my response.
- “Resolutions”: Penny Arcade rewrites history in its latest “Dickwolves” apologia (Media Darlings)
- Dear Gabe: I Don’t Hate You, but We Need to Talk (makemeasammich)
- Moving Forward With PAX (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- How PAX Broke My Heart (Video Games Quality Snark)
- Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo (Wired)
DO NOTENGAGE: Dickwolves, Again. (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- I Can’t Go Back, or Why I’m So Bent Out of Shape About Penny Arcade (A Dream Come True)
- Pax, You’ve Gone And Done It: An Open Letter (Shoshana Kessock)
- Why I’m Quitting PAX (Lillian Cohen-Moore)
- An open letter to Jerry Holkins (Love Conquers All Games)
- Penny Arcade and the Slow Murder of Satire (Mammon Machine)
- Download Code: Penny Arcade needs to fix its Krahulik problem (Financial Post)
- Penny Arcade reopens the “dickwolves” controversy (The New Statesman)
- Quit Fucking Going To PAX Already, What Is Wrong With You (ElizabethSampat)
- Penny Arcade Artist: Pulling Dickwolves Merchandise ‘Was a Mistake’ (kotaku.com)
- Penny Arcade’s Gabe is Willfuly Ignorant (Again) (makemeasammich)
- No Sacred Cows (makemeasammich)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.