*Trigger warning for discussion of rape and violence against women*
So Lionel Shriver, who I have just discovered is a woman thanks to the power of the internet and the power of my brain to attribute the name Lionel to a man, wrote an article with an incredibly poor headline on a study looking at whether or not sexual offending runs in families. The study found that it does to an extent.
Shriver’s headline – which may have been chosen by an editor – was, “Don’t be so hysterical about sex crimes“, though the URL for the article suggests that the less alarmist headline might have been “Swedish sex study sex offenders genetic tendency behavior not preordained” at a point in time, even though that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
From the beginning of the article, Shriver writes:
Across more than 20,000 cases of male sex offences in Sweden 1973–2009, men with brothers or fathers convicted of sex offences were five times more likely than average to commit the same kind of crime. (The chances were 2.5% if sexual predation ran in the family, 0.5% among the general male population.) The study’s authors brandish numerous disclaimers: they’re not giving offenders an excuse, proposing male relatives of rapists be imprisoned or isolating a sex-abuse gene. But they believe the finding of a broad genetic proclivity paves the way for prevention strategies. As one forensic psychiatrist put it: “If interventions can be provided that are not harmful, this is an opportunity.”
Imagine being the son or brother of a man imprisoned for sexual assault – traumatic in itself. A social worker rings the doorbell. She offers therapy, anger management or gender–sensitivity training – when you’ve done nothing wrong. Wouldn’t you slam the door in her face, after telling the busybody from PreCrime where she can shove her “prevention strategies”?
Right off the bat Shriver uses emotive language. The authors are “brandishing” disclaimers regarding the study, instead of “The study’s authors provided the following disclaimers regarding their study…” which would be much better reporting.
And yes, imagine finding out that your father or brother had sexually assaulted someone – surely most people would be horrified and would grasp at offers to help – and probably want to not be that person – unless as Shriver is suggesting, masculinity is so incredibly toxic that being just like your offending family member is a good thing.
Would you slam the door in the face of a woman (and note that especially Shriver made the social worker in this scenario a woman) wanting to help you? Probably if you grew up in a household where women were considered less than fully human. A proper psychiatric evaluation would have to take into account the attitude that the individuals concerned would have towards women given the environment they grew up in and the nature of the offence that their family member committed.
And I’m also suggesting that a mandatory reporter type role, as Shriver is suggesting this would be, is a “busybody” (another term only applied to women) sounds very similiar to the responses the US Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has regarding Government oversight of children who are being home schooled, that the Government doesn’t trust people, that they are interfering, and that they want to take rights away from parents.
That vision is only preposterous to an extent. Because we already treat sex offenders as if they’re genetically marked. There’s no other crime on the books that you never live down and for which you never finish paying your debt. Released sex offenders must lodge their whereabouts with the police, whether their offence was violent rape or mere voyeurism, and may be electronically tagged.
They’re required to inform police if they leave home for a week or more, and to ask permission to holiday abroad (sometimes denied). Police are licensed to identify sex offenders to members of the public. Those given sentences of more than 30 months are put permanently on the sex offenders register, like Santa Claus’s list of who’s been naughty and nice. We don’t treat these people as folk who’ve done wrong, but as folk who are wrong – hopelessly and irredeemably dangerous because of what they are.
Wow, I don’t know how many sex offenders Shriver knows, or people who have been accused of raping or sexually assaulting someone, but there are certainly a large number of them who walk around, free to travel, free to do as they please while their victim/s suffer trauma for the rest of their lives. Roman Polanski, Jimmy Saville, Mike Tyson, R Kelly, Woody Allan, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and Tupac Shakur all seem to be going quite well regardless of their convictions or accusations. They’re all quite wealthy which probably does play a part in why they get around so well, but get around well they certainly do.
[Update: I’ve been advised that Tupac died around 20 years ago, so is clearly not walking around enjoying himself (unless he’s come back from the dead). This error is entirely mine and was a result of insufficient research late at night.]
One point that Shriver fails to mention is that some men are actually “hopelessly and irredeemably dangerous”. Adrian Bayley was on parole for other sex crimes when he raped and killed Jill Meagher, he is certainly a man who is hopelessly and irredeemably dangerous. How many chances do you give a man to redeem himself before you mark him as unredeemable and permanently dangerous?
When it’s a war against the very survival of women, shouldn’t those men who have demonstrated a complete lack of concern regarding our safety, autonomy and consent be punished and made to redeem themselves in our eyes? Here is a list of crimes against women in Australia for just this year. Just 2015 so far, and it grows almost every day.
And maybe those people who sexually assault and rape other people are wrong, raping and sexually assaulting people should not be part of our modern world.
In this sense, the Swedish study’s results are unwelcome. If anything, we need to dial down the hysteria over sex crimes, increasingly regarded as more horrific than murder, and allow for the possibility that some people make a mistake and don’t repeat it, even if that mistake is of a sexual sort.
Oh, we need to be less concerned about sex crimes? I’ll just tell that to Adrian Bayley’s victims shall I? Or perhaps the other women, myself included, who have been raped at some point.
I don’t know which world Shriver lives in where sex crimes are more horrific than murder, because the number of politicians in Australia, the UK, and the US who are doing something about sex crimes against women and children, and the number of politicians who are doing something about the murder of women is incredibly low.
There is no Royal Commission in Australia against the high levels of intimate partner violence in Australia which is at epic highs. This year alone has seen an unprecedented number of women die at the hands of their current or past partners.
I also find Shriver’s statement that some sex crimes are “mistakes” and that people don’t repeat them problematic. I agree that there are instances where two minors are sexually active, and one reaches the age of majority and is suddenly committing an offence – and that situation is tricky. However, this is completely different to someone failing to consider that the person they are assaulting is saying “NO”, or is unable to provide consent, and that’s completely ok, and they won’t do it again next time.
Perhaps instead of saying that someone won’t repeat this “mistake” Shriver should be pushing for better relationship and sexual education.
We’re rounding on that hoary old “nature versus nurture” debate, always artificial. Common sense dictates that neither influence is absolute; the question is one of proportion. (Those Swedish scientists gave it a number: for sex crimes, the risk is 40% nature.)
So 60% – the bigger number is possibly environmental/nurture. If I have a 40% chance of experiencing the side effect of a medication, then there is a 60% chance that I won’t. For those men who have a 40% nature component and a high environmental/nurture component, then surely intervening early and ensuring that they stay out of prison by not committing crimes is a good thing. Shriver can only think that interventions are stigmatising and possibly traumatic. She is only looking at it from one angle and ignoring the greater good for all of society that an intervention could take – including to the individual who wouldn’t offend and end up in jail.
2 thoughts on “Nature, nuture and terrible headlines”
Totally agree. Although I don’t know that Tupac is getting around too well these days being that he has been dead for nearly 20 years… 😉
Ah… that’s where my very basic and late-night research failed me. That said, Tupac is better known for being an artist than someone who committed a sexual offence against someone.
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