Thoughts about sexual assault laws inspired by a blog post…

Shadesong complains in today’s LJ post about Scott Adams’ (Dilbert) most recent inflammatory analogies about gender and rape. Shadesong writes,

“And once again, when people say that men are wired to rape people, not only is that gender essentialist bullshit, but it does a tremendous disservice to men, implying that they are no more than witless slavering beasts. Once again, most men are not rapists. Men are in charge of our society – if men really were wired to rape people, we would not have laws against it.” (emphasis Shadesong’s)

The problem with this argument is its assumption about why “laws” are made in the first place. Of course, laws are made by those in power, primarily to protect the interests of the powerful. This is axiomatic. But many, many laws–most of them, in fact–are made to address behaviors that people would do naturally unless they were prevented. Humans are hard-wired for aggression and violence, and if that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t need laws and enforcement as incentive for people to keep their natural impulses in check (or else). The existence of laws is evidence for bad behavior being “natural.” It’s also evidence that those in power disapprove of the behavior–but it in no way implies the reasons for that.

As for rape laws in particular–it’s only very, very recently that laws against rape and sexual assault had anything to do with the victims. Just read the old legal codes, starting with the Bible. Historically, rape has been a crime against property–another male’s property. That’s why laws were codified against rape, when there were any laws against it at all. The effect of rape on the victims didn’t come into it. The idea of rape as a violation of person didn’t come into it. Women have been, for most of history, male chattel, and other men trespassed on those property rights at their peril.

By the time we got into the 19th century in the Western world, rape started to be seen as a crime against the victim, as well–but chiefly an economic one. A “ruined” woman couldn’t marry, or marry well, so her life prospects were sharply curtailed, and rape laws started to address that. Laws, and social attitudes, that recognized sexual assault as a trauma in its own right, and saw rape as a crime against the victim’s person, are only decades old.

But aside from all this, I’m puzzled as to why people are taking Scott Adams so seriously. He’s a sulphuric-acid-cynical satirist and cartoonist. I just assume he’s deliberately messing with our heads so he can get people all ruffled and privately laugh at them, and I don’t take the bait. I wouldn’t believe a single word he says!

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