As the Husband of a Rape Survivor, Here's What I Say to Other Men

A year ago, I did not realize rape was a major problem in the U.S. I assumed that rape was like any other crime, and that rapists were dealt with by the justice system like any other criminals. As the husband of and primary support provider to a survivor of gang rape, I have come to realize that sexual violence is insidious and entrenched in our society and quite different from other crimes.

Every time a rapist gets a slap on the wrist, American judges confirm that rape is a low-risk, acceptable form of violence. In the UK, of the 3% who are convicted, many leave the courtroom with barely-there sentences. Stateside, it's no different. Edwin De Boer, former Phi Kappa Theta president at the University of Washington, was recently sentenced to one year behind bars for his second conviction.

De Boer’s laughable penalties illustrate how rape is treated as less serious than academic misconduct in universities and little more than theft or drug-possession in the nation’s courts.

As a man who seeks to ally with women against rape, it enrages me that serial rapists like De Boer inspire the sympathy of police, prosecutors, and judges. The penalty of 15 hours community service for De Boer’s first conviction is not uncommon, as 13% of sexual assault convictions end with probation, not prison time.

If it does not bother you that De Boer got one year for his second offense, your sensitivity to sexual violence has been dulled by our culture, which is prone to justify the rights of rapists and downplay the harm done to victims.

Since January, my wife and I have been aggressively campaigning for justice in the way rape cases are handled. Fighting on her behalf is the most fulfilling pursuit I have ever undertaken. Here's what you can do to help. 

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1. Accept that we have a problem — and its effects

Rape's effects on victims are stark. My wife suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of her experience, as is the case of 31 to 49% of rape survivors.

PTSD results from situations in which the moral conscience and/or physical integrity of a person is shattered, leaving them alienated, inconsolable, and unable to process what has happened without panic attacks, uncontrollable rage, and crippling depression. Judging by the severity of this lifelong affliction, I wonder why our justice system is so sympathetic towards those who cause it.

2. Stand up for what's right

Always believe victims and aggressively stand up against anyone who blames or discredits them. We should be "bullying" rapists and their sympathizers, not victims.

Rape culture is the practice of automatically classifying "unfounded reports" as "false reports," of blaming victims on account of clothing, immodest behavior, alcohol-consumption, failure to fight back, and/or maintain "control of the situation," and of cross-examining victims (for hours) on their account of the event when the psychological effects of trauma make these memories difficult to recall and talk about.

Purveying rape myths (rape is sex, men can't be raped, husbands can't rape their wives) is dangerous and unjustifiable, and we should call out anyone who does.

3. Quit absolving rapists

Dr. David Lisak, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, completed a research study on 120 rapists who had escaped detection by the justice system. He found that 63% of those men were "serial rapists", with an average of 14 victims each.

Quite contrary to the image we have of the creepy rapist who attacks strangers in alleys, these men tended to view themselves as "womanizers," target women in bars, and were proud of their exploits. If police ignore reports and judges offer light penalties, the social cost must rise in order to deter rapists.

4. Stop engaging with cultural sexual violence — even in porn

According to Dr. Lisak, fraternities and other gangs frequently watch violent porn as a form of entertainment and vindication of their gendered identities. He maintains that nine out of 10 rapes on campus are committed by repeat predators. It is precisely on cases like De Boer’s, where the victim has little or no memory of the event and the perpetrator is a member of a hyper-masculine subculture, that law enforcement and the justice system need to focus.

In the second case, De Boer slipped his victim Lorazepam, which causes amnesia when taken with alcohol. If the drug had not appeared in the toxicology report, the case could have been discarded as “unfounded.” Despite popular belief by “men’s rights” fanatics, unfounded reports are the very rare exception — officially 8%, though in reality around 2% of reported rapes, according to Lisak’s “methodologically rigorous” classification.

Unfortunately, many similar cases are often hushed by universities or discarded by police because there are no bruises, or the victim’s account contains inconsistencies — although none of this means that no rape occurred.   

5. Speak up

In the future I hope that our police and judges will not only believe victims, but also accord to rape the gravity it deserves with mandatory minimum sentences.

I hope our sons will see girls as human beings, not vacuous bodies to be carelessly manhandled. We need to change for the sake of the 1.3 million women and girls raped every year in America. 

Until that day comes, take the fifth step with me and raise your voices in protest.   

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Tim Tolka

Tim grew up on the road with his family, who were evangelicals with wanderlust. He wandered most of his 20's in +30 countries on four continents, based in Boulder where he got a BA in Humanities, then NYC and SF where he worked in real estate, event planning, and education, until coming to DC for his Master's in International Affairs. He speaks European languages and is interested in literature, feminism, and political economy. He still follows in the evangelical line, despite being secular.

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