Dame(sel) in Distress?
Feminist advocates have spent years working to define rape as a social problem. These advocates have worked as claims-makers in this regard and have engaged in various framing processes along the way. Sociologists and criminologists have entered the conversation along the way offering a variety of theoretical perspectives and empirical investigations to help understand rape and sexual assault more fully. Despite these efforts, rape remains one of the most underreported crimes with an even more dismal prosecution and conviction rates.
The assumed incidence and prevalence of rape means that many people are either victims themselves or know someone who has been the victim of rape or sexual assault. Nonetheless, talking about rape remains difficult for many and victims are often ashamed and fear being unfairly judged or stigmatized if they tell anyone. Dame Helen Mirren, who has recently come forward to say that she was date-raped but did not report it to police, seems typical of other victims. On the other hand, she also has suggested that women jurors are more likely to think a rape victim asked for it. This juxtaposition may capture just what makes it so difficult to prosecute and prevent rape. Mirren’s comments, while made by a self-defined victim of rape, portray the kind of victim-blaming sentimentality that reinforces cultural attitudes, norms, values, and practices that excuse and normalize rape and other forms of sexual violence.
Jennifer L. Dunn on Accounting for Victimization