As Mucchielli notes, when rape is discussed in the media or the larger society, it is often in the context of sensational cases either involving celebrities (DSK, athletes, etc.) or “spectacular” cases where rapists become household names (think Dutroux or Fourniret). At the other hand of the spectrum, there seems to be a publishing niche for testimonial books whose reading is unbearable. In combination, these trends construct rape as one of the most abhorrent crimes deserving of maximal social sanction.
But for Mucchielli, the everyday reality of rape is different (which is not to negate the above) when one uses the sociological method to explore what rape, in contemporary society really involves beyond media coverage and publishing trends. The book linked to above is the result of this work. What does this show?
First, rape is a crime of proximity despite the medieval persistence of the “stranger danger” stereotype, or the image of the woman walking alone at night, chased by her aggressor, then raped and sometimes killed. That stereotype is common in various fictional media and widely used by politicians, often with pro-patriarchal motives (women are safer home, shouldn’t be out late at night, working or going out, etc.). The book’s studies show that in 85% of rape, offender and victim know each other.
Rape is also overwhelmingly and almost exclusively perpetrated by men against women or children (girls and boys) with whom they have deep affective ties. The book establishes a typology of rapes (indeed, one should speak of rapes rather than rape):
- Familial rape is the most common, committed by fathers, step-fathers, uncles and grandfathers, brothers and cousins, in-laws or very close family friends.
- Marital rape is the second most common,
- Peer rape, committed by peers and friends,
- Acquaintance rape committed by neighbors, work colleagues or mere acquaintances
- Stranger rape is the least common form.
Research also shows that the closer perpetrators and victims are, the more likely it is that aggressions will be more frequent and will continue over extended periods of time (more than five years) whereas stranger rapes tend to be unique occurrences. Serial rapists are very rarely strangers to their victims. Serial raping is more likely to take place within families. So, we should speak of proximity serial rapists.
Studies also show that proximity rape are not correlated with social class. Victimization studies reveal such class neutrality. However, when it comes to prosecution of such crimes, then working classes perpetrators are overrepresented. More than 90% of rapists tried in France were from the lower classes. Where are the others?
For Mucchielli, there are two main explanations for this social inequality when it comes to having to face the criminal justice system. First, the wealthier classes have more useful networks of acquaintances, more power, more money, more ways of preventing the publicization of certain facts in the media, and more ways to protect themselves against police and judicial action in order to protect their status and reputations despite the crimes.
Second, the unprivileged classes are subject to more social scrutiny and control from institutional authorities such as social workers, educational and medical professionals, and the criminal justice system as a whole, which leads to greater detection.
There is nothing that is entirely surprising for those who study these things, but it is nice to have some hard data debunking a few stereotypes along the way and clearly showing that the family is one of the most abusive and violent institutions of society.
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