Comment: The Silence of Men

To date, almost all the official contributors to the debate surrounding rape, its causes and its prevention have been women.

Why is it that almost all contributors to the public debate surrounding rape and its prevention have been women? The silence of men is shameful, writes Craig Hildebrand-Burke.

A month ago, Emily Yoffe wrote a story in Slate where she issued a response to the series of high-profile allegations of rape across the U.S. in 2012 and 2013. Yoffe suggested the first measure that should be enacted to curb the culture of sexual violence in American colleges is to teach young women how to not expose themselves to high-risk situations. Specifically, not drinking to excess.

What followed was a series of responses in Australian media that fell quite clearly into two camps: those who argued Yoffe was victim-blaming and ignoring the real issue and cause of rape, or those who supported Yoffe’s views as simply common sense sentiments made to support and protect those that are vulnerable by reducing risk-taking activities.

A lot of digital ink was spilled, a lot of time on airwaves exhausted, and still nothing seemed to reconcile either side, and the debate shifted at record pace from impassioned to angered to vitriolic.

And yet the debate is necessary. It is a difficult topic - discussing rape - and one that needs to be tackled in an encompassing way, and not in a selective, exclusionary approach. And herein lies the problem. To date, almost all the official contributors to the debate have been women.

The silence of men is damning. The silence of men is shameful. We - and I must say we because I do not seek to paint rapists as aberrant monsters lurking under bridges or in rat-infested lane ways - we must bear the burden of this issue. We must involve ourselves and acknowledge the hard truths about rape and the hard truths about masculinity.

It’s hard to argue with the reality of rape. Almost every study into sexual violence shows that over 90% of offenders are male. That is not an aberration: it is a fact of sexual violence that in almost every single report, men are the cause of rape. The statistics also show that the perpetrator and the victim are more than likely to know each other through an existing or former relationship.

How does this stack up against our view of Australian men, of ourselves, when we realise that our section of the population is singlehandedly responsible for just about all cases of horrific sexual violence? How do we compare this to the notion of mateship and being a good bloke that has been trumpeted as our defining characteristics for decades? Are we mistaken, or wilfully ignorant, when it comes to looking in the mirror?

More recently, the reports of the ‘Roast Busters’ gang in Auckland has provoked more discussion about rape culture, and the compliance of society to not only expect and excuse violent behaviour toward women, but also to shame the victims. As Clementine Ford wrote on the Auckland case, we are stuck with yet another situation where ‘the victimisation of girls and women has been yet again justified by the learning curve of men.’

Why are men like this? Even in prisons where there is only a male population, why do we descend to sexual violence as an action inherent to male nature? It is high time men accepted responsibility and seek to prevent rape, rather than falling back on ignorance and the failure of women to stop them.

By our complicit silence, we have allowed women to become constant victims, arguing over the justification of drinking alcohol, walking out after dark, and wearing revealing clothing. We have sat back and allowed men to discredit men, pretending all the while that it was not one of us committing these horrific acts, it was those monsters that lurk and prey, those that we do not count among the male population.

It is time to end our silence and seek an end sexual violence, and an end to our culpability as apologists, and as a dominant force of the population that engenders sexual violence, rather than preventing it.

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