How Slut-Shaming Empowers Rapists Like Terry L. Smith Jr.

Some will argue that in the face of atrocities against women such as female genital mutilation, or the second shift, slut-shaming is a silly thing to worry about. But those people miss how policing cooperative behavior, whether through legislation or stigma, has unintended consequences. For example, Terry L. Smith Jr. has admitted to raping at least six women. He started raping and didn’t think he’d be caught for a while because he said he knew that his victims’ shame would keep them from going to the police to report the rapes.

Indeed, he’s not wrong. Rape is the most underreported violent crime. Some estimate that only 60% of rapes are reported to police. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2012, there were 346,830 rapes and sexual assaults, and 72% of these attacks were not reported to authorities.

Elizabeth Smart, who was held in captivity and raped daily for nine months after being abducted from her home, has spoken out about how slut-shaming made her not want to bother seeking to escape.

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.” She said, “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’

Terry L. Smith Jr.’s first victim is a virgin too. She told The Columbus Dispatch that she’d gone over to his house to watch movies. She felt so bad about that decision that she almost didn’t report her rape. She only did so because her 11-year-old sister asked her to, apparently afraid he’d come after her, another of their sisters, or someone else. The dispatch describes the victim’s reticence to report as resulting from “fear, shame and self-blame.”

In a slut-shaming culture, women expect to be blamed for their own rapes. They begin to think they should have expected to be raped as punishment for the crime of having sex, or putting themselves in a situation in which sex might happen. Women aren’t making this up. Police routinely blame victims for rape. While working through the incredible backlog of untested rape kits in Detroit, Prosecutor Kym Worthy began examining the related police reports. In report after report were testimonies of officers saying things like, “This victim is a ho. I don’t believe anything she says.”

Of course a woman doesn’t have to be slutty to be abused by police when trying to report a rape. When a woman with Multiple Sclerosis reported her rape to police, an officer asked her if she voluntarily pulled the man’s pants down before he raped her. They asked her mother if her injuries were from falling, and not being violently gang raped. And they asked her mother if she really had MS.

Another Smith victim told The Dispatch “I felt like I put myself in that situation, where it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.” She didn’t want to call the police until Smith began to text her with demands to see her, and ultimately threatened to kill himself unless she did.

Rape victims need to know that there is nothing wrong with going over to a someone’s house. There is nothing wrong with having sex with someone, or deciding not to. There’s also nothing wrong with deciding whether or not to have sex with someone until you get to their place.

Sex isn’t shameful. Rape is.

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Cathy Reisenwitz is an Editor at Young Voices and a D.C.-based writer and political commentator. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and a columnist at Townhall.com and writer for Bitcoin Magazine. Her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications and she has appeared on Fox News and Al Jazeera America. She serves on the Board of Advisors for the Center for a Stateless Society.

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