Today in Rape Culture

[Content Note: Violence; rape culture statistics and narratives.]

Today on its front page, CNN is featuring an article about a serial rapist in Cleveland who is "thought to be linked to four rapes and a homicide dating back to 1996." The article is linked with the text:

screencap from CNN front page with text reading 'Serial rapist on the loose in Cleveland'
"Serial rapist on the loose in Cleveland."

Which is accurate. But note how this framing still plays into the key rape culture narrative that rape is so rare as to warrant alarmist headlines that sound like retro monster b-movie titles: "Serial rapist on the loose in Cleveland!"

(CNN's headline on the actual story is better: "FBI joins search for serial rapist in Ohio.")

The fact is that serial rapists are not rare. They are not even a minority of rapists:
Of the 120 rapists in the sample [identified in the study Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists by David Lesak and Paul M. Miller, published in Violence and Victims, Vol 17, No. 1, 2002 (Lisak & Miller 2002)], 44 reported only one assault. The remaining 76 were repeat offenders. These 76 men, 63% of the rapists, committed 439 rapes or attempted rapes, an average of 5.8 each (median of 3, so there were some super-repeat offenders in this group). Just 4% of the men surveyed committed over 400 attempted or completed rapes.
Emphasis original. Four percent of the men surveyed were, by their own admission, serial rapists. Not four percent of the rapists—four percent of all the men surveyed in an ethnically diverse group of 1882 college students, ranging in age from 18 to 71 with a median age of 26.5.

When four percent of the adult male population are serial rapists, there are serial rapists "on the loose" everywhere. There is certainly more than one in Cleveland.

With a population of 370,000, that means about 177,600 (48%) residents are male, and about 135,000 (76%) residents are men ages 18+. Four percent of 135,000 is 5,400.

That is a good deal higher than one.

It is also a reality not remotely reflected in a tease like "Serial rapist on the loose in Cleveland."

One of the most dangerous lies the rape culture tells about itself is that it doesn't exist. The only way we can begin to dismantle it is by acknowledging, always, the ubiquity of rape, and never treating it like some sort of scandalous aberration.

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