Cultural Assault: What Feminists Are Doing to Rape Ought to Be a Crime

By Bonilla, Margaret D. | Policy Review, Fall 1993 | Go to article overview

Cultural Assault: What Feminists Are Doing to Rape Ought to Be a Crime


Bonilla, Margaret D., Policy Review


Rape is selling a lot of magazines these days. You can't walk past a newsstand without seeing dozens of articles -- many written by avowed feminists -- disclosing new evidence of a rape epidemic, and how we women can protect ourselves in the face of escalating aggression and violence against our gender.

The typical basis of these articles is that rape is distinct from other forms of violent crime. It is a crime against women. It is an act of subjugation by men. Rape presents a constant, all-pervasive threat; it can happen to a woman anywhere, at any time: on a date, at a family reunion, even in a marriage. The keys to preventing rape, feminists will tell you, are to change male-dominated cultural attitudes toward women, to get women to protect themselves, and to get Americans to take the issue of sexual violence more seriously.

The feminists are wrong. Rape is not the victimization of all women by all men; rape is a heinous crime committed by violent individuals against innocent victims. Americans have always taken this crime very seriously, so seriously that a rape conviction, until the 1960s, was punishable by death. The great majority of men in our society are not rapists; indeed, most men fear the rape of their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, and other female loved ones as much as women themselves do.

As for stopping rapists, what the feminists don't tell you is that one of the best ways to prevent rape, and other violent crimes as well, is to put convicted criminals in jail and keep them there. A case in point is Willie Horton.

A Violent Man

Willie Horton was convicted for the 1974 murder of a Massachusetts teenage boy. The details of the crime are grisly: Willie Horton kidnapped the boy, stabbed him to death, and then castrated and dismembered his body. Mr. Horton was convicted of murder, and because of the ferocity of the crime, was sentenced to two life sentences in prison without possibility of parole.

As governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis inherited a controversial program to grant convicted felons -- even those with violent criminal records -- weekend furlough privileges. Although Mr. Dukakis had been warned of the dangerous implications of the furlough program, he decided to leave it in place. And Willie Horton, although only eight years into his life sentence, was somehow assessed as an appropriate candidate for a furlough Mr. Horton passed 10 uneventful furlough weekends in Massachusetts.

On the 11th furlough, he fled the state, kidnapped a Maryland couple, and brutally raped the woman while forcing her fiance to watch; then he savagely beat the woman's fiance. He was caught and convicted in Maryland of first degree rape and assault.

When the public learned of Willie Horton, the outcry was swift and furious. The story was first covered by the Lawrence, Massachusetts Eagle Tribune, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigative reporting. During the 1988 Democratic primaries, Al Gore referred to Willie Horton to suggest that Mr. Dukakis was soft on violent crime, a theme picked up later by the Bush campaign. The Horton story was also featured in Reader's Digest, America's largest-circulation magazine. Americans were shocked that Governor Dukakis had used such poor judgment in furloughing a vicious criminal who was supposed to be serving two life sentences.

Grisly History

The Horton case was made more complicated because the rapist was black and his victims were white. Dukakis supporters and civil rights organizations accused the Bush campaign of exploiting racism and of perpetuating racist stereotypes. The grisly history of lynching in the American South had been closely linked to accusations, many of them false, of rape by black men against white women. There also had been a terrible pattern of discrimination within the legal system: between 1930 and 1965, for example, 408 blacks were executed for rape in the United States, compared with only 48 whites -- even though more whites had been convicted of the crime. …

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