Skip to main content

What young men still don't get about rape

By Amitai Etzioni, Special to CNN
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Wed August 29, 2012
We need to use the recent uproar over U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's remark as a learning opportunity, says Amitai Etzioni.
We need to use the recent uproar over U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's remark as a learning opportunity, says Amitai Etzioni.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amitai Etzioni: Todd Akin's comment about "legitimate rape" is not uncommon
  • Etzioni: The extent to which young people do not get what rape means has changed little
  • He says role playing can be an effective tool in teaching people that rape is a violent assault
  • Etzioni: We should use the Akin uproar to educate people about what rape really is

Editor's note: Amitai Etzioni, professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, is the author of "Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World," to be published by Transaction this fall.

(CNN) -- Last week, Republicans and Democrats alike chastised U.S. Rep. Todd Akin for coming up with a highly troubling reference to "legitimate rape," implying that not all rapes were unjustified, like say when a married man forces his wife to have sex. Akin has since corrected himself and said he opposes only "forcible rape." Critics point out that there is only one kind of rape -- a violent one. Rape is, by definition, a form of aggravated assault.

Opinion: Rape can make you pregnant. Period.

What all the very justifiable media hoopla ignores is that Akin's view of rape is far from unique. It follows that the educational agenda we all face is much greater and more challenging than setting straight one congressman who claims that he is suffering from a mild case of foot-in- the-mouth disease.

The extent to which young people do not get what rape means has changed little over the years.

Amitai Etzioni
Amitai Etzioni

According to statistics in the 1988 book, "I Never Called It Rape," by Robin Warshaw, 84% of college men who committed rape claimed that what they had done was not, in fact, rape. One in 15 male students reported that they raped someone or attempted to do so in the preceding year. And "nearly one third of college men said they were likely to have sex with an unwilling partner if they thought they could get away with it."

A more recent study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology in 1998 asked students to what extent it was acceptable for a man to verbally pressure or force a date to have sexual intercourse. The responses show that 17% of men considered that using force was an acceptable strategy to get their way.

Opinion: Wake up, it's not just Akin

Akin: We are 'here to win'
Rep. Todd Akin's shifting statements
How Akin controversy may impact Ryan

We need to use the recent uproar over Akin's remark as a learning opportunity.

A good place to start is with young people in high schools and colleges. Assemblies will do as a starter, especially if one can find rape victims who are willing to come forward and tell what it is like to be forced and the psychological scars that remain for years to come. Open discussions among men and women best follow, in smaller groups.

Moreover, I highly recommend role playing. I used to scoff at role playing, which I considered a gimmicky approach to education. I changed my mind after seeing it enacted.

I saw a husband playing a wife, and the wife acting as if she was the man of the house. She asked her husband: "What did you do the whole day?" and "Why is the baby still fussing and the laundry not done?"

The husband later related that for the first time in his life, he truly felt what it is like to stay home the whole day, doing household work and dealing with children, and then to be treated as if one did not work.

iReport: Making my voice public

Asking men -- who after all are 99% of the rapists -- to role play as if they have been raped by a woman is very unlikely to work. However, my colleagues in the psychology department tell me that men, especially young men and those who are not particularly athletic, are very sensitive to the notion that they may be raped by another man.

Role playing in which a man is cornered by someone who pretends to be, say, a football coach is likely to evoke in them what women feel when they are cornered.

I am not arguing that this, or for that matter any, educational device or program will convince one and all that rape is a shameful violent act (and, of course, a violation of the law).

But at least we should use the Akin incident to engender a discussion of what are and what are not acceptable ways for people to proposition each other. Any use of force to gain sex deeply wounds those who are raped and reveals the predator is not much of a man.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amitai Etzioni.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT