A rape in Norway: how to prevent the silent epidemic
On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States
Join the conversation!
My friend was raped in Norway. In my opinion, to help a rape victim is like helping anyone who is the victim of a violent crime. However, rape victims are often treated much differently by society.
During her upbringing, her mother told her to never walk outside alone at night, because she would get raped by a stranger. This short anecdote speaks to the systemic violence that women experience every day. If we lived in a society with no systemic violence, women would feel no need to carry their keys tightly between their fingers while waking to their car at night, with their phone pre-dialed to 911.
This article reflects the story of a friend who was raped and our opinion on how to prevent rape. The article does not address the overall cultural patterns of oppression that exist in society. Therefore, larger systemic changes are required for these recommendations to be effective.
People react differently when encountering stories of rape and sexual assault; many seem to allude that the victim did something wrong. Would we ask someone who was shot by a terrorist what were you wearing, where were you, or why did you trust this person? Further, there is a culture of shame and fear tied to the blame game, so that the victim must be brave to report the rape, and on top of that comes the hassle of the reporting process itself. The blame, shame, and hassle need to be reversed so a person going through trauma feels incentives to seek medical attention and file a police report. The system needs to focus on healing trauma rather than causing more.
The most important way to stop rape is to ensure that all participants are enthusiastically consenting. Planned Parenthood describes consent with the acronym FRIES as follows:
“Freely given. Doing something sexual with someone is a decision that should be made without pressure, force, manipulation, or while drunk or high; Reversible. Anyone can change their minds about what they want to do, at any time, even if you’ve done it before or are in the middle of having sex; Informed. Be honest. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, that’s not consent; Enthusiastic. If someone isn’t excited, or really into it, that’s not consent; Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean they’ve said yes to other activities (like oral sex).”
The following three points are important reasons why it is vital to be informed on enthusiastic consent and take responsibility for our actions:
1) Men and women may interpret consent differently. An article published in the Journal of Sex Research, entitled “Assessing the Validity and Reliability of the Perceptions of the Consent to Sex Scale,” demonstrates that women say they give consent via verbal cues 50% of the time, yet men only interpret that as consent 9% of the time. Men are more likely to interpret a woman’s body language as giving consent (61% of the time) whereas women in the study said they only gave consent via body language 10% of the time. With intercourse, there should be no misinterpretations. Enthusiastic consent helps to ensure that feelings are mutual.
2) Men and women may use different strategies for securing consent. An academic article titled “College Students and Sexual Consent: Unique Insights,” shows that 14% of men use aggressive strategies to gain consent, such as using their physical strength. A quarter of men (27%) reported telling a woman they were going to have sex, implying it as an order. Another 13% of men used deception to indicate to themselves the woman was consenting. For example, one man said, “Just stick it in and if she objects, pretend like I had done it by mistake.” The same study showed no women reported using deceptive behavior.
3) Sex is not a competition, and consent is not a conquest. The article “College Students’ Sexual Consent Communication and Perceptions of Sexual Double Standards,” albeit with a small sample, found that all male participants in the study viewed sex as a conquest in which sex is a competition and gaining their interpretation of consent is the prize. Those same men failed to see their behavior as coercive. Reading these studies was disturbing, as too many men have traits of power rapists, those who rape due to feelings of inadequacy and to feed their issues of mastery, authority, and control. The power rapist is the type of rapist who feels he is satisfying a person and may even ask the victim for a date after the rape.
There is a common misconception that rapists are strangers, but about 90% of the time it is someone the victim knows. Therefore, the victim’s flight or fight instincts often do not engage when the other person’s actions become unwanted. Instead, the body and mind can respond in two different and uncontrollable ways. One is through dissociation, where the brain “disconnects” from what is happening and goes somewhere “safe.” A common response can be “tonic immobility,” where due to extreme threat a person may temporarily show motor inhibition. Swedish researchers published a study, “Tonic immobility during sexual assault—a common reaction predicting post-traumatic stress disorder and severe
depression,” which refutes the pre-conceived idea that it’s normal to actively resist rape, and shows that 70% of the time rape victims respond with significant tonic immobility. It is common that experiencing tonic immobility can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression.
Overall, studies show that if we don’t actively engage in enthusiastic consent, we can cause long-term psychological damage to others. They also show that men are more likely to behave in ways that do not take into consideration the feelings of their partner.
Norway is considered a leader in equal rights. However, equality is not a destination but a journey, and from doing my best to understand what my friend is going through, it’s fair to say the journey has just begun. Amnesty International reports that Norwegian law is not in accordance with international human rights standards, as the definition of rape is not based on consent, and that police are not doing nearly enough to investigate rape allegations and prosecute rapists.
A Norwegian study, “Violence and Rape in Norway,” reports that 9.4% of women and 1.1% of men (about half a million people), have experienced sexual assault in Norway. These numbers are inconclusive, as no ongoing national-level statistics are collected.
As I see it, the epidemic is not the numbers but the lack of resources dedicated to understanding and replacing rape culture in society. There is a severe lack of education and norm-setting to protect the average person from rape. Norway should start creating a culture that is rape-resistant and based on respect for other peoples’ boundaries and feelings. The fight to prevent rape is fundamentally about allowing a person to decide what they want to do with their own body and mind, which is essential to the fight for equal rights.
What should I do if I was sexually assaulted in Norway?
Go to a safe place; seek medical care; get tested for sexually transmitted diseases; and speak with an advocate from Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) near you. You do not have to go through your experience alone.
DIXI offers advice and assistance for victims of rape and their families in Norway:
DIXI Resource Center Against Rape
Telephone: +47 22 44 40 50
Further Reading: “All About Consent,” by Planned Parenthood: www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/all-about-consent.
Shane Murray holds a master’s degree in environmental management and policy from the IIIEE, served on the board of Expats in Denmark, is a co-founder of Dentists Without Borders (Tannhelse Uten Grenser), and has worked to improve the lives of immigrants and refugees in Norway. He has lived or worked in the three Scandinavian countries and is a dual citizen of Sweden and the United States.
The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge, ” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them.
Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.
This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.