Book Review: Women, Men and Rape

Ray Wyre and Anthony Swift. 1990

Though it is a mere seventy-five pages long, this little book is an important landmark in work upon the subject of rape. Ray Wyre and Anthony Swift have seriously accepted the feminist analysis of rape: “Counselling of male sex offenders continually brings home the parallels between their attitudes and those of people who count themselves ordinary members of society”.

From this starting point, the main concern of the book is to provide information which will enable women and children to protect themselves and to be better protected against rape. It contains advice based on consider­able first-hand knowledge and research in clear and unambiguous, yet not sweeping, terms and in the process it brings into question most of the com­monly accepted notions about the crime. This advice seems to me to be so important that I am including it, in abbreviated form.

“… though rape is always a life-threatening experience, there are different types of sex offender – some of whom are less dangerous than others and more likely to be put off by various reactions of their victims”. (This vital advice is clearly detailed in Chapter Two, ‘Types of Sex Attacker”.)

“… rape is not a spontaneous act committed by a man in the grip of an uncon­trollable sexual urge, but is more often a much-rehearsed and fantasized attempt to wield power over another person”. (This theme crops up throughout the book, not just in Chapter Three, ‘The Rape Process”, is backed up with research examples and consciously complements the feminist analysis of rape.)

“… rape is not a single violent event … It is a complex mental, emotional and physical process in which, at every stage, the survivor can hope to retain some measure of control”. (Again the message to the victim is unambiguous – you can do something, at least to minimize the damage, in particular to avoid a fatal outcome.)

“… (To) suggest that women’s psychological and emotional reactions might help them exercise control more effectively than simply physical self-defence training”. (It is typical of Wyre’s approach that he constructively interprets his research in the interests of the (women) victims. There is a striking account of a woman who deterred the rapist from carrying through his attack when she said to him that “God loves you too, you know”.)

Throughout the book, the authors take a completely practical and cons­tructive attitude to the issue and in an extraordinary way, this somehow increases the shock of the examples – the human reality of the abusive relationship comes through with such clarity. I particularly appreciated this example, from the chapter on ‘The Rape and Sexual Assault of Children”.

… “Others claim that it was the child who seduced them, an argument that has also sometimes found support in the courts. One man … in a counselling session said that he had fallen asleep with his step-daughter on his lap and awoke to find her hand in his flies. It was she who had taken the initiative. Asked what he’d have done if he’d found her with her hand in his wallet, he responded promptly: ‘I’d have told her to leave it alone’.”

Mary Montaut