Stare Rape Is Now Official, Honestly

Both policy and hysteria tend to be driven by change, whether it’s a one-off incident like 9/11 that is so shocking that it demands action, or year over year increases in crime. With the former, there’s a huge tendency to over-react, allowing hysteria to seize control over the recognition that it’s more shocking than significant. The latter, however, presents more sober challenges.

First, there’s the problem of numbers, whether it’s the seemingly large percentage change resulting from there being low absolute numbers. This was the case with police killings, where the numbers are so low that a small change in real numbers creates a percentage change that makes it appear as if there is a huge change. Without both real numbers and percentage change, the numbers do little to inform us, and are far more likely to inflame people without illuminating whether there is a real problem.

But the other change is in definition. As has been discussed here many times, when someone talks about rape, are they speaking to forcible rape or post-hoc regret rape? Even if you’re of the view that both are rape, they remain rape of a very different species. By expanding the definition, the numbers will increase not because of an increase in incidence, but a broader definition.

The same is true for child abuse.

A new study found a nearly fourfold increase in confirmed reports of child abuse on the Saturdays immediately after the distribution of report cards at Florida public schools.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, focused on children ages 5 to 11 and relied on reports called in to the Florida Department of Children and Families abuse hotline during the 2015-16 academic year.

Not to suggest that abuse doesn’t happen, there being plenty of people who should never have been allowed to reproduce, but individual cases of outrageous abuse aside, is there really a fourfold increase? The gravamen of the story is about how bad grades are the impetus for punishment, and this doesn’t seem to be either surprising or a reach. But is corporeal punishment in response to bad grades child abuse?

Your grandparents lived in a world where “spare the rod and spoil the child” was the norm. It was harsh. Getting spanked with your father’s belt was common in my youth, when dad would whip it off and say something banal like, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” It wasn’t true.

While the cultural norm has shifted away from corporal punishment, and spanking a child is now deemed abusive, not to mention counterproductive, the message hasn’t filtered through to everyone, and some people still believe that it’s a parent’s prerogative and the proper way to discipline a child. They aren’t being more abusive, but the definition of abuse has expanded to include what they believe to be proper punishment.

While on the subway the other evening, a young woman startled her end of the car by screaming at a man sitting across from her, “stop staring at me?” We all looked up and, of course, stared at her, and then him. She was quite odd looking, with long hair of seemingly random changes from brown to blond, that probably looked more natural on its original owner. He just looked bewildered.

Mashable named it one of their 14 “innovations” that helped make “the world a better place in 2018,” a new taxonomy for language about sexual violence at work.

This white paper from National Sexual Violence Resource Center and Urban Institute created improved ways of categorizing reports of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault that happen at work. In a big move for a company notoriously plagued with sexual misconduct in the workplace, Uber provided NSVRC and the Urban Institute with internal reports and data to inform the taxonomy.

Included in the classification of “sexual violence at work” was the category, “staring or leering.” It’s now official; “stare rape” is sexual violence, as is flirting, asking personal questions and the attempted touching of a non-sexual body part, such as, I guess, hand-shaking. Not only will this be sufficient cause for termination, if not public castigation, but it will be included in an empirical analysis of the prevalence of sexual violence.

Was I a witness to sexual violence on the subway? It’s all according to how one defines it. Is it a crime to stare? What constitutes a stare from a look, or a leer? Many such offenses are popularly defined by the sensibilities of the victim, whether it made her feel uncomfortable, but this provides no clue to the “perpetrator” of stare rape that he’s looked beyond the point of acceptability to that particular “survivor” and should have averted his eyes.

We’ve come to rely on empiricism to guide policy, as it’s far less susceptible to logical fallacies than anecdotal evidence, the good-old “appeal to emotion” that has driven our choices forever. But empiricism requires us to compare apples to apples, not throwing a women to the ground in a dark alley with looking at her weird hair for longer than she would prefer on a subway. Using a cigarette to burn and torture a child is hardly the same as a smack on the buttocks.

But when we’re told that child abuse or sexual violence has increased, and there’s a study to prove it, the taxonomy obscures the substance. This isn’t to suggest that any particular conduct is acceptable, or should be, but that we no longer know what conduct is being studied, what the underlying claim is about. Certainly no one would find a significant increase in sexual violence in the workplace acceptable, but would that include the 2018 inclusion of staring?

Maybe the innovation that would make the world a better place in 2019 would be a realization that we’re being gamed by the rhetorical abuse of empiricism, compelling us to believe, and make policy choices, based on the conflation of benign conduct and serious conduct with a very scary taxonomy. We can call the innovation “honesty.”

20 thoughts on “Stare Rape Is Now Official, Honestly

  1. Turk

    One of the great wonders of the animal kingdom: Looking into the eyes of another can be either a sign of love or a threat. Or anything in between.

  2. Skink

    How does an increase in the number of reports come to be? If there is to be an abuse hotline, there must be an abuse problem. Otherwise the machine of investigation and punishment sits idle. That can never be. There must be many calls to the abuse hotline. To do that, it helps to have definitions. Buried in the “frequently asked questions” of the Florida hotline is a definition:

    “For children: ‘Abuse’ means any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions. Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.”

    Vague? check. Ambiguous? Got that too. But why is it buried? It’s the first question any abuse reporter would ask: is this abuse? Gotta bury it because the machine won’t run otherwise. But there’s more:

    “Everyone, including professionally mandatory reporters, should contact the Florida Abuse Hotline when they know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a child or a vulnerable adult has been abused, abandoned, neglected, or exploited. The Abuse Hotline Counselor will determine if the information provided meets legal requirements to accept a report for investigation.”

    So the plan is to not concern yourself with whether the “legal definition” is met. We’ll figure that for you. Then we’ll report the raw data–the number of calls. Voila! A fourfold increase. Of course, that means a bigger machine.

    What you saw on the subway was a crazy person. After all, it’s a train in The City.

    1. SHG Post author

      Looking behind the headline, underneath the survey questions, is a lot of work, but that work becomes impossible when the empiricists have an incentive to obscure (if not directly conceal) the primary question. Given the vagaries that have become replete and accepted, there’s no way to tell whether we’re being fed deliberately promoted agenda outcomes. But who’s going to be the jerk to dispute that a child has been abused or the gal with the weird hair wasn’t stare raped?

      1. Skink

        “But who’s going to be the jerk to dispute that a child has been abused or the gal with the weird hair wasn’t stare raped?”

        Us, but the world don’t make it easy:

    2. Jake

      Jeez, I guess I should have read Skink’s comment before I submitted my own. Then I could have simply said: “^this”.

  3. B. McLeod

    For now, one can defend against this by wearing sunglasses, but I fear it is only a matter of time until wearing sunglasses also becomes “sexual assault,” because of what it might be concealing.

  4. Jake

    Well played sir, but again, I must remind you to read Chicken Little. ‘Stare rape’ may well be ‘a thing’ beyond the venerated pages of SJ, but it’s not a criminal thing. Making a woman uncomfortable at work because you’re leering at her may get you pulled into HR but if the remediation for this offense alone was anything more than a cubicle reassignment they’d be doing you a favor for making your life less miserable in the long run.

    And ‘confirmed reports’ of child abuse? So what? Does a confirmed report mean a parent was convicted of a crime, separated from their children, and penalized in any way? I reported to my boss that I am ‘at the office today’ and he confirmed receipt of that report. Sofa king what?

    Your anecdotes this morning over-index on details to rile the cheap seats and under-index on details to make them meaningful in any other way.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s not just that the 58-year-old guy who gets terminated for “leering” at an overly sensitive 22-year-old gal has no hope of gaining re-employment at his age, but three kids at home and one in college, all of whom eat, but that (as has been shown here many times already) the dots start out looking silly and end up with tough-on-unwoke-crime legislators turning their new normal into crimes. Try to get ahead of the curve.

      I’m leering at you right now. Do you feel uncomfortable? Traumatized? Oddly titillated? Or nothing?

      1. Jake

        I’m glad to hear you care about the plight of the un- and under-employed. It’s a societal problem that requires societal solutions.

        I hope you’re leering at older pictures of me because I am vain.

  5. rxc

    I had a discussion about this subject about 25 years ago, with a friend of my wife. She complained about how all the men she passed on the street gave her “the look” – up and down, head to toe, plus everything in-between. She was good looking, intelligent, and dressed well. I tried to ask her why she objected to guys who obviously appreciated the work she had done to make herself look good, and her response was that she did those things “for herself”, and they had no right to enjoy the “sights”. It was quickly clear to me that I could not discuss this with her any further, so I stopped, and wondered where it might go. Now I know.

    “Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by.” (Dean Martin). Next entry on the list, right behind “Baby its cold outside”.

    1. SHG Post author

      That “for myself” explanation has been the go-to excuse forever, though it makes no sense whatsoever. That said, I’m not sure it’s for guys to appreciate their appearance as much as for other women to not think ill of their appearance. They want other women to wish they were them, but would be mortified if other women thought they looked shabby.

      1. KP

        Boss, you’re on thin ice here with today’s definitions of sexuality and misgender abuse..

        I figure any woman who complains about men staring at her gets ‘woke’ when she reaches 45 and no-one looks at her anymore. Being a 25yr-old inside a 45yr-old body won’t stop you being invisible to men.

  6. Ayoy

    The NSVRC&UI misconduct rules did remind me a little of the “do’s and don’ts” of art gallery etiquette. For example:

    Don’t stare for too long. Do speak quietly and respectfully. Don’t touch or attempt to touch anything. Don’t take pictures (flash photography will certainly get you kicked out).

    All this sounds very civilized and quite sensible. I just have one question.

    Will there be vol-au-vents and free Prosecco on opening night?

Comments are closed.