#ItsOnUsBeckley urges men to speak out against rape

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — Rape isn’t tolerated in Beckley or around southern West Virginia.

That’s the message that Women’s Resource Center Director Patricia Bailey is asking local men to send on social media, using the hashtag #ItsOnUsBeckley.

WRC, a Beckley-based non-profit organization that provides resources for victims of domestic and sexual violence, has launched the movement to urge men to speak out against sexual violence against women.

#ItsOnUsBeckley is a movement to notify men who rape that they — not their victims — are going to be held accountable for the crime in 100 percent of cases.

“What we are saying is, ‘Enough is enough,’ “ Bailey said. “This is not going to happen here. You need to be on notice. We are not going to allow it anymore.

“You’ll be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Aug. 12 rape of a woman in a wooded area along the Rails to Trails near the Sheetz store on Robert C. Byrd Drive sparked an online rally for recognition of the rights of local women to participate in legal activities without being shamed for a sexual assault perpetrated against them.

As the woman walked home from the store shortly after midnight on Aug. 12, police said, two men forced her from her path to a wooded area and raped her at gunpoint.

The woman, who was able to escape from her two attackers, told police that as the two men sexually assaulted her, they taunted her. They told her that “all women deserve to be raped” and that she had caused her own attack.

Beckley police arrested Timothy Darnell Harris Jr. 46, of Beckley, and Michael Brent Ritter, 50, of Beaver, for the attacks. Harris and Ritter have been charged with several crimes related to the attack but have not gone to trial.

“Rape is not about sex,” Bailey said. “There is nothing about rape that is about sex. It’s about power. It’s about control. It’s about intimidation.

“It’s about manipulations, the threat of violence, that you can control that other person.”

While the international #metoo movement gave sexual harassment and assault victims a platform for speaking about their experiences, Bailey and WRC Advocate Samantha Lilly said that rape isn’t a “women’s issue.” It’s also a “men’s issue.”

It’s important for men to understand why a small percentage choose to rape women — usually, multiple women — and to do their part in countering attitudes that blame women for sexual attacks.

“Most men respect women and respect the fact that women are their equals,” said Bailey. “If we’re going to stop this sexual violence and domestic violence against women, we need men to come to the forefront to come out and speak out against these men who commit sexual assault.”

Most men do not rape, she explained. Statistically, however, most rapists are men. Overall, perpetrators in 78 percent of sex crimes are male. In cases where women are targeted, 90 percent of attackers are male.

To prevent rape, Bailey said, men must reinforce to other men that women have a right to participate freely in all legal activities in society, without the threat of rape.

“The only way we’re going to change the landscape and the way people think about sexual assault is to talk about it, talk about it, talk about it,” said Bailey. “It is ugly. I know we don’t want to talk about these things.

“But it could be your mother. Your grandmother. Your sister. Your daughter.”

Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold, who does not have a social media account, opened the #ItsOnUsBeckley campaign Monday by sending a public message from the Mayor’s Office.

“The City of Beckley police force and all influence that we exert on the prosecuting attorney’s office will stand by to apprehend and prosecute rapists to the fullest extent of the law,” Rappold said. “There is absolutely no reason to ever blame anyone in such an incident, except the rapist.

“It’s an extremely cowardly act by, in my opinion, a very low-life man.”

Rappold’s early comments on the rape, made to a radio station, were censured on social media by some who believed that the mayor was minimizing the attack. In his comments, the mayor said that the trails were generally safe and that the rape had generated negative publicity.

Later, Rappold told The Register-Herald that his comments were not intended to minimize rape. He said rape is never the victim’s fault and that the local police force aggressively investigates reported sex crimes.

He added that few rapes are reported in Beckley — a statement that Bailey said meshes with national data, which shows that 67 percent of rapes are never reported to police.

In many cases, she said, the victim is afraid that she will not be believed or that she will be blamed for the attack.

Despite “rape myths” that the victim could’ve stopped the rape if she’d been less trusting, worn a different outfit, walked at a different time or hadn’t gotten so drunk, Lilly said victims don’t control sexual attacks or when they are attacked.

“We want to stop the victim blaming,” Bailey added. “The bottom line is, only one things causes rape. One thing, and one thing only, and that is a rapist.

“The question is, why does he rape? Why is he allowed to continue to rape?

“It’s the behavior of the perpetrators we should be talking about.”

Studies show that a rapist is much more likely to be at work or church — or around a convenience store — than in a prison cell.

“Sexual violence, as a whole, is one of the least prosecuted crimes,” Lilly reported.

Statistically, of 1,000 American rapists — those who forced vaginal or anal penetration or oral sex on a victim who was too drunk, mentally incapacitated or too young to give consent and those who used a weapon or physical force to attack a victim — only six are in jail for the crime, according to data supplied by Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN); 392 are reported to law enforcement, and 57 are arrested for the reported rape.

The “average rapist” is walking free in Beckley and everywhere else. He meets his victims at family reunions, in the home, at church, at parties, at school, at festivals and in the work place. He is likely to rape more than once, studies show. It’s also likely that his next victim is a woman he’s already met.

According to data supplied by Lilly from hopeandsafety.org, men who rape keep their sexual attacks “fragmented” from the rest of their lives. Some may assault family members but nobody outside the family, for example, or vice-versa.

They justify their attacks on their victims by relying on excuses, blaming the victim, minimizing the attack, blaming society, lying and “assuming” that the victim wanted him to have sex with her, even if she had not given consent. A sex offender is likely to be possessive and “glorify himself,” according to the data.

Studies show that every race and socioeconomic class produces rapists, but rapists generally share certain attitudes.

“(Rapists feel) entitled,” Bailey said. “They believe women are less than men, they are worth less than men, and ‘we have a right to take whatever we want.’ “

A 1976 study at Claremont Graduate University of nearly 200 rapists was published in The New York Times and served as the cornerstone for later studies of rapists. It noted that rapists come from a variety of backgrounds. One painter had raped his acquaintance’s wife. A janitor at a Beverly Hills high school said he’d raped 10 or 15 people to get even with “rich bastards.” One man, a repeat offender, said he raped women because he blamed them that he felt sexually aroused.

The study showed that most rapists begin to rape in high school or college and that they may associate with other sex offenders.

In the Claremont study, the subjects didn’t like to admit to that they “raped” a woman but would say they had “penetrated without consent.”

Some risk factors for rape were identified, such as heavy drinking, perceived pressure to have sex, a peer group that uses hostile language to describe women and a belief in “rape myths” — such as the idea that no means yes.

“Repeat offenders often tell similar stories of rejection in high school and of looking on as ‘jocks and the football players got all the attractive women,’ “ the NYT article reads. “As these once-unpopular, often narcissistic men become more successful, ‘Getting back at these women, having power over them, seems to have become a source of arousal.’ “

Recent studies suggest that the use of pornography — particularly violent pornography — is a risk factor for rape. Themes of pornography often place women in a subordinate role and perpetuate rape myths.

Bailey added that some religious cultures can unwittingly perpetuate a rapist’s sense of entitlement, if religious leaders teach that women have fewer rights than men, minimize rape or blame a woman’s dress or behavior for sexual violence.

“When somebody breaks into my home and assaults me, you don’t blame me for that,” she said. “But with sexual assault, for some reason, we as a society blame the victim.

“We have got to flip that. We have got to blame the rapist.”

WRC is offering free sexual violence education workshops to local organizations, schools, businesses and churches. More information is available by calling WRC at 304-255-4066.

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