Scroll through Twitter, type in “pat kane” or the hashtag #patkane and it opens up a window into attitudes about rape:
“Why would Pat Kane need to rape anyone? Good looking millionaire who plays hockey. Girls are crawling all over the guy”
“Cause if Kane’s really being investigated for rape then we all know it’s a lie.”
“Pat Kane is innocent!”
“Gold diggers #patkane”
There are plenty of tasteless jokes, too.
One post featured a cartoon image of a man in a bathing suit pulling a bikini-clad woman, who is face down, by one leg with the words “Pat Kane Be Like”
Another tweet: “If Pat Kane raped me, I would be honored. I don’t see what the big deal is”
Whatever the outcome of the police investigation of National Hockey League star Patrick Kane, the knee-jerk reactions of the public show that people have fundamental misconceptions about rape, according to those involved in helping victims of sexual violence.
“I think that those comments are really misguided,” said Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds, director of Crisis Services’ advocate program.
The advocates in her program provide support to victims of sexual violence.
“They’re ignorant,” she says of the comments on social media. “They don’t address the crime for what it is.”
She was not speaking directly about the Kane investigation.
But comments like these have repercussions, said Wiktorski-Reynolds.
“I do know these types of things have a chilling effect. It’s repeated and it creates a culture and we’re just perpetuating that culture,” she said.
Rape is a frighteningly common crime. One in four women, and one in six men, are victims of sexual violence at some point during their lifetimes, according to Crisis Services.
But most rapists aren’t scary strangers lurking in dark alleys, researchers say.
Four out of five rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to research collected by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
“That’s something our culture has a hard time accepting,” Wiktorski-Reynolds said.
It’s easier for a community to rally against someone like the suspect in last summer’s string of rapes in Allentown than to come to terms with the fact that someone you know is a rapist.
“It’s that bad dude. The total stranger,” she said.
Most know attacker
But in most cases, the suspect is someone connected to the victim, and that can be difficult for people to accept, she said.
And it makes it all the more difficult for a victim to come forward.
The rumors and accusations swirling around the Kane case need to give way to a broader conversation about preventing sexual violence, said Jessica C. Pirro, chief executive officer of Crisis Services.
“I say we need to evaluate our reactions because the community conversation that’s going on right now isn’t about the incident,” she said. “We don’t know the facts – and examining our reactions might help us learn why we react the way we do, what our biases are, etc.”
She pointed to comments on social media and quotes that have appeared in news stories about the police investigation.
Many people have been critical of bar owner Mark Croce’s statements to The Buffalo News describing seeing a woman with Kane at his bar on the night of the alleged attack.
The attack allegedly took place later that night or the following morning at Kane’s house. Croce said he did not go to Kane’s house and does not know what happened there.
“A victim should never be blamed,” Pirro said in an emailed statement about Croce’s quotes, as well as comments that have been on social media about the alleged rape. “No one chooses to be raped and any public statement that implies that is just as problematic as a perpetrator’s decision to rape.”
Wiktorski-Reynolds said blaming the victim for a rape because she – or he – showed interest in the assailant perpetuates a culture that tolerates rape.
“They say: ‘What did you expect? Why did you go to the house? Why were you drinking?’ That takes the perpetrator off the hook for not listening, not stopping. ... You can change your mind. You have free will.”
In the eyes of the law, the events leading up to the sex act don’t matter.
“Consent is one of those things that can be removed at any time during the encounter,” explained Chris Moellering, visiting clinical assistant professor of law at the University at Buffalo Law School.
He spoke to The News generally about laws pertaining to rape in New York State and was not speaking directly about the Kane investigation.
“It really doesn’t matter what happened at the bar, what happened in the car,” he said, giving hypothetical examples. “It’s a question of ‘Did the victim withdraw consent?’ If that’s the case, the sexual act cannot legally continue.”
But cases that come down to consent can be difficult – though not impossible – to prosecute.
Lack of consent “can be hard to prove because there’s not always a lot of independent evidence,” he said.
Physical evidence of a sexual encounter alone doesn’t necessarily show that it happened without consent.
“I think some of the statistics that you see show that not only are few sexual assaults reported to police but few of those accused of rape or sexual assault end up spending time in jail,” Moellering said.
He pointed to recent advances in federal and state law that show progress in the fight against sexual violence.
A new state law aimed at preventing rape on college and university campuses includes a uniform definition of “consent” known as “yes means yes.”
“Both parties need to express their consent,” Moellering said. “If the person doesn’t actively tell you it’s OK, you have to stop. That law is a big step forward toward clarifying the position of the two parties.”
The law, signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last month, includes more training requirements for administrators and staff, reporting requirements for campuses to the state Education Department and a new sex offense unit within the State Police to work with college and university law enforcement.
Power and control
Numerous studies have shown rape is not about gratifying a sexual desire, Wiktorski-Reynolds said.
“If you look at the profiles of most rapists, they have access to consensual sex,” she said, speaking about sexual violence in general.
She was not interviewed about the allegations against Kane.
“It’s not about access to sex. It’s about power and control,” she said. “It’s about using sex as a weapon rather than something else.”
She pointed to studies by the Department of Justice that showed that “false reports” of rape are rare – about 8 percent – which include cases that couldn’t be prosecuted for a variety of reasons.
Deciding to go forward to the police to report a rape and undergoing a “rape kit” are never easy for victims of sexual violence, Wiktorski-Reynolds said.
“People aren’t going to the hospital and going to the police because it’s fun or because they’re looking for attention,” Wiktorski-Reynolds said. “It’s a very, very invasive process. It’s serious. It takes hours. There’s a lot that’s entailed.”