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Academic Year: 2016-2017
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YOUR NAME: Alicia Motta Irizarry




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ESSAY TITLE: The Institution of Terror

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Alicia Motta Irizarry


The Institution of Terror

Terrorism is a concept that is often used to define attacks made by foreigners to obtain

political power. According to Sheffield, “The word terrorism invokes images of furtive

organizations of the far right or left, whose members blow up buildings and cars, hijack planes,

and murder innocent people in some countries other than ours.” (Sheffield, 1987) Today we

will call this act political terrorism because this phenomenon goes further beyond ISIS and

Osama Bin Laden. Terrorism is not the act of blowing up a plane, it is the fear it penetrates in

the people, even if they are not directly harmed. When Osama Bin Laden ordered the attack on

The World Trade Center, fear was not just in the people being attacked, it was in the Oval Office

and in each and every one of our hearts. Scheffield reminds us, “But there is a different kind of

terrorism, one that so pervades our culture that we have learned to live with it as though it

were the natural order of things.” (Scheffield, 1987) She calls it sexual terrorism, and we,

women, are the targets. Where we come from, our social status, race, age, etc. are irrelevant

because “it is a system by which males frighten and, by frightening, control and dominate

females” (Scheffield, 1987) everywhere. Although sexual terrorism involves many different

aspects, this essay will focus strictly on rape and rape related ideas. But most importantly it will

argue on rape as a terrorist socio-cultural institution.

I come from a place where rape culture is very prone. Every night, when I finished

studying in the library of my university, I proceeded to walk to the train station or the parking

lot. The feeling of anxiety, fear and terror that I carried every night, was not pleasing. I was
terrified that some guy would come and rape me. There have been numerous rape cases

reported in that same parking lot. How am I not supposed to live in constant fear of my life?

Women are in constant fear for their lives because “the essence of terrorism is that one never

knows when is the wrong time and where is the wrong place.” (Scheffield, 1987) The problem

with this type of terrorism is that society encourages it by promoting violence against females,

teaching men to be sexually violent and dominant, and providing them with justifications to

their means. This is the reason why rape is not just an act of terrorism, but a terrorist

institution. Claudia Card defines institution “by both a form of social activity structured by rules

that define roles and positions, powers and opportunities, thereby distributing responsibility for

consequences.” (Card, 1991) This all applies to rape, since it is a social activity imposed by men

on women, structured by rules and limits that define roles (dominant and submissive),

empowered by myths, that could lead to dangerous consequences.

This terrorist institution is a social construct, so internalized in our culture that we

sometimes assume it is natural. This normality belittles the act. According to Sheffield, “Society

manifests this attitude by simply denying the existence of sexual violence, denying the gravity

of these acts, joking about them, and attempting to legitimate them.” (Scheffield, 1987) This is

precisely why the offenders do not realize the severity of their acts. Most men when accused of

rape act surprised about it. Sanday wrote, “The correlates of rape strongly suggest that rape is

the playing out of a socio-cultural script in which the expression of personhood for males is

directed by, among other things, interpersonal violence and an ideology of toughness.”

(Sanday, 1981) Men act surprised when called on the act because society makes them feel it’s

part of their violent nature. When Sheffield asked who might be the typical rapist, her answer
was far too simple. One day, I was talking to a male friend, who confessed something that was

very disturbing. When he was five-years-old, he was raped by his uncle for the first time. The

child had no idea what was going on. Innocently, he thought it was normal. So normal, that he

started doing it to his friends. It was not until he was called out on it that he understood the

magnitude of what he was doing. Leaving his soul scarred for life.

The assumption that only mentally ill strangers are rapists, is a blasphemy. According to

Sheffield, “The ‘typical’ sexually abusive man does not exist.” (Scheffield, 1987) In fact, it is

more likely to be raped by a known person, than a complete stranger. A child molester is very

likely to be a family member of the victim. This is called incest and if the rapist is charged (not

likely), it is never more than ten years in prison. Sheffield states, “This contrast suggests that

sexual abuse of children is tolerated when it occurs within the family and that unqualified

protection of children from sexual assault is not the intent of the law.” (Scheffield, 1987) How

can incest be tolerable? I do not know. However, the fact that it is, normalizes the act.

According to Peggy Reeves Sanday, “When the character of the father-daughter relationship is

primarily indifferent, aloof, cold and stern, rape is more likely to be present.” (Sanday, 1981)

The worse part of it all is that there are myths on incest that regard the child as the seducer, or

argue that it was part of his imagination. Scheffield gives an example about a judge who

accused a five-year-old girl of being an “unusually promiscuous young lady” (Scheffield, 1987),

and thus provoking a twenty-four-year-old man into raping her. That is not all, she sentenced

him to ninety days of prison, for raping an innocent baby girl. The author wrote, “Making a

victim believe she is at fault erases not only the individual offender’s culpability but also the
responsibility of society as a whole.” (Scheffield, 1987) Evidently, this young girl is not the first

blamed for her own rape.

When it comes to rape, society always imposes some or all culpability on the victim.

According to Sheffield, “Early and sustained sex-role socialization teaches that women are

responsible for the sexual behavior of men and that women cannot be trusted.” (Scheffield,

1987) She explains that either the woman willingly participated in the victimization or that she

lied about it. Women are always blamed for dressing provocatively, being seductive, or “asking

for it”. These are few of the thousands of reasons why society is always victim blaming. Another

reason according to Sanday, “men (are) creatures who cannot control their sexual impulses.”

(Sanday, 1981) Apparently these impulses are caused by women being women. If women are

characterized for being beautiful, provocative and seductive; how can rape be justified on the

fact that women are who they are? Blaming a woman for being raped is as ridiculous as blaming

someone for being murdered.

Gwen Arujo, a transgender woman, was murdered for being herself. That is not all, she

was blamed by her murderers, for her own tragic death. One of them expressed, “If you find

out the beautiful woman you are with is really a man, it would make any man go crazy.”

(Bettcher, 2007) She was accused of deception, like a woman is accused for seduction when

raped. Bettcher wrote, “I am specifically concerned with the ways in which the victims of

transphobic violence can be subject to blame shifting through accusations of deception.”

(Bettcher, 2007) If heterosexual and homosexual women live in constant fear of being raped,

imagine a trans woman. Here sexual terrorism goes beyond rape, all the way to murder.

Imagine the terror they go through in their daily lives for reasons like rape, public exposure (like
Gwen), and murder. Just so the murderers can be charged on second-degree murder caused by

sexual provocation, with no hate-crime charges. This is the terrorist institution in a nutshell.

If Gwen was raped, it would be permitted, just because she was transgender. Claudia

Card lists a couple of women who are not allowed to count as rape targets. For example,

prostitutes, ‘non-virgins’, women previously raped, a woman who has had past relations with a

specific man or type of man, wives (by their husbands), etc. Trans women can also be

categorized here. They would not be considered as rape victims for their inferior social status.

According to Sanday, “a rape prone society… is one in which sexual assault by men of women is

either culturally allowable or, largely overlooked.” (Sanday, 1981) For example, in Kikuyu of East

Africa, there is a ritual called Kuihaka. It consists on a young man finding and raping a girl or

woman, preferably from an enemy tribe, to prove his manhood. If he did not comply with the

ceremony, there would be no marriage. According to Sanday, in Arunta, Australia women

cannot get married without being gang raped first. This is done when the girl is fourteen to

fifteen-years-old, and only when the ceremony is completed she is allowed to marry a man that

will “protect” her. Also African-American slaves would fit into this category. Opal Palmer Adisa

explains, “that legally the concept of raping a slave simply did not exist. One cannot rape one’s

own property.” (Palmer, 1992) Even though slavery was abolished, “For African-American

women, rape continues as an ever present threat to their particular bodies.” (Palmer,1992) In

fact, the supposition of women as property is one that persists in our contemporary society.

African-American slaves were not the only ones viewed as property. This ideology is one

that has persisted through the ages. According to Sanday, “rape is linked with an overall pattern

of violence and that part of this pattern includes the concept of women as property.” (Sanday,
1981) Psychologists like Sigmund Freud may argue that this violent instinct is innate.

Nonetheless, it is a social construct, supported by history, literature, philosophy, law and all

other patriarchal institutions. Sheffield stated, “Rape was originally a violation of a father’s and

husband’s property rights; consequently, a husband by definition could not rape his wife.”

(Scheffield, 1987) This means that when a woman was raped by a man (not her husband) it was

not considered as a violation to her human rights, but his property rights. According to Card,

“Rape has historically been treated by men as a crime of theft against other men.” (Card, 1991)

These suppositions support rape as terrorist institution; the devaluation, objectification and

hatred towards women.

Could it be possible that the roots of this institution were based on hatred towards

women? Aristotle classified women in the same category as slaves and barbarians. If that is not

historically recorded hate, I do not know what is. This form of hate is called misogyny. Could

there be any other answer to why men find it so natural to be violent towards women? How

they find the audacity to rape them? Is it audacity or unconscious hatred? Adisa writes, “Past

and present analysis shows that rape is not a crime of uncontrollable sexual passion, but one

used to vent misogyny and to exert physical, political and economic control.” (Palmer, 1992)

The author uses an analogy explaining how a woman’s body is a battlefield. This battle often

goes beyond rape and straight to ‘femicide’. Sheffield explains that sexual terrorism sometimes

is so aberrant that we find it inconceivable. She gives an example of the execution of fourteen

women in 1989, by a twenty-five-year-old man who claimed that feminists had always enraged

him. The author writes, ““Femicide” ... describes “the murders of women by men motivated by

hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership of women.”” (Scheffield, 1987) This

description can also be used for rape as it murders women’s dignity and many other things

inside her. Where can women feel safe in a world like this?

Claudia Card would argue that women are hypothetically safe with a guardian. Or at

least society thinks they are. Living in constant terror of being alone, is something that all

women experience; not emotionally, but physically. Walking alone may seem as something

ordinary, but for women it takes courage. It is a battle with our insides. Anything that can feel

wrong, does. Card argues that terrified women, comply with men’s demands. Men give “good

girls”, something very pricey, protection. Women, by believing they have earned this

protection, also feel in debt. Card writes, “In the system of chivalry, men protect women

against men… Indeed, chivalry is an age-old protection racket which depends for its existence

on rape.” (Card, 1991) If women do not accept this protection, they are alone, in danger, and

held accountable for anything that happens to them. If we accept this protection, who is going

to protect us from the protector? Often, chivalry comes with liabilities and that is precisely why

women are not safe anywhere. Once women accept this protection they are consenting the

submission of their bodies, because it is what they have learned, it is the norm.

“Protected women” are not the only ones who feel this indebtedness on the inside

around men. We have all felt it, at least once. When women accept to go on a date with a man,

it is often presupposed that they are giving sexual consent. One of Cards rules is, “that consent

once given cannot be withdrawn.” (Card, 1991) This is often a problem with rape, because this

rule, internalized by the terrorist institution, makes women think that once we say “yes”, we

are not allowed amend it. Nonetheless, it has to be kept in mind that not all rapes require

sexual assault. Pineau argues that “Date rape is non-aggravated sexual assault, non-consensual
sex that does not involve physical injury, or the explicit threat of physical injury.” (Pineau, 1989)

The problem is that non-aggravated sexual assault is not taken seriously; and this is in fact, the

reason why women don’t realize date rape is actual rape. Often women get raped and they do

not even realize it. One day, I was with a friend talking about life, and she told me that she had

sexual relations with this guy she did not like. “Why?”; I asked. She answered; “I do not know,

he wanted to, and besides, he was paying for everything.” So I asked her if she had enjoyed it

and she quickly answered: “no”. It did not cross any of our minds that she was raped. Why? As

Pineau writes, “Her uncertainty is reinforced by the cultural reading of this incident as an

ordinary seduction.” (Pineau, 1989) This is because rape is a terrorist institution, supported by a

patriarchal society, and the reason we view acts like this normally.

The ultimate question; why is society like this? Simple, it benefits from this terrorist

institution. Why else would governments prefer protecting men against rape accusations, than

accusing them for committing the act as such? Card argues, “that a state supports a racket even

when it penalizes rapists, if it can be shown to be responsible for the continued threat of rape

and to benefit from that continued rape.” (Card, 1991) How can this support be proved? The

answer is: propaganda. Rape is everywhere. According to Sheffield, “The propaganda of sexual

terrorism is found in all expressions of the popular culture: films, television, music, literature,

advertising, pornography.” (Scheffield, 1987) Capitalism sells woman’s sexuality in every way it

possibly can. Card explains that some movies glorify rape. She writes, “In each, rape is

presented as thrilling and fulfilling for a woman.” (Card, 1991) This normalizes rape for both

men and women, giving them fantasies about it and therefore, facilitating it. Rape sells. It sells

“good girls” to protectors and helps the market sell everything else. It even sells items that
protect women from the act it sponsors. This institution legitimately supports society politically,

economically and socially. How did it go so far?

Historically, society has psychologically internalized myths and the people have held

them accountable. Sheffield wrote the following myths, “All women want to be raped. No

woman can be raped if she does not want it. She asked for it. She changed her mind afterward.

When she says no, she means yes. If you are going to be raped, you might as well relax and

enjoy it.” (Scheffield, 1987) People actually hold this as truth. It has been two years since I

liberated myself from using bras, because they are uncomfortable and I do not need them. My

grandmother has always been controversial about it. One day, she was taking me to the

university and I was wearing short trousers because it was 100*F (38*C), and she had the

audacity to tell me; “that is why girls get raped.” That day, I miserably understood that if I was

ever raped she would think it was my fault. Next, I will cite a simple, yet powerful poem by June

Miller (two-time rape vitim):

“One day she saw them coming into the garden

where the flowers live.
found the colors beautiful and
they discovered the sweet smell
that the flowers held
they stamped upon and tore apart
the garden
Just because
Those flowers?
They were asking for it.” (Palmer,1992)

Being female already presupposes that we are asking for it. How can a flower be asking

for it if she is just being a flower? Another myth could be that men cannot control their sexual

impulses. It can be argued, that they just do not want to, because society says that being
violently sexual is the norm and so they believe it. For the record, none of these myths can be

held for true whatsoever. However, another problematic and one of the most important, citing

Sheffield, “Our refusal to accept the fact that violence against females is widespread

throughout society strongly inhibits our ability to develop meaningful strategies to eliminate it.”

(Scheffield, 1987) My conscience forbids me of viewing a future where I am able to walk alone


Rape as a terrorist institution seems harder to abolish than as a mere act. The way it is

implemented in all aspects of society augments the feeling of terror. The fact that people do

not realize what they are part of, makes it easier for its agents (government, market, state,

religion, etc.) to harbor evil deeds. Misogyny, women viewed as property, the devalued value of

consent, victim blaming, rape myths, the normality of rape, etc. are all aspects that carry this

terrorist institution high and make it potent. If it is still not clear how rape is a terrorist

institution, I will make it simple. Rape is a socially internalized activity that promotes violence

and inflicts a feeling of terror in women’s daily lives, supported by cultures all over the world,

that follows a set of norms, punishments and myths, that define roles and powers, to benefit

organizations that justify the means; like the government, state, religion and market, who are,

and always have been, historically governed by the the dominant male, who this institution

correspondingly benefits.

Consequently, rape, is a very powerful terrorist institution, so perfect that it fools

people into oblivion. Like the patriarchy, another institution that molds society in such a way

that it is unrecognizable (to many). Both rape and the patriarchy work ‘equiprimordially’ in their

quest to dehumanize women. To eliminate these, the world would have to be reborn. These are
ancient institutions that go beyond our era; recorded in literature and history. Is it possible to

eliminate institutions that have been alive since before time itself could be recorded? All I know

is that I live for the day when women can wander about the night without destination. Be

guided by the stars and truly appreciate the moon’s perfections; without internally feeling pain

and terror, caused by the consistent anxiety of being raped.

Word Count: 3,292


1. Card, C. (1991) Chapter 12. Rape as a Terrorist Institution. In. R.G. Frey & C.W.

Morris, ed., Violence, terrorism, and Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, pp. 296-319

2. Bettcher, T.M., (2007) Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic

Violence and the Politics of Illusion, Hypathia, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 43-65

3. Pineau, L. (1989) Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis, Law and Philosophy 8, pp. 411-


4. Sanday, P.R. (1981) The Socio-Cultural Context of Rape: A Cross-Cultural Study.

In. L.L O’Toole, J.R. Schiffman & M.L. Kitter Edwards, ed., Gender Violence:

Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 2nd ed., New York: New York University Press, pp.


5. Scheffield, C.J. (1987) Sexual Terrorism, Undeclared War: African-American

Women Writers Explicating Rape, In. L.L O’Toole, J.R. Schiffman & M.L. Kitter
Edwards, ed., Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 2nd ed., New York:

New York University Press, pp. 194-232

6. Palmer Adisa, O. (1992) Undeclared War: African-American Women Writers

Explicating Rape, In. L.L O’Toole, J.R. Schiffman & M.L. Kitter Edwards, ed.,

Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 2nd ed., New York: New York

University Press, pp. 346-376