Broken Windows and Rape Culture

By Graham Peterson

There is an analog between broken windows theory, and the theory of rape culture.  They’re both slippery slope arguments: if there are lots of broken windows it will make robbery seem more normal, and if there are lots of misogynistic jokes it will make rape seem more normal.  Maybe.

But broken windows theory has recommended and justified a lot of bullying and harassment by police.  If you believe that the best way to fight homicide is to harass people for every little thing, you shouldn’t be surprised when the police become an aggressive enforcer of superfluous bullshit, end up embroiled in particularly egregious cases of abuse, and lose a lot of clout with the public.

The rhetoric about rape culture is headed down the same path.  If we believe that the best way to stop rape is to tone police people and shame them on Twitter, scrawl the names of alleged rapists on bathroom walls, and give administrators capricious authority, we cannot be surprised when feminism ends up embroiled in particularly egregious cases of abuse, and loses a lot of clout with the public.

Neither the theory of the culture of rape or violence seem to help victims much, but they do cause a lot of collateral damage.  Maybe it’s time to rethink the slippery slope and the idea that culture “normalizes” deviance.  After all, maybe it goes in the other direction, and deviant acts “normalize” crappy attitudes.  “People get shot in my neighborhood all the time, so who cares if I break this window?”

It is supposed to be basic sociology that categorizing entire groups of people as deviant, and blaming them for the deviance of their worst deviants, just produces more deviance, and the oppression of innocents.  We cannot let our desperation to solve social problems reverse that very basic and very accurate insight.

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