How do we characterize rape in the mass media and in legislation, and how do those characterizations differ from how we represent hate crimes?

My argument is this: rape is a hate crime.

Let me be clear, though, that this argument should not and does not come at the expense of sympathy for and solidarity with the survivors of racist or homophobic hate crimes.

Gang rape is a collective hate crime. Date rape is an intimate hate crime. Rape, in short, is a crime fueled by hatred—towards women, towards their power, towards their ability to choose their sexual partners and enjoy consensual sex.

One example of how we, as a society, evaluate sexual assault has been brewing in the blogosphere—and oh, with what furious feminist bubbles—for about two weeks now: Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has passed his first significant piece of legislation, an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would prevent the federal government from purchasing defense contracts from corporations who “restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court."

The amendment, a major forward motion in Sen. Franken’s feminist agenda, was spurred by the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a former Halliburton/KBR employee in Iraq who was brutally gang-raped by her coworkers, then “detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and "warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job." (from ThinkProgress)

The case has been covered in almost every progressive news outlet, from ThinkProgress to AlterNet to Feministing to Jezebel, and even made a spotlight on The Daily Show. (Ironically, and not without purpose, the episode in which Jon Stewart’s righteously rhapsodized on the Jones case coincided with a guest appearance by Barbara Ehrenreich to discuss the recently released and controversial study on women’s happiness, which I covered here.) Another blog, Republicans for Rape, has cropped up to call out these so-called public servants, along with other “pro-rape” proselytizers like Phyllis Schafly, Sarah Palin, The Heritage Foundation, and more.

“Yeah, just a thought,” Stewart quipped in response to the allegation that the amendment politically targeted Halliburton, “if to protect Halliburton you have to side against rape victims, you might want to rethink your allegiances.”

As Stewart also noted, a large part of the Franken amendment’s newsworthiness was the 30 Republican senators—all white, all male, no surprises—who unsuccessfully opposed its passage.

“If ever there was a time for the unanimous passing of an amendment, the Franken-anti-government-contractor-rape-legislation-liability bill would seem to be that,” Stewart chastised the naysayers, eliciting nervous laughter from the live studio audience.

Yet its passing was not unanimous, because these 30 senators seem to think that legislating an issue such as this infringes on the rights of private corporations. Like Halliburton, of all corporations. Sigh.

More recently, the beating of Jack Price, an openly gay New Yorker who was viciously beaten and robbed by two attackers on his way home, has risen to the top of the mainstream news cycle.

Price’s attackers claim that their victim “came onto them”, allegedly even being so bold as to blow them a kiss as he passed, and thus deserved the hate-fueled attack.

The justification Jack Price’s assailants used is the same one rapists have been using to recuse themselves of responsibility for their sexual aggression for centuries: she was asking for it. She came on to me. She dressed easy. She blew me a kiss. She wanted it. She asked for it.

Oh, and guess what:

"KBR has sought to discredit Jones's account by saying she was seen drinking and flirting with a firefighter before leaving the gathering with him, and that the man claims to have had consensual sex with her. The firm denies that Jones was held prisoner, but not that her injuries indicated serious sexual assault." (from the UK Guardian)

In 1999, the late Senator Ted Kennedy spoke at the Senate Judiciary hearing on the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, which dealt with hate crime legislation. He extrapolated:

“What we’re really talking about are these types of crime that are so horrific in terms of the nature, are really not just directed at an individual, but really are directed at a whole community, and really the society…. this doesn’t apply to every rape case. You’ve got to be able to demonstrate that this is a mind set that individuals, in terms of individuals who are going to have, on the basis of race or in terms of sexual orientation or in terms of whatever these criteria, that, this was described earlier in an earlier comment today as sort of domestic, as a modern lynching of a fellow American citizen.”

Read more at Concerned Women for America, and ponder the complexities of prioritizing victims of hate crimes over victims of “ordinary” violent crimes, but riddle me this: if a woman like Jamie Leigh Jones is outnumbered by men in her workplace, and if she, and none of the men, is sexually compromised by the men who outnumber her, are we supposed to accept that this was not a hate crime—in other words, not a crime bolstered by hatred of women as a population—because there was only one of her? How does this level with the fact that over 600 women in the U.S. alone are raped every day? How, then, is rape not a crime directed at a population at large?

Moreover, if Jamie Leigh Jones was a gay man who had been beaten and locked in a shipping container, would her case be prosecuted as a hate crime—if, that is, the fine print in her contract allowed her to prosecute? What if she was a black man? Or a black woman?

A 1990 study of the motivations behind rape found the following primary three:

“The power rapist tries to intimidate his victims in order to make up for self-perceived feelings of personal or sexual inadequacy. This group made up 55% of the sample that was studied. The anger rapist finds the victim to be an easy target for release of his general anger toward women. This group made up 40% of the sample studied. The sadistic rapist is aroused by inflicting pain on the victim and usually tortures or mutilates her. This group only made up 5% of the sample studied. The findings in the study supported the idea that rape is more about power and violence than sex.”

So, we contextualize, about 55% men rape because they are threatened by women’s power, about 40% rape because they are angry at women for any variety of reasons, and 5% rape because they actually get off on injuring women.

How do these motivations differ from those of Daniel Rodriguez and Daniel Aleman, Price’s attackers? Did they assault him because they wanted to keep him in his place, because they were angry at him or the community he represented, or because the act of injuring him aroused them? None seems so implausible.

And did Jones’ coworkers feel they needed to assert their power over her? Did they need to prove that they were her professional superiors, sexually? Did they just get off on hurting her? Even though Jack Price was not sexually violated, the crime committed against him was sexually motivated, motivated by a hatred for his sexuality, just as the one committed against Jamie Leigh Jones was. Yet paradoxically, one crime is treated as a higher priority than the other, a more heinous and hateful crime, and until Sen. Franken spoke out about this hypocrisy, one survivor was prevented from suing her attackers.

It’s hard to measure motivations, and harder to legislate punishment for those motivations. But regardless of political quibblings, can’t we agree that rape affects all of us personally, men and women, black, white, and brown? Can we not agree that rape, as a crime against one and all women, denigrates gender relations, race relations, and human relations? The fact is this: whether you know it or not, you know someone that has been raped. And no matter how it’s legislated, it’s hateful.