(NOTE: "Rape" here is defined as the non-consensual penetration of any orifice with any object and/or body part.)
If you've been following the news lately, you might be familiar with the Steubenville rape case. Briefly:
*Two teenage boys in Ohio digitally raped and sexually assaulted a girl.
*There were many witnesses, some of whom later laughed and joked about it. If you think you can stomach a horrifying video of that sort of douchebaggery, you can find it here.
*The girl, at the time, was very drunk, to the point of immobility.
*The offenders, Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays, were convicted and sentenced to one and two years in juvenile detention, respectively.
This, unfortunately, is not a unique situation. Many, many women and girls have been subjected to similar situations. And it is specifically for that reason--that it is a horrifically common occurrence--that the response from adults and authorities in Steubenville and from people around the world via media coverage and internet commentary is so disturbing.
Locally, football coach Reno Saccoccia knew about the rape and allegedly joked about it with Mays. He is now being investigated for his implicit involvement via his failure to do anything about it once he heard about the crime (though many members of the Steubenville community are rallying in his support, saying he's not responsible for the actions of his teammates.) Like the rape itself, this sort of perpetrator protection is unfortunately common.
On a broader level, once the case got the attention of news media, it became clear that the sympathy being extended to the rapists and the shame and doubt being stacked on the survivor had only just begun. News coverage focused primarily on what was to become of the rapists as they faced the consequences for...you know, raping . There were repeated shots of the two of them crying as they were sentenced, and much talk about how their promising football careers would be cut short. The main concern of the media seemed to be the rapists and the blight the trial would put on the rest of their lives, rather than how their actions will effect the life of the girl they fucking raped. The "reporting" generally seemed to be doing everything it could to excuse the perpetrators from blame, even going as far as to say that as adolescents, their brains aren't fully formed yet---so come on, boys will be boys, right? I mean it's a shame she got raped (though, as I'll discuss further, lots of folks don't think it's such a shame at all), but come on, isn't she being a little selfish here, ruining these boys lives by getting raped by them?
Those sorts of apologetics are the the worst type of journalistic irresponsibility and are certainly part of a culture that condones rape (or, as it has been aptly called, a rape culture.) The rape culture really became evident, however, with the backlash the (thankfully anonymous) survivor faced via social media and the internet. The absolute vitriol with which she was treated is astounding and really just absolutely nauseating. Here are some choice examples from the Twitterverse, courtesy of Buzzfeed:
There was also a good deal of sympathy for the rapists, ranging from mournful concern to straight up indignant anger, and judgement toward the survivor for "ruining their lives" by getting raped in the first place and then having the audacity to hold her rapists responsible.
The violent language and the disgusting bullying of a rape survivor is unbelievably horrible. There's nothing that can be said further about that: it's just horrible. However, the more subtle victim-blaming was perhaps even more frightening It is evidence of the truly pervasive, insidious nature of a rape culture. You don't have to be the guy calling 16 year old rape victims sluts and bitches to participate in our rape culture. You can be much more subtle. Take, for instance, the people who decided to focus on the fact that she was drunk, and that she should therefore be held responsible for what happened to her. A few choice examples here:
The notion that a woman is "asking" to get raped by getting drunk around men is all too familiar and all too dangerous. Women who are raped while intoxicated are frequently told that they might not remember it correctly, or that they should have known better than to put themselves in that situation and therefore got what was coming to them.
Let me be clear. There is never a situation in which someone is "asking" to be raped. No matter what she's wearing, or where she is, or who she's around, or how many people she's had sex with, or even what she has consumed, there is no such thing as "asking" to be raped. Rape is, by definition, the violation of consent. Attempting to assign responsibility for a rape to a rape survivor rather than a rapist is condoning the rape , no matter how you say it, no matter what your intentions are. It is perpetuating a rape culture.
When I saw the Buzzfeed article (titled "23 People Who Think The Steubenville Rape Victim Is To Blame"), I decided to post it on my Facebook wall because I felt like it was important for people to see. What happened afterward was a surprising reminder that the people shaming the Steubenville rape survivor are not just someplace else in the bowels of the internet. They are, in fact, right at my digital front door.
Like most people, I am Facebook friends with a crazily all-over-the-place group of people I have accumulated over the years, from various contexts and times in my life. I am, for lack of a better word, very liberal politically and socially, and many of my Facebook friends (or at least the ones I talk to) tend to view the world similarly. Some of them do not, and I am grateful for the gift and opportunities they grant me in being able to have a dialogue with people who believe different things than I do. Once in awhile, I'll get someone refuse to be civil and/or use oppressive language and I decide to remove them from a thread, but usually I have been able to foster some really useful dialogue through my Facebook between people who would otherwise not have gotten a different perspective on whatever we're discussing.
Then I posted this article.
As I said before, I am all about dialogue. If someone has an ideological point that differs from mine, I am totally down to talk it out. I may not change my mind or change the other person's mind, but I think understanding a view that isn't your own is useful (even if you don't agree with it). My tolerance cuts right the fuck out when someone insists on having a point of view that is oppressive or that propagates oppression, and then insists that I should hold that view as well.
Around ten minutes after I posted the article, someone I know from way back when (let us call him Apologist Stubborn & Stupid, or ASS for short) decides to post this little gem: "That girl needs to control her drinking. Those guys need to learn to put someone to bed without raping them. Everyone in the world is fucked up."
When I pointed out that her drinking is irrelevant to her rape, he persisted, saying that her problem is abusing alcohol and their problem is rape, and that "they should both be ashamed."
Don't get me wrong. What he said was not as blatantly awful as what many other people have said, and he did have the decency to admit that yes, it was wrong of the rapists to rape her. However, when I kept trying to explain that he was shifting blame onto the survivor and equating being drunk with being a rapist, he stubbornly persisted. According to this guy, she should be tried for her underage drinking, and should be very ashamed of her "alcoholism" (which, by the way, is not something you can confer from one night having drank too much). He did not come out and say "she deserved it." He did not call her a slut or bemoan the fate of the poor gallant football stars. However, he was joining the chorus of Twitter and the general tone of a rape culture in assigning responsibility to a rape victim for her rape.
I know this guy. I've seen him drink to excess and encourage drinking to excess many times (both while he was of age and while he was underage.) Not once have I heard him so vehemently rally against the apparently abhorrent crime of drinking underage, which led me to believe that his argument against her had much more to do with her getting raped than it did with her getting drunk. And eventually, as usually happens with people who have pretty thinly veiled underlying hatreds, the truth bubbled up to the surface. In the same breath, he says that he is in no way condoning rape, but also that she was participating in a criminal act just like the rapists were participating in a criminal act, and that had she had not decided to be drunk, she would not have been raped.
This may seem like an over-reaction to some, but it's exactly that kind of subtle problematic rationale that really keeps the rape culture intact. Not everybody is going to be okay with the people calling this girl a slut who deserved to be rape point blank, but lots of people will buy into the idea that a woman is at least partially responsible for getting raped (an act in which she had NO GODDAMNED CONSENT OR VOLITION) if she falls into a few societally selected categories: being drunk, having sexual partners, wearing "revealing" clothing, and any other myriad things a lady should apparently know not to do. It seems that people everywhere have their tips for women to do to avoid getting raped, when the list should actually be written for the rapist. And really, it's quite short:
1) DON'T RAPE PEOPLE.
2) REPEAT #1.
There we go. Simple, right?
Anyway, what really struck me about all this is that I usually do not encounter the defense of rape culture from my friends. I have the luxury of having people in my life that recognize the need for anti-oppression work and that believe that all people have the right to basic things at all times--such as, you know, not getting raped. Thankfully, ASS served me up a wake-up call. Rape culture is pervasive and often subtle, and the fight against it begins at home.