What They Said…
I’ve come across so many wonderful articles over the past few weeks in the wake of the Steubenville Rape Trial. Here is a sampling of those articles with links back. Please read through them. They’ve all said these things so much better than I have the energy to at the moment.
So, how to not be Trent Mays and get locked up:
First, Trent Mays isn’t a good guy who gave in to temptation to get off. What they did, over the course of a few hours, was a long series of doing stuff to that girl and then documenting it in pictures and video, not really for their own sexual satisfaction, but because they thought that humiliating her in sexual ways when she was too out of it to do anything about it was funny. You can read more here.
Second, most rapes are not rapes committed by strangers. Maybe 80% or 85% of rapes are by someone the victim knows. Most of them don’t involve any actual force; they involve alcohol, and the victim is either passed out or too drunk to know what’s happening. Sometimes other drugs are involved and sometimes the victim gets slipped a drug they didn’t mean to take, but mostly, the real “date rape drunk” is plain old alcohol. Why? Well, mostly because guys who rape girls who are drunk usually get away with it. Her memory is usually impaired, prosecutors and juries look down on her for being drunk, and she may be too embarrassed to even tell anyone. So guys who want to rape know what to look for. And there are guys who like to rape. In fact, most rapes are not about confusion or miscommunication, they are planned by a small percentage of guys who are complete dicks, and like to take advantage of drunk girls, by which I mean, to rape them. You can read more here, here and here.
Okay, so are you ready for the foolproof plan not to get charged with rape?
One thing we say sometimes, those of us who talk about Yes Means Yes, and enthusiastic consent or affirmative consent, is who wants to have sex with someone who isn’t enthusiastically participating? The implied answer is, “nobody!”
But that’s not a complete answer. The truth is that some people do want sex with someone who isn’t participating – who is actively resisting, or who is too out of it to respond. And who those people are tell us a lot about rape and why it happens. In particular, it tells us a lot about gang rape and why and how it happens.
I’ve been struck by the similarities between this case and both the Glen Ridge, New Jersey rape in 1989 and the Haidl case in Corona Del Mar, California in 2002. All three produced convictions, all three involved high school boys, several of them and one female victim, and all three involved extremely privileged boys — in Steubenville and Glen Ridge, football players, and in Corona Del Mar, a really rich local politico’s kid.
One other thing they have in common: nothing about them seemed like they were oriented around physical sexual stimulation for the boys. The key, driving dynamic was a shared group experience of sexual humiliation of the girl.
With the verdict in on the Steubenville rape, we are now confronted with yet another case involving two 13-year-old girls in Torrington, Conn., who say they were sexually assaulted by three young men. Presumably, the media will say these boys had a “bright future” ahead of them just as it said of the Steubenville boys. And just as in Steubenville, I expect the mainstream media to play the same game it always does—ignoring the victim and focusing entirely on how this will impact the lives of the rapists.
I think it’s time we talk about not just what went wrong, but what needs to happen differently from now on. What needs to happen to not only help survivors, but to prevent rape in the short-term. Starting yesterday.
The fourth branch of the government, aka the media, has a responsibility just as the other three branches to help put an end to the crime of rape. That they’re doing it wrong is evidenced by angry responses to CNN’s rapist-centric coverage of the Steubenville case.
Portraying the perpetrators as sympathetic characters and ignoring the survivor and what she went through is nothing new in the media (neither is having the media re-victimize the survivor). Blaming the victim is par for the course. In the media coverage of rape cases globally, there are the usual caveats of “Don’t get drunk or you’ll get raped.” But the cautionary message is even more insidious than it first appears. This sort of coverage also says to communities and families: “Please tell your kids not to commit rape because it will ruin their lives,” as opposed to “Stop rape from happening because it’s a terrible crime against a human being.”
I realized the assumption that we can’t do something about rape in the short-term was incorrect when I got more vocal about how victim-blaming was wrong. A very close friend of mine called me one day after reading an article on rape I’d posted on Facebook. She told me she had been raped years ago. She cried on the phone; I consoled her. It was my first time finding out about a friend’s rape.
I figured it was just a freak accident, that my other friends were more careful and likely have avoided getting raped—that kind of thing. I was wrong. I got a message from another friend a few weeks later about her rape. Since then, every time I’ve written about rape, I’ve had more friends confess to me that they, too, have been raped.
In just over a year, I’ve lost count of how many people I know who’ve been raped or sexually assaulted. I’ve known these women for years, if not decades, but they only opened up to me after they realized that I would believe them. That I wouldn’t ostracize them. And, most important, that I won’t be blaming them for what happened. Some made a point of explaining to me that the only reason they were telling me was because they were comfortable, knowing they wouldn’t be judged and that I wouldn’t be sympathizing with the perpetrator.
Let me tell you a thing you might not know: the inability to hear rape “jokes” without flashbacks, Hulk rage, and “air quotes” is one of the enduring parting gifts of a rapist.
Here is how this goes:
It is a lovely summer day. You have some beers, and you and some friends are sitting on a front porch in the breeze and the sun, shooting the shit. You start talking about politics, and then the Army. You mention that you have considered joining the Army in the past, but won’t, because you can’t pledge loyalty to an organization that discriminates against gays (a round of agreement ensues, so hugely moral are we), and as a woman, you can’t reasonably aspire to join an organization that is far more likely to brutally rape you (and brutally cover it up) than the general population.
One of your friends says, “But isn’t that actually a benefit of the Army? Hur hur hur.” Oh, how you wish your friend were an ardent feminist, so you could interpret his comment as a dry observation of the brutal truth, framed humorously to prevent suicide all around. But no, you know he is making a funnay, the punchline being you and every woman you know.
Several options flash through your head.
- Say Nothing. Hope the conversation does not continue extolling the virtues of rape, making saying nothing harder. Hate yourself for saying nothing. Notice girl sitting on the porch of the house next to you who has heard what was said. Notice her similar reactions. Hate yourself more for saying nothing, because she has probably been raped, too, because you don’t know any woman who hasn’t. Hate your friend, because he doesn’t know that every woman he knows has been raped. Have minor flashbacks of what was done to you…
There are several excerpts from other blogs on this page, and it would behoove you to read all of them. Here’s one:
The accounts we receive on the Everyday Sexism Project website reveal how heartbreakingly prevalent victim-blaming is. A university student wrote that she receives regular faculty e-mails telling female students “not to go home alone in the darkness.” But “if you ask male students, they don’t even know about the problem…they come up with, ‘She wore a skirt, she asked for it.’”
Another young woman wrote: “I have friends who have been raped and not told anyone because they had passed out drunk and so felt it was there [sic] fault.” Yet another account reads: “I was raped at a party after being drugged… .When I had the courage to tell what happened I was blamed by everyone. I had to do a lot of tests, including HIV and no one supported me. My family and friends abandoned me saying it was all my fault because I acted like a whore.”
These stories go on and on: Strangers judge and blame; family members refuse to believe survivors; survivors blame themselves. This internalized finger-pointing is perhaps the hardest to hear about. In addition to everything else they must bear, victims are forced to carry the heavy burden of self-blame.
Often, they report that this prevents them from telling anybody about what has happened. Social misconceptions about rape and rapists also play a significant role.
One girl described being raped at 14. “Took me years to even label that a rape,” she said. “In my head, it was my fault. And everybody knows that rapists aren’t cute boys, they are shady men hiding in bushes, right?” Another woman reported being told by a nurse, as she had blood tests after being raped, to “be more careful next time.”
We’ve received hundreds of accounts. But almost none report justice, conviction, or even criticism of the perpetrator by the confidant the victim chose to tell.
Despite attempts by the football-proud community to cover up the story, a cell of the hacker collective Anonymous called “KnightSec” unleashed Operation Roll Red Roll, leaking a 12-minute video of the rapists and their friends laughing about their crime, even underscoring the fact that it was a rape as they drunkenly laughed about the unconscious teenager being unable to wake up despite a “wang in the butthole.” Before Anonymous seized the Twitter account of Michael Nodianos, the boy talking in the video, they took a screenshot of him commenting on a picture of the unconscious rape victim by saying, “Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana.”
On March 12, in the midst of the trial, Good Morning America ran a segment called “Steubenville Rape Case: What You Haven’t Heard” that focused entirely on the perspective of the rapists, coming from a storied high school football team, who just happened to rape someone after partying too hard. Their only passing mentions of the victim were intertwined with either how much she was coming on to her rapist at the first party, or how drunk she was as the night went on, and even how gentlemanly her rapist had been when he chivalrously gave his rape victim his coat so she wouldn’t get cold. From the story:
“Several witnesses said that once outside, the girl needed to stop in the street because she was sick again. “She throws up on her blouse and takes her blouse off,” Ma’lik said. “And then she asked for something to drink and I gave her my jacket to cover her up.”
The Good Morning America story capped their account of the lovable, complex, human rapists with a lamenting sentence about how a conviction would ensure “almost certain demise of their dreams of playing football.”
And of course, after the verdict was read, CNN infamously framed their sensationalized coverage with video of the teen rapists crying as they apologized for their crimes, and commentary from two talking heads about how the boys’ lives will never be the same, and how they’ll have the albatross of being labeled as a sex offender for the rest of their lives. CNN pundits had nothing to offer on how being gang-raped while unconscious will undoubtedly scar the 16-year-old victim for life, or how nights like that Aug. 11 in Steubenville happen every day across America, to high school girls, college girls, and adult women alike. The entire sad story of Steubenville reeks of patriarchal culture.
“Ms. Norman” another kid called, “Have you heard about that rape case in Ohio? Those guys got convicted. They have to go to jail. They are going to lose their scholarships. They were going to D-1 schools!”
“Well…”I responded, feeling the heat crawl up my neck, “maybe they are going to jail for rape because THEY ARE RAPISTS!” I yelled those last three words at my kids and watched as some of them blinked in surprise. Apparently, the thought had never occurred to them that these athletes who were convicted of rape, were in fact rapists.
It is a strange thing about looking into the face of a 15-year-old, to really see who they are. You still see the small child that their mother sees. You see the man or woman they will be before they graduate. They are babies whose innocence you want desperately to protect. They are old enough to know better, even if no one has taught them.
I realized then that some of my kids were genuinely confused. “How can she be raped?” they asked, “She wasn’t awake to say no.” These words out of a full fledged adult would have made me furious. I did get a good few minutes in response on victim blaming and why it is so terrible. But out of the face of a kid who still has baby fat, those words just made me sick. My students are still young enough, that mostly they just spout what they have learned, and they have learned that absent a no, the yes is implied.
It is uncomfortable to think that some of the students you still call babies have the potential to be rapists. It is sickening, it is terrifying, but it is true. It is a reality we have to face. My students have lived in a world for fifteen years where the joke “she probably wanted it” isn’t really a joke, they need to unlearn some lessons that no one will admit to teaching them.
Standing in front of my classroom and stating that a woman’s clothing choice is never permission to rape her should not be a radical act. But only a few heads nodded in agreement. Most were stunned, like this was a completely new thought. The follow up questions were terrifying in their earnestness. “Ms. Norman, you mean a woman walking down the street naked is not her inviting sex? How will I know she wants to have sex?” A surprisingly bold voice came out of a girl in the back “You’ll know when she says, you want to have sex?!”
If you want to keep teens from being rapists, you can no longer assume that they know how. You HAVE to talk about it. There is no longer a choice. It is no longer enough to talk to our kids about the mechanics of sex, it probably never was. We have to talk about consent, what it means, and how you are sure you have it. We have to teach clearly and boldly that consent is (in the words of Dianna E. Anderson) an enthusiastic, unequivocal YES!
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~ by omgrey on April 3, 2013.
Posted in Lost in the Aether, Trauma & Recovery
Tags: accidental devotion, consent, enthusiastic consent, huffington post, patriarchy, rape, rape culture, rape survivor, sexual assault, steubenville, teen boys, teenagers, trent mays, yes means yes