As usual, when something is in the news and it’s incendiary, my Facebook wall lights up like a Christmas tree. Most recently, its been lit up with various posts about the Steubenville rape case.
Unless you live under a rock or have been off the grid recently, here’s the basic rundown: Teens all go to a party. Some get drunk. Two sexually assault a girl. She is too drunk/passed out to remember. At some point, one teen makes the brilliant jesting statement that she was “so raped!” Awesome! Oh, and they took some pictures/video while it happened, and some other teens that actually had souls were bothered and actually talked about it, and then a person called “Anonymous” started blowing up the interwebs with relevant information.
And then, the entire town went ape-sh*t and half of them rallied to support these two “football stars” (does that really still matter?!) and the other half pretty much came out of their stupor to rightly ask, WTF?!
(In case you couldn’t tell, I fall firmly into the WTF category).
Here’s the deal. We live in an apologetic rape culture. Don’t tell me we don’t. No, it’s not as bad here in the U.S. as it is in a lot of places. I get that. But that’s not good enough. Let me clarify – Women think about ‘not getting raped’ a whole hell of a lot. That’s a sad and jaded statement, but I bet if you are a woman, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Late at night, when I walk on the street, I know exactly who is in front of, and behind me. (Ever Mainard does just about the funniest/saddest comedy bit I have ever seen on this subject). I always know what I’m wearing and if it could be perceived as ‘slutty’ or ‘asking for it.’ When I’m at a bar, I watch my drink, and if I leave it for a few minutes, I don’t pick it back up. Ever.
Do I need to do those things? Honestly, I’d like to say no, but then another Steubenville happens, and as much as I’d like to think my actions verge on paranoia, my anecdotal experience of being a woman, and being friends with many women, tells me, firmly, it’s not. We live in a hopelessly apologetic rape culture that claims the lines around rape and consent are fuzzy, and that ‘real’ rape happens in dark and scary alleys, and while a woman might not have said yes, she probably also didn’t say no.
Right now, there is a petition up at Change.org asking CNN to apologize for its recent coverage of the case. It was put up because, in a few recent broadcasts, three different news anchors postulated and waxed poetic about how these young men’s lives were now ruined – but completely failed to mention the victim. Are we seriously so deeply enmeshed in a culture of rape apology that we forgot that the girl, aside from drinking too much, did nothing wrong? Am I really supposed to feel bad that two 16-year-old boys didn’t really know that in a deep and fundamental way, what they were doing was completely f-ed up? What does it say about our society that our media has jumped to defend the ‘poor boys’ and largely failed to mention the real victim in this case?
Seriously, all I can think, and all the words I have in me, can be summarized in one short way – WTF?!
Jezebel had a good read on this. Here is what was said in some recent CNN coverage:
I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures — star football players, very good students — literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart…when that sentence came down, [Ma’lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney…He said to him, ‘My life is over. No one is going to want me now.’ Very serious crime here, both found guilty of raping the sixteen-year-old girl at a series of parties back in August. Alcohol fueled parties; alcohol is a huge part of this.
Here is what Jezebel writer’s thought should have been said:
Incredibly difficult to watch what happened; these two young rapists that had such promising futures — star football players, very good students, rapists — literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart because they brutally raped a girl…when that sentence came down, rapist [Ma’lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney…the rapist said to him, ‘My life is over. No one is going to want me now.’ Very serious crime here, both found guilty of raping the sixteen-year-old girl at a series of parties back in August. Alcohol fueled parties; alcohol is a huge part of this, and I’m saying this right now to explain away rape, which is unacceptable.
Yep. That’s about right.
If you want to read an article that actually addresses a similar case, and yes, its impacts on the perpetrator, check out this one by brilliant sports writer Gary Smith. It was published in Sports Illustrated in 1996, but sticks with me today. It’s the only one I’ve ever read that convinced me a kid convicted of assault felt real remorse for his actions, and that he legitimately deserved a second chance.
Look, I know I’m one of thousands of angry voices flitting through the ether around this case, but I simply can’t comprehend the basic tone of the dialogue that has been so pervasive. (Not that it surprises me). When the vast majority of what I read mentions ‘the promising futures’ held by these two boys, but fails to mention the shame, destruction and pain brought onto this girl, then its time for a serious look at the underlying social mores in this country that have so deeply twisted this conversation.