[This is a follow-up piece to the article I posted yesterday reacting to the media coverage of the Steubenville rape case. I had some more thoughts that I wanted to clarify and expand on, because I feel very strongly that they are important.]
There is now a Change.org petition responding to CNN’s coverage, but I am uncomfortable with the wording. Specifically, the part where they describe the two rapists as “vicious and cruel criminals.” Not because the label is inaccurate, but because it implied that these boys were somehow “bad apples,” inherently corrupt and unlike decent human beings. That’s letting ourselves off the hook.
To be clear – I am not condoning or excusing or apologizing for the actions of the Steubenville rapists. What these boys did was vicious, and cruel, and a crime. They raped a girl, repeatedly. They demonstrated a horrifying lack of empathy, compassion, and common decency. And they should be punished, severely, for their actions.
But describing them as inherently, abnormally evil is letting the rest of us off the hook – because when they assaulted their victim, they weren’t acting outside the bounds of the society they had been raised in. That WE had raised them in.
They were acting out the truths they had been taught, by every media company, by churches, by courts of law, by their peers.
The truth that women’s bodies belong to men, that they are sexual objects who exist for men’s pleasure and consumption. That “real men” take what they want, especially when it comes to women’s bodies. That it’s not rape unless the woman is screaming “no” and fighting hard enough to have blood under her fingernails.
That the Steubenville rapists are products of their culture does not excuse them for their horrific actions. That we are products of our culture does not excuse us for asking “Were you drunk?” or “What were you wearing?” when a friend tells us she was raped. Any more than it excuses us for letting rape jokes slide because we don’t want to create an awkward moment, or for not checking in when we see a drunk girl being “helped” to a dark corner by someone she doesn’t know.
Yes, I think CNN should do a segment on rape. They should talk about, at length, the true statistics surrounding rape. They should talk about how rapists can be well-regarded members of the community, not just strangers in the shadows – so that young men like these don’t think that nothing they could do is “really rape.”
More importantly, they should talk about rape culture. They should talk about what consent really is – a process, an agreement that must be given over and over, that can not be given while too drunk to walk. And they should talk about how any sexual act in the absence of consent is rape.
That’s going to be uncomfortable for a lot of people.
Many people, many who consider themselves good, who by all accounts are following the unspoken contract of our society, have committed rape. Many of those people are in positions of power. Unraveling rape culture requires them to confront that – and they’re going to fight it.
So let’s fight back. Let’s fight back with our words, let’s fight back with our facts, let’s fight back with the strength of our numbers. Let’s fight back with reason and passion and determination. Because there is so much at stake.
As the Change.org position so rightly points out, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. And 97% of those assailants will never spend a day in jail – because rape culture, with all of its victim blaming, slut shaming and rape apologizing, permeates every level of our justice system.
And the 200,000 people who will be sexually assaulted every year are not the only victims of rape culture. In a lesser but undeniable way, every woman who feels afraid to walk alone at night (hint: that’s all of us) is a victim of rape culture. So is every girl who is told she is “asking for it” by wearing a skirt or a tank top or god forbid, yoga pants. So (in an even lesser, twisted, but very real way) are the Steubenville rapists, who, although they knew their behavior was wrong, were unable to identify it as rape.
We are all victims of rape culture. And it’s time to fight back.