Friday, March 22, 2013

Reactions to the Steubenville Rape Case

It seems like the Steubenville case is on everyone’s mind this week. Whether they’re victim blaming, criticizing media coverage, acknowledging rape culture, or examining the effects of social media on the case, Steubenville has been everywhere.

This case upsets me. A lot. I’ve been following it since it came onto my feminist radar months ago. I’m familiar with the circumstances of the rape. Knowing all of this information for months, I was surprised by how hard the court’s decision really hit me. Even worse, how horrible the news coverage and social media reactions to the convictions were.

My individual perspective on this case and the reactions to the verdicts is unique. I am not trying to speak for any group; I am trying to speak for myself. I see this case through many lenses: as a feminist, as a woman, as a survivor, and as a human being.

All week long I have been reading everything I can find about the case (which probably isn’t helpful at all). I’ve lost my appetite, I’ve wanted to scream out of frustration, I’ve talked about it to people who refuse to understand, I’ve managed to carry on with my usual schedule but have come home drained and exhausted every day, and I’ve commiserated with others who are as upset as I am. All along I have been trying to put my finger on exactly why it upsets me this much. Yes, it brought back terrible memories and feelings from my past. But I’ve been reminded of these before in my life. That wasn’t the problem.

I think that what makes me so distraught about the coverage of this case is that it feels like a sharp kick to the gut, a wake-up call from the pleasant idea that rape culture is not that powerful and that society is not that misogynistic. I know we don’t live in a world of gender equality, far from it, but when I first heard about this case I thought there was no way that it could hold up in court, surely the evidence was so obvious and overwhelming that the rapists would take a plea bargain.

The picture of the survivor unconscious, being held by all limbs like a dead body, has made its way around the internet. It was obvious that she was in no place to consent, she was completely unresponsive. It was not a case of sloppy drunk decisions or misunderstood signals. There were no signals to be misunderstood, she was unconscious. Surely she was not to blame for what these young men did to her.

Instead, when this young woman came forward to seek justice against her attackers, people blamed her. Lots of people blamed her for putting herself in that position in the first place, drunk and at a party with football players. Some people even went so far to say that she made the decision to go to the party knowing that she was expected to put out, the young men just took what they deserved. Or that the perpetrators just did what anyone else in their situation would have done. Or that by drinking so much that she passed out, she was consenting to sexual activity. Even more upsetting, women were some of the most critical of the victim and the punishment for the rapists.

So what does it all mean?

Our society teaches us that men are aggressive, violent, uncontrollable, sexual beings. This means that when the rapists raped this young woman, they were just doing what anyone else would have done under the circumstances.

Our society teaches us that men should be callous, not empathetic. This means that when other young men saw the rapists sexually assaulting the survivor, they not only kept quiet but they joked about it and recorded it.

Our society teaches us that women line up along a virgin/whore dichotomy, that “good girls” stay home on Friday nights, don’t drink alcohol, don’t hang out in mixed-gender social groups, don’t dress in revealing clothes, and don’t flirt. And if girls are doing these things, then they are whores who were asking for it. This means that the young men thought they were only taking what was theirs.

Our society teaches us not to talk about sex and not to talk about rape. This means that a witness didn’t think penetration without consent was rape because the survivor didn’t look like she was violently fighting back and the rapists didn’t look like they were using brute force.

Our society teaches us that women are the gatekeepers of sex. This means that when this young women let her guard down by consuming alcohol, she was expecting to be raped.

Our society teaches us that women are vindictive, and that when their reputations are tarnished they will lie, manipulate people, and fabricate evidence to get back at someone. This means that way too many people accused the survivor of “crying rape” after an embarrassing night, completely discrediting her experience of RAPE. (While discussing the topic with others this week, the “false accusation for revenge/reputation recovery” argument was given to me a LOT, despite the evidence that shows false accusations are only 2%-8% and not much higher than false accusation across all types of crime.)

So what can we do?

TALK ABOUT IT. Call out instances rape culture. Explain rape culture to people who don’t quite get it. Educate people about what is/isn’t consent. Organize to ensure that comprehensive sex education which includes consent education is being taught in your local public schools. Don’t make rape jokes and don’t play along with other people’s rape jokes. If you see a young woman who is too intoxicated, help her get to safety. Don’t make excuses for rapists.

Note: I mentioned that I've read everything I could find about the case this week, which is basically true. That being said, this blog is my general reaction to it all, which references some of the following links and/or reacts to some of the following links:
So you're tired of hearing about rape culture? aka the best explanation of rape cul
ture I have ever read. highly recommended!
Why I won't post your comments about false rape accusations, a great resource for combatting why the false rape accusation argument is horrible AND not even true
Teacher's Blog Post: Teaching How Not to Rape
Feminist Cartoon About Rape Culture aka How I've felt ALL WEEK LONG.
Feministing: Steubenville teens are found guilty but rape culture remains alive and well

HuffPost: Sexual Assault and Rape Culture are LGBTQ Issues
**Trigger Warning** Public Shaming Tumblr full of victim blaming and rape culture - watch out, it is really, really horrible.

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