- Category: Feminist Consciousness-Raising
By Kendra Vincent
From NWL News Spring 2013
This past spring, two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio were found guilty of raping a 16- year-old girl during a series of parties. The evidence against them included pictures and video circulated on social media sites, as well as eye-witness testimony from other teens who watched these outrageous acts, but did nothing to stop them.
Steubenville is just up the river from where I grew up. The cult of high school football runs deep in small towns like Steubenville and small West Virginia towns like the ones the victim and I grew up in. When I was in high school, one of my friends was raped at a party by three different football players while she was semi-conscious. She never reported it because she knew her rapists were clean-cut football players who came from “good families” and my friend had a reputation for being trouble, so she blamed herself. I am not surprised by such stories anymore.
In this recent Steubenville case, the hypocrisy and double-standards that exist in our society for women, and especially in rape cases, are so clear. Many have blamed the girl, the victim, for being irresponsible to get drunk enough to pass out, but the boys’ intoxication (especially the boy who posted the Youtube video mocking the rape) is used as an excuse for their actions. The fact that there is evidence of people bragging about it on phones, Facebook, and Twitter shows one of the many maddening issues involved in rape. The kids at these parties did not really take the rape seriously.
As a teacher, I have heard rumors about these kinds of rapes happening at parties with students. Most of the students honestly do not consider rape as rape. Passed out drunk girls seem to fall into the category of fair game because it is somehow their own fault for being in that situation. I have heard students say that the girl will learn her lesson this way; that she deserves it if she is going to act that stupid; and of course, they think that she was asking for it. Also there is something about everyone knowing each other that somehow makes rape not rape. There is this idea that they were all friends, so it was no big deal.
Beyond most students not thinking it is rape, they often think the victim is a “slut.” I have heard multiple times one student calling a girl a slut accompanied by some story about how she had sex with multiple boys at a party, but the story consistently leaves out that the girl was always very intoxicated, and sometimes unconscious.
Rape is about power. Even the threat of rape has an impact on women and girls’ everyday lives. A woman has to think before walking home alone, letting a date pick her up at her house instead of meeting in public, or even deciding to pick up a drink. These are things men never have to think twice about.
I was raped my freshman year of college. I told my friends and my girlfriends rallied around me, but my guy friends took a neutral position. They continued to spend time with my rapist. It was not until two years later that they actually truly believed me and cut ties with him. They finally believed me when several of us who had all been raped by this same guy came forward as a group. My guy friends could no longer ignore me when I had a whole group of women with nothing in common except the same exact experience, supporting me.
How many women have to be raped before we are believed? In my case, it was eight.
The university received the first reports of rape and stalking at the very beginning of the school year. The woman was told they had no evidence and couldn’t do anything about it. The university agreed to keep a file on the rapist and transferred him to a new dorm, mine. Eventually, the university decided they had “enough” women with similar stories pressuring them to move forward. They held an internal hearing. The women and the rapist were offered representation from the school. The rapist refused representation so he would be allowed to question each of his victims while testifying. Yes, the university allowed my rapist to question me about the rape that he committed.
We successfully had the rapist expelled from school as a danger to students and found out he had quietly been kicked out of a previous school for rape as well. In that case, a Dean had covered up the rape of his daughter, thinking he was protecting her, no doubt focusing on ideas of shame and guilt instead of justice, and obviously, not thinking about sending the predator out into the world to attack other women. The school sent his file to the police department, but no criminal charges were ever filed.
Men rape because our justice system allows them to — even protects them; and because other men stand with them in solidarity, rather than standing with us. In Steubenville, there are so many adults rallying around the criminals. The Ohio Chapter of the National Organization for Women called on the attorney general to look at the role of the coaches and school personnel who gave the boys the belief that what they did was okay, or excusable. As of March 2013, only two boys had been arrested even though the girl was dragged unconscious to party after party and assaulted multiple times. And the sheriff didn’t make any arrests until the hacker activist group, Anonymous, exposed facts and rapists’ names on the internet leading to massive rallies outside the courtroom. (For more on the incredible failure of the justice system for women in rape cases and how male supremacist solidarity backs individual men up, see the Justice for Women Now Organizing Packet.)
There is no doubt that the protest and national attention this case received is why two boys were arrested at all. We need more of that to make real change. You can see the impact that this collective and public action had in India where a woman who was raped and beaten by many men on a bus and eventually died sparked huge protests around the country. The mass outpouring of women in the street demanding justice put politicians on notice and forced them to discuss problems in the justice system and society. In fact, the international attention and consciousness generated by the protests in India are the likely reason we have seen more outrage in the Steubenville case.
However, when rape charges are taken seriously, it’s often for racist reasons. Men of color are often wrongly convicted or over-punished if the victim is white. A recent documentary illustrating the injustice of racist mishandling of rape cases in “The Central Park Five,” when five black men spent years behind bars for a rape they did not commit, is only the most recent example. In these cases, it’s still not about the woman at all — her rights, her pain — but about white men asserting a “claim” over white women, while at the same time seeking to imprison men of color. As the “Central Park Five” case shows, often the wrong people are locked up while the actual rapist is still free to rape more women. Women — both white and of color — don’t get justice from these hasty, racist practices.
Before the Steubenville trial had started, the foster parents of one of the Steubenville rapists said on the Today Show that they never asked their son what happened because it didn’t matter — they love him no matter what. But what happened does matter.
It matters that men rape women and girls (and sometimes men and boys). It matters that most of the crimes are never reported, that most of the rapists are never prosecuted and when they are, they are often let off the hook. It matters that young adults have a skewed idea of what constitutes rape and what does not. It matters that we have elected representatives who have similar skewed beliefs when it comes to rape and what that means for women. It matters that women are told it is our job to prevent our rapes; that it is our responsibility to not get too drunk; not to walk home alone; to be careful late at night; and to watch what we wear.
There are no rape-able offenses. Instead of blaming women and covering up rape when it happens, why aren’t these people instead calling on men to prevent rape by not raping women, and making sure there are consequences if they do?