Friday, March 22, 2013

Implications of Steubenville: Talking about Rape Culture

Did you know that every two minutes a person is sexually assaulted in the United States? Or that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime?

If you’ve been living under a rock the past month or so, or just haven’t been paying attention to the news cycle (it happens to the best of us!), and haven’t heard about Steubenville, I would direct you firstly to the Atlantic’s very thorough article that details the entire situation.

Even now that the verdict is in, Steubenville has tremendous implications for how Americans talk about rape amongst themselves, how rape is reported (especially rape committed by acquaintances) and how we deal with changing the perspectives on a culture that allows these crimes to happen in the first place. 

Two thirds of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows and 38 percent are committed by someone close to them. Perhaps it’s not so shocking then that only 54 percent of rapes are reported to the police. Three percent of rapists will spend a day in jail, and so in some ways a guilty (delinquent) verdict, and the notice of a convening of a grand jury, is justice for Jane Doe. 

Perhaps, and this is a very wishful thinking Lauren, this case will open a larger sustained conversation about victims, how we support them and how we can include men in the larger discussion of “don’t rape.”

It’s not constructive to tell victims that it’s their fault they didn’t think quickly enough; they weren’t defensive enough; their skirts were too short; their heels too tall; whatever it was that they were doing “wrong” (conveniently enough, we’re to do these things in an attempt to conform to the ideal of a “perfect woman”).  This implies it was the victim’s fault and if they had learned how to defend themselves in the first place, it wouldn't have happened. The radical idea that yes means yes, and anything less than consent (if they’re passed out, and not saying yes, you should not pursue) is a radical one in a culture that routinely tells us our choices and desires are not as valuable. But still, it must be taught.

Women already live in fear of being attacked, that the guy who follows down the street will attack us, or that the guy at the bar who didn’t get the hint the first time he grabbed at you won’t get it a second time or a third time. We worry that the people making crass remarks will actually follow through with those comments, and are then told that those comments are actually positive attention and we should be so lucky to be receiving it.

These are the contours of what is deemed acceptable behavior, and woe unto the woman who fails to toe these lines. Rape has a purpose, and that is to silence and to shame those who do not follow the rules so explicitly laid out for them. It’s also intellectually lazy at best to assume that men are not able to control their actions, and not rape. It’s insulting to good men that we know to assume that all men in their natural state are rapists. At the end of the discussion, the onus is on men not to rape, and not on women to avoid being raped.

Don’t think it’s possible to unlearn many of the lessons that we’ve been to accept about consent and interpersonal relationships? Canada’s “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign wound up reducing the rate of sexual assaults by 10 percent in Vancouver, and has proven to be successful enough that it’s been made even more inclusive, and includes representation of the LBGT community, acknowledging that sexual violence occurs in all communities. 

I want to tell you I’m sorry for talking about rape culture all day, every day. So, sorry you’re uncomfortable? Sorry you’re not willing to engage in the kinds of conversations that will lead to the changes that will make it possible for me to NOT have to talk about rape culture? I guess I’m saying I’m really not sorry. That my community and I will continue to talk about rape and rape culture until it changes.  

And that’s really my hope for Steubenville: that the rage it generated is sustainable for change and that Jane Doe can move on, and go on to do awesome things.


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