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Steubenville and Rape Culture – Why women can’t feel free in Western Societies

When important media outlets such as CNN sympathize openly with the rapists, it is about time we as a society begin to think about what is wrong with us.  That is precisely what occurred recently in the United States with the high-profile Steubenville football rape case. 

Many have asked: Why would those mentally-healthy teenagers do what they did? They are not sociopaths, they are not mentally impaired, they are not soul-less monsters possessed by an evil spirit. They knew exactly what they were doing, they filmed it and they were even joking about it on the Internet. Then why? Why would the community and even the media sympathise with them? And why would society question the victim’s behaviour?

Statistically, 1 in 4 women will be raped at some point in their lives. As Susan Griffin, Pulitzer-nominated author of Rape: the All-American Crime, once said, “women live their lives according to a rape schedule”. Our behaviour is conditioned by the fear of being raped. We choose a safe route to walk back home, we prefer streets with light, we don’t go around on our own just in case, we carry our keys on the way back home so we can use them as a defensive weapon, and we cross the road if we notice unwanted attention. We feel threatened 24/7 and we have been taught to live with it. We try to make sure that we don’t end up being the girl who is raped, that the victim is somebody else, but we don’t try to stop rape. “Rape is a kind of terrorism which severely limits the freedom of women”.

If a woman is raped, the situation tends to be judged according to her prior behaviour. In Steubenville (Ohio), two of the witnesses, former best friends of the victim, explained how “she drank at least four shots of vodka, two beers and some of a slushy mixed with vodka”. She had passed out, she was unconscious and she was sexually assaulted; “She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t talking. She wasn’t participating”, said another of the witnesses.

The girl drank a lot, but there should not be a direct relationship between being drunk and being raped. The fact that she was drunk just made it easier for the rapists to assault her, but was it the cause of the situation? It only takes a reading of the comments on the news about this case to see a culture of victim-blaming.

● ’I think they should go free because the girl doesn’t (sic) even remember what happen… (sic)’
● ‘For the victim’s (sic) mother she need to have a long talk with her daughter about drinking.’
● ‘She wasn’t physically harmed, and she was completely wasted of her own accord. She isn’t some innocent any more than they are.’

The focus here is not the absence of consent, or that she was unconscious, but whether the victim was following the unwritten rules about how a proper lady should behave to remain chaste and pure. Apparently, it is not considered “proper rape” depending on if the victim had been drinking or if she was promiscuous person; in this cases “she had it coming”.

If one is assaulted, society makes sure to project the blame upon the victim (“victim shaming”) by claiming that she seduced the rapist. The idea is that the rapist was sexually-aroused by the victim and he couldn’t control himself. In this case, it is also implied that she is lying about not knowing what happened.

Even the CNN’s headline for the trials is pointing in this direction -’Alleged victim in Steubenville rape case said she woke up naked’. She is an “alleged victim” even if there is evidence from ‘text messages posted to social networking sites that night seemed to brag about the incident, calling the girl “sloppy,” [and] making references to rape’.

This whole perception of reality leads to 3 fallacies: 1) That the whole situation was the victim’s fault; 2) That all men are irrational stupid animals that cannot control their instincts –“boys are boys”; and 3) That the rapists are not to be blamed.

None of these ideas are true.

1) There is no case in which a woman can be blamed for being raped. No means no, no matter the context, the situation, the level of alcohol in her blood, or the girl’s past, present or future behaviour; if she is not in a position to give consent, namely unconscious, one must always assume she doesn’t want to have sex.

2) Assuming that those boys couldn’t control their sexual impulses implies that they cannot live in society, the same way that those who cannot control their violent instincts are imprisoned for everybody else’s safety. Those kids didn’t rape her because they were drunk or because they didn’t know what they were doing. They knew exactly what was happening, and they went on because they expected no retaliation.

3) CNN reported the trial on its main news site with a reporter saying that, ‘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 believe their lives fell apart.’

The reporter goes even further in their pity for the rapists, ‘What’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially? […] The most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. […] That will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Employers, when looking up their background, will see they’re registered sex offender. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet where these things are posted. Neighbors will know they’re a registered sex offender.’

Dear CNN, if somebody doesn’t want to be a registered rapist, they should try not raping. It’s as simple as that.

These comments are nothing but the probe that we live in a culture where sexual assault is acceptable. A woman can never feel the owner of your own body, because one day she might be one of the victims and society, the media and even her own family might blame her for it; we live in a “rape culture”. It’s time to acknowledge that rapists are not the spawn of evil, but our own sons, the result of a society that associates masculinity and power with violence and sexualises women’s bodies, but at the same time teaches them that if they have sex, they are sluts. A society that supports rapist while blaming the victim. One that shows pity for the assaulters and questions the severity of the crime with a ‘boys are boys’.

Addressing rape culture is not easy.  It is more comfortable to call the victims sluts, or to assume that the rapists are innocent creatures that have been tricked into it. But each time we ask about what the victim was doing, we are siding with the rapists. Each time we tell our daughters not to walk on their own but we don’t remind our sons to ask for consent, we are supporting rape culture. It’s about time western societies realise that while we lament other countries’ chauvinist behaviour, we deny ourselves the possibility to evolve by ignoring that we too are a patriarchy. It is easier to think that our decadent society is perfect and that we are beyond those “Third-World-Problems” than to accept that we deal with similar situations. We are better at just one thing, and that is pretending there is no problem.

Photo by Anita Pratanti,licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.