(We asked brand new blogger Marina to talk about what she thought was the most important topic in 2011, and why. Here’s what she had to say!)
Rape culture is ever present in our society. We have created it and sustained it, and it is plastered into our lives repeatedly by the people around us, the media, and our courts. 2011 was no exception to the perpetuation of rape culture as demonstrated by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, the Penn State scandal, and a new pop-cultural icon.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn had one of the most powerful positions in, arguably, the world. He was arrested on May 14, 2011 and charged with several first-degree felony counts, notably a criminal sex act, attempted rape and sexual abuse when hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo reported that he had tried to rape her. When novelist Tristane Banon came forward with an accusation of sexual assault it gave Mr. Strauss-Kahn a history of sexual assault. Then, DNA evidence of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s was found on Ms. Diallo’s work clothes, making the case certainly not in his favor. The questions at the beginning of the scandal were ‘how could we let a person like this have such power?’ How could Mr. Strauss-Kahn call rape merely “an error” and “a moral failure he would regret?”
But as the case was further investigated, we forgot those questions because Ms. Diallo seemed less and less credible based on the lies she had told officials. The forensic evidence was ambiguous and Mr. Strauss-Kahn had resigned from his position at the I.M.F. yet maintained his innocence in the face of criminal charges. Ms. Diallo’s case deteriorated as the “prosecutors no longer believed much of what she had told them about the circumstances or about herself.”
Ms. Diallo’s credibility issues ended the case, and all criminal charges were dismissed from Mr. Strauss-Kahn. This was not the ending everyone was expecting. Not only does this add to the stigma that women cry rape to attend to a personal agenda, but it allows Mr. Strauss-Kahn a literal ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card because while in “[that] encounter, there was no act of aggression or violence,” he does not state that there was no advancement, nor approval of his actions in the encounter. On the contrary he admits “to having made a pass at her and trying to kiss her.” This can be assault depending on the manner it was done in and received in, and that is determined by the victim, who was denounced.
And of course, the Penn State scandal cannot be left out. It is the worst fear of every person, a trusting figure who has contributed countless hours and monetary donations to create a safe space for foster children, turns out to be a child molester. Jerry Sandusky, former assistant coach of the Pennsylvania State University football team was charged with 40 counts of sex crimes involving eight boys, occurring between 1994 and 2009. This would of course be awful enough on its own, however we then discovered that head coach Joe Paterno had knowledge of Sandusky raping a 10 year old boy on the Penn State premises via graduate assistant Mike McQueary, and Paterno did not report to the police.
The issues at play are numerous: Penn State actively employed a child molester and rapist and when he was found out, the police were not notified. These issues have been discussed in a wide array of media, but I think there are other angles to consider. I completely agree that Paterno, and for that matter McQueary, were in the wrong for not intervening on moral grounds and reporting to the police, and I believe this was handled effectively by the courts, albeit 15 years too late. The nagging thing about the Penn State scandal for me is that if it had been young women that Sandusky was abusing, how it was handled would have been completely different.
The gender, social class and history of the victim often (and quite unfortunately) determines how we treat the case and those involved. If it is a young woman and she is wearing scandalous clothing, and/or she is drunk at 3 a.m., and/or she is walking alone; she should have known not to wear that dress, drink at all, or walk by herself – she was asking for it. The outcome for a sexual abuse case is far more likely to take on a victim blaming stance if it has one of those variables in it.
For instance the Marquette University freshman who was under the influence of alcohol at a Halloween party in 2010, she was sexually abused by several male athletes in one room. She reported the crime immediately. Her allegations were not alone; two other women accused Marquette athletes of sexual attacks. University officials made a non-specific statement that all the athletes charged were punished for disregarding the student code of conduct however; none of the players were restricted from playing on their sports teams due to the sexual assault charges. A lawyer for one of the women said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that “Marquette administrators clearly thought the law was that you protect your [athletes] if they’re having a good year.”
While some of this ‘protect the good thing you have going’ mentality may have been evident in the Penn State scandal, there is no victim blaming at all (thankfully.) It is infuriating to me that it takes a huge scandal spanning fifteen years, of a high profile assistant coach of a prominent university team abusing young boys for us to treat the victims like victims and the case surrounding them accordingly.
The media has moved all of these stories along, and while the media can be included as part of the rape culture problem, one movie this year has put out a better message. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was released during the holiday season this year. It is predominately a mystery but has the backdrop of libel and scandal, love, and a girl with a curious history. It is a great story and it is put into film immaculately.
The heroine of the story is Lisbeth, an incredibly smart and resourceful young woman. She is horrifically raped by her caretaker, in a scene that is depicted in a starkly realistic way, causing discomfort for the audience. This is one of the few cases where rape or violence is not glamorized, as was intended by the author. Steig Larsson was motivated in part to write these novels as “his way of apologizing” to a woman he saw gang raped by his friends and he did not intervene. According to Larsson’s longtime friend Kurdo Baski, “[Larsson] was too young, too insecure. It was inevitable that he would realize afterwards that he could have acted and possibly prevented the rape.” This began Larsson’s real-life commitment to social justice.
His books are now becoming movies and are more popular than ever. The main recurring theme in the series shares the title of the Swedish version of the first book and film: “Men Who Hate Women.” With the success of his writing and the newfound success of the movie I can only hope that readers and viewers see the real message that Larsson is trying to send: that rape is a dehumanizing form of control which renders the victim powerless, and that it is a real problem in our society.