Resisting the Silencing of Discussions of Rape Culture: On Deric Lostutter, Steubenville, and Surveillance
Outrage sparked across the feminist and progressive Internet last week when it was revealed that 26-year-old Deric Lostutter, the Kentucky-based hacktivist that spearheaded KnightSec, the subgroup of Anonymous that made a brazen call for justice in the Steubenville case, was raided in April 2013 by the FBI in connection with the hacking of the Steubenville football team’s website, RollRedRoll.com. If convicted, he could face up to ten years in prison, a more extreme sentence than the measly one- and two-year sentences doled out to the Steubenville rapists. That rage also catalyzed into an Ultraviolet petition demanding that the Department of Justice drop their charges against Lostutter.
Deric Lostutter maintains he wasn’t directly connected with the hacking of the website. By then, the power of Anonymous had been unleashed. (One of the advantages of its decentralized nature is the ability to divide their energy across several initiatives.) However, Lostutter was largely responsible for bringing the case to national attention. Based on information he was forwarded by Michelle McKee, Lostutter created the now-infamous video issuing an ultimatum to the guilty members of the football team to step forward before January 1, 2013, threatening to publish their names, addresses, and social security numbers otherwise. The video, which collated documentation from that night, including tweets, Instagram photos, and videos, was picked up by the mainstream media, and its wide circulation sparked national outrage about the case and eventually led to the prosecution of the rapists. The video resonated with many because they clearly demonstrated the collusion of an entire town in protecting the football team’s reputation, no matter how abhorrent their actions. As Gawker writer Adrian Chen observed, “Shadowy hackers threatening the town from cyberspace was an almost too-perfect escalation.”
In an interview with Josh Harkinson, a reporter for Mother Jones, Lostutter states the FBI raid was a deliberate campaign by authority figures in Steubenville who “want to make an example of me, saying, ‘You don’t fucking come after us. Don’t question us.’” His pending prosecution brings up important questions for feminist activism, which increasingly uses the Internet as a tool of mobilization, archivization, and as an awareness-raising tool of how entrenched sexism remains in our culture. (For instance, projects like Mansplained, Hollaback! and the Everyday Sexism Project are great resources illustrating the pervasiveness of rape culture and the devaluation of female judgment and experiences.) Indeed, much of the power of online activism is in its collective nature – by a critical mass of feminists submitting their own stories, they coalesce into one powerful, telling narrative about our cultural priorities. This is a tension Chen articulates in his article as well:
The video wasn’t forensic evidence of a crime, but of the attitude that could allow something like the rape to happen over and over again. When people talk about how Anonymous “exposed” Steubenville, they can’t mean the facts of this case, which were utterly botched by KnightSec and its allies. What they mean is that Anonymous exposed how sexual assault is a bigger issue than bad people doing bad things. That it is enabled and even celebrated by a culture that tells young men it’s OK to laugh off a horrific rape as harmless late-night debauchery, to be Instagrammed and tweeted about, then expects the rest of us to feel bad for the perpetrators when they’re punished.
Being actively silenced is a phenomenon feminist activists on the Internet (as well as those who oppose rape culture, like Lostutter) are all too commonly faced with. Whether via graphic rape threats, hacking personal accounts, or doxxing, which emboldens misogynists to escalate their attacks to phone calls and stalking, the cumulative effect is to force alternative perspectives offline and simultaneously limit the discourses on what is politically possible for marginalized groups. While white male voices speaking about Internet culture would have us believe their experiences on the Internet represent a universalized narrative where everyone’s voices are equally amplified, in actuality, those who critique the dominant culture’s mode of functioning are disproportionately targeted for harassment. In her article for New Statesman, feminist journalist Laurie Penny explicitly links viral rape to a state that actively squelches any attempts to point out its gross inequities. She writes, “This is how the surveillance state works, and it’s also how patriarchy works. The message is: don’t tell. Don’t ever tell. The people who have power, whether that’s the state or the boys on the football team, are allowed to know what you’re up to, constantly, intimately, and they can and will punish you for it, but if you turn the tables and show the world how power is abused, you can expect to be fucked with, and fast.”
Ultimately, the DoJ’s decision to prosecute Lostutter sends a chilling message to both Internet hacktivists and feminists who stood against the injustice wrought in Steubenville and beyond. It suggests that the “correct” cultural response to rape is apathy and inaction. Lostutter, for his part, is continuing to push back against the charges. As of this writing, the defense fund has collected ten percent of its goal of $500,000. Feminist writers and activists on the Internet also realize that the need to carve an alternative narrative where rape culture is always, unmistakably, an outrage, is too urgent and necessary to cease.
A lively, somewhat confusing, conversation about bad and violent rape jokes has taken center stage for some in the comedy community again. The state of this conversation tells me something: a dangerous vacuum of social responsibility exists on a cultural level around sexual assault. Socialized victim blaming along with a lack of understanding of rape culture may help explain how these rape jokes continue to be defended by some comedians and fans alike.
The current paradigm of the so-called “feminist vs. comedian” rape joke conversation goes something like this:
Comedian: I tell jokes. Censorship is un-American. Obviously I tell jokes about rape and I am not actually encouraging rape. You don’t get it.
Feminist: I get it. I’m not asking for censorship of your jokes but some of thse jokes are akin to outright hate speech. If you understood rape culture you likely wouldn’t tell bad rape jokes and you’d have some humility about the damage caused when you do.
Comedian: Obviously reasonable people in the world know rape isn’t funny and get I’m just joking. Bad rape jokes have no real negative impact on women and survivors of sexual assault.
Feminist: Consider this: “Reasonable” people rape. A naïve use of rape jokes furthers misogynistic behavior all around you by supporting it and laughing with it, not at it.
Furthermore, using violent rape jokes is unwise when about one in three of the female fans (and possibly some of the males too) in your audience are likely triggered by this type of language due to their own sexual assault or the sexual assault of their close friend or relative.
Trivializing rape by joking about it when women already don’t feel safe reporting rape and often experience an internalized guilt for their sexual assault is NOT helping your audience take this epidemic seriously. Do you take rape seriously?
Enter the trolls stage left, right and center.
This conversation has been going strong for a year in the wake of a rape joke made by comedian Daniel Tosh. A resurgence of the conversation was sparked when feminist writer Sady Doyle e-mailed comedian Sam Morril about his use of rape jokes. In the email Doyle made an attempt at a good-faith conversation about the use of rape jokes as comedy. Doyle, as well as those who came to her defense, were met with violent hate speech including rape threats. Jezebel’s Lindy West read some of those rape threats aloud and filmed the situation. This, ladies and gentlemen, is rape culture.
For those still in the dark, Hello Giggles offers an excellent summation of the term rape culture:
The term “rape culture” refers to a culture in which attitudes about rape are tolerant enough to be an enabling factor in anything ranging from sexual harassment to actual rape. When a girl complains about being catcalled on the street because it made her uncomfortable, and you tell her to just take a compliment, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When a girl has one too many drinks at a party and is taken advantage of, and your reaction is that it’s her fault for not being more careful, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When you say that someone was “asking for it” because their skirt was too short, you’re perpetuating rape culture. When you assume that men are never victims of sexual harassment or assault, yes, you’re still perpetuating rape culture (not only because desexualizing one gender sexualizes the other by proxy, but because classifying one form of harassment or assault as valid over another is contributing to the problem).
When asked about rape jokes last year comedian Sarah Silverman argued making fun of this heinous crime seems like a “comics dream” and incredibly edgy but really it’s just the safest joke. Silverman jokes, “Who is gonna complain about rape jokes? Rape victims? They don’t even report rape!” And I will add, by the same token, why worry about making homophobic jokes either when many gays still aren’t even willing to come out of the closet?
Recently a BBC reporter was forced to apologize after making a comment about his ability to to “cure” a lesbian. You know the joke: if only this one lesbian had sex with this one straight guy she would know she is actually straight. Keep in mind, there are parts of the world where rape of lesbians is used by some men in a homophobic culture with the intention to cure women of their homosexuality (“corrective rape”) for example South Africa. But maybe as a lesbian I’m being too sensitive? Or maybe I have some internalized homophobia to work through before I feel comfortable speaking out against this form of violence? This is rape culture too.
Ultimately the responsibility of not making bad rape jokes rests with the comedian. Tosh, Morril, and plenty of comedians making crude sets of jokes I can’t sit through in the NYC’s West Village every week carelessly toy with misogynistic language because at the end of the day so much of it is still culturally acceptable.
In the aftermath of her e-mail Doyle tweeted she didn’t believe there was a need for censorship of rape jokes and instead pointed to the role of shifting social mores. The flip side of victim blaming is instead a belief in the social responsibility for everyone to take seriously their part in confronting rape culture regardless of whether you are a rape survivor, a sister of a rape survivor or a guy who knows a girl he thinks shouldn’t become a statistic.
When stopping violence against women is taken seriously on a cultural level, bad rape jokes may finally lose their punch and comedians relying on them, their audience.
In an interpretation of Texas’ “Stand Your Ground” law that should send chills down spines across the nation, a San Antonio jury on June 5 acquitted a man who shot and killed a woman he’d hired as an escort when she refused to have sex with him. The jury members apparently agreed with the defense’s contention that Ezekiel Gilbert was justified in shooting Leonora Ivie Frago because he was attempting to “retrieve property stolen at night.” The use of deadly force in such circumstances is authorized by Texas law.
Gilbert had hired Frago through a Craigslist ad as an escort. When she refused to have sex with him, but also refused to return the $150 he’d paid her, saying she had to give it to her driver, Gilbert turned violent. Frago was shot and critically wounded on Christmas Eve 2009, and died of her injuries seven months later.
Although Frago’s business partner has stated that the ad to which Gilbert responded did not include sexual services, defense attorneys argued that Gilbert had the right to expect sex from Frago in return for payment. Her refusal to have sex or return the money constitute theft, for which Gilbert had the right to seek redress — up to and including lethal force.
How a person can have the right to seek redress for theft in a situation where they are attempting to commit an illegal act — in this case, paying for sex — is a question that defense attorneys didn’t seem to think was important enough to address, and jurors don’t seem to have been concerned about this aspect of the case either. Nor does it seem to be a concern that, had Frago been prosecuted for theft, she would certainly not have received the death sentence that Gilbert meted out to her.
Although neither defense attorneys nor jurors would likely cop to it, this case seems to reinforce attitudes about sex workers as disposable or less deserving of justice than other victims of violence. As the narrative goes, if Frago wasn’t prepared to have sex with Gilbert, she shouldn’t have been posting ads on Craigslist, right? But in reality, this is the same victim-blaming and slut-shaming rhetoric we have seen in Steubenville, at Occidental College, and beyond. It is just another — yet another — instance of a woman being blamed for her own violation.
This interpretation of Texas’ broad “Stand Your Ground” statute should give all Americans pause. If a man can gun down a woman who has refused sex on the grounds that he had a “reasonable right” to expect sex for money, where then is the line? Are women then obliged to submit to unwanted sex (paid or not) out of fear not just of assault but of a bullet in the neck? What constitutes a “reasonable expectation” that sex will be provided? And who gets to decide?
It may be easy for some to find Leonora Frago an unsympathetic victim because she worked as an escort and may have in some instances provided sex for money. But we go down a dangerous road when we assert that some women — that some people, regardless of gender — are less deserving of protection and dignity than others, are more deserving of violence than others. There is no difference between the assertion that Leonora Frago deserved to die because she posted an ad on Craigslist for escort services and saying that Jane Doe in Steubenville deserved to be sexually assaulted because she drank at a party. Both those statements place the responsibility for victimization on women who don’t “act appropriately” — instead of placing the blame for that violence on the shoulders of the perpetrators, where it belongs.
Leonora Frago’s killer walked free in San Antonio this week. Regardless of any remorse Ezekiel Gilbert may have expressed over her death, he walks the streets of an American city after having been told that he had a legal right to kill a woman who denied him sex.
Stand your ground, indeed.
Lobbying for the Women’s Equality Act, Surviving Catholic School, and Why the Personal is Still Political
This past Tuesday, along with other Long Islanders, I boarded a charter bus with Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, and I urged my state representatives to support the Women’s Equality Act, which, coinciding with our lobby day, officially became a bill.
This was my second time lobbying on behalf of this historic legislation, which New York governor Andrew Cuomo introduced in January. In a cultural climate where it seems feminists can’t even blink before another politician introduces a bill to restrict women’s reproductive rights – indeed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 33 percent of new policies enacted in 2012 across 19 states restricted abortion access – New York state, often a pioneer for womens’ rights, is in a rare position to push forward comprehensive legislation that would correct current obstacles women face with combating sexual harassment in small workplaces, workplace discrimination based on marital status, human trafficking, pay equity, and reproductive rights. As Gina Weatherup noted on the PPHP blog, Politics, Power, Sex:
What’s truly unique about this plan is seeing the idea of the intersectionality of oppression being put into practice. So often in politics and the media we see coverage of pay equity, or coverage of sexism in the workplace, or coverage of abortion, or coverage of domestic violence – like each one is its own separate issue, unrelated to anything else. Governor Cuomo’s package shows his understanding that “women’s issues” around pay, violence, housing and reproductive rights are all interconnected. No one issue can be resolved without looking at the big picture. He’s using his power as Governor to connect & break down the legal barriers that hold women back – to truly empower women – and that is unusual.
As feminist activism often has to be on the defensive, the progressive nature of this bill is a welcome change.
It was thrilling to be in Albany as a constituent using the power of my voice and my experiences to speak with local politicians. While I had the opportunity to meet with politicians who were supportive of this legislation, I found it was particularly critical to discuss personal experiences with politicians in more conservative districts. While I realize citizens have more direct leverage with local and state politics (which often serve as a bellwether for national policies), as a young person I’ve often found myself alienated from local politics on Long Island, where property taxes seemed to be residents’ singular concern. During my meeting at the office of the conservative Jack Martins, I was reminded of how political my upbringing was in an Irish-Catholic-dominated part of Long Island.
Growing up in an upper-middle-class, Roman Catholic nuclear family, I went to Catholic school most of my life and was indoctrinated in its unquestioning logics. In fact, I didn’t know that abortion could be framed as a health care issue until I was in college. I was simply never exposed to that position. We were only told that abortion was a mortal sin. Christianity’s grim dictate of the fate of mothers who aborted said it all: both the woman and the doctor were automatically excommunicated from the Church – no ifs, ands, or buts. This effectively created a division between “good women” who don’t have sex and “bad women” who had sex, or, according to the state, waited until it was too late to seek abortion. (Of course, what is considered “too late” doesn’t take into account health problems that could complicate pregnancies past this point.) These binaries infantilize women and create hierarchies around which women “deserve” access to safe abortions, an assumption the women in our coalition felt deeply uncomfortable with.
Catholic schools frequently participate in actions that simultaneously incentivize alignment with antiabortion politics and grow the numbers of young people who identify as “pro-life.” For instance, my elementary school held an essay contest where we had to argue for why all fetuses had the right to life. If we participated, we were eligible for cash prizes. And at my Catholic high school, students were invited to participate in the annual March for Life, an antiabortion rally that takes place in Washington, D.C. The feminist activist Michelle Kinsey Bruns noted that these trips are often a rare opportunity to travel outside of school, and correctly observes that Catholic school is an echo chamber that promotes a single, narrow narrative about abortion. Catholic schools’ ability to use their students as a captive audience allows them to inflate their numbers.
As a black woman attempting to make sense of how others would perceive my own body, the safest decision throughout much of my adolescence was to disassociate from being a girl. Internalized misogyny became a means of survival for me in the dudebro-centered culture of suburbia. This often meant drawing pride from not being like the other girls, who either had boyfriends or worried about acquiring boyfriends. Even as I became more skeptical of the Catholic Church and its implicit lessons about gender, agency, and power, I flattened the experiences of my peers as I placed myself on a pedestal for my refusal to act on any feelings of sexual desire I felt. Respectability politics made acknowledging (let alone having honest conversations about) my own sexuality impossible. I felt incredible pressure to be a living example of how to perform blackness correctly. It was only later that I began to unlearn my ways of thinking and relating to myself and other women.
Another assumption in this meeting I felt uncomfortable with was the staffers’ insistence that women’s equality will “just happen” because we live in a historically liberal state. This belief both erases the labor of feminist activists in broaching mainstream consciousness on social issues and assumes the passage of time forward is the sole factor that mediates progress, an attitude that suspends our agency as social actors and flies in the face of evidence that those who wish to preserve the status quo actively block social progress. A common refrain I heard from older activists that day was that they never thought they’d still be fighting to maintain the same hard-won protections for women they had been instrumental in pushing forward in the sixties and seventies.
It’s critical that the Women’s Equality Act gets to the floor for a vote before this legislative session ends on June 20th. I know I’ll be lobbying again, this time on Long Island, to urge Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote, and to leverage social media to encourage my friends that live in New York to call their state senators and assemblypeople.
An American woman was gang-raped in the northern Indian town of Manali. The 30-year old joins a long list of women and girls who have fallen victim to sexual violence in the country in recent months. This apparent epidemic is concerning, certainly. But is the most pertinent message we can take from it really, as others are suggesting, that India is an unsafe destination for tourists?
Undeniably, India has a problem with rape. As Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of Plan India, testifies, the country has “deep rooted” gender issues, lying within “the status of women [and] … the male mindset.” It remains legal for men to rape their wives. More than this, though, a survey supported by UN Women found that 95% of women in New Delhi feel unsafe in public places. At the same time, three out of four men agreed with the statement that “women provoke men by the way they dress”, two out of five men agreed with the statement that “women moving around at night deserve to be sexually harassed”, and 51% of men considered themselves to have sexually harassed or committed violence against women in public spaces. Yeah – that’s a problem.
But it is by nature a problem that affects the women of India far more than it affects tourists, American or otherwise. We absolutely should be worried about the rate at which rapes are occurring there, and the way that sexism and misogyny appears to be ingrained into Indian society – but out of fear for the lives and well-being of the women that are there, not just our own when we choose to visit. That’s bordering on narcissism, and for what? India isn’t going to get safer if tourists never go there; if anything, it’ll get less international attention, leaving chaos unchecked. If the root of the problem is India’s heavily patriarchal society, then addressing that is the only key to stopping sexual violence.
Besides, telling female tourists not to travel, or giving them a laundry list of things that they mustn’t do if they decide to go anyway, is veering dangerously into victim blaming territory. All those things she should do will be hanging over her head, stopping her from having a good time… and then, if she is attacked, they’ll quickly become what she should have done. Considering that attacks on tourists are said to be rare, who is that helping, exactly?
Perhaps most significantly, though, this discourse completely ignores the greatest threat facing American woman – and it ain’t traveling abroad. Someone is raped or sexually assaulted every 2 minutes in the US; far more frequently than in India, where statistics suggest it is one every 20 minutes. And those are just the reported attacks. We can focus on India’s problem with rape all we want – it won’t make our own glaringly obvious issues disappear. Have we forgotten Steubenville and the countless other school and college rape cases? What about the exorbitant rates of sexual assault in the military? Or Ariel Castro?
The gang-rape of a tourist in India should teach us something, but it is not that American women should stay at home. When is that ever the solution to rape, here or abroad? No, we need to observe the problem in India with the intention to end rape for all women, not just Americans – and then we should open our eyes and realize that we’ve got a pretty huge problem with rape of our own.
A few weeks ago, a professor at Colgate University, my alma mater, sent an email to the Senior Class President that sparked a considerable amount of controversy on campus - and on several blogs that picked up the story. In the email, Professor Barbara Regenspan criticized Matt Levitsky, the Senior Class President, for giving what she considered to be an immature and disrespectful speech at the senior class brunch. This led to a short email exchange between the two of them, and naturally, the entire campus found out and took sides on the issue. Some agreed with Professor Regenspan’s criticisms, while others felt that she was unnecessarily harsh and unfair. I won’t go into the nuances of the argument here – I didn’t hear the speech given, and it is my understanding that Levitsky and Professor Regenspan were eventually able to communicate respectfully and come to some sort of resolution over what happened.
What caught my interest about this story wasn’t the speech or the subsequent emails, but rather the shockingly vicious and sexist response Professor Regenspan received from people who disagreed with her opinion. A post on the blog Barstool Sports, passed along to me by a friend, slammed Professor Regenspan for being too uptight and out of touch with the reality of college students – oh, and also for being “a delusional feminist cunt.” That’s actually the first criticism that the blogger, JMac, has for Professor Regenspan, even though her emails have literally nothing to do with feminism. She does teach Women’s Studies classes, however, so obviously that means she’s crazy and most likely hates all men. Because that’s what feminism is about, right? The most ironic part is that the reason we need feminism in the first place is to combat the kind of hateful sexism exhibited in this blog post and many of the comments that follow it.
A sampling of the comments (fair warning, the language is pretty vile):
“telltale signs of a chick who hasn’t gotten fucked in a decade”
“100000000% chance this twat fists herself to pictures of Elizabeth Warren”
“what a miserable cunt. get fucked dyke”
“I would bet $2 that she doesn’t shave her box.”
It is astonishing to me how many of the comments focus on things like Professor Regenspan’s appearance and her imagined sexual experiences rather than the actual content of her emails. They are crude, invasive, and viciously homophobic, revealing just how hateful people can be when faced with someone who does not perfectly embody the gender and sexual norms that so rigidly dictate our behaviors. As is too often the case, what should be a dialogue about the issues at hand instead devolves into a ridiculing commentary on how successfully Professor Regenspan lives up to our society’s standards of femininity.
While a male professor undoubtedly would have attracted his fair share of vitriol as well, there is a sexually violent strain to these comments that is directly related to the fact that Professor Regenspan is a woman. Several people assume that she is not “getting fucked,” suggesting that if she were, she wouldn’t be so critical of this student and his speech. The broader implication, then, is that women who get fucked keep their mouths shut and their opinions agreeable, whereas women who aren’t graced with regular penetration by a penis become crazy, irrational, and potentially dangerous. This kind of mentality completely ignores women’s agency, both sexual and otherwise, and positions sex as a means of subjugating and silencing women. That is the foundation of a rape culture. If you need more convincing, look no further than the fact that Professor Regenspan received a rape threat in the wake of the incident.
People are obviously entitled to disagree with Professor Regenspan’s statements and to voice their opposition publicly. What they are not entitled to do, however, is to use hateful and violent language to degrade a woman’s gender and sexual identity and silence her opinions. We can’t continue to live in a society where sexual violence, or the threat of it, is used to control women. We just can’t. And that’s why it’s so enormously important that we keep fighting back and writing back, calling out the haters on blogs like this one.
We won’t be silenced.
More on Ms. Magazine’s Ten Totally Typical Examples of Rape-Splaining and Victim Blaming, and Why They Need to Stop
TRIGGER WARNING: discussions of rape, abuse and offensive language and ideas.
December 15, 2012 CHICAGO– a 12 year old girl is held by gunpoint and gang-raped by three 16 year old boys in the basement of one of the rapist’s homes. August 12, 2012 STEUBENVILLE– an unconscious 16 year old girl is raped at a party by two 16 and 17 year old football players The thing these two heinous crimes have in common? Both victims were blamed for what happened to them.
Rape-splaining and victim blaming are two of the biggest proponents of the pervasive rape culture that we all live in. Rape-splaining is the explaining away of a sexual assault or rape; this includes coming up with excuses for the rapists and subtly placing the blame on the victim. Victim blaming is more overt in its shifting of the blame from rapist to victim, but both of these tactics give the victim responsibility for what happened to them. Since people are constantly bombarded with this cultural mindset, both rape-splaining and victim blaming can easily be found in verbal and cyber conversations. Ms. Magazine pointed out the 10 most common examples of victim blaming in an article last week.
Let’s take a deeper look at them now:
1. The victim was asking for it. This is the line that I hear most commonly in regards to sexual assault and rape. If a girl is drunk, acting like she “wants the D”, or is dressed provocatively, she obviously is asking for rape, right? The more thought you put into this argument, the more absurd it sounds. Women have every right to drink, be flirty, and wear what they want without being in physical danger. Scotland got it right when they filmed an anti-victim blaming advertisement; the victim is never asking for it!
2. Men get these biological urges to rape; they just can’t help themselves. According to the UK’s Rape Crisis Center, “studies show that most rapes are premeditated i.e. they are either wholly or partially planned in advance. All rapes committed by more than one assailant are always planned.” Men are human beings, right? Don’t human beings have free will to make their own choices? Why are men any different when it comes to sexual urges? Men aren’t animals, and if I were a man, I would honestly resent the implication that I couldn’t control myself. Rape is a choice that men make with their brains, not with their penises.
3. The victim might have made it up. This one makes me, and countless other feminists/women/rational humans, quite upset. Why are people more ready to believe that the woman is lying than that she has been victimized? If someone was robbed, this question would never even be fathomed by onlookers. Look below at the lovely infographic made by the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. It speaks for itself.
4. The victim is ruining the life of the rapist; the rapist had so many prospects. When a man chooses to rape a woman, he is making a choice. Albeit a stupid and awful choice, but it is a decision that is consciously made. He weighed the pros and cons of the situation, and although he might claim that he was caught up in the moment, he infringed on another individual’s liberty and personhood. For this, he must face the consequences. It is not the victim’s fault that a man chose to rape her, even if he was a star athlete/genius/musical prodigy/etc. He may be such a “promising boy”, but he is also a rapist and that can’t be forgotten.
5. The victim should not have been in that situation/known that person/lived in that neighborhood/walked down that street/gone to that bar, etc., etc. Again, the point must be made that MEN NEED TO CONTROL THEMSELVES!! It’s a disgusting double standard that our society perpetuates. Name any situation where a woman would feel unsafe, some examples being: walking down a dark alley, going to her car at night in an empty parking lot, going to a bar, going over to a guy’s house. Now imagine a man being in the same situation. People wouldn’t consider it unsafe for him to be there, but if a woman does the same exact thing, she is asking for whatever happens to her. The point here is that society shouldn’t be restricting a woman’s freedom in this way; instead, society needs to be telling men to not rape women.
6. People of certain races/ages/classes/backgrounds are just more prone to violent behavior. False false false. There isn’t a cookie-cuttter, typical rapist. Yes, rapists are a product of their environment, but not of economic/ethnic/racial/age/social groups. Rapists are a product of the Rape Culture, of a culture where violence against women is tolerated, of a culture where women are sexualized to such an extent that it is incredibly easy to view them more as objects and less as human beings.
7. The victim didn’t say no. Just because she didn’t say no, doesn’t mean she’s saying yes. What is consent, ladies and gentlemen? The legal definition of consent is when “a person who possesses and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision demonstrates consent by performing an act recommended by another.” There are many important aspects to this definition, such as the person must be mentally able to make this decision and they perform the act recommended. Consent is a resounding yes, not the absence of a no.
8. In cases of underage perpetrators: The rapist is only a child him/herself. The rapist made the conscious decision to violate another human being. He made the choice and should therefore be tried as an adult. Rape isn’t a juvenile offense such as shoplifting; it is the exertion of power and dominance over another resistant human being. Shoplifting, vandalism, and other lesser offenses won’t ruin lives. Rape, on the other hand, can end lives. 13% of rape victims will commit suicide. If an adolescent can cause another human so much trauma that they take their own life, then why shouldn’t they take the full punishment for their actions?
9. The victim should have known what he/she was getting him/herself into. Rape isn’t the victim’s mistake, it’s the rapist’s. Why should women have to live in fear because of men’s choices? Obviously the victim didn’t know they were going to be raped, or else they wouldn’t have gone. Saying that the victim should have anticipated a sexual assault is absurd. This is just another excuse to try to let the rapist get off free.
10. The victim’s parents should have taught him/her warning signs. I think Andrea Gibson said it better than I ever could. Society has told women and girls so many different ways to try and prevent rape, but those haven’t seemed to work. The question shouldn’t be “What should you tell your daughter?” The question should be “What are you going to teach your son?”
Rape-splaining and victim blaming perpetuate a rape culture. These are the 10 most common examples of victim blaming, but there are many more that are tossed around in conversation every day. These excuses make a hostile environment for victims, and even more unsettling, they make a safe environment for rapists.
They need to stop.
Momentum continues to grow for holding colleges and universities accountable for their handling (or, perhaps more accurately, mishandling) of sexual assault on campus. In late April, a group of students at Occidental College filed a civil rights suit and two federal complaints against the college for alleged mishandling of assaults there. Renowned civil rights attorney Gloria Allred is representing the Occidental students.
On May 21, activists and survivors from four more institutions followed in Oxy’s footsteps: Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at Berkeley are all named in separate complaints. Allred is representing the plaintiffs in these cases as well. As with the complaints filed against Occidental and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the new suits are a combination of Title IX complaints alleging that the institutions violated provisions of Title IX and helped create a hostile environment for women on campus, and allegations that the institutions have violated the Clery Act, which mandates reporting of crimes on campus.
The suits are the latest in a series of events this spring that have shined a brighter light on the issue of sexual assault on campus. Department of Justice statistics show that women in college face a greater risk of being sexually assaulted than they will at any other time in their lives, with as many as 1 in 4 college women experiencing sexual violence during their time in school.
As Occidental College professor of criminology Danielle Dirks said at the May 21 press conference announcing the new litigation:
“There are 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Every day on these campuses students face rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual harassment. . . .These behaviors have horrifyingly become a normal part of students’ educational experiences and . . . are routinely betrayed by their institutions who treat them with indifference.”
In urging the Department of Education to examine the complaints against Occidental, UNC-Chapel Hill, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, USC, and UC-Berkeley, Allred said:
“Women from all over this country are demanding that their colleges stop these rapes and sexual assaults from happening. They will no longer accept the status quo where rapes and sexual assaults are being swept under the rug and condoned by college administrators.”
Facebook Takes an Important Step Toward Ending Sexual Violence and #FBRape Wins An Important Battle in the Fight for Safe Spaces Online
When Women, Action & The Media (WAM!) launched The Everyday Sexism Project, and writer Soraya Chemaly called on Facebook to recognize violence against women on their site as hate speech and train moderators to protect women from harassment and hate speech, we - the activist and, more specifically, feminist Internet-dwellers, saw this action as a great step toward moving toward solidifying the web as a haven of safe spaces.
The internet has incredible potential to create safe spaces for girls and women: today, unlike ever before, we can use the internet to organize from around the world and take part in social movements. Where Is Your Line? uses Facebook and email to organize and plan what we are going to write about, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to share our work with the world and engage others in conversation. For groups like WIYL and countless others know that social media and the internet—and the safe spaces that they allow us to create—are vitally important to our success.
We asked for pages and content that glorifies violence against women and hate speech to be removed from the website, in the same way that hate speech targeting other oppressed groups was already being removed by Facebook. On Tuesday, after around 5,000 emails were sent to Facebook and a Twitter campaign that reached around 60,000 tweets, Facebook agreed to take the actions requested by the campaign.
Facebook has pledged to review their guidelines regarding violations, update training in regards to reviewing hate speech, increase the accountability of users so that a person posting cruel material can be held accountable, and work with feminist and anti-violence against women groups like Everyday Sexism.
This is exciting news for everyone, but especially organizations that rely on social media for creating social movements and social change; groups who are exploiting the organizing and sharing powers that platforms like Facebook offer to achieve larger goals of social equality.
Women deserve safe spaces on the internet, and these safe spaces should be free of bullying and hate from misogynists and individuals who commit violence against women. Individuals attempting to organize in a way meant to glorify violence against women and perpetuate said violence do not deserve the same right to safe spaces. We’re happy to see that Facebook finally agrees.
Congratulations to Facebook for taking these important steps toward making the internet a safer place for women, which will undoubtedly have important consequences in the real world as well. And congratulations to everyone who was involved in making this goal a reality—your hard work and internet activism paid off!
3,192 and 19,000. 3,374 and 26,000.
Do these numbers seem familiar? These numbers were featured in a recent report by the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) in regards to the rate of sexual assault in the military. The first set is from the 2011 report, indicating that 3,192 instances of sexual assault were reported, with an estimated 19,000 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” that went unreported. In the 2012 report, the actual number of reported sexual assaults did not change drastically, only to 3, 374. Most notably, the estimated number of instances of “unwanted sexual contact” increased by 7,000. In the anonymous survey used in the study, the report stipulates that “unwanted sexual contact” (USC) is
“the survey term for contact sexual crimes between adults prohibited by military law, ranging from rape to abusive sexual contact. USC involves intentional sexual contact that was a against a person’s will or occured when the person did not or could not consent. The term describes completed and attempted oral, anal, and vaginal penetration with any body part or object, and the unwanted touching of genitalia and other sexually-related areas of the body.”
Let’s put this into perspective. Over 6,500 service members reported being sexually assaulted (“crimes ranging from abusive sexual contact to rape“) in the past two years. Approximately 45,000 service members were estimated to have experienced “unwanted sexual contact.” This is an epidemic.
The issue of sexual assault in the military has been well-documented in major scandals such as Tailhook, the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and the US Air Force Academy, just to name a few. When the Tailhook scandal came to the public’s attention in 1991, it is estimated that 200,000 sexual assaults occurred within the the military. At the time of filming Invisible War, only a few years ago, the number was 500,000. Similarly to the above statistics, the filmmakers stressed these totaling numbers were taken from studies completed by the US government.
As noted in a recent article by Meredith Clark, President Obama stated that there is no “silver bullet” to ending the sexual assault crisis in the military. However, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta noted the same in the past year. And before that, Clark traces the usage of the phrase to Tailhook. Each revelation of a sexual assault scandal in the military, whether it is on the scale of Tailhook or the recent officers, in charge of sexual assault prevention programs, suspended during investigations of assaults or a staff sergeant taking illicit videos of servicewomen bathing, sparks an uptick in rhetoric emphasizing the need for a solution.
But what is the solution?
It’s not using training videos that instruct viewers to always have a buddy and that “Sexual assault is preventable. Are you doing your part?” (Please note this video is not available online, however it is featured in Invisible War.)
It’s not reporting the assault to your chain of command. As noted in Invisible War, 33% of women did not report because their commander was a friend of the rapist. 25% did not report because the commander was the rapist.
These are the ways the military has attempted to deal with sexual assault, and the ever-rising numbers indicate these methods are void. Currently, two major bills are being discussed that seek to remedy how the military handles the process of reporting. The first is a bi-partisan bill by Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Susan Collins of Maine, and aims to “limit a military commander’s ability to change or dismiss a court-martial conviction for sexual assault.” The second bill is proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who seeks to have “military prosecutors, rather than commanders, the power to decide which sexual assault cases to try.” While both bills are major steps forward, Senator Gillibrand’s bill is the most daring, as she wants to take military commanders out of the equation in deciding which cases to pursue. As noted above, reporting within the chain of command can be extremely problematic. If this bill were to go through, it would possibly result in more cases being heard.
While we may not be on Capitol Hill, fighting for these bills, there is action we can take. Begin with educating yourself. Much of my research for this post came from seeing the documentary Invisible War. While it may be one of the most difficult films to get through, as hearing the stories of the service members can be triggering and disturbing, it is important to be aware of the full extent of the problem, which no article can ever truly convey. Second, write your state senators, and encourage them to support the bills proposed by Senators McCaskill, Collins, and Gillibrand. Third, show your support for our service members via social media. Send tweets of support to the senators. Use #NotInvisible and encourage your followers to watch Invisible War. Finally, for more resources and information, check out the sites of the filmmakers of Invisible War and the non-profit Protect Our Defenders.
The service members of our military have done so much for us. Especially during this time of year, as we remember their sacrifices, let’s take time to educate ourselves and work to support our service members in the fight against sexual assault.