Media, rape culture, victim blaming and Steubenville

A friend of mine asked an insightful question on Tumblr about how we’ve gotten to the point where young men would feel that raping an unconscious woman is acceptable.

The concept of rape is unfathomable to me: I can’t wrap my brain around what would drive a man to put his penis into something that wasn’t actively interested in having a penis put into it. What drives a person, seeing an unconscious person, to think “you know what sounds like a good idea? Putting my penis into that person.”

Where did we fall apart as a society to a degree where shoving your dong into people became a thing? Where our sexual response is so screwed up that uninterested people give us raging boners? Have we gotten ourselves so twisted up with sexual taboos and edicts that we demonize consensual behavior and give genuinely fucked up actions a pass? Are dudes being somehow taught that the world somehow owes them orgasms? That they’re out there, waiting to be plucked from a tree like a piece of fruit?

Am I missing some critical part of male upbringing that was supposed to condition me to get aroused in the presence of unwilling partners?

Sadly, it is not at all inconceivable to many people. More than 200,000 people are raped each year, and that’s despite the fact rape has decreased by more than 60 percent since 1993.

Think about that for a second: Even with historic declines in rape, one person is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the United States.

So rape is certainly conceivable to so very many people. And the punishment they face is often non-existent. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and U.S. Justice Department statistics, 97 percent of rapists never spend a day in prison. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons a CNN anchor felt such sympathy for the two Stuebenville boys sentenced for raping a 16-year-old: A trial, let alone a conviction and sentence, is vanishingly
rare in cases of rape and sexual assault.


And part of that is because of the attitudes we’ve seen around the Stuebenville case. The Public Shaming tumblr pointed to a lot of reactions blaming the victim for drinking, dressing provocatively, and for simply being present. One even suggested that Mays and Richmond did what any man would do when presented with an unconscious woman: they assaulted her. Thankfully every man does not act that way, but too many do. And they’re defended for doing so. One blog post (which I’m refusing to link to—trolls thrive on links) suggested that the fact the victim was drinking, dressed provocatively, and around young men meant that her consent was implied.

That is the logical equivalent of suggesting that someone driving on New Year’s Eve who is killed by a drunk driver was asking to be killed because he or she should have known better than to be out when it was dangerous.

All of this falls under the idea of Rape Culture, where sexual assault is common, rarely punished, and treated as a minor offense. And when news organizations lament sentences for rapists as life ruining—even when they’re really no such thing, as the pair will spend one to two years in juvenile detention, and at most be held through their 21st birthdays (they are 16 and 17 now), and Ohio’s adult justice system prescribes a minimum sentence of five years for rape—they are contributing to that culture.

A responsible media organization, and as much as this truly pains me to say, a good example of that in this case is Gawker, would point out that the true solution to rape isn’t for women to stay home, stay sober, and dress in whatever passes for conservatively, it’s for people not to rape other people. And it would make clear that no matter how drunk, or how she was dressed, or what the situation is, a woman has the absolute and total right not to be raped. That should be the lesson the Stuebenville story is teaching the world. Instead, thanks to CNN and legions of Internet rape apologists, we’re left with the same backward, misogynistic ideas we’ve always had.


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