Hi again everyone. I know I don’t post nearly as often as I ought to, but this has been going around my head for weeks now, and I need to talk about this problem.
The last one was about firearms, but the next one is about rape and how we perceive genders and their rights. It is, to a large extent, about equal rights.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
A few weeks ago, judgement was rendered over two young men in an Ohio courtroom, for having drugged and raped a young girl. Most of my American readers will know that I am talking about the now-infamous Steubenville case. To the rest of you, it doesn’t matter where it happened, because this kind of thing unfortunately, sadly, happens everywhere.
And I will not keep this to simply criticizing America this time. Far from it. I have a very uncomfortable example from much, much closer to home to bring up too. And I am going to try to bind this up on a few otherwise unrelated situations that show that the Western World to this day has some very considerable problems to address when it comes to equal rights.
This time, I am not going to rant in the normal way either. This is something which saddens me deeply, and rather than getting angry, I will try to keep this sober. Anger won’t help anyone.
First off, let me say that a “no” means “no”. And silence does not mean “yes”. This, in essence, is what the Steubenville case was all about. Steubenville is a small community of under twenty thousand people, located on the eastern border of Ohio, along the Ohio River. It is a town like many others around the United States, no different than most except perhaps in their dedication to their Highschool Football team, which is the pride and joy of the town. In a town of less than twenty thousand, the stadium in which the team plays seats around ten thousand people. Clearly, the people of Steubenville love their football. The players, as described by the media, are widely considered local heroes and because of the high quality of the football program, many of them go on to scholarships based on their ability with the pigskin.
So far, so good.
In August 2012, at a party for these football players, a young girl of sixteen was invited. Alcohol was involved at this party and the girl, despite being underage, got drunk. She passed out from inebriation, and was subsequently raped and compromising photos were taken of her undressed. These photos were sent around to other team members. How many people took part in the actual rape is unknown, but a large number of people got the photos and became aware of the situation.
The police then covered it up. Actively covered up the rape, so as not to harm the young men’s future football careers. In the end, the case was only broken open to the public because of Anonymous, the otherwise much-maligned hacking network, who revealed the cover-up, and forced the police to take action. Charges were brought against two of the players, with more court cases likely to follow, and they were sent away to juvenile detention centres. Their entire defence had been based on the premises that firstly, the girl had not actually said no. After all, she was so drunk she was unable to, and that this naturally constituted consent. And secondly, that the young men’s futures should not be destroyed because their judgment lapsed under the influence of alcohol.
Thank goodness the court not only disregarded this dreadfully misogynistic defence, but the judge ripped the two football players an assorted selection of new bodily orifices in the final statements.
This is not conjecture or speculation. This is what was laid out in court and what the verdict was passed based on. It is all on the record and it is easy to find by searching the internet, your daily newspapers and by generally being aware of the news cycle around you.
But unbelievably, the media coverage was a tragedy to behold. CNN’s reporters would, practically teary-eyed talk at length about how awful it was for the two young criminals to see their future careers destroyed. How dreadfully unfair it was to them, that a moment of bad judgement should mar them for the rest of their lives.
But not a word was said about how dreadful it was for the victim, and how it will impact the rest of her life. Threats of violence, even threats against her life have been levelled at her in Steubenville, for being the cause that destroyed two promising football careers before they got started.
No one cared about the threats and the violence she had experienced. No one cared about the pain she had to live with. No one cared about the horrific violation of her person, at the most basic, primal level that she had been subjected to.
In short, no one cared that a sixteen year old girl’s life was potentially wrecked from then on … because she wasn’t “part of the team”, in this case in the most literal sense.
Melissa Harris-Perry on her weekend morning show on MSNBC has a “Letter from Melissa” segment where she usually lambasts a public figure in an open and often quite humorous letter, but after the conviction, she wrote an open letter and read it aloud, to the young girl, based on the idea of “I believe you”, and where she apologized on behalf of Adult America, for not having provided her with the safety she, as a child and young person, should be able to take for granted. It was a sequence a lot of people ought to learn from. We are all responsible, even if we don’t like to admit it, for creating safe a safe environment, not only for our own children but for everyone, including each other as adults. People in general should never need to fear this kind of molestation and abuse. People should never need to fear the consequences of reporting such abuse if it, tragically, does happen to them. And people should never need to feel shame at having been abused. The shame lies solely with the abuser. Exclusively. Completely. Not ninety or ninety five percent. But a hundred percent. All the time. Every time.
It is a sick culture in which a girl’s sexuality is not respected above the point of “well she was so drunk she couldn’t say no so of course I was allowed to have my way with her”. A sick, sick culture.
There is no excuse for rape. It doesn’t matter if a woman dresses provocatively. It is not a standinv invitation to violate her. It doesn’t matter if a woman gets drunk. She is not a sex-toy. It doesn’t matter if she is unable to say no for any reason. Unless she has explicitly given consent, no one has the right to have sexual intercourse with her.
And, may I add, the same does go for men. However, this blog-entry is meant as a debate point about women and how they are perceived, sexually.
Now, I said I was not going to use this as an attack against the United States, and I will give you a very recent, deeply troubling and absolutely raw example of why that is.
A couple of weeks ago, I was back in Denmark for a birthday party in the family. It was a brief stopover. I landed Saturday at noon and flew back Sunday evening. Sunday morning at the breakfast table, my mother shared a story from her workplace. Please be aware that what I am telling you here is not something I have heard on the news, nor is it something I have read about in the newspapers. This was something my own mother had experienced, and against which she had taken action.
It concerns a young, female intern at the office where she works. It is an office where people of many nationalities work every day, both men and women, helping people of different ethnicities. According to my mother, the woman in question is both friendly, helpful, interested in her job and … as it is … quite lovely. One of the men, origins irrelevant in this case, also working at this office had taken a shine to this girl, and she had made it very clear that she was absolutely not interested, even in the slightest. Then suddenly, one morning, my other heard from down the hallway, a cry for help. “NO! STOP! I DON’T WANT TO!” coming from the intern.
She went out into the hallway to find out what was going on, and saw the man in question retreating, flustered, from the copying room. Checking up on the intern, it turned out that he had not managed to get his way with her because she had shouted. The intern, having a spine of solid titanium steel, brushed off the incident, but my mother did not.
Enraged, she brought this issue up in public at the next office-meeting. She wanted the man held accountable. But the reaction of the other men in the office deeply shocked her, when she had explained what happened.
One of the men shrugged indifferently and said “Oh, but it is understandable. After all, she’s very pretty!”
My mother got up, told everyone present that she was going to leave the room for a few minutes to gather her thoughts and that when she returned, she would put her iPhone on “record”, using it like a Dictaphone, because she wanted /everything/ that was said from that point onwards to be for the record and ON the record.
Without the intern pressing charges there is little that can be done but my mother intends to get the man who tried to force himself on her fired regardless. But the shocking part was the response of her colleagues. Indifference and that horribly sexist statement “Oh, but it is understandable. After all, she’s very pretty!”
So does that mean that women who happen to be born beautiful are automatically considered fair game for sex predators? After all, they could simply be less pretty, couldn’t they?
A few days after that, still reeling mentally from this story, I came back to Ireland to find a poll in one of the major newspapers had revealed that even among the Irish population, over 25% and in most cases well over 30% of the population, male and female, thought that it was okay to have your way sexually with any woman who dressed provocatively, was pretty, was drunk, was physically unable to say no due to inebriation or drug use, and most astonishingly over 20% of both men and women considered it acceptable to use a disabled person sexually, because that person was unable to resist.
Over 20 percent.
One in five.
It is never alright. Never. There are no circumstances that ever allow for “having one’s way” by sexually assaulting someone. I will not equivocate on this. There are absolutely, precisely zero exceptions to this rule. Anyone who claims differently is defending the actions of rapists, and they are morally bankrupt as a result. Women and girls are whole human beings and not toys to be used by men for their own gratification.
Unless consent has been given, it is rape. A deadly serious crime, leaving people emotionally affected for life.
The young men of Steubenville can look forward to between 1 and 3 years in a juvenile detention centre. The girl who survived this can look forward to another sixty or seventy more years of life, where she constantly has to deal with the consequences of the violation she was subjected to.
It shows a horrific lack of empathy, of the inability to put oneself in another person’s place for even a brief period of time. It speaks of selfishness and lack of moral fibre, of a complete lack of dignity and of a deep failing as a human being.
People who commit rape should not be excused. They should be reviled for what they are.
It is really that simple.