Friday, March 22, 2013

Boys, Girls, Rape and Personhood

Some things make me hostile. Forgive me a brief rant today, but sometimes I need to get some stuff off my chest. I will be back to my usual shenanigans next week.

You've surely ALL heard the asshattery related to the Steubenville high school boys who raped the girl at the party... she was passed out, which they took for consent... They shared pictures of her naked online...

Found guilty! Justice is done!

But wait, boo hoo, look at all this lost potential! They were promising ATHLETES *cough* SEVERAL news stations fell into this pattern. Seriously?

Okay, maybe. I will give them that. There IS a lot of lost potential. These boys have a permanent black mark and some jail time, WHICH THEY EARNED. There is lost potential, but THEY lost it. There was nobody forcing them to rape that poor girl. They had not only a STUPID lapse of judgment (which teens sometimes have) but also a complete FAILURE at socialization. So these poor boys WERE disserviced... by their parents, their community, and our society. These boys have badly failed morals and that is only partially on them.

We live in a society where Kobe Bryant gets away with rape. Where OJ Simpson gets away with murder. Where rapists have shorter sentences than people who use drugs. Where congress dawdles MONTHS before passing the Violence Against Women Act because a huge group of elected officials don't recognize women as PEOPLE.

But you know whose fault these boys' lack of moral character is NOT?

 The girl who was raped. And any failure to acknowledge the DAMAGE these selfish little pricks did for WHATEVER reason they think they did it is missing the point. SHAME on the reporters. Shame on ANYBODY who felt sorry for these boys without giving a much LARGER dose of sympathy to the girl who did nothing wrong--who was VIOLATED AGAINST HER WILL.

This week I've seen articles on college women EXPELLED (or threatened with expulsion) for going after the men who rape them on campus, (oh, no, it brings shame to our poor campus) while the men continue to matriculate. Say WHAT? The SHAME is that you have RAPISTS walking around and nobody is safe.

Folks, we are DOING THIS WRONG.

I saw a joking tweet that was very funny, but sadly I hold no hope for it. After Senator Portman came out in favor of gay marriage (in support of his gay son—YAY, Senator!):

“Eventually one of these Republican congressmen is going to find out his daughter is a woman, and then we're all set.”

I wish I believed that would actually wake them up. But unless they realize their daughter is not only a woman but a PERSON, it probably won't get there.

Sadly, though, that brings me to another point I saw yesterday, which is valid. I haven't had a heaping dose of feminism in a long time and I needed it. People pull out the argument 'how would you like it if this were your daughter/sister/wife/mother?' And nobody would. But to frame it this way makes it so a woman's only value is because of her relationship to OTHERS (meaning men). Women are PEOPLE in their own right. NO PERSON deserves this treatment. Ever. I can give a pass to daughters because I can add sons and know I'd feel exactly the same—everybody has parents and parents can (and should) feel protective of their offspring. But our language needs to change around ALL of this.

We should not be telling girls how to avoid rape. We should be teaching our SONS:

Don't rape.

Here is why. A brave friend of mine shared this yesterday, a woman who is a rape survivor:

“Do you know the effects of rape on a female mind? Nothing can cleanse the pain and regret of the situation. Are you internally scared for the rest of your life. Every relationship you will ever have is affected by this incident. An innocent girl dies when she is violated sexually in any way.”

Affects every relationship she EVER has. That's huge. These boys did this to her. Poo on them and their poor prospects being branded as rapists. They deserve that and so much more. Castration has a ring to it. Seriously.

We should also be teaching ALL OUR CHILDREN:

*   If you SEE a rape (or a situation that seems to be going that way), intervene (get help, if you don't feel physically able to do it yourself)

*   Don't leave your friends alone if they've been drinking. In fact don't leave them alone at all.

*   If you notice ANYONE 'out of it' ANYWHERE, designate yourself protector. Keep an eye on them.

If people feel responsible for the SAFETY of others, they are less likely to perpetuate any crimes against people—they've been given a responsibility, and to do the opposite become antithetical. And as a perk people will be less likely to be in that situation because more eyes will be looking out for more people.

Yes. I've had this talk with my kids (one girl, one boy), but it might be time to revisit it.


Natasha said...

Proud of you Tami, for saying it as it is. NOTHING can justify rape. Least of all the fact that the guys were promising athletes. In fact, if you ask me, athletics should be banned from high schools and colleges because these jocks start to believe they own the world. Let them play if they want to, but outside school and college.

MTS said...

I was assaulted when I was seventeen and walking home from work. The police - who never did catch my assaulter - told me I shouldn't have been walking in unsafe areas alone. I was walking on the street I lived on at the time, a block from my parents' house.

It made me angry at the time that the police blamed me. It was MY FAULT and my responsibility to avoid sexual assault. I'm doubly angry that over 25 years later, nothing much seems to have changed.

But I'm heartened to see the public backlash against CNN and Steubenville. That wouldn't have happened 25 years ago.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Outside of child molestation, I think rape is the worst crime possible. Just think if our laws were still an eye for an eye.

Melody said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Girls should not be blamed for being raped; and all children should be taught responsibility to NOT rape, and to protect others from it. If you teach a kid values, then barring extreme circumstances, the kid will grow up HAVING values. This does make me wonder how to teach the kids who DON'T have parents who care enough to teach them.

Shell Flower said...

What fascinates me about this story is that one of the rapist's friends took his keys so he wouldn't drive drunk, but then walked away from the same kid raping the girl. It's not okay to drink and drive, but it's fine to violate a passed out girl? What? Seriously? Do we need "don't drink and rape" campaigns? So sad.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It's so twisted when the victim becomes the accused. Yes, there are things we can do to be safer, but that doesn't excuse the act.

Hart Johnson said...

Natasha-I somehow think the US is stuck in 'celebrity culture' and if it wasn't athletics it would just be something else. And I think for the vast majority of athletes, it is a good way to focus and channel, but there DOES need to be something to change how we do it.

MTS-Oh, man--I am SO SORRY for your experience--the event itself and the treatment after. I, too, wish we'd come further.

Alex-I agree with you about it being the worst outside of child stuff and murder. And I DO think castration would make a lot of these animals think twice. Especially since without those hormones, their athletic prowess disappears to some degree, too.

Melody-yeah, those kids who aren't taught values at home are a problem--sometimes it is just parents with too much on their plate and other times it is the entitled parents who don't let their kids ever suffer consequences... which gets to my EVERYONE sterilized until they can PROVE they are parenting capable... #outrageousideastoday

Shell-yeah, WOW... It's actually not a bad idea--a campaign. But the faiture of the other kids to see ALL the potential problems...

M. Bail said...

I wonder how different this conversation would be if the football players had violated a drunken unconscious guy.

Hart Johnson said...

Diane-you snuck up on me! Yeah--NEVER excuses the act.

Hart Johnson said...

M--it WOULD be interesting to see how different. More people would be outraged, but it would be hard to parse out whether it was actual defense of the male victim or anger at the homosexual nature of it.

Luanne G. Smith said...

Not long ago I watched a documentary on women in the military who were raped by fellow officers (The Invisible War). Really, really sad and discouraging to hear how they were made to feel like they were the ones who had done something wrong. They estimate twenty percent of women in the military are raped, but maybe only five percent report it because of the stigma. Needless to say, I ended up writing a very scathing scene about this topic in my novel about a woman warrior. ;)

Al Diaz said...

I agree with you. It is about people educating their sons about respect, but sadly it is not just a matter of one country, but a world-wide thing. The fact that women are not considered human beings with rights in many parts of the world is still beyond me. However, I also agree that it's all education. Some really old and retrograde idea from the start of civilization and that still survives in modern age.

mshatch said...

Completely agree with your rant Hart and that tweet pretty much said it. CNN should be boycotted until everyone involved with the offensive statements is out of a job. And I believe those boys knew what they were doing was wrong and just didn't care and no doubt never dreamed their actions would get them into any trouble. Well, too bad for them. I hope they have fun in jail. Payback can be a bitch.

JohnnyB said...

Male competitive or governing organizations seem to have problems like these. Without oversight or inclusion of women in these organizations things tend to get corrupt or ugly. Hazing falls under this same situation, and those can include sexual violations by your peers as some sort of right of passage. The coverups that follow and lack of simple human decency are rampant in sports.

Teaching our children is a start but until we realize these things need to be changed at the root level attitudes will not change. But how do we overcome the people that think this is as it should be and not some hostile take over. Sadly many of those belong to other powerful patriarchal organizations.

As for the universities those have a rigid leadership structure that has similar problems as the sports organizations above. I do not have any easy answers except that it will take a lot of work and it will be worth it for us and our children.

Melissa said...

"We should not be telling girls how to avoid rape. We should be teaching our SONS: Don't rape."

I disagree. We need to do BOTH.

Rape is wrong, but putting one's self in a vulnerable position to be raped is also wrong.

If I leave a laptop visible on the passenger seat of my car and park it at a mall, then someone breaks in and steals it, I'm partly responsible. Is it wrong for them to break in and steal? Sure. But my behavior was irresponsible, and I need to accept part of the blame.

I realize it's not the same thing, but the principal is.

Hart Johnson said...

LG-Oh, yes--the military piece of this is HUGE. And they are NOT doing well with that, when that should be a place that is absolutely harshest. I think part of the problem is the rigid hierarchy, but they need to figure it out.

Al-it really IS a problem worldwide... and people won't want to hear this, but it is a much BIGGER problem in countries that ALSO have bigger OTHER inequalities.

MS-they really HAD to know it. The picture in my head is that they thought they were getting away with something, but they KNEW it was wrong.

John, I agree with you entirely, and add my note above about presence of OTHER forms of inequality. But yes, patriarchal, hierarchical systems will do poorly dealing with this.

Melissa-I think we need to teach girls to be smart, but I will NEVER believe what we wear or where is go means we are asking for it--it makes us lesser citizens to have limits on what we can do, and that needs to change. Note the #2 comment here--'shouldn't have been there' by the police--on her own street. How is that okay?

If wearing something was fair game for causing other people's actions, I should be able to punch anybody in a suit because obviously they want me to know they're a greedy ass, yes? Yeah, not so much.

4tomic said...

OP - I don't think it's wise to teach boys the message "don't rape".

My two problems:

(a) this assumes rape is associated with being male, thus the feeling is assumed to be natural. Most men, the vast majority, don't rape or feel inclinations to do it (unless you define rape VERY broadly, such as a married man sleeping with his wife without explicit yes/no consent). For most men it isn't a conflict they grapple with.

The conditioning to being a rapist is actually quite extreme; many are victims of abuse themselves, most are growing up in homes (and often schools) without male role-models around, and many, such as those in extremely competitive sports cultures, are embedded in cultures of power and domination that help them internalize their own dominating attitudes. I'm sure that these boys have been told "don't rape" but that's hardly enough. Instead of telling men it's a natural urge that they just need to suppress, we need to be helping them recognize that it is an unnatural urge and likely an indicator that they have larger issues in their life that they should be seeking help and treatment for.

(b) It also assumes rape is a distinctly "male" problem. Meanwhile, about 40% of sexual abuse on boys is perpetrated by females. While this is still a minority, by pushing the message "only men are abusers" we also push the message that "female abuse isn't abuse" (in both sexual and non-sexual abuse) and delegitimatize the feelings of these perpetrators victims.

Instead of "tell boys 'don't rape'", I would recommend educate people about rape, educate people about abuse, and actively create more positive male role models (esp at elementary and secondary schools). We also need to be more active in getting those with emotional issues to come forward, something which is particularly important for boys. We (as the whole human race) raise our boys to keep their problems to themselves and to not seek help. It's important to create avenues with which boys, in particular, feel safe to seek and receive help.

I do think your three points at the end are great though. We should be intervening, we should be watching our friends, especially at parties, and we should be ready to help anyone anywhere.

Alex - It kind of is an eye for an eye if you think about the incredibly high rates of prison rape in the U.S. Which is of course integral to the conditioning of future rapists and abusive parents. The sad part is that most feminists have made little effort to confront rape on this front.

Castration or worse punishments may work for those who are in more control of their emotions (a small minority of jocks and date rapists; perhaps these athletes). Meanwhile, it will just make those who have serious issues that should seek help feel more like monsters, and thus less likely to seek help or admit their problems. It also increases the likely hood that the abuser will kill their victim, in order to destroy evidence.

I do think both child molestation and rape are serious crimes that can cause a lifetime of trauma. I don't think that they are "the worst crime[s] possible", except perhaps in some extreme forms. There are plenty of worse ways to break a person both physically and mentally, and victims of sexual abuse are by no means broken beyond repair. Many will survive to live wonderful, brilliant lives. Many are very glad they weren't killed instead. Yes, "an innocent girl/boy dies", but a new person who is just as beautiful is also born.

Hart Johnson said...

4tomic, while I agree that the profile of a serial rapist would undoubtedly include a personal trauma history, we can't ignore the mob mentality or gray area when people are high and ignoring normal socialization in favor of strictly physical impulses.

And I looked up the 'who' on child sexual abuse--the national stats (DoD) (but about children) say 14% are women--it's not none, but it's far less.

Often, they HAVE been victims of abuse or neglect themselves, but daterape, which is more than 90% of rape, are not really distinguishable from other peers.

VR Barkowski said...

Yes. What you said, Tarty.

Forcing someone—whether via physical brutality, threats, or the use of drugs—to do something they don't want to do is a crime. Period. I knew this by the time I was 8. I have no sympathy for two 16 year-olds, one whose only defense is his brain "wasn't fully developed." I don't care whether they were high.

As a society, if we can't teach our children how to recognize right from wrong, respect the difference and TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR ACTIONS, then I agree, we truly have failed them. But it's far too late to dredge up sympathy for these two young men. Cruel as it is to say, that may be what got us here in the first place.

As Atlantic Wired pointed out, the one guy's brain was developed enough to understand the life-long implications of having to register as a sex offender. After his sentence was read he said: "My life is over. No one is going to want me now." Telling words in more ways than one. Instead of an apology or owning up, we get poor me. Implied but left unsaid: all I did was rape a girl.

4tomic said...

---about the grey areas---

For sure there are different profiles and more factors than just abuse (including alcohol, mob mentality, peer pressure, and middle-America football culture [each deserving of its own discussion]).

---about the stats---

Yea, stats complex for sure and vary from source to source. National stats tend to look at reported abuses or self-reporting from victims. Most rape is unreported from both sexes, but especially from men. If you ask a large group of men "have you ever been raped?", very very few will say "yes". If you ask something more nuanced such as "have you ever been forced into having sex with threats of violence" or "has anyone ever gotten you drunk just so you would have sex with them when you otherwise wouldn't", then the stories start pouring out.

With female abusers, there are similar complexities. Breivik's (i.e. the Oslo killer) mother paints one picture. Despite frequent reports from social workers, psychological evaluations, and complaints from the father, the courts and police never stepped and child services refused to grant the father custody (despite his fighting). Breivik himself refuses to acknowledge the stories despite load of evidence; Why? He wants to be seen as being an autonomous being acted his own free will, instead of as a victim of abuse. Because of hesitations from the authorities and the victim, his mother is still not included in national statistics, despite a wealth of evidence. Certainly rape is always under reported, but I think it's safe to say that it is particularly so for female abusers and male victims.

So that's how there is a study that says 14% (of abuse on both sexes), a study that says 30% (of abuse on boys), and the 2005 study I cited saying 40%. And there are many other complexities beyond that, such as how different sexes experience abuse, etc. These are important to look at but irrelevant to my argument.

---about the solution---

My criticism, though wordy, is really just pointed at the one phrase "don't rape". Other than that I loved the article and found it refreshing, especially compared to the media coverage.

My caveat was that sending out the message "don't rape" to all boys (indiscriminately) seems to me to be a poor strategy for fixing the problem and perpetuates unproductive social attitudes about rape. Attitudes that it stems from "male urges", attitudes that males are the doers, attitudes that females are the victims, and attitudes that if you have urges you are a monster and that you should just "control" yourself (instead of seeking help). It doesn't do this explicitly, but it does so implicitly. Telling my partner "don't eat the cookies" carries the implicit statement that I think she is going to.

My solution isn't to tell both sexes "don't rape." We simply shouldn't be treating our kids as "potential rapists". We should be educating them, raising awareness, and we should also be letting them know there are resources and safe places for them to go if they ever have problems (and making sure those resources are available and sensitive to both sexes). We should be teaching empathy across sexes, races, and religions. We should be teaching both sexes how to be strong in the face of peer pressures, that mental illnesses aren't something we have to be ashamed of or hide, and that it's ok to get help when you can't handle something.

One stat I've seen frequently is that 1 in 6 boys are a victim of sexual abuse. As a teacher who teaches classes of 30-40, that means in any class I likely have 2-3 male students who have experienced sexual abuse. These boys need people reaching out to help them, not telling them they are potential rapists. They need resources where they feel safe to get help, not more bricks in their walls.

Helena said...

Thank you, Hart, for your passionate rant and courage to take on this grim subject. The comments here are better than what I can offer, especially because I cannot comprehend these boys who were so ruthless, so utterly contemptuous of their fellow student and human being that they would treat her unconscious body as a sick joke. At what age did their souls become so warped? How can anyone have so much hatred for another person who apparently never did them any harm?

Hart Johnson said...

VR-excellent spotting that at least the one boy DOES get the consequences of what they did--just selfishly directed.

4tomic-you're ABSOLUTELY right about men and boys and under-reporting. I study pain by day and we found huge interactions with PAIN-RELATED PTSD by sex and sexual abuse (and we asked very much as you're saying--molested you against your will was the biggie that was different by gender)--men were displaying their trauma symptoms as PAIN TRAUMA symptoms because that's an acceptable way to channel it.

One of my friends who commented yesterday, though it might have been on facebook, put it very well--we need to teach all kids that any unwanted touching, in all forms is wrong, whether they are on the giving or receiving end of it.

Helena-that dehumanizing is certainly a huge piece of what allows people to do this, and THAT is where I think out 'rape culture' (that plasters women wearing nearly nothing, but then freaks out at breastfeeding) is the problem--women are seen as objects, not people.

J.L. Campbell said...

Hart, you've made some excellent points here. It's never too early to ingrain in our children what's right and wrong and how not to make stupid decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.