Two teenage boys’ lives were altered completely by a ruling in Steubenville, Ohio because they raped an unconscious young girl at a party. Their lives were changed not because they were convicted. Their lives were altered because they committed an act of violence against a 16-year-old girl at a party. They got caught doing something illegal and morally despicable. They are not the first and they will not be the last. While I’m sad to see young men halted in their life I’m also very glad for it. For the sake of the young woman who had her life radically altered while she was unconscious, I am glad for the judgement.
When people drop the buzzword “rape culture” this is what they mean. We’d be foolish to say that this is a new thing, that we’ve quietly morphed into a Clockwork Orange version of ourselves, that at some point in our existence we were an idyllic place where women were revered and treated as equals. We never have lived in that society. That culture of equality has never existed.
Some might say that I’m over-reacting. Some shudder at the term “rape culture” and toss it off as extreme. Still, it’s hard to look at the treatment of women all over the world and not see the reality of this. It’s not just the boys who assaulted this girl. It’s the person who took the photos and put them on the internet. It’s the person who took the video and uploaded it. It’s the one who saw it and said nothing. It’s the friend who did not intervene or the person who judges and accuses the girl, calling her names, saying that she “had it coming.”
So the reaction to an act of violence falls to the woman even now, especially now, “she should not have been there” “she should not have been drinking” “she asked for it” and on and on. The implication being that she was of loose moral character and was seeking to be promiscuous. The trouble with that old and completely asinine way of thinking however is that rape is not an act of love, sex or passion. Make no mistake, rape is ALWAYS an act of violence. To suggest that a woman somehow was “asking” to be the victim of violence makes no sense at all. Who asks to be violated while unconscious? In what relationship would this EVER be appropriate?
When I was in High School I recognized a strange dichotomy. I recognized that it was dangerous for me, for all women, in the world, more than it was for my brothers. I remember feeling at once angry and also afraid. I could be violated. I was not sure what it meant in full but I knew that I was at risk when I was alone and I hated that. I hated that there was some social construct in place that as a woman alone walking down a street at night I knew that I had to be afraid. So then, this is our struggle as women, empowerment or protection but never both. In theory, we’re liberated now. We’re a new brand of woman, no longer the 50’s housewife, the damsel in distress, the shrinking violet. We demand to be treated equally. The trouble is that we’re still not entirely sure what any of that means. We’re still developing a healthy dialogue of what it means. Add in there the recognition of the trans-gendered population and the role of equality in marriage for all people and just see how uncomfortable the conversation becomes.
For us as a society to move forward and continue this conversation, to develop the words we need in order to communicate fully what it means for us to live together on this crowded planet we’re going to have to dispense with the old, tired, inaccurate and damaging thinking. If there is one thing I want to stress here and now it is this reality, this truth- rape is an act of violence, not love, not promiscuity, not sex, not loose moral character on the part of the victim. Rape is an act of violence.
Rape in an act of violence.
It is a problem of teaching and a problem of basic respect for fellow humans no matter what the gender. Until we come to a place in our society in which we fully embrace and fully affirm the understanding that all humans are created EQUAL we will never overcome the persistence of the rape culture. The cycle of violence is not new but the discussion needs to shift so that we have a chance to build something new, something life giving for the sake of our children and their children. I’d like to see a world where respect is inherent for all humans. That’s my hope. That’s what we ought to be building.