A sixteen year old girl had been drinking at a party and passed out. She later woke up in a strange location, naked, to find that she’d not only been raped, but that pictures, tweets, and videos making light of it had been shared all over the internet.
This past Sunday, two local football players – also teenagers – were found guilty of the rape. Almost immediately, the media was awash with sympathy, lamenting the ruined lives and dashed promising future of the poor, poor…
Wait. What? Yes, these boys chose to sexually assault and take advantage of an unconscious girl; and as if that weren’t enough, they assaulted her again when they broadcast texts, tweets, pictures, and even videos documenting the attack… splashing it around as though it were entertainment. And it’s THEM we’re supposed to have unwavering empathy for? Right, because the girl made bad decisions. Because she was drunk. Because she was at the party at all. Because she must have “asked for it.”
I would like to say that I’m shocked by this attitude. I should be shocked. But I’m not. And don’t get me wrong. I’m disgusted. I’m horrified. I’m outraged. But I’m not shocked. Why? Because this culture has been around as long as I can remember.
Nearly two decades ago, I was having a conversation about this very thing. I can picture the kitchen. The table. The light on the ceiling. I remember asking him for clarification, because surely I misunderstood. “Wait, are you saying that a girl who dresses a certain way is looking to get raped?” “I think she’s asking for it, yes.”
It was that years-ago comment, from that “good Christian boy”, that served as my first glimpse into how desperately screwed up we are as a society. Since then, I’ve seen it in countless ways in countless places. It’s the victim’s fault. Her skirt was too short. She was showing too much cleavage. She shouldn’t have smelled so good. She shouldn’t have had on so much makeup. She shouldn’t have been drinking so much. She shouldn’t have been flirting so much. She was a tease. She. Asked. For. It.
This has to stop. Now. Is it any wonder that the majority of rape cases are never even reported?
This kind of victim-blaming attitude is not only hurtful, insulting, and incredibly disrespectful to women (and in particular to the 1 in 4 – through no fault of her own – who will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime), it’s also unbelievably degrading towards men. Is this how little we think of our men? That they are so driven by hormones and animal urges that it’s a good day if they can simply manage to get from point A to point B without raping someone? That they’re no more than objects: walking time-bombs that will detonate at the slightest provocation? That they have so little control over their thoughts and their desires and their bodies that us women better keep ourselves covered and invisible and plain, lest we make ourselves too tempting and tip them over the edge?
Most men don’t rape. And those who do? It is THEIR FAULT. One hundred percent their fault, one hundred percent of the time. Those boys in Steubenville did a vile, heinous, atrociously bad thing because they chose to do it. Period. And there’s no excuse for it. Shame on anyone who says otherwise. And if you’re one of those people who’s saying, “Well yes, of course, they shouldn’t have raped her, but….” you’re part of the problem. There is no “but”.
It’s not okay to force yourself on a woman – or anyone – ever.
It’s not okay if she’s a stranger.
It’s not okay if she’s your best friend.
It’s not okay if she’s your wife.
It’s not okay if she’s wearing revealing clothes.
It’s not okay if she’s wearing NO clothes.
It’s not okay if she’s drunk.
It’s not okay if she’s unconscious.
It’s not okay if she’s flirted with you all night long.
It’s not okay if she’s said, “yes, yes, yes,” and then changed her answer to “no.”
It is never, ever, ever excusable, despite what this current culture might tell you. And blaming the victim is never, ever, ever excusable, despite what this current culture might tell you.
When I talked to my own 16 year old about the case, and about the fact that kids were taking pictures of the abuse on their phones, his first question was, “Why didn’t someone use one of those phones to call 911?” Why indeed. And I don’t know the answer.
What I do know, without question, is that this problem – this grossly widespread problem of violence towards women – is not going away. And until people stop blaming it on the victim and start placing the responsibility where it belongs … it never will.