January 4, 2013 / News, Safety, Sexism

Not in Our Backyard: America’s Tragic View of Sex Crimes


In India on Saturday, December 29, a young woman who was brutally gang-raped passed away due to the severity of her injuries. Supporters mounted a protest against a culture of rape, her parents have asked for privacy for their family through an ambassador, and a CNN article reports that the government “announced plans Thursday to ‘name and shame’ convicted rapists by posting their names, images and addresses on official websites…” The Prime Minister said, “Women and girls represent half the population, and our society has not been fair to this half.” A massive social media frenzy was set off world-wide by this case, and people everywhere are calling for an end to the rape culture where this heinous crime occurred.

SteubinvilleWouldn’t it be great to imagine, if only for a moment, that officials and citizens in the United States would rally around victims of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault the way the people and government of India have? Further, what if the Americans who are so appalled and outspoken about what happened in India stood up for those victims and survivors in the U.S.?

Sadly, that’s not what happens in this country.

In this country politicians are still supported after publicly stating that women’s bodies can prevent rape.

In this country it takes four years for a judge to be reprimanded after handing down a light sentence to a rapist because the judge believed her body would have prevented it. He didn’t believe her vagina was torn up enough to indicate she didn’t actually want sex, even though the rapist, her (ex) boyfriend beat her with a metal baton and threatened to mutilate her face and genitals with a hot screwdriver. The judge then presumed to speak for all rape victims and survivors by calling what happened to the victim an insult to all rape victims and survivors. The full quote has to be read to be believed, and can be found at this link.

In this country  a woman who is severely disabled by cerebral palsy, has the brain function of a 3-year-old, and cannot speak can be ordered by a judge to prove she fought against her rapist. Sickeningly, an update in this article states this was prosecuted on the grounds that the victim was “physically helpless,” rather than “mentally defective,” as if it validates or invalidates a rape.

In this country teenage boys can videotape themselves raping a teenage girl and get a plea deal while their victim is silenced by the legal system. The (il)logic is that the rapists’ lives would be ruined if anyone found out what they did. Defense attorneys can portray the rapists as innocent little boys who didn’t mean to do it, they “thought it would be funny,” while painting the victim as someone who should have known better. She shouldn’t have been drinking. No one is talking about the effects of a sexual assault that last a lifetime, or that no one deserves to be raped. Even the article detailing her story makes a Freudian slip: one sentence says, ” In some ways, the case exposes age-old hurdles that women and girls face when reporting sexual assault.” The next reads,

But it is also a blunt reminder of the transformation of the American teen experience, as technologies make it possible for youthful stupidity to become known far beyond the community where, perhaps less than a generation ago, it might have remained.

In other words, making a video is where the assailants’ stupidity lies, not in raping a teenage girl while she was blacked out.

In this country a town has become divided as half its population rallies behind teenage rapists who “made a bad decision,” excusing what happened with the tired, lame reasoning that the victim had been drinking. Half the town has accepted the rapists’ explanation that she wasn’t completely passed out and, therefore, could have said “no.”  Because the victim was unresponsive as an assailant tried to force her to perform oral sex on him, witnesses didn’t view it “as being really forceful.” The victim learned what happened to her by reading about it in her local newspaper. The New York Times ran an eight page article on that act of violence, which happened in Steubenville, OH. It gives readers the idea that this is all just a huge misunderstanding with a lot to be untangled. Read the article at The Atlantic Wire, however, and you get a completely different picture, including a video at the end of the article (trigger warning) showing one of the accused joking that, “They raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team.” Yet residents are referring to the article about this case as “character assassination” of the perpetrators, and a coach is accusing the New York Times of disseminating false information put out by terrorists.

“What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?” said Hubbard, who is one of the team’s 19 coaches. “She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”

In this country the state of Pennsylvania can file a lawsuit against the NCAA for the punishment meted out to Penn State for fostering an environment where an adult male was able to sexually abuse young boys for years, while officials made a conscious decision not to report it to authorities.

In this country the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act has officially died in the House of Representatives. Fortunately, as 4VAWA points out, this doesn’t mean VAWA goes away completely, it just reverts to the 2005 version. Unfortunately, 4VAWA also points out that although there is still a fallback to a previous version, our nation is facing a huge financial crisis, so funding – even for the 2005 version – is likely to be very limited.

In this country we care more about sports and preserving the reputations and images of people we want to believe are heroes than we do about half of our population. We are horrified that sexual assault and rape seem to happen so often overseas, yet turn a blind eye to the reality that someone in this country is raped or sexually assaulted every two minutes, and  that 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused every year. Oh those poor people, we think. We believe our own lies that it can’t possibly happen here like it does in other places. We are better than that, we tell ourselves. If we can convince ourselves it only happens in other places, that it isn’t real in our own backyards, we can believe we are safe, it won’t happen to us.

My soul weeps for the young woman in India, but it wails for the women in this country who will be blamed for their own rapes, vilified by their own families and friends and communities, and shamed by judges and politicians. My heart aches for the women who were sexually abused as children or teenagers and are still being told to keep their mouths shut. It aches for all of the women and children who have been silenced because of a need to put the feelings of attackers ahead of the needs of survivors.

In 2013, India, considered by some to still be a developing nation, is moving forward in the way they view victims of sex crimes, while the United States continues a deplorable, steep slide backwards.

Will we ever get our priorities straight?