20 March 2013 - 7:56 pm

Rape and other violations

I don’t often post about non-writing-related stuff on this blog, but this particular subject is cropping up all over my awareness today, and I think I’ve got something to say.

For those who haven’t come across it yet, the Steubenville rape case in America just convicted two teenaged boys of raping a drunk, unconscious 16-year-old girl, and then posting a video of the act online. She wasn’t only raped (as if that wasn’t bad enough): she was carried from party to party, paraded around, humiliated, and (apparently) urinated on, all while still unconscious and in various stages of dress. In the days following the incident, the cyber trail included pictures, the video, and a lot of chatter around how hilarious it all was.

Hilarious. Really.

I think what bothers me most is not the act itself. Rape happens – it’s not good, it’s not right, and it should be stamped out with shotguns. But it’s like murder: we have to face up to the fact that it happens, it’s terrible, and we have to deal with it. In this case, how it was dealt with is what makes it worse than a single terrible incident to me.

I’m horrified that no-one stepped in. No-one apparently thought to check on an unconscious girl at a party. Even if no-one was fucking with her, that’s not a safe situation to be in, but she was obviously in trouble.

Clearly, her friends suck. Where the hell were they? Having been in situations where I’ve had to look after drunk friends at parties (and getting home from parties and all the rest, including fending off over-attentive men), I know how important it is to look after each other. It’s fine to have a good time; it’s not fine to abandon your friends and have a good time at their expense. Ever. I don’t care how old you are: underage or not, you know what’s right and wrong (if you don’t, there’s something seriously wrong). None of these kids was ignorant about what was going on. But all of those who saw it let it happen.

Don’t get me wrong – I know how hard it is to step in. People are afraid of getting involved and stepping into the firing line, for many reasons, personal safety being one. But you don’t have to get involved to call the cops. Or to call your parents. Or her parents. Or her big brother. Or ANYONE who might be able to step in and stop it for you, if you’re too scared to do it yourself. You have options, and doing nothing is the worst (except for joining in, of course).

Then there are the excuses. I don’t care what your excuses are – about her, about the boys, about the situation – it’s rape. Rape is wrong. It is that simple. And yet there’s a whole movement trying to excuse the boys who did this. Trying to justify what they did, or brush it under the carpet (because it’s fine for football players to behave this way, apparently – I wish I was kidding). Whining about how their lives have been destroyed because they’ve been sent to juvenile detention.

No. Those boys are not the victims. They knew exactly what they were doing and they chose to do it. The girl they raped did not have a choice. Now they are facing the consequences of their actions, as they should.

Those who exposed this crime and combated the attempts to cover it up by the boys’ football coach (and probably others in the community) have been attacked (verbally/over the internet) and threatened. The town of Steubenville is defensively trying to stave off accusations about how it handled the whole affair. The victim herself has apparently been threatened for ruining the boys’ lives (???) and careers (!!!).

This case has stirred up a lot of discussion about how the victims of rape are treated, how rape is viewed, and why so many victims fail to come forward. Rape victims are put on trial alongside their rapists – this is not news, but it’s not right, either. The ‘she deserved/was asking for it’ defense is a common one. No other crime puts its victims on trial this way. It’s disgusting, making excuses for weak and cruel men, and trying to justify inflicting pain and trauma on another person.

Let me put it in another light: if the assault was physical but not sexual, are the same tactics used? No. If you beat the crap out of someone who is not a willing participant in the fight, you are fully culpable for causing that damage. Even if the victim is a habitual fighter. Even if they mouth off. Even if they’ve fought you before. If they choose to say no, then you are completely at fault. But as soon as sex enters the picture, all of a sudden it’s all right to abuse another person. Their choice means nothing. Right? No, it’s not right.

But the fear of being put on trial is not the only reason for rape going unreported, and that surprises me. It saddens me beyond belief that so many rape victims decide not to come forward (more than half don’t, according to the stats). Looking through articles, posts, and comments around this case, I’ve read that victims also choose not to come forward because they’re afraid of what their family/loved ones will do (I don’t want daddy to go to jail for killing someone), it has been a long time so there’s no point, it was an isolated incident so there’s no point…

If rape is not reported, it’s not addressed. If it’s not addressed, it will just keep happening. Should we not prosecute someone for murder because hey, they can’t murder that person again, so what’s the point? Yes, we should. They broke the law, they violated someone’s rights, they did something awful, they might do it to someone else, so the bastard deserves to be put on trial and punished/rehabilitated/reprimanded appropriately. And if we don’t talk about it, if we act like it never happened, how will it ever stop? This kind of thing isn’t going to magically fix itself. How many other people have to be hurt and damaged before someone does something to stop it?

I understand that it’s traumatic and takes incredible bravery to report a crime like this. But that’s not a reason to just let things like this happen. ‘There’s no point’ is not an excuse to stay quiet, because there is always a point.

One of the worst things we can do about this kind of thing is stop talking about it. That’s part of why I’ve decided to weigh in on this, because without dragging this out into the open, it’s never going to change. Silence is dangerous.

In my reading today, I have seen one post/article about what might have caused this to happen in the first place. It was by Henry Rollins, who I’m aware of as a musician but have never come across outside of that field before. On reading his post, I applaud his courage in speaking his mind about this. He makes points about how it’s important to understand why all those kids thought what happened was fine. It’s cultural, it’s educational, it’s social, and we need to do something about that. I think he’s completely right.

Because this isn’t an isolated incident. Rape is a big problem, and punishing the perpetrators is only a reactive response. Yes, these kids should be punished, but if we don’t look at what took them to that place, how will we prevent it from happening again? What about the kids who haven’t got to that place yet? What about the men who have grown up with a similar mentality, who haven’t raped yet? How do we prevent people from hurting and getting hurt?

It’s not an easy subject, nor a simple solution. We have to look at the psychology of rape – not just the rapists, but everyone who impacts on the situation. Sexual politics in society; the way rape is handled in the media; the way law enforcement and the legal system treats these cases and victims; the way sex education is taught in schools: every single one of these pieces impacts on our idea of what rape is and how we think about it. Some of these things put excuses and loopholes into the mental landscape, and there are many holes to plug. If we want this kind of thing to stop, we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, our values, and the things we are pushing into our society. Then we have to do something about it.

This is where writing comes into it for me. I’m not talking about this blog, though I hope to make a difference in some – any – small way. When it comes to art, we can have a lot to say about situations like this. We can use our creations to shine a light into the dark places of our society, onto the awful subjects and the uncomfortable places. We can hold a mirror up and show the world the face it tries to keep locked in the attic like Dorian Grey. We can explore the long-term implications of the road we’re on. We can show the alternatives to the place we’re in now, and offer hope.

I’m not saying we have to do this. As writers and artists, it’s completely up to us what we believe is important to show in our work. But it’s important to know that we can.

It’s also important to know that subjects like this should be treated responsibly. Fiction (and any type of art, but particularly the easily-consumed pieces like books and TV) impacts on social thinking. It adds to the social values of the cultures that read it and we shouldn’t pretend that our work isn’t a part of the big picture.

So yes, stories that use rape irresponsibly make me angry. It’s not something to throw in randomly, with no real consequences or fallout because you want short-term angst. It’s not a fun trauma (is there such a thing?). It’s not something to make light of. Matters like this should not be trivialised. If you don’t want to deal with it, don’t put it in your story. If you use it, do it properly and with respect.

That’s my rant for the day. Responsibility, respect, and awareness of the things that are broken in the world we live in: those are the things we should take away from this mess. And then work on them, in whatever way we can.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (1)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)


  1. Francisco says:

    The case saddens me but doesn’t shock me. Unfortunately, nothing in that case surprises me.

    As to why it’s not reported by victims:

    1) They may, like society often does with the victims of rape, blame themselves
    2) They may feel that they won’t be believed
    3) They may feel that society would blame them
    4) The prosecuting authorities may decide to drop the case (this is an important factor as it’s emotionally draining to talk about something so intimate to strangers)
    5) Most rape victims report that the trial was worse than the rape itself (after all the defence is going to do everything it can to attack the credibility of the witness at a time when she (or, less often, he) is emotionally vulnerable)

    Just off the top of my head I can think of two news stories that would not impart confidence to victims in the criminal justice system:

    It was such as story that started the whole slutwalk protest movement
    What happens when figures become more important than victims (story is in video format)

    I’m not saying that we should give but I think we (both as individuals and society) should do more to support victims. It’s a lot easier to do things.

    March 21st, 2013 at 7:02 am

  2. Francisco says:

    Sorry, correction for the last sentence:

    I’m not saying that we should give in but…

    March 21st, 2013 at 7:04 am

  3. Mel says:

    Yeah, I agree about the reasons why victims don’t report the crimes. I think there’s a lot of work to be done in that area, most of it in the attitude towards rape and how it’s handled in the media and by the legal system.

    I understand the reasons. I just don’t think it’s good enough, and it’s up to everyone to do something about it.

    March 21st, 2013 at 8:34 am

  4. Mel says:

    Just saw this: a great piece by John Birmingham, who has a very similar message but says it much more efficiently than I do.

    March 21st, 2013 at 9:16 am

  5. Mel says:

    And another, more blunt and outraged blog post on the same subject. This one quotes the rapists and the awful media coverage. I didn’t use quotes like this because it just makes me so angry and my entire blog post would have ended up as ‘FUCK YOU ALL’.

    March 21st, 2013 at 9:21 am

  6. Francisco says:

    I think you’ll be interested in these two pieces from NPR’s On The Media (currently audio but a transcipt will be available in the next few days):


    March 25th, 2013 at 12:04 am