Tuesday, March 19, 2013
WHEN THE UNIMAGINABLE BECOMES THE UNSPEAKABLE
PROSECUTING RAPE IN AMERICA:
IT’S MORE THAN “GENDER BIAS”
A woman is raped every minute in America
(Tuesday March 19, 2013. Steubenville, OH) Rape. The word alone conjures up some of the darkest images a mind can harbor. Rape: the most isolating of crimes for the victims that can be perpetrated. Let’s be clear here so as not to muddy the waters of this discussion; rape is sexual assault, with the non-consensual, forcible commission of sexual acts including vaginal penetration using penis, hand, fingers or other objects committed by a man to a woman. Rape, is rape. Rape is primarily an act of aggression and violence wherein the sex act(s) themselves are often secondary to the dominance and exerted control by the perpetrator often with the infliction of physical pain – purely sadistic tactics - for the emotional, psychological and physical pleasure of the assailant. We all know what rape is, don’t we? Don’t we?
It is a sad statement about our culture and society, our priorities and values when that question must be asked and asked again and again. It seems that not a week goes by that there is not some horrific but media sensationalized report of a sexual assault or rape involving younger and younger victims and perpetrators. What is behind this trend? What is it in our culture that can lead some young boys to commit the most heinous of crimes and, in many cases, record their exploits on cellphone cameras to be posted as clips on YouTube and their Facebook pages? To deny that there are not insidious dark currents coursing just below the surface of the waters our young boys swim is to deny reality. There is no one causative factor to be identified, not a singular influence that can explain the prevalence of rape in our teen population.
During the election season concluded last November rape became an issue but it was for all the wrong reasons. It was not a topic for debate regarding the prosecution of alleged rapists or a discussion of victims’ services or any other positive or proactive political agenda item. No, it became an issue because several Republican candidates for Congress absurdly, insultingly, sought to make rape a political issue in the Conservatives never ending battle against women’s rights and women’s health concerns. Todd Akin a senate candidate from Missouri exposed himself as a blithering, insensitive, chauvinistic imbecile when he commented during a televised interview that rape needed further definition because, in his idiotic estimation, there is a qualifying definition he called “legitimate” rape. He compounded his exhibition of his own misogynistic world view when he claimed that “a woman’s body has a way to shut the whole thing down” and that this mechanism prevented the rape victim from becoming pregnant. He had co-authored legislation in the House of Representatives with the GOP vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan that would narrowly define rape as a means to further their extreme right wing anti-abortion, anti-women policies.
It is indeed the first perilous step down the proverbial slippery slope when those holding or seeking elective office distort reality; posit moronic positions and work to add nuanced distinctions and definitions for a crime that is not subject to such distinctions. There are already sufficient designations recognized in jurisprudence on both the federal and state levels. Most states recognize “statutory” rape when there is a certain age difference between victim and victimizer. “date Rape” has been introduced into our cultural and legal lexicon in the last 15 years or so to make the prosecution of perpetrators who know and are often involved in a long term relationship with their victims better codified. Rape, like murder, is typically a crime where the victim is known in some way to the perpetrator. The serial rapist of fiction and cinema is a rare breed. The FBI has interviewed hundreds of convicted rapists of every classification and has established relatively reliable “profiling” methods that aid in their apprehension. Sadly the occurrence of date rape is on the increase yet successful prosecution in such cases often proves to be more difficult than it should.
When a young woman is stigmatized and often terrified to come forward after a rape then not only does her assailant go unpunished but each one of these cases further erodes the basic elements upon which our society is built. In what other crimes are the victims saddled with a disproportionate responsibility regarding the burden of proof? In what other crime does a victim need to submit to an invasive, degrading, humiliating medical examination to collect evidence? Rape is the crime that keeps on victimizing.
AN UNHOLY TRIAD
Steubenville, Ohio a small community of 18,000 in the grimy gritty corner of southeast Ohio just miles from West Virginia, has been embroiled in a recent case of rape, sexual abuse, and an alleged cover-up due to the perpetrators “status” in this hardscrabble Rust Belt town that has gained national and international attention. For better or worse this trial has unearthed the nexus of disparate elements of our culture and exposed our misaligned values as much as it has sliced open wounds that have split the community and will bleed for some time to come.
This case is not simply an indictment of one small town where high school football is one of the cohesive elements and a source of pride for residents who have little positive to rally around. This horrific tale of a crime purposely concealed to protect the accused has played out in towns large and small, in athletic programs on the high school and college levels and in professional athletics as well. The gist of this sordid tale has become all too familiar. The reactions of those on either side of the prosecution stand on well-worn turf and the predictability of their arguments and attitudes are a bit ragged, tattered and torn from years of overuse.
In Steubenville a window has been thrown open and peering inside we are forced to look upon the unholy triad that can make the prosecution of rape so painful for the victim, so divisive for a community, and lends itself to various degrees of “justice” in the courts. The story here is not unique; actually, it is becoming all too familiar. Some local high school football players on a powerhouse football team attend a party where alcohol flows freely and a young woman, who was rendered unconscious by her alcohol consumption, was physically sexually assaulted by several of the “star” athletes in attendance. Many others present observed and stood idly by as the rape occurred; some even captured scenes of the atrocity and posted them on social media sites. There is growing evidence that the football coach, parents and others in positions of authority may have in fact made efforts to thwart the prosecution of the two boys accused. While two perpetrators were found guilty and sentenced last Sunday, the Ohio Attorney General has indicated that he will continue to investigate allegations of a cover up and interference with the prosecution.
SPECTATOR RAPE: THE INDIFFERENCE OF WITNESSES
Rape has typically been an atrocity committed in the dark, in the shadowy alleys, dimly lit foyers and stairways of apartment buildings and out of sight in private residences, dormitory rooms and in anonymous secluded locales. Disturbingly, the rape cases that are becoming more prevalent or seem to at least receive more media coverage (which we’ll address later) than in the past, are “gang” rapes; crimes where multiple assailants brutalize a single victim. As some of these group rapes have found their way onto the social media networks where the laughing perpetrators proudly display clips of their heinous crimes, we must take stock of ourselves as a culture and ask what are the dynamics at work that make some rapes a spectator sport?
The Steubenville case illustrates a confluence of societal and cultural factors as much as it does the reality of group rape perpetrated at a party be it in a private home, frat house or other setting. When rape can take place out in the open, publicly, and is not a vile attack of a lone assailant driven by psychosis and deviance, there is something gone terribly wrong in society.
PUBLIC STATUS, PREJUDICED JUDGMENT
Time and time again we have seen how those among us with wealth and status, fame and fans, have access to a brand of justice, of legal defense that the rest of us do not. In our culture of personality where athletes are coddled and held above their peers from the moment they first demonstrate superior athletic prowess and celebrities of every stripe escape conviction by purchasing the services of high powered lawyers and defense teams laden with expert witnesses, jury consultant, investigators and a host of defense specialists, our confused priorities are exposed. The list of notorious cases and head spinning acquittals and exonerations is lengthened every month. Be they college athletes protected by their influential athletic departments, Hollywood characters getting mere “slaps on the wrists” after all sorts of crimes, or priests, rabbis, teachers, counselors entrusted to mentor our youth, we see not an equitable system of “blind justice” but rather a biased, skewed, bastardization of the criminal justice system, a hybrid jurisprudence fueled by money, public support, and the de facto “benefit of the doubt” afforded to those we hold above the rest convoluted into a “benefit of the doubt” that undermines the entire system.
Although over half of the population of the United States are female most of our institutions, public and private, remain majority male dominated. A quick glance at our Senate shows a portrait of a very powerful and exclusive virtually all-male – all white male – fraternity. This is another poor reflection of our society but the ramifications of this reality are far more reaching than one might initially realize. There is an inherent “gender bias” pervasive throughout all facets of our society and culture, in the board rooms of America and, due to the male dominated Congress, that dominance extends into the metaphorical and literal bedrooms of America as well.
Men write the law, largely enforce the law, and a significant number of right wing zealots in elective office use their positions and the power of their offices to further a conservative agenda shamelessly branded as “Christian Conservatism” to deny access to certain medical care for women, as well as the access to birth control and abortion. Theirs is a battle that has claimed many lives and will claim more in violence and inadequate medical services for the women most in need of specific care in our society. The deck is stacked decidedly against women across the board; in every conceivable way women find more of their “choices” and options limited by men.
If anything what is sorely lacking and desperately needed in our male-centric society is a concerted effort in our schools, perhaps starting at an earlier age then has typically been the case, to educate young boys and girls about all aspects of interaction between the sexes and what constitutes acceptable, respectful behavior. A host of cultural variables have contributed to sending no precise message or the wrong messages to our children when it comes to maturity, proper conduct as well as the sensitive matters of sexuality.
A chilling illustration: girls 11 years of age and younger constitute 30% of rape victims today.
AGE AND RAGE
As noted earlier rape is not primarily a sexually motivated act. It is an act of intense anger, rage and aggression with the actual sexual contact being secondary, in most cases, to the “thrill of the hunt” as many sexual offenders have called it during interviews with FBI profilers. In the Steubenville case it appears to have been a wonton act of callous disregard, an almost “recreational” exploit committed by boys who thought themselves to be something special. They thought they were special because they have always been treated as special and they likely did not anticipate getting caught, let alone prosecuted in court.
Were these high school “star, promising athletes” angry at their unconscious victim? Did they see their behavior as being accepted among the others present, their peers? What were the missing elements and influences in the minds and characters of these boys that allowed them to abuse over the course of an extended period of time a young girl who had drank herself into unconsciousness? The account of that night’s activity is one of debasing, almost barbaric abuse that included other vile acts prior to as well as after she was violated vaginally. The questions are not infinite but rather actually quite limited. It is the elusiveness of the answers, of any answers, and that the defense attorneys attempted to frame this horrid crime in a less brutal manner was an outrage.
That rape perpetrators and victims are becoming younger and younger should be interpreted as a dangerous trend that is arguably illustrative of profound flaws in the way we are raising our children, what we allow them to be exposed to on TV, in music, movies and video games. But those external influences are not responsible for what we are seeing with ominous frequency in every corner our country, across all socioeconomic strata, in big cities and rural communities. The pie chart above is a stark graphic that should encourage moms and dads, teachers and coaches to begin the dialogue with the children in their charge and conduct it in a frank, candid, unambiguous fashion. Boys must learn that no means no. Any young boy or man who cannot accept that fact has obvious problems that might be a manifestation of deeper psychopathology.
For whatever reason or combination of reasons our youth are more angry, more impressionable, more aggressive, careless, and undisciplined than any other generation. Kids are shooting classmates, neighbors are sexually assaulting neighbors, high schoolers are perpetrating more serious crime at an alarming rate. This much we know, this much we need no reminders of if we read a newspaper once in a while or watch the local TV news. It seems our children are in a twisted race to grow up and that the innocence of youth in all respects is lost at a younger age than at any other time in history. But the societal, anthropological, psychological, and cultural variables and their confluence and impact is another discussion for another time. Yes, it is directly related to what happened in Steubenville late last August and is playing out every day somewhere in America.
Clichés are clichés only because they are true. Employing clichés can be seen as a cope out, they can be heard as hollow words meant to be pacifying more than comforting or instructive. But, we must get our children back; we, as a society must teach our children better, show our children better and have them learn the hard lessons of life before they learn them in the streets or roaming aimlessly through the mall with their friends. It is a huge challenge but a challenge made incrementally smaller if each parent or guardian does their part along the way.
Our girls and women need to be respected just as all our fellow citizens, neighbors, classmates, team mates, and play mates. Our skewed priorities must somehow be remedied.
TAGS: STEUBENVILLE OHIO, STEUBENVILLE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL, STEUBENVILLE RAPE TRIAL, RAPE, VICTIMS RIGHTS, PROSECUTING RAPE, RAPE IS RAPE, MYSOGNY, SOCIETY, CULTURAL INFLUENCES, MORALS, GENDER BIAS, WOMENS RIGHTS, LEGAL ABORTION, “CONSERVATIVE” CHRISTIAN HYPOCRISY, RIGHT WING ZEALOTS, PARENTING, EDUCATION
LINKS: RECENT CASES IN UNITED STATES
RAPE & GENDER BIAS AROUND THE WORLD
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT (VAWA)
GENERAL RAPE LINKS
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