After the initial relief of the guilty verdict of the Steubenville rape case, I was horrified to see postings, tweets, and even newscasters giving sympathy to the accused convicted rapists. Complete victim-blaming rants along the lines of "Be responsible for your actions ladies before your drunken decisions ruin innocent lives," were scattered throughout the internet. As if the unconscious girl provoked the attack. As if she had any say in what was done to her. Now the brave survivor is receiving death threats.
These reactions make it no wonder that only 46% of rapes are even reported because of the fear and public shaming the victims receive. The Steubenville Case is only one out of 3% of cases that result in a conviction. One in 3%. It seems the impossible has happened --- justice for a rape survivor. Yet the backlash and rape-sympathizers that we have seen throughout the case and after the delinquent verdict, points to a huge problem our society has with women and girls.
Misconception about rape feeds these horrible reactions. Rape isn't just committed by scary strangers hiding in the bushes; they are most often a boyfriend you trusted or an acquaintance. In fact, 2/3 of rapes occur by someone known to the victim. It is sickening to think that cases similar to the Steubenville happen every weekend. Most will not result in a conviction.
Rapists are created, not born. Rapists are created when boys are taught by society, media, and adults, that women and girls do not deserve respect as human beings. Rapists are created by the cultural stigma in our society that is quick to forgive and sympathize with the attacker and far quicker to doubt, question, and blame the victim. When CNN aired its breaking-news coverage on the guilty verdict of the trial, newscaster Candy Crowley asked a correspondent: "What's the lasting effect on two young men of being found guilty of rape, essentially?" Ok. What about the lasting effect of being dragged from party to party, stripped, raped, and photographed? The media was quick to grieve over the ruined lives of the rapists; but it's clear that they ruined their own lives when they chose to rape and humiliate an unconscious girl.
When a rape survivor goes on national television and urges the public to "teach our men not to rape," and in turn gets rape threats, there is something seriously and fundamentally wrong with our society and its attitude towards sexual assault. The attitude that we cannot possibly teach boys not to rape avoids the lasting solution, which is prevention. Those boys in Steubenville were not born evil rapists --- society and their communities taught them how to regard women and girls as objects to be used, not as human beings to be treated with respect.
Even more upsetting cultural misconceptions produce thoughts of: Well, look at what she was wearing...If she didn't pass out, this wouldn't have happened to her...If she had just stayed home, she wouldn't have been raped... Could you imagine someone spouting these excuses for any other crime? No. This is because society is telling rapists they are not to blame for their crime, because no matter what the case, there is always the misogynistic voice telling the victims that they are at least partially to blame.
Attitudes like these teach the public that rapists are entitled to rape, whether it's because of a woman's outfit, blood alcohol content, or past behaviors. It reiterates flawed notions of masculinity that boys and men can't possibly control their actions and it's on the women to protect themselves from men. That is a lose-lose for everyone because it keeps women in a cycle of danger and abuse and limits men from standing up for themselves and standing up for healthy, non-violent masculinity. Our culture tells men that they are incapable of controlling their actions, when in fact; we should know and trust that they are capable.
Telling women to get a gun is not rape prevention. Telling women not to drink is not rape prevention. Telling women how to dress is not rape prevention. Until our national dialog about rape starts examining the causes behind rape --- not teenage alcohol consumption, not the way girls dress --- but the lack of respect for girls in society --- only then can we begin to solve this problem. Boys and men, you have the power to end rape.
Neil Irvin, the Executive Director of Men Can Stop Rape, puts it ever so eloquently:
If we allow ourselves to believe that these boys are monsters, if we distance ourselves from them with our anger, we conveniently miss that one day it could be our sons, brothers, or selves sitting in a courtroom because we didn't take action sooner. We miss that stopping sexual violence means being a role model for healthy, non-violent masculinity. We miss that violence against girls and women is a public health problem created and perpetuated by our society, not one confined to a football team in Ohio or a bus in India.