Don’t walk home alone at night. Keep alert. Don’t show too much skin. Don’t leave your drink unattended. This is the advice given to women to not be raped. This is the advice that assumes both that a woman should be held responsible for the violation of her body and that the man who rapes her couldn’t possibly be the one generously walking her home at night.
The face of rape has been masked. Rape has been a stranger’s shadow in an alley, an unfamiliar man with GHB at a bar or a hooded figure in a vacant parking garage. But Sunday, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were convicted of raping a 16-year-old, incapacitated girl, and that mask fell away.
Rape entered a suburban, football-loving town and was committed by popular, athletic young men.
“Two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their life fell apart,” CNN reporter Poppy Harlow said.
Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow’s dialogue during the CNN coverage of the Steubenville rape trial was widely criticized for its insensitivity and its apparent sympathy for the defendants, who were sentenced to juvenile detention and put on the sex offender registry. Their analysis of the trial is not unique. They are not the only ones to note the high status the defendants held at school, and they are certainly not the only ones who commented on the severity of the sentence given to Mays and Richmond.
Rape culture is alive and pervasive. It explains the mentality behind Harlow and Crowley’s unfortunate and misguided commentary. It provides some (warped) reasoning why it’s so hard to believe that a couple of suburban star football players could have their lives ruined by something so tragic. And it explicates how people can separate the sex offenders from the crime they committed.
We’ve been looking for rape in all the wrong places. But as the public begins to recognize rape culture, we can eliminate the myths that pervade in cases like the Steubenville rape trial. We can stop being shocked that a rapist can be a normal high school boy. We can stop assuming that a rapist is a stranger on the street, and realize that more often than not, he is someone with whom the victim has a close relationship.
This is not an isolated case by any means. The victim is one of many average high school girls taken advantage of. Unfortunately most of them never get a trial. But this case was launched by social media. Twitter, Facebook and hundreds of other sites uncovered what school officials and witnesses were hiding and called for a just sentence. It is what brought this case to life.
And it is what keeps it going. Two Steubenville girls were arrested for harassing and threatening the victim via Twitter and Facebook—and they’re not alone. Since the verdict was announced, Twitter has been the main medium for slut-shaming and victim-blaming. Thousands of people call the victim a whore, blaming her for her own rape because she was too drunk to stop it. More claim she cried rape because she got slutty at a party and was embarrassed later.
People are becoming more familiar with the term ‘rape culture’ and aware of what they can do to challenge it. And we’re making progress. Campaigns have launched, which tell men not to rape, instead of telling victims not to be violated.
But it’s not enough. We need to stop what we’re doing. Go out on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night and all you see are girls hating on each other—calling each other sluts and whores. This is the kind of mentality that justifies it in peoples’ minds when that same girl gets raped, as if her attire or amount of alcohol consumption is somehow an indication of how interested a woman is in sex.
Then there are the men who you see feeding girls shots, incapacitating them—which should actually be a turn off if the more a woman drinks, the more she’s interested in you.
It’s as if we’re Dr. Frankenstein and we’ve created this monster of a culture, where when a man is interested in a woman at a bar, it’s expected that his first act is to get her drunk. It leads to the mentality that if he has to go home alone at the end of the night, that girl was just a tease or a prude.
This is the mindset that makes it dangerous for a woman to walk home at night—with a friend or otherwise. Seeing a girl completely wasted on the sidewalk doesn’t draw out concern for people, it elicits disgust, initiates slut-shaming. This rape culture is what makes us unquestioningly hand over an incoherently drunk girl to a stranger in hopes he gets her home; it creates this group complex, where we all expect someone else to handle it.
Stop looking around for someone else to act and start looking out for each other. Once we abandon this warped way of thinking, cases like the Steubenville rape trial will yield nationwide disgust, not dissent.