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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

She had it coming...

Two days ago two sixteen year old high school footballers were convicted of the rape of a sixteen year old girl. What should have been seen as a case of justice being served and perpetrators punished has instead highlighted the issues that still seem to face women and the stigma and appropriation of blame when it comes to sexual assaults.

The girl in question, was apparently drunk, very drunk. By all accounts unconscious. And this, according to a frightening number of internet commentators seems to be a good enough reason to basically excuse these boys of all blame and plant that blame firmly on the door of the victim. The fact that these two boys were footballers, possibly good enough to have promising careers in the game seems to have compounded the 'blame the victim' culture in this case. Much has been made of how their lives have been ruined at such a young age. In fact CNN, a broadcaster that I have erstwhile admired, aired an exchange between two female journalists, Candy Crawley (a journalist whom I have always liked and respected) and Poppy Harlow, which waxed lyrical and the fate of the these 'poor' boys with scant regard for the victim, in fact she was hardly mentioned. Twitter has been abuzz with people expressing their opinion on the case. The girl has been labelled a slut, a drunk, a whore. There have been accusations that she consented and later cried rape out of embarrassment. At this point I should also point out that the 'poor' boys who perpetrated this horrible crime took photographs of the victim which they shared with their friends.

The Steubenville rape case highlights a very disturbing trend and one which highlight the real issues we, as women still face in the pursuit of equality. Sexual crimes are still a matter if stigma, they are still a crime where jokes are made, elbows are nudged and where the victim is the one who is violated time and time again after the initial assault.

And this is true in all manner of cases. An example from earlier in the week, a Facebook group of which I am member had posted upon it an article about a female police officer being groped whilst at work. Cue a number of juvenile, frat house jokes about whether her boobs were any good and letting her frisk them etc etc. When I and another female member of the group pointed out that sexual assault is no laughing matter we were labelled as 'militant feminists', 'pains in the ass' and as having 'no sense of humour'.  Obviously on the sliding scale of sexual assaults this is on the less serious end but highlights perfectly the lack of respect with which crimes against women are often treated and displays a stunning lack of understanding of how, even relatively unserious assaults can impact on their victims.

Regardless of the severity of the assault there seems always to be an unending stream of people (some of them shockingly and despairingly women) who are willing to make excuses for either the crime itself or those who commit them. In the Steubenville case, people blame the victim's inebriation, her dress, her attitude, her reputation, hell one of the defence attorneys even went on Piers Morgan to blame the crime on the fact his client's brain was not sufficiently developed. In the case I talk about above someone went so far as to state that because the victim of the groping was a Vietnamese traffic Police Officer that she was automatically guilty of being corrupt and therefore deserved it. Even in the horrific case in India where a woman and her male companion boarded a bus where she was beaten, gang raped and later died of the horrific injuries she sustained, a religious leader was quick to use the victim's perceived lack of piety coupled with the inebriated state of her attackers to excuse their actions and place the blame on the victim.

The question is why is there this skewed view when it comes to sexual assaults? Why are some people so afraid to place the blame where it belongs? Why is the victim that often the one that ends up on trial?

Statistics across the globe support the notion that a vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported, often out of shame or the belief that they will be somehow blamed. Even at the highest level sexual assault is often not treated with the gravity it deserves. Todd Aiken a republican nominee for the Senate in the 2012 election made world news with his comments about 'legitimate rape' whilst his colleague Richard Mourdock made the comment that pregnancy that resulted from rape were 'something that God intended'. Presumably those who think like this have not yet figured out that their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are women.

Rather than debating nuances such as the victim's attire or her mental state or her sobriety or her past the message on rape and sexual assault should be this. If she says no, its rape, if she can't consent, its rape, if she tries to fight you off, its rape, if she's wearing a short skirt or a low cut top, or both its not the same as consenting, if she is judgement impaired then that's not consent. We should not have to teach our daughter that she should act in a certain way if she wants to be avoid being sexually assaulted, but we should be teaching our sons how you should treat women. There should be no lamenting of opportunities lost for those convicted of raping a 16 year old girl in Ohio, regardless of their wasted potential. Whilst they may legally be children at sixteen they are old enough to understand the concept of right and wrong, of criminality and of basic human decency. They made a choice and their actions have, very rightly so, had consequences. Yet I can't help but think its the victim who's life has been ruined here and that seems to be a point that a lot of people are missing.

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