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This morning while watching the Today show, they began talking about the Steubenville, Ohio rape case. They did an overview of the story and kept repeating how the accused kept saying it was “consensual” sex right after saying how the victim was drunk and being drug from one party to another.  They showed one video clip with a guardian of one of the perpetrators saying, “Well, she was drunk.” Another followed from the video-gone-viral with the young man saying, “she’s dead as a doornail.” If she was drunk or unresponsive, it was NOT consensual and there is no excuse for what was done to her.  It was WRONG.

NBC then went on to interview the former guardians of one of the perps… I am pissed as hell.  The Today Show pandered to the perpetrators and bought right into the rape culture. They played pictures of the perpetrator as a 10-year-old kid and interview the one-time guardians who insist they are “supportive, no matter what”. Matt Lauer actually does ask tough question in the interview, but every single one is sidestepped.  NBC stated that they invited the victim and her family to be interviewed, but they declined due to her still needing recovery.  It was bad enough that my husband lost his temper and turned off the TV because of the way the story was being reported.

The news of this breaking right so closely on the heels of the death of rape victim in India should make people stand up and shout NO!  In the US, this is compounded by the lapse of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

I witnessed an important illustration at a mandatory Army “S.H.A.R.P” (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention) training at my Unit last month. When the trainer got up and asked if it was all right to harass or assault women who were scantily dressed, drunk, etc, the group answer was “NO”.  However, as the discussion continued, pictures were being put up on the screen, one of a young woman in revealing clothes, and the presenter asked if she deserved to be assaulted and one guy said something to the effect of, “only if she hadn’t been dressed that way.”  I actually spoke up and said to him, “you obviously DO believe that it was her fault.”

The reality regarding rape in a rape culture is that it is always a woman’s fault.  If she resists, she is told that she should have submitted.  If she doesn’t resist, she is told she wasn’t really raped.  If she is covered in head to toe, either she did something to attract attention or was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If she is showing even an inch of skin, then she is dressed too provocatively.  It’s always about the woman and NEVER about the man.  Women have the ultimate responsibility to control men, oh really?!

Logically, this leads to questions about whether men are adults or even human beings. To quote a favorite movie of mine, “People don’t mature anymore, they just stay assholes all their lives.” Deep questions about why men are unable to control themselves inevitably arise.  But to put the onus on the main perpetrators of violent sexual assault is to fight the purity/rape culture that is “tradition” in too many countries.  The implied subtext is “boys will be boys” and therefore cannot control themselves or be responsible for themselves. Men should be pissed about this implication.

My husband and most of the men I know do “get” it to a great extent.  But unless you are a woman living in a rape culture, it’s impossible to know exactly the background fear that you internalize and take for granted.  I am NOT saying that men can’t get it, but it is hard to “grok it in fullness” unless you live in daily.  Women are taught either overtly or implicitly to dress in certain ways, avoid certain areas, etc. These behaviors become automatic and ingrained to the point that she usually can’t even tell you where she learned them or why.  Such deep programming ensures that if something does happen, she first blames herself and then turns her sublimated rage (against her attacker) back on her.  Women aren’t supposed to be angry unless it is self-inflicted, first because it isn’t “ladylike” and secondly because it is “her” fault.

The rape culture mindset thinks that a woman is implying consent by (1) the way she is un/dressed, (2) being in a given place/social situation, (3) drinking/otherwise being impaired, (4) saying ‘no’ when she “really means yes”, etc. These are all judgments made by the rape culture and have no bearing on the reality of the situation.  A rape culture buys into and perpetuates the implication that rape is a woman’s fault and responsibility to avoid.  Our legal system is just an extension of the rape culture, losing rape kits, grilling rape victims about their pasts, ignoring or belittling the victims, etc. Yet we continue to wonder why only a fraction of rapes are reported. SMH.

For those who think that we don’t live in a rape culture, then why did the Violence Against Women Act really expire?  Rape Culture men who have not walked in a woman’s shoes let it expire because the women they know haven’t talked about the fear they live with, haven’t been raped or haven’t talked about their own sexual assault experiences… or they haven’t listened because “their women” are respectable and it “can’t” happen to them.  

However, women certainly don’t report rape as much as they should.  However, given the climate of the rape culture (exacerbated by the resounding lack of action on VAWA), women fear the possible repercussions of reporting: loss of credibility, not being taken seriously, nothing happening, putting herself into the path of further harm (possibly from the rapist), “questionable” details of her past being revealed, being perceived as weak, and so many other things.

The bottom line is: Only YES means YES.  If you cannot consent for ANY reason, the answer is NO.

Originally posted to oakborn on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 10:56 AM PST.

Also republished by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, House of LIGHTS, and Sexism and Patriarchy.

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