The Vehicle of Rape Culture

Photo Credit: CNN

The public is outraged by CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial.  A trial which found Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, guilty of raping a 16 year old girl while she was unconscious.  Outrage grew when it was revealed that photos of the naked victim were sent over social media.  In one statement the victim expressed that had it not been for the photos and texts, she wouldn’t have realized she’d been raped.  Once the verdict was read, CNN immediately tailored their coverage expressing sympathy for the rapists, lamenting that these two young boys’ lives were ruined.  An article by David Edwards for The Raw Story gives an summary of the CNN coverage.

Steubenville, Ohio isn’t a unique town with unique problems.  Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond aren’t an anomaly in normal teenage behavior.  CNN’s sympathy for these rapists is not unusual if you understand Rape Culture.

Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

We train our girls to protect themselves with self-defense classes.  We prepare them for victim shaming by suggesting that how they dress or behave directly impacts their ability to be safe.  We suggest that they limit their flirting, drinking and independence because it could put them in danger.  What we don’t do is teach our boys not to rape.

Steubenville, Ohio was a perfect vehicle of Rape Culture.  We start with an engine of testosterone powered athletes.  We add the fuel of underage alcohol consumption and lack of parental supervision.  We remove the brakes of good judgement, believing that an unconscious girl could legally or morally submit to sex.  We steer into a group mentality of acceptance and silence. Shift into high gear with the permissive attitude that boys will be boys, or that she shouldn’t have gotten so drunk; we’re left with a runaway vehicle who’s only road leads to a life altering crash.

The driving force behind Rape Culture exists most obviously in the military.  This runaway vehicle has been crashing into the lives of military women for decades. Incidents like Tailhook, Aberdeen, U.S. Air Force Academy, and reports of trainees being assaulted by their instructors are examples of the vehicle crashing the lives of women in service. In 2011, there were 3,192 reports of sexual assault made with only 989 receiving disciplinary action.  What these numbers reflect is the culture of fear that exists for victims of sexual assault in the military. Fear of retribution, fear of not being believed, fear of losing rank, respect or promotion are the realities of military sexual assault.

The military has implemented a program called Sexual Assault Response Coordinator or SARC.  Any member of the military who has been sexually assaulted or harassed can report the abuse in a safe environment, supported by a team of military personnel trained in response actions.  There are slogans, “No means NO!” , “Wait until she’s sober” , a poster of a drink being drugged with the text, “Opportunity; Rapists don’t wait for consent, they take it-Don’t let this happen to you.” , and a poster of a distressed woman with a man’s hand over her mouth asking the question, “Does this look like consent to you?”

A recent case sparking outrage, has prompted a bill before Congress making it impossible for a commander to overturn a verdict.  Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin decided to overturn a sexual assault conviction against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy, was found guilty on Nov. 2 of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer. Franklin dismissed the verdict reinstating Wilkerson to duty.  If the bill passes it will no longer be possible for one person’s decision to overturn a verdict, giving incentive to protect a victim’s rights in reporting.

Still an engine fully fueled shifting into high gear without brakes, becomes the culture of rape our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters must avoid in service to their country. We tell our women to worry about being raped by the enemy, when statistically it is our own men who rape them.  The Department of Defense is addressing these issues by trying to pull an emergency brake that doesn’t exist. Until we as a culture begin to address the culture of rape, our women will not be safe on or off the battle field.


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