Tag Archives: power

Good Riddance, Paterno.

After watching the appalling, immature response to the rightful firing of Joe Paterno last night, I had difficulty sleeping. I could not reconcile in my mind how people were so willing to further discard these children who were victimized, further negate their trauma and reduce their suffering to something negligible and less important than the football trophies lining Penn State’s halls. I’m not introducing the main characters of this post, because by now I’m sure you all know them.

In situations like these, you don’t even have to say “I’m on Paterno’s side,” which is just what all the screaming rioters on Penn State’s campus and outside his home are doing. By bemoaning a lost season, a coach’s supposedly truncated career, a football team’s interrupted success, you are contributing your voice to the chorus of people who think this isn’t such a big deal. That the interruption of Penn State’s stellar season is actually what’s pretty sad! That a coach with such success deserves to be forgiven for some things! And they were awful things, but they happened years ago! And he reported it to the Athletic Director, so he did his job!

If you’re a rape or sexual assault victim, that chorus can sound mighty deafening. And ceaseless.

So, I’m here to tell you that this is a big deal. A really $&%/!*$ big deal. And I can’t help but cringe anytime I hear a comment on this issue that hints at anything otherwise. That Paterno didn’t have this in his control. That reporting a criminal act and the victimization of a child to an administrator with no follow-up was sufficient. That marching his ass down to the closest precinct wasn’t something he unquestionably should have done, and ensured that Sandusky didn’t get within a hundred yards of a kid ever again. We are told that we should do the best we can with what we know; Paterno and McQuery did nothing of any consequence with what they knew. They moved at a glacial pace and took actions that were of minimal requirement. They worked at a university and with students, whose well-being is ostensibly the greatest concern of any educational institution. In case anyone doubted that the cash cow athletics of some colleges is what is of greatest concern, I give you this sick and disturbing example. There is quite literally no excuse, no “explanation” of the multiple failures of multiple leaders, that doesn’t rest on the fact that compromising a winning and money-making football team was in no way an option, that this team would not be brought down by ANYthing, not even the physical, emotional, and mental sacrifice of children.

Do I sound pissed? You bet I am. You should be, too. Let’s try, for a daring second, to re-prioritize the issues of our country. Let’s move “college football” from its precious perch and consider the prevention of rape and sexual assault to be of greatest importance. The swift punishment of the criminals who perform these acts to be the first order of business, not falling behind the next desperate grasp for a game win, a series win, a university parade.

I don’t care much what happens to Paterno and the other members of a coaching or admin staff who have had blessed careers and public lives rife with success. What I care about is the little boys who suffered rapes, forced oral sex, molestation, tried to negotiate the fear, humiliation, anger, and physical ramifications of these. Who did not leave the locker rooms, living rooms, camping trips or tents with any swollen bank accounts, any buildings or stadiums named after them, any hordes of fans claiming that they supported them no matter what. Yep. I’m on their side.

And to those screaming Penn State students, knocking over news vans and co-opting an act (rioting) reserved for disenfranchised populations (of which you are not) to demonstrate their subjugation, I’m going to bring this down to as personal a level as I can. I ask of you this: You have a father. Or a brother. Or a son. Or a boyfriend. Or just a close friend. Someone you love and care deeply for. Imagine they had been anally raped in the Penn State locker room, and someone had walked in and seen it and done nothing. Walked right back out instead of saving him. And that the very man you are crowing about knew of it. And turned his head. And your father/brother/son/boyfriend/friend was ignored, his pain deemed not important or relevant, his subsequent suffering that you would have witnessed first hand dismissed and cast aside. Now picture him standing in front of this narcissistic crowd, and asking you to tell him to his face that his raping isn’t as important as your beloved football coach keeping his job. If you can easily do that, then we are in even more depraved trouble than I thought.

After the absurd riots started following his firing, Paterno said that he appreciated the outpouring of support but to please “remain calm and respect the university, its property, and all that we value.”

Respect the university! Nothing about those boys, still, who I knew were raped and assaulted, nothing about respecting them and their pain and ordeal. Respecting the university doesn’t appear to have been on Paterno or McQuery’s mind when they covered up rape, abuse and molestation cases that would ultimately be forever associated with the university and debase its reputation. They showed no respect for the little boys who lives were forever marked by the despicable actions of their buddy Sandusky. They created a chain of administrators and coaches who failed time after time to immediately stop and fix this. So, no, Paterno, despite that your plea was directed at your supporters, I’m pretty riled up and have lost respect for much of Penn State myself. Remain calm and respect the university? – that’s a mighty tall order. Don’t think I can fill it.

He followed his statements with this claim: “With the benefit of hindsight, I should have done more.”

How hollow that rings.

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Politics, Rape and Sexual Assault, Violence

Asking For It.

In New York this past weekend, it was reported that an 85 year-old woman was sexually assaulted on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in the early morning hours. In light of my most recent post, I’m linking to the article because it underscores the real issues behind rape and assault.

As we first fleshed out in my post about Ed Schultz and the NYPD officer case – and the reason I’m highlighting this most recent disturbing news story – when reading these news stories that provide brief glimpses into cases without always articulating the underlying issues, rape and assault are about power and control. This isn’t a remarkable revelation for many, but given the cacophony of noise provided by detractors of rape allegations that claim that women are asking for it when they get raped and that men can’t control their sexual urges if encouraged or aroused by a woman. (It’s worth pointing out that this insulting to the men as well as the women – the obvious slam that any woman would “ask for” the trauma, ceaseless anxiety, degradation, pain of assault or rape, and that men apparently have no control over his sexual urges.)

In this most recent New York case, this assaulter – a young man as seen on a surveillance camera – would be hard pressed to articulate how this 85 year-old woman out for her morning walk was being sexually inviting. He saw her as something to be easily manipulated, someone he could easily take advantage of and overpower, and someone he could control. Someone he could easily get to do what he wanted. Sex and the desire to be sexually intimate with someone are expressions of attraction and love. When someone forces someone to complete a sex act, the focus is the force – not the attraction or expression of feeling. The supposed desire lies in the feeling of control one has over another – and that control is itself the attraction for attackers, wanting to be indisputably in the power position in this dyad.

The fact that his victim was 85 years-old is beside the point. It carries its own spectacular horror, but even if his victim had instead been 25 years-old and known to him, the dynamic remains the same.

In intimate relationships – date rape and partner rape, assault that occurs between people who know one another and between people who may have had some kind of physical relationship in the past – the issue of power is still the root of the attack. Someone who consistently pressures and coerces the victim, who presumes they were led on, who continues to push forward despite lack of consent, is no longer focused on the act of sex – they are focused on the desire to now overpower the person who they feel owes them this experience, who they feel should be serving their needs. The anger that occurs in the space between what the assaulter thought was going to happen – what they all of a sudden feel is their due – and in what the other person wants to willingly participate is where the assault lies. In blind rapes, or stranger rapes, the act of the assault could be driven by instances completely removed the individual who is attacked, and they are merely the object on which the aggression is expressed. The victim of the attack is dehumanized in the eyes of the assaulter, an essential element of the rape and a marker of the mind of the assaulter.

Relatedly – and importantly indicative of this power dynamic in sexual assault and rape – since the alleged attack on a Sofitel Hotel maid by DSK, other instances of maids and housekeeping staff being sexually  assaulted by guests at some of Manhattan’s premiere hotels have come to light – at the Pierre, an Egyptian banking executive assaulted a maid who brought something to his to his room (he was arraigned last night). These women are service workers who lack the political, social, and financial power that these men command, and they are in positions that cannot individually speak to power without feeling consequence. If these men were after sex, they could have gotten sex – an engaged, willing partner – in a city as big and diverse as New York. But it’s easier to use a woman who may feel trapped by her job duties, who is at the bottom of a management ladder, one who assaulters feel is less likely to report an attack for fear that they would not be believed or for fear of losing their employment – in short, easily manipulated and taken advantage of. They wanted a service performed for them, and so they called upon someone they saw as a servant. It’s the idea that what they wanted that instant could be provided by someone who they didn’t see as a person – again, the dehumanization – but as someone there to execute a duty. It probably never crossed the minds of these assaulters that they were not entitled to take what they wanted when they wanted it, and this is what is at the root of these assaults.

While the stories of hotel staff being taken advantage of and the story of an 85 year-old woman being dragged down a Manhattan street differ in circumstance and setting, the motivations behind each attack and their results are the same. And until these rapes and sexual assaults are examined through this dramatically different lens as opposed to current environment of blaming the victim, we will not be able to appropriately victims in their pursuit of both judicial justice and personal healing.

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Filed under Feminism, Public Health