Tag Archives: sexual assault

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

Your Underwear = Free Drink. Fair Trade?

This story hasn’t seemed to catch on in the States yet, but a bar in Dublin is offering girls free drinks in return for their underwear.

I’ll let that new currency sit with you for a minute, and add to this that the bar in question is the very same site in which a 15 year-old reported being sexually assaulted earlier this summer.

I’m going to tackle this in two ways – both in regards to the sexual assault and in regards to the pitch that women lose their undergarments in a bar. That they aren’t asking for a jacket, or a shoe, or a sock, or a headband, or, frankly, not asking women to give up anything at all for drinks other than their cash money, is not lost on me.

The idea behind this kind of promotional event is simple. By encouraging women to drop trou under the auspices of saving them some dough and by presenting it as something of a game – if you do this, you win this – they’re trying to mask the creepiness factor with a jolly sentimentality and, it seems, a savvy sense of the economical. This not only is an attempt to cover up their hopeful possibility of granting some men a free show, but the effort to make it lighthearted is done to silence critics as prudish wet blankets. However, selling this as a game – the exchange of alcohol for valuable organ protecting clothing – sets the precedent that one’s sexuality and access to it is in fact up for sale, and also strengthens the harmful thinking that by buying a woman a drink she automatically becomes sexually accessible. The existence of this promotion, regardless of whether or not women participate in it, actually reinforces this thinking. And given the jokey presentation, those who do not participate in it are liable to be seen as ruining everyone else’s fun. Any woman who has been pressured to take a drink from a man in a bar can assure one of that. Bars have been mating and meeting grounds for years – why not just continue to let men and women buy their drinks, meet, have a chat, see where it goes – without the unnecessary orchestration of a woman removing her underwear before even being introduced?

It seems pretty callous for this bar to promote this kind of “deal” after a young girl rounded up the courage to report that she’d been raped in this club’s bathroom. Even if we were to assume that their misguided vision – one of supposed sexual prowess – was what led them to create this promotion, did no one suggest that given the recent bathroom forced sex encounter perhaps they shouldn’t encourage women to drop their underpants in an alcohol-fueled environment that is essentially paying them to strip? The bar asked for underwear because removing underwear promotes the assumption that the sex region is open for business, and willingly so. They asked for underwear because they think it’s titillating, because sex sells, because they figured a lot of men would likely show up that evening under the impression that some half-naked drunk women would be hanging out by the taps. And what comes next in this line of logic I’m sure you know. They think they might get lucky. Alcohol has long been a factor in discussions around consent and what it means. If a girl is too drunk to coherently consent to sex – something one could see happening when they are given free alcohol for an entire evening – then the sexual encounter is non-consenual. By objectifying the sexuality of these women as something that can be bargained for, I worry that certain people may consider their consent negotiable as well. Is a drunk woman up sexually up for grabs? Absolutely not. Is it a drunk woman’s fault if she is sexually assaulted? Double-no. Is presenting the exchange of goods for the stripping of clothing minimizing a woman’s sexual agency and glorifying the idea that women can be bought? Yes. Can a woman participate in this promotion and still make a decision to engage or not in consensual sex? Sure. But this is about the fact that a bar took on the role of mediator in sexuality, and the reason I can’t think of any women or girls I know taking on this bar’s “challenge” isn’t because they are prudish, and it isn’t because they don’t like to drink – many do. It’s because the foundation of this promotion reinforces the dominant gaze of men who watch while women barter their bodies for money or substances.

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Filed under Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Rape and Sexual Assault, Sexism

The DSK Decision and the Definition of Consent

I have held off writing about the DSK case being tossed out because honestly, I can’t really bear it. Plenty of other news sources and bloggers have reported on the reasons why I feel this is a catastrophic blow to victims of sexual assault, and reiterating it would likely only upset me and readers even more. However, a news story reported in my hometown paper, The Chronicle, got me thinking about the definitions of consent and what it means to be a person worthy of a trial, and I thought I’d tie these two instances together.

According to the DSK decision, if one has lied in the past they are considered unworthy of a trial in the eyes of the DA – whose goal seems to be focused solely on winning as opposed to determining if in this particular instance one is lying. Let’s look at the specific lies in question – namely, the reason behind Diallo’s asylum in the United States and her recounts of the story.

First, the defense is claiming that since she allegedly lied on her asylum application about being gang raped in her home country, she cannot be trusted in this accusation of DSK. Had she lied? Yes, she admitted to that. Does that matter in this specific case of DSK assaulting her in the hotel room when a forensic examination, including a medical exam, proved to be consistent with her story? No. When she lied on her asylum application – as many, many people do (an interesting and poignant piece in the New Yorker recently profiled this in a case example) – she did so to escape a country in which she felt constantly at risk and in danger and wanted to protect her daughter from the same fate. Should the fact that many people do this – and lie about repeated gang rapes in particular – immediately excuse the lie? No. But it does put it in the context of a reality that should not go unexamined. While lying in previous instances can make a case harder to win, and isn’t something I’m championing or condoning, when you look at her reasons for a falsehood on her asylum application, it make no sense that she would then risk a job she was grateful and proud to have gotten as a hotel housekeeper, raising in her daughter in New York, by having what the defense claims was consensual sex in the middle of her cleaning duties.

In regards to the changing of her story, it is well known and understood by trauma experts that women who have experienced sexual assault (and not just sexual assault, but any traumatic event, for both genders) often recall the order of events differently and clarify them as time goes on, due to the effects of the shock, denial, and the coping mechanism of blocking out of painful incidents. This does not mean that the assault didn’t happen, particularly since this reaction has been seen and understood many times over by many other rape and assault victims.

What I also find interesting in these cries about credibility is how gendered they are. DSK has a notorious history in France of being too forward and sexually aggressive with women; in my mind this causes some credibility issues for him as well, as he claims in this instance it was only consensual. It also reminds me of the fact that one of the NYPD officers acquitted this summer had a history of sexually harassing women, unsubstantiated arrest of a woman and blocking the filing of a report of the woman whom he sexually harassed – yet this was not seen as hampering his credibility. Nor was the fact that he made false 911 calls that routed him back to the apartment of the East Village victim and denied ever sleeping with her and then promptly changed his story to one of doing so but using a condom and assuring it was consensual. If we’re saying Diallo has credibility issues, I’d say these two need to join her on that wagon.

In the San Francisco case, we are confronted with a similar – though not the same – situation; one of assessing the validity of the accuser based on previous actions or claims. A SF lawyer (who specializes in sexual harassment cases, interestingly) is accused of raping three women, ages 19 – 36, whom he met over Craigslist while searching for partners interested in dominant-submissive rough sex. Two of the women had consented to having sex with this man on previous occasions before filing specific incidents of assault and rape. The man’s attorney has used this as evidence that the women were consensual partners, interested in engaging in sex and agreeing to what the man proposed in his post.

It seems we need a reminder of the definition of consent.

It does not matter if a woman is a prostitute. It does not matter if a woman had sex with you consensually in the past. It does not matter if in an email a woman expressed interest in specific sexual roles, positions, and activity. What matters is if in the specific encounter at hand, both parties have expressed the desire to go forward, and that if one withdraws that consent at any point it is the responsibility of the other to stop. The women could have easily agreed over an email exchange to engage in dominant-submissive sex, arrived at the man’s home still agreeing to it, and agreed to it right up to the minute they were to begin. But if in that minute she decided she no longer wanted to do this or was hesitant and unsure and wanted to wait, and he went ahead anyway – then it becomes rape.

Rape and sexual assault cases are notoriously difficult to try. They are usually he said/she said situations, at best aided by forensic evidence. Each case is unique, each has elements that are often not introduced or examined until a trial begins – this exemplifies the importance of scrutiny and juries who devote days to understanding the nuances and details of cases that are not reported or perceived by the media.

Setting the precedent that previously engaging in sexual activity, lying, or expressing interest in sexual experimentation eliminates your chances for a fair trial regarding the specific assault case at hand pushes us into the realm of implausibility. It is also worth noting that despite outcries of false accusations, the most frequently repeated results of studies regarding false claims and filings of rape show that the real rate of these is between 2% at its lowest and 7% at its highest (American Prosecutors Research Institute). But the media sheds so much light on the false claims that people presume it is much higher. The vast majority of rape and sexual assault charges never see the spotlight – perhaps because they aren’t dangerous enough or don’t involve high-ranking political figures or people whom media isn’t able to coin as gold-diggers and attention mongers because of their social or socioeconomic status. The bottom line is that each story deserves to be closely and carefully examined, and not discarded because a DA thinks he can’t win the case. District Attorney Vance is quoted as saying “If we don’t believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot expect a jury to.” I would venture to say that given the outcry over his decision, many people would like to hear the full story (and who do in fact think that the issue of reasonable doubt is in question) from both sides, with all the available evidence and fleshed out arguments. The issue of the truth, and seeking it, should take the precedence over one’s doubt at a courtroom victory.

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Duke Nukem – Seriously?

I don’t play video games. I’m sure this comes as no surprise. The few times I have played a game it involved a furry animal working his way through some kind of tropical forest and the most violent it got was when he hit a villanous turtle on the head with a coconut. So, I am not familiar with Duke Nukem.

Of course, one Google search tells me he is a supremely popular, freakishly over-muscled, machine gun-wielding, hyper-aggressive action “hero” who is literally described in the Wikipedia entry as “frequently politically incorrect.” (Hilarious. And accurate.) His character profile also claims that when he was first introduced, he was a CIA operative hired to save Earth from Dr. Proton. This would maybe imply that the game involved some kind of strategy, particularly of the secret intelligence kind, and also perhaps had something to do with taking down an evil scientist who has discovered some kind of new microbe that could destroy the planet, or, you know, blah blah blah whatever. Because the point is, in my brief and terrifying foray into this video game’s website, I saw no evidence to suggest that this kind of thinking went into the development of this franchise, and that it’s just what you’d expect. A guy who looks intensely devoted to his steroid regimen, has a penchant for unloading 50 rounds into anything with tentacles, and who appears to live in a post-apocalyptic  land which is somehow still able to generously supply women with fetish outfits, bikinis, and manicures. Exhibit A – what greeted me as I came out of the subway this morning:

Thanks for this offensive shot, Gearbox Software!

I apologize for the blurriness factor – but in this image, our man Duke Nukem is sitting in a throne (of course, of course) while two women in schoolgirl outfits sit at his feet. The caption? “This game has bazookas. Both types.” Weapons, breasts, and a throne! What else could dudes possibly ask for? Well, actually…

In a video promo for the game on YouTube (if you’re going to watch this, take a deep breath – and I personally would say NSFW) it gets even worse. There are shots of Duke on a shooting rampage interspersed with what appears to be him walking into a room and seeing a switched-on vibrator skidding around the room. The nicest touch? A hazard sign is on the vibrator and we’re treated to a voiceover that says “You know you want to touch it.” This could be an over-analyzation (no), but I’m going there – a hazard symbol perhaps because Duke Nukem, for all his hyper-masculinity, is terrified of female sexuality? Terrified of the idea that a woman may be sexually satisfied without him? Afraid of anything other than the hetero-normative/man in power/man’s desire satisfied/woman as vehicle of this desire – kind of sex?

He then encounters two women – again in schoolgirl outfits – who at first seem like they might be fighting but then drop their weapons of choice to touch and caress each other in sexually suggestive ways. Duke is watching this while pointing a gun at them, and saying, “allll right, time for my reward.” What is the reward here? Watching two women engage in sexual activity? Shooting the women engaged in sexual activity? Keeping your weapon out and pointed at the women to ensure they continue engaging in the sexual activity? Many other reviews of Duke Nukem have also pointed out its violent sexual imagery and encouragement of sexually violent behavior towards women.

Let’s quickly discuss the schoolgirl outfits. Perhaps the most tired cliché of all, they hearken to this video game’s weakening of any strong female identities by putting them in little girls’ uniforms to negate any chance of adult agency. They also, disturbingly, speak to the pedophilic aspect of the schoolgirl craze, the sexualization of the vulnerable - children. Why do people who go after this fad not see how creepy it is? You are using a child’s outfit to turn you on.

So, just to tally up:

1) Fetishizing women in outfits meant for children = pedophilic sexualization of grown women and increasing one’s perception of their vulnerability

2) Referring to their breasts as “bazookas” = at once equating a woman’s body part with an anti-tank military weapon and objectifying women using an offensive antiquated slang for large breast size

3) Displays of a lesbian encounter that has nothing to do with a healthy, respectful relationship that happens to be between two women = everything to do with stereotypical exploitation and eroticization of lesbian relationships for the titillation of an armed psychopath

4) Pointing guns at women = ….pointing guns at women

5) Claiming that watching women engage in sexual activity with one another, encouraging women to engage in sexual activity with one another, threatening women with weaponry to continue engaging in sexual activity with one another, or forcing them to engage in any kind of sexual behavior with you is your reward = You deserve it – you deserve to be sexually gratified however you wish because you shot a bunch of Men in Black rejects. (Here we have voyeurism, sexual assault, physical assault, and manipulation – impressive, Duke!)

6) And…a vibrator skidding around a room. Because, you know…vibrators are always on the loose!!!

I do not need to sum this up any further. I think it just concludes on its own. With a WTF.

If you aren’t following me on Twitter, why don’t you start here?

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Filed under Defining Gender, Media, Pop Culture, Sexism, 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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Ed Schultz, the NYPD, and the Burden of Victims

Three fairly prolific things have happened in the past three days that I found to be misogynistic, sadly unsurprising, and deeply troubling. They all incorporated the ways in which women are attacked in the public eye, how the media shapes the representation of female victims, and what we think are crimes worthy of solving and what kind of help is worth giving.

Let’s start with Ed. Given the obviously hard liberal bent of this blog, I’m guessing most of you have already determined that my views are aligned with many on MSNBC, despite not usually watching TV for my news (I prefer to read my news, because I hate commercials and because I’d rather get the straight facts than deal with a sensationalized version of a story with a reporter’s personal opinion bending it one way or another). This past week, Ed Schultz referred to Laura Ingraham as a slut.

This frustrated me for a number of reasons. First of all, I don’t care about Laura Ingraham’s sex life. I don’t care how many people she’s slept with, who they are, or what they’ve done. Why does Ed? Why does anybody? To use that as a platform of attack is insulting, crude, sexist, and entirely irrelevant to the argument. Schultz was angry and wanted to be mean – and the best way to be mean to women in America is by calling them out as sex-crazy animals. It’s a double shot – you’re calling them dirty and you’re calling them immoral. Is that the way we’re mean to men in America? No. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Secondly, just take a quick, cursory look at Ingraham’s website. There are…so, SO many things that I would rather have had Schultz tackle regarding Ingraham’s absurd political ideology than calling her a slut. Without even clicking through, I can see about ten things that Schultz’s usually incisive wit and on-target analysis would have been better poised to take on. The last thing I want someone like Ingraham getting is an increased audience size due to sympathy culled because a TV personality called her a bad name. I would much rather have her getting an increased audience size due to a TV personality calling out her intense and callous right-wing agenda and seriously out there hard-core conservative rants against what she sees as Obama’s socialist agenda. He could have killed her mission with facts. Instead, he propped her mission up with an insult.

Next up – the acquittal of the two NYPD officers charged with raping a woman in her East Village apartment in 2008 after supposedly “helping her home.” The officers were called to escort a woman home who was apparently so incapacitated that she could not manage on her own. They entered her apartment, supposedly helped her into bed, and then faked 911 calls multiple times through the night so they could return to her apartment, “talk to her” and “cuddle with her” when she wasn’t wearing underwear. In their words, they were “checking in on her” and one of the officers even said he was “counseling” her on her alcohol use since as a former addict himself, claiming to recognize she may have a problem with alcohol. She reported that she awoke to a man taking off her tights and penetrating her. He said all he did was “cuddle” with her. When a conversation that she had taped became public – she went to his precinct to confront him and ask him if he had used a condom – he back-peddled and agreed that sex had occurred but that it had been consensual. He said, as quoted on the tape, that “yes, I used a condom, you don’t have to worry about diseases or anything.” She insisted on an answer to this to protect her health because she was too drunk to knowingly consent to sex. A story change like that alone – going from “we just cuddled” to “actually, we did have sex” should make one highly suspicious of his defense. It is not the job of an NYPD officer to decide that he should be counseling a woman he was called to escort home. Why, if you were so concerned with her safety, would you fake 911 calls to go back into her apartment? You could have easily reported that you were concerned and noted that you felt there was a need for her to be checked in on.

Ultimately, all the cops were found guilty of was “official misconduct.” Faking 911 calls and repeatedly entering a woman’s apartment without her consent and “cuddling” with her while she wasn’t wearing underwear? How will this precedent serves those charged with rape on the stand in the near future? If a man enters my apartment and crawls into bed while I’m not wearing underwear to “cuddle” with me while I am too incapacitated to agree to it, “misconduct” does not describe how I would categorize those events. More like…breaking and entering and assault. The defense of the officers was insulting – they claimed that she was way too drunk to make it home on her own, but that she was sober enough to consent to sex. Seems like a woman can’t win.

When a few people on the jury were asked how they came to this conclusion, one man said that they “just didn’t believe the woman’s testimony” when it was read back. They also said they felt there were holes in both her and the cops’ stories. Yet they chose to not believe the victim. I understand the concept of reasonable doubt, yes – but, in this case, we had the testimony of a cop whose story had holes in it because he was trying to cover up his actions, and the testimony of a woman whose story had holes in it because she was drunk. If she was too drunk to have a cohesive testimony, what makes one think she is sober enough to consent to sex? It seems that this definition makes people more uncomfortable than the act of the non-consensual sex itself. An NYPD officer, above all, should know this (they go through sexual assault training – did he forget?), and should be in the position of protector. I simply cannot get beyond the idea that if one thought she was so drunk, so utterly incapacitated that you needed to check on her over and over again throughout the night, why – I just have to know – would one think she was in any state to have sex?

And lastly, news recently hit that New York, undoubtedly tight on funds, has proposed cutting the special victims unit teams at hospitals that serve women who were recently sexually assaulted and raped. SVUs are the group of professionals equipped to deal with the aftermath of an assault. They gather forensic evidence from rape kits, which collect DNA and have helped track down and identify many assaulters in the past. (There are already backlogs of hundreds of unexamined rape kits in many U.S. cities, something that rightfully angers and frustrates advocates who point out that these kits are often the most reliable evidence one has in linking an attacker to a victim.) They also provide the essential mental health support for women immediately after a sexual assault, and also help connect her to services that can continue the necessary ongoing mental health support in the future. It seems like a no-brainer that these services should be offered.

These three distinct stories are each, in their unique ways, indicative of one perspective that desperately needs to change – people hate women who have a sexual identity. They blame them for being sexually active and sexually expressive; if a woman has historically had a lot of sex partners, they make sure to bring this to light during a rape accusation and claim that she must have agreed to it, it must have been consensual because she loves sex so much! When they want to insult women they use terms that are charged with implications of having too much sex (Schultz doesn’t actually care how much sex Ingraham is having – he was furious with her political idiocy, and instead of calmly articulating that and making a much needed point about her fact-less rantings, he chose to sling a comment that he thought would be more hurtful – that we socially have decided is more hurtful – one that charged she was sexually ravenous), and use that to delegitimize her. Ingraham lobs a lot of softballs for liberals; why not attack her weak political ideology instead of attacking her supposed sexual proclivity?

Why cut the services that are so obviously needed for women who, after an assault or rape, feel incredibly vulnerable, angry, confused, and scared? Why would you not want a forensic team to gather evidence that could help arrest and implicate a rapist? Why would you not want a team of mental health professionals to support the victim immediately, to help her process it, to continue to help her process it, decreasing the likelihood of her struggling with depression, chronic fear and fatigue, incredible anger, and a serious lack of faith in the criminal justice system? All I can think of is that these people…don’t believe these are real issues. They don’t believe the women who are assaulted and who try to seek justice and healing after their attacks. It seems as thought the burden of being assaulted rests on women here just because they are women. It’s much easier to denounce having sex than have to go after someone who assaulted a woman. But what these people need to remember is that rape isn’t actually about sex, it’s about power over the victim. And these three stories offer up sensational examples of how the greater social power structure perpetrates this dynamic and supports and fosters the rape culture. By acquitting the NYPD officers we’ve shown that those in power will not be questioned, by removing SVU services we’ve told women that they are losing the resources that would have helped them regain personal power and that would have legally stripped their assaulters of theirs. And Ed, who thankfully apologized, showed that those who have a handle on the media, and who are lucky enough to have their voices projected farther than most, can still knock a woman (even those who are ostensibly on their same level in terms of exposure) down by calling her a slut.

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Filed under Feminism, Media, Politics, Pop Culture, Violence

Turns Out, Rape Isn’t Funny. Surprise!

Feministing posted about the opening skit of SNL’s season finale yesterday, and thank god they did because when I saw this sketch on Saturday I sat there thinking “I can’t be the only person who thinks this is totally not amusing.”

But yes, I feel like it needs to be pointed out that rape isn’t funny no matter who is getting raped or doing the raping. Joking about prison rape really negates the very real trauma people who are raped in prison experience and feel the repercussions of for the rest of their lives – like all rape victims. It delegitimizes the fight against sexual assault. When people rightfully denounce the deplorable actions of DSK and then turn around and joke about how hilarious it is to think about him being raped in prison, you lose the validity of your argument. You lose your audience who then go on to think that since it was so easy to mock the attack of someone else – however villainous he may in fact be -  it’s actually not a huge deal, and hey, if you change your perspective, it can be kind of funny. It’s not hilarious when a sex worker is raped, it’s not hilarious when a girl someone thinks is wearing “slutty” (whatever the definition of that now is) clothes is raped, it’s not hilarious when an attacker is then raped him or herself. That kind of eye for an eye retribution should be long out of style. Let’s try to truncate the cycle of hate, not add to it even by jokingly assuming that it would be funny for an assaulter to know what it feels like.

I once saw a comedian who made a rape joke and was rightfully (but very mildly) booed by part of the audience. After her performance, someone tentatively brought up the fact that she had made light of a very serious, very traumatic issue. I myself had been concerned about the possibility of rape victims being in her audience, who may have relived the trauma and felt fear, anxiety, anger, and confusion rise in their gut as they recalled an assault they may have experienced, while the comedian on the stage just laughed it off. The comedian’s response was that she felt “everything should be able to be joked about,” that everything can be funny. Well, I obviously disagree; in that response there seems to be a lack of awareness, a lack of respect, a lack of empathy. I don’t think rape jokes are funny, because I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t take their experience seriously, and I don’t want them to think at all that any part of their attack could be seen as worthy of a snicker. I don’t think AIDS jokes are funny because most of the people I have worked with as an HIV/AIDS educator don’t find their painful condition very funny, nor the circumstances (cost of medication, treatment options, co-morbidities, shortened life span, loss of friends and family) very funny. If you’re a good comedian, a good writer, a good actor – you must be able to come up with material that doesn’t cover the grounds of assault, no?

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Filed under Health Education, Media, Public Health, Rape and Sexual Assault, Violence