Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Can You Consent to Rape?

My 22 year old daughter came home excited the other day about some news. “Did you hear about it, mom?” she asked, “did you see the video of some reporters’ and how they were commenting about a rape case?” I feigned ignorance, even though I knew she was talking about the rape trial that had been going on in Steubenville, OH. I wondered if she’d had the same impressions as I did… and she did. “I can’t believe they said it!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe they acted as if the boys didn’t do anything wrong! And what about the victim?”

The troubling broadcast she’s referring to is CNN’s live coverage which aired on March 18th. (If you haven’t caught it yet, the link is provided below at the end of this post). So here’s what’s disturbing about the broadcast: the reporters are acting as if the boys just received punishment for a crime they didn’t commit! The depth of sympathy portrayed for the rapists was akin to likening their circumstance as victims of some unfortunate accident…Really????!!! (steam rising from my head)

And what about the victim? Sadly it’s a full six minutes before the victim is even mentioned…and a statement from the victim’s angry mother about the sentences the boys received. Gee, wouldn’t you be angry if your 16 year old daughter was raped AND pictures of her rape were posted all over Facebook by her rapists???

There’s such an emotional disconnect here: sympathy for the rapists and intolerance for their victim’s anger. It doesn’t make sense.

And where’s the consideration for the victim in all of this? What about the lifelong scars that she will have to deal with? As one blogger aptly noted, rape carries consequences with it that only the victim alone must bear. Three years in a juvenile facility seems inconsequential compared to the life sentence that was given to this young victim.

But wait… this gets more tragic.

My daughter then described to me how the news was hitting the proverbial Facebook fan. I listened… and I listened intently, because what young people think is always telling in terms of how far as a society we’ve evolved. Amidst the mix of responses, one discussion was particularly disturbing to me because it was a reflection of the “blame the victim” mentality. In sum, the comments concluded that: yes, rape is wrong, BUT the girl was partly to blame in that situation (for her own rape) because she had allowed herself to get too drunk. She should’ve known better.

Wow… that’s not new news to me, but I have to admit I was taken aback by it. This was someone my daughter knew, and who was also a college student. But this comment, like so many others in the she-was-asking-for-it camp frequently touts that women are to blame – at least in part – for their own rapes because: they dress too provocatively, act too sexually seductive, are in the wrong place at the wrong time, are high on other substances, etc. Somehow these victims are inviting rape based on what they wear or how they act? If that’s the case, I guess we should tell people to stop driving cars that will make them targets of carjacking or tell folks they should stop using their credit cards lest their credit and/or identity get stolen.   

That sounds ridiculous right? So why doesn’t it sound as absurd when we say a woman asked for it? Why can juries believe that a woman who is drunk and provocatively dressed consented to being raped? Or better yet, that she knew or should’ve known that she put herself at risk for that to happen.

The sad tale is that we have much work to do in helping folks – especially our young men - understand that rape is about forcing yourself, your will upon the victim. It’s not about sex, it’s about power. It’s about violating and subjecting another person to what you want, without their opinion or despite their protests. There is no consent if the other person is intoxicated or under the influence of something else…and NO, you aren’t allowed to presume that there is consent just because they can’t tell you “NO.”

Despite what you believe about whether a victim can or cannot consent to rape, this issue reminds me that the specter of double standards still looms. So here’s another double standard we can add to the list (sad but true):

“When a woman is intoxicated and is assaulted, she is often blamed because she was drunk and she shouldn’t have been.  When a man is intoxicated and assaults, he is often forgiven because he was drunk and didn’t know better or couldn’t control himself.”

I feel sadness for Jane Doe and her family… and am saddened even more that we as a society, still have a ways to go when it comes to things like this. I wish it didn’t take public tragedies like the Steubenville rape to raise the discourse.

what do you think?

Link to CNN video:


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