The Steubenville rape case has been on many people’s minds lately. For those unfamiliar with the case, two high school football players in Ohio repeatedly sexually assaulted and photographed a drunk and unconscious 16 year-old-girl, carrying her from party to party and documenting their actions on Facebook and Twitter. The football players were recently convicted of rape under Ohio law and sentenced to juvenile detention.
The case, including the ensuing media coverage and the public response to it, is emblematic of rape culture; a problem that transcends a small town in the Midwest and is relevant even to us, on a university campus thousands of kilometres away.
In November, the Martlet reported on one UVic student’s sexual assault in the David Thompson residence. She said she lacked the language to talk about this violence initially because the rampant alcohol culture in residence normalized an experience like hers. In 2006–2007 (the most recent year for which figures are available), UVic’s Equity and Human Rights office received nine sexual harassment complaints and 18 gender discrimination complaints. And in recent weeks, a female jogger was attacked on campus. Although she fought and escaped her assailant, her experience cements the fact that rape culture — part of a larger culture of violence — permeates UVic. We’re not immune.
Rape culture is defined as a society in which the prevailing norms and attitudes make excuses for, tolerate, normalize and sometimes even condone sexual assault. Given the warped perspective on rape, perpetrators may not even realize their actions constitute assault. Members of a rape culture may feel that it is normal to treat rape with indifference or even humour.
The cornerstone of the rhetoric of rape culture is victim-blaming. Victim-blaming perverts and distorts the cause of sexual assault. The fault of the crime is removed from the perpetrator(s) and attributed to the victim’s behaviour instead, whether it is how the victim dressed or how much they drank. Victim-blaming often ignores the fact that impairment legally removes any ability to give or imply consent. Victim-blaming softens the blow against people who have committed a crime, suggesting that an assailant’s raping of a non-consenting individual is excused or justified.
More insidious but just as damaging as victim-blaming are troubling forms of victim-defending. Some people — understandably, even — strive to stir up empathy for victims when faced with rape apologists. But blogs like The Belle Jar have pointed to problems with anti-rape arguments along the lines of, “What if she was your wife, sister or mother?” Those nouns have one thing in common: they establish a woman’s value in relation to someone else (and you can bet that “someone else” is, in the majority of cases, a man). No one is more or less deserving of rape because of who spawned them or who married them. In fact, no one is more or less deserving of rape because there’s no continuum. It’s simple. No one deserves to be raped.
Rape culture lives, and it’s up to us to choke it out, not just by staring in horror as high-profile cases like Steubenville unfold, but by taking a hard look at where we live.