I’m tired. I got a full three hours of sleep last night, due to meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages (yay!) and later, tossing and turning while my husband emitted snores that sounded like a bear. Passing a gallstone. Possibly while wielding a chainsaw.
So I’m running on no sleep, and it’s Monday, and I’m cranky. I’m especially cranky because I woke up to a media shitstorm that further explains just why so few rape cases go to court. Because too many people believe that given the opportunity to rape, men will take it. And that somehow, that opportunity is the same as a right.
Let me put it this way. You forget to lock your front door and someone steals your TV. Are you still robbed? You take a shortcut through an unfamiliar alley and someone jumps you, takes your wallet. Are you still mugged? You get drunk at a party, pass out, and a bunch of teenage football players treat you like a human fleshlight for several hours. Are you still raped?
Yes. The answer is yes. Yes to all of those things, because when someone messes with something that isn’t theirs, whether it’s your TV, your wallet, or your genitals, it’s a violation of your rights. It doesn’t matter if you made a bad choice. It doesn’t matter if you were forgetful and didn’t lock your door, or if you were ignorant and walked someplace dangerous, or if you were drunk and dressed “slutty.” Because it is still true: having the opportunity to steal from you, hurt you or rape you is not at all the same as having a right to do so.
The fact that anyone is defending the actions of the Steubenville rapists (and apparently, they are defending them) is deeply, deeply disturbing to me. Because this is not a case of “he said, she said” that was reconstructed in a courtroom where personal testimony was the only evidence. This was caught on tape. Circulated through a community via social media. Corroborated by many, disputed by none. Everyone involved agrees that the boys on trial had sex with a girl who could not consent to it. So what was on trial? How could anyone look at these boys and see anything but rapists?
The answer is that we live in a society that has such low expectations of its boys and men that we assume they cannot fight the urge to have sex with any vagina left unattended. We view anything possessed of a penis as essentially unable to make a choice to NOT have sex if presented the opportunity. We prosecute thieves even if their theft was easy. We prosecute those who plot nasty financial schemes against the elderly, even though they effortlessly prey upon the ignorant and uninformed. Why is it so much harder to get a conviction, and later, to get consensus, on something like Steubenville? Because we view thieves and con artists as people who make a choice to victimize, hurt, deceive. We view teenage football players as acting from a place of animalistic, natural drive, somehow beyond the realm of rational decisionmaking. Time and time again, rape trials focus on the failure of the victim to properly maintain her defenses against rape, not on the choices the rapist made. And this is so fundamentally wrong it bends my brain.
I, for one, think more of men than that. I know men can make choices about sex that come from a rational mind. I think most women can think of a time when sex wasn’t working for them, for whatever reason, and they asked their partner to stop. And he did. Men can, and do, make decisions about sex with their brains. I think it is perfectly realistic to expect all people to act with this basic level of decency, even when presented with an opportunity to do otherwise. And those that fail to treat others with respect, those who fail to respect the boundary of “yours” and “mine,” should be thought of with the same social disdain we direct toward all criminals. No matter how “easy” it seemed to be.
The CNN piece about the dousing of these young men’s “bright futures” is essentially a show piece on rape culture. Asserting that boys who showed so little respect for another human being can somehow still deserve to carry on as before suggests that they acted in a way that was beyond their rational control. Too many people look at the victim here and think, “she should have known better.” Whether or not she could have made better choices is beside the point. In fact, it was these boys who knew better. They should have- and absolutely could have– decided not to rape this girl. They made the choice to rape, and they deserve to face the consequences. Because even though they had the opportunity to commit this crime, they had every opportunity to do the right thing.