Was Steubenville The Wake-Up Call America Needed?

“Rape culture”.  That phrase has never been more on people’s lips than it has been in the last few weeks, so much so that a colleague remarked to me that he’s tired of hearing about rape and rape culture.

I have to be honest: it’s exhausting talking about rape and rape culture.  But you know what I’m really tired of?  LIVING with rape culture.

Steubenville was a shock to so many people because it was so violent, so graphic, and so clearly rape.  It was a shock to so many people because both the victim and the perpetrators were young.  And it was a shock to people when there was backlash against the victim and in response to the conviction, because this case was so appalling.

I was sad to realize that I wasn’t shocked.  I was disgusted, yes.  People tweeted and posted on the internet that the victim deserved it because she was drunk, that she was asking for it, that it was her fault.  People sympathized with the rapists, saying that this destroyed their lives and they didn’t deserve this.

The victim in the Steubenville case did not deserve to be raped.  No one EVER deserves to be raped.  And the perpetrators deserved their conviction.  They deserved more than two years in prison.  Because while that sentence may mess up their lives, their victim has been physically and psychologically traumatized, and her life has been damaged as well.  The difference is that they made a conscious choice to rape, which is a felony.  All she was guilty of was going to a party and having a drink.  And if you’re reading this and thinking about posting in the comments that underage drinking is illegal, don’t do it: underage drinking is a misdemeanor, and it does not justify the fact that this girl was raped.  If you’re drunk when someone robs you, society doesn’t say that excuses the robber’s behavior.  It shouldn’t excuse the rapists’ behavior here either.

The problem is, I’m not entirely convinced that people quite get what rape culture is.  I’m not sure the lesson is going to stick.  There’s been a lot of outrage on both sides, but while I think people recognize that rape culture exists and that it played a role in this case, I’m still not convinced they genuinely understand how many different ways it manifested itself, and how much our culture needs to change.

Rape culture is society telling a victim she deserved rape or asked for rape.

Rape culture is a community covering up a crime instead of confronting the perpetrators because it’s “less embarrassing”.

Rape culture is the judge in this case saying that the real problem was that the videos were taken and released through social media, as if social media is the real issue and not the fact that a girl was raped.

Rape culture is people sympathizing with the rapists, because this will ruin their futures and colleges won’t want them.

Rape culture is young people saying that they don’t understood how this girl could be raped if she wasn’t awake to say no.

Rape culture is victims being harassed and embarrassed for being raped.

Rape culture is people saying it’s time to remind our daughters not to drink, not to wear short skirts, and to always watch their backs.

We need to have different conversations about rape in this country, and we needed to start having them long before Steubenville made people sick to their stomachs and long before people started saying they were tired of hearing about rape culture.  I am SO GLAD that in recent years people have started talking about rape culture.  We can’t ignore it any longer!  We have to fight it.  Something has to give, and the time is now.

But I am still not sure that this is going to make enough of a difference.  Because people will get tired of talking about it.  People are going to blame the victim.  People are going to sympathize with the rapists.  And people are going to continue to lash out at those who point out the flaws in our current culture.

If we want this to make a difference, we need to take the rage about Steubenville and make a national conversation happen about what consent means and what rape truly is.  We need a national dialogue about teaching men not to rape, instead of teaching women not to get raped.  We need a serious talk about what it means to respect women and how big a deal rape truly is.  We need to be teaching bystander intervention and we need to be teaching that there is no excuse for rape.  The time is now.  “Rape culture” is being tossed around like a volleyball and we can take the momentum that we got from this case and start making a difference, or we can get bogged down arguing with victim-blamers, slut-shamers and people who think that being a football player means you are above the law.

America, we can do so much better than we’ve done.  It would be great if we didn’t screw this up.

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~ by Randi Saunders on March 31, 2013.

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