Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is the US Failing Rape Victims?

Alternet asks this question today in what is, frankly, an emotionally exhausting article. That exhaustion, mixed with anger and horror, comes from their coverage of so many recent instances of sexual violence after which victims are being told again and again that their rights don't matter and that their voices won't be heard.
Let's start with two examples from the winter and spring which are in fact on the opposite ends of what the media sees as a "rape spectrum."

First, you have Julian Assange, a powerful man accused of "acquaintance rape," based on two women's accounts. One involved a forcible sexual encounter that began as a consensual one, and another involved penetrating a woman while she was asleep. Both women were sophisticated professionals who knew Assange, and both were alone with him when the alleged assaults took place.

Both women were blamed, smeared and their identities revealed online, accused of being part of a supposed worldwide conspiracy to bring Assange down (just as the press has insinuated that DSK's accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, was an unlikely pawn of a conspiracy to silence Strauss-Kahn).

Second, we have the Texas gang-rape case, in which a large group of boys and men were caught on video brutally and repeatedly gang-raping a young girl. In this case, there was physical corroborating evidence, the victim was too young to legally consent, and the accused were relatively powerless men in a poor community.

The cases couldn't have been more different, and yet in this case also, the young woman was smeared when prominent newspaper stories fixated on her appearance, her dress, and her behavior rather than the demeanor and histories of the men involved.

So the lesson is clear: if you report an unexciting rape that happened in your home while you were alone with the perpetrator, you get blamed. If you are recorded on video being repeatedly raped by a massive number of people, you also get blamed. If you're a grown woman: blamed. If you're a child: blamed. If it's your word: blamed. If there's physical evidence: blamed.
It's clear, then, that the answer is yes, we are failing victims. And we will be until we create a system in which they feel safe to report, because they aren't afraid of being blamed. We will be failing victims until our society understands that lack of consent means rape, period. We will be failing victims until we acknowledge that tricking women into having sex, getting them drunk to lower their inhibitions, or making them feel that saying no isn't an option are all means of raping. And, we will be failing victims until our idea of rape prevention is to teach men not to rape rather than teaching victims to avoid getting victimized. We have a lot of work to do.

No comments: