Sunday, 9 June 2013

The learning goes on

Content warning: this post is about rape myths, victim blaming and rape culture.  Please be careful reading it.

When the Steubenville rapists were convicted three months ago, there was a great deal of media sympathy for the two young men, which highlighted yet again that many societies bend over backwards to excuse rape.  Astonishingly, CNN reporter Poppy Harlow described herself as "outraged" people thought she was excusing rape.  Here's her original report:
"It was incredibly emotional -- incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.
One of -- one of the young men, Ma'lik Richmond, when that sentence came down, he collapsed. He collapsed in the arms of his attorney, Walter Madison. He said to me, "My life is over. No one is going to want me now."

Very serious crime here. Both found guilty of raping this 16- year-old girl at a series of parties back in August, alcohol-fueled parties. Alcohol is a huge part in this.

But Trent Mays was also found guilty on a second count and that is of felony illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material because he took a photograph of the victim laying naked on the floor that night. Trent Mays will serve two years in a juvenile detention facility. Ma'lik Richmond will serve one year on that one count that he was found guilty for.

I want to let our viewers listen because for the first time in this entire trial we have now heard from the two young men. Trent Mays stood up, apologizing to the victim's family in court. After him, Ma'lik Richmond.



TRENT MAYS, FOUND GUILTY OF RAPINGIN JUVENILE COURT: I would really like to apologize to (INAUDIBLE), her family, my family and community. No pictures should have been sent out or should be taken. That's all. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything you'd like to say, Ma'lik?

MA'LIK RICHMOND, FOUND GUILTY OF RAPE IN JUVENILE COURT: I would like to apologize. I had no intention to do anything like that and I'm sorry to put you guys through this. (INAUDIBLE) I'm sorry.


HARLOW: I was sitting about three feet from Ma'lik when he gave that statement. It was very difficult to watch.

You know, something that came up throughout this sentencing. Ma'lik's father had gotten up and spoke. Ma'lik has been living with guardians. His father, a former alcoholic, gotten to a lot of trouble with the law, been in prison before.

And his father stood up and he told the court, "I feel responsible for this. I feel like I wasn't there for my son." And before that, he came over to the bench where his son was sitting. He approached him, he hugged him and whispered in his ear.

And Ma'lik's attorney said to us in a courtroom, I have never heard Ma'lik's father before say, I love you. He's never told his son that. But he just did today.

This was an incredibly emotional day."
I have a friend who calls events like Steubenville "social change learning moments." 

On a good day, I think that's right.  When people who do not usually notice rape myths notice a news report of RAPE CONVICTIONS doesn't refer once to what it must have been like for the young woman who was raped, filmed, threatened, mocked, bullied and pilloried - well, that's a great thing.  Because it makes those processes which support and enable rape more visible, which means we can change them.

But it's not always that easy for those of us who do notice rape myths operating, all the time.  For me at least, those "social change learning moments" are torture, because they remind me of the scale of victim blaming and the pain that survivors have to manage and the ways we excuse power over, in myriad little ways, all of the time.

One of the team-mates of the two men who raped walked past them while they were raping the young woman on his way out of the party.  Just moments before, he'd stopped another team-mate driving home drunk - because he believed that was wrong.  Yet he didn't stop his other team-mates raping.
"It wasn't violent," explained teammate Evan Westlake when asked why he didn't stop the two defendants as they abused a non-moving girl that Westlake knew to be highly intoxicated. "I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone."
The opportunities here for cultural change are enormous.  What if ideas of sexuality required enthusiastic participation, mutual checking in that everything happening was fun for everyone concerned?

This rape would not have been possible.

What if young men didn't let other young men rape?  What if stopping your team-mate raping was as culturally supported as stopping your team-mate driving drunk?

This rape would not have been possible.

What if when we saw someone who was comatose we helped them get home and made sure they were ok, regardless of whether our hopes for earlier in the night included sexy time?

This rape would not have been possible.

What if young men were brought up to believe women's desires and longings were just as important as their own?  What if masculinity was de-entwined from power over?

This rape would not have been possible.

If Steubenville is a learning moment - and my heart goes out to the young woman at the centre of this, and I hope she is surrounded by loving friends and specialist support - then the learning isn't over.  Because there are new charges being brought - against the man who publically released the tweets and images from the football team, which joked about the rape and ridiculed the victim.  He has been charged with hacking in connection with the Steubenville rape case.  And the potential penalty is 10 years in prison - 9 and 8 years more than the rapists.

How to make sense of this?  I'm not sure I can.  Deric Lostutter's actions helped bring rapists to justice.  Would those young men have raped again if this hadn't happened?  Almost without doubt, I'd say.  Would other team-mates?  Again, it's hard to see why not.

He is an anti-rape hero in my opinion, a view which seems to be shared by people donating to his defence fund.  As for the FBI, looks to me like they are punishing someone for challenging rape culture.