Saturday, April 13, 2013

Yes, you CAN shame someone to death.

I've been following the story of Rehtaeh Parsons since it broke. She was a 17 year old girl from Nova Scotia who was raped by several boys at a party when she was 15. Afterward, the boys circulated photos of the incident, and she was bullied mercilessly for being 'a slut.' The bullying was so bad she changed schools; she was still targeted online. The police investigated and called it a 'he-said, she-said incident,' and did nothing. The school did nothing. She killed herself last week.

Audrie Pott was similarly, horrifically victimized--raped by several boys at a party, who then shared videos and pictures of the assault with friends at school. They went viral, and ceaseless bullying was added to the trauma of the assault itself. She committed suicide a week later.

Lizzy Seeberg was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. She reported the attack to campus police; she then received texts from the player's friends telling her 'not to do anything she would regret' and that it was 'a bad idea to mess with Notre Dame football.' It took campus police more than two weeks to get around to investigating her complaint. By that point, Lizzy had already committed suicide.

These three young women were literally shamed to death by a culture where it's easier to be a rapist than a rape victim or survivor. Only 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a jail cell. As for rape survivors: 20% attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

These are not isolated incidents. As a society, we can't chalk this up to 'a few bad apples' anymore. These aren't cases of shady strangers hiding in the bushes at the park, hoping to keep their attacks secret. Not only are these boys (I'm loath to call them men for a multitude of reasons) raping girls and women openly--at parties, sharing stories afterwards with their teammates--but they seem PROUD of it. They aren't trying to cover their tracks; they're posting photos online, sharing them with all their friends, as if degrading and physically violating another human being were a sign of manhood rather than the most despicable and gutless act imaginable. The Steubenville rapists were laughing and joking throughout the assault. They thought it was FUNNY. And so, apparently, did the other kids in all these scenarios--the ones who didn't stop the rape itself, the ones who forwarded the pictures of the assault, the ones who called Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Potts 'sluts' and 'whores.'

And why? Well, there are a million answers, but I'd start by saying that it's the ultimate, ugly growth that comes from the seed of the double-standard. Boys/men who have casual sex--with willing or unwilling partners--get high-fives and slaps on the back. Boys will be boys, right? And if she didn't want to have sex, then why was she so drunk/why did she have that short skirt on/ why did she come to a party in the first place? Sidenote: I'd love to get some shirts printed up that say 'No blood alcohol level is equal to consent' and hand them out at fraternities and high schools. A girl or woman who has sex (or is raped, because apparently a lot of people CAN'T seem to GRASP that RAPE=/= CONSENSUAL SEX, and it KIND OF makes me feel STABBY) is, y'know, a whore.

 In this paradigm, a high-school football player can get his rape on and make it public knowledge and expect to see an increase in his social standing, while the woman he victimized suddenly becomes the lowest of the low, worthy of all the contempt and shame that can be heaped upon her.Kind of backasswards, no?  And until that changes--until being a rapist becomes a more painful, one-way ticket to social-outcastdom than being raped; until survivors are treated with respect and dignity (which includes holding the perpetrators accountable and funding essential services like rape crisis centers); until we look at rape culture with wide-open eyes and start consciously dismantling it, women will continue to be bullied to death...for having been victimized. And THAT is the biggest shame of all.

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