Lately, there has been a lot of coverage in the media regarding the Stuebenville rape case. Everyone has something to say about it. Even Henry Rollins blogged about it. Interestingly, it was his post that fired me up a bit. While I found Hank’s comments diplomatic and his tone sufficiently outraged, I still felt that he narrowly missed the point.
It goes without saying that what happened to the girl in this case is unspeakable. It is a nightmare. Although I have very strong opinions in this area I don’t often comment on them publicly or in writing. As I told one friend, I like my friends too much to either alienate them with my opinions or to dislike them because of theirs. That may be lame but I am okay with that. I choose to like people rather than dislike them. However, this time, perhaps I have a unique perspective on this subject; first and foremost I am a woman, I am also a mother, I am a mother to two beautiful girls, I have a sister, I have nieces, I have a son and I am also a prosecutor.
Three things in particular that Hank wrote troubled me. He wrote 1) “I thought first about the two young men”; 2) “Would you be “more sorry” about what you did?… At what point do you get “better”, how many years in one of these places does that take?” and 3) “What made these young people think that that what they did was ok?”
First, I take issue with the fact that Hank, like many, many others “thought first about the two young men”. I did not. I thought first about the girl and her parents. Yes, it is difficult to grapple with the idea that human beings can abuse each other in this way. Our first reaction is to ask why and wonder where things went horribly, horribly wrong. There must be someone, something to blame. While I can understand and appreciate the sentiment that there are larger social issues at play here, rape is nothing new, not to our culture and not to any culture. Rape has existed since the beginning of time and throughout the world.
The fact that rape still occurs is a complex societal issue and clearly, prevailing attitudes need to be changed, but how will that happen when someone who is socially evolved thinks “first about the two young men.” In my mind, that is backward. Our first question should not be, how did we as a society fail these boys? The question should be, how did we as a society fail this girl; our sister, our daughter? Change in social consciousness cannot occur when we think first about the rapist and not the victim of the rape.
Second, Hank wonders whether or not while serving a lengthy prison sentence “would you be “more sorry” about what you did?” He goes on to ask “at what point do you get “better”, how many years in one of these places does that take?” In my profession I am a proponent of treatment and rehabilitation. I am all for rehabilitation. I am all for treatment. But rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse are a different beast. Many crimes can be attributed to addiction, under-privilege or mental illness. Rape cannot. Rape is dehumanizing. There are power and control issues associated with rape that are not present in other types of crimes. This is the point where I draw the line on rehabilitation. I am sorry but I don’t see anyone standing up in a room full of people and saying “Hi, my name is John and I am a rapist.”
No amount of telling a rapist that he can’t rape is going to stop him. Women can stand up and yell “RAPE IS NOT OKAY! WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THIS BEHAVIOR!” until we are blue in the face, and frankly, women have been doing just that for over 30 years. And all the sex education and women’s studies classes in the world have still landed us in the same place. The place where, in 2013, boys will stand around and laugh while they sexually terrorize a young woman.
What other way is there to show women that they are valued than by having actions such as these punished severely? The point is not to lock these boys up to make them feel bad about what they did. Whether they feel bad is not the point. Whether they feel bad doesn’t change what they did. It doesn’t mitigate rape. The point is to ensure that these boys do not rape any other girls for a specified amount of time and to demonstrate to that girl and to all our daughters and sisters and nieces that we have their backs.
Lastly, these boys knew what they were doing was wrong by any standards. In my experience people who commit crimes absolutely know what they are doing is morally wrong. They just find a way to rationalize it or justify their behavior. Similarly, the boys in Stuebenville knew what they were doing was wrong. They simply justified it. She was drunk. I was drunk. She was asking for it. She wanted it. Everyone else was doing it. By blaming parents, coaches and teachers for their sense of entitlement and asking how we as a society failed these boys gives them the justification that they were looking for. It gives them an excuse for rape.
So let’s start by thinking first about the victim. Let’s talk about how she has been forever “damaged”, abused, battered, taken advantage of, degraded, humiliated and devalued. Let’s talk about how we failed her. Then let’s talk about how we value her. Let’s talk about how important her bodily integrity is to us. Let’s tell her that we are willing to sacrifice those boys for her.