Friday, January 04, 2013

We Must Teach our Sons (and Daughters) Better

What is the standing of women and girls in the world today?  It's hard to know.

On the one hand, we now have more women in Congress than ever before.  There are now 20 women in the Senate (although as The Stranger points out, that's a group that has been around for 200 years and yet it has taken this long).  New Hampshire state government seems to be an all-woman squad at this point.  Many European countries have long had female leaders.

Yet, throughout the world, rape is still a harsh and terrible tool used against women and girls.  The young woman in India who died from her injuries (and I had wondered why that was until I read that a metal rod had been used and torn her internal organs apart) has now caused women in India to say enough.   But will it be enough when you still have men who say "don't wear dresses and don't go out after dark?"

Now what has been happening in the U.S.  Well, there's this from Congress via The Atlantic:

AWA, which has been reauthorized without fanfare since then-Senator Joe Biden spearheaded its passage in 1994, strengthens the criminal justice system's ability to address domestic and sexual abuse and expands services for Americans who have been victims of those crimes. But it expired in October of 2011 after conservative lawmakers balked at the addition of expanded protections for undocumented immigrant, Native American, and LGBT victims of sexual assault. The two chambers have butted heads over the bill for the past year—in May, the Republican-controlled House passed a watered down version to strip the protections for diverse populations, and subsequently refused to cede any ground to the Senate. The beginning of 2013 means the 112th Congress has officially failed to ensure protections for rape survivors. VAWA expired on its watch, and there's no more time to remedy that mistake.

That failure is a glaring mark on this outgoing Congress's unimpressive record, particularly because it's hard to find much about the domestic-violence prevention bill that seems difficult to support.

I find it hard to understand the humanity in this lack of action.   A tone-deaf GOP will lose women left and right (no pun intended) if they keep this up.

And then we have the gang rape, over several hours, in Steubenville, Ohio by football players against a young girl who was drunk and unconscious.  Several players have been arrested on rape charges.  This was first documented by the NY Times in a stunning piece about the crime.

Well, stunning to anyone who has never lived in a small town where high school sports can dominate a town and be both its entertainment and its pride.

What seems to have had been an end-of-the summer party got out of hand because of alcohol.   There were many people present who saw various parts of the attack, Tweeted about it, sent texts about it, and yet, it appears no one tried to stop it.

She got very, very drunk to the point where she passed out.  She was verbally abused as she was passed out and apparently urinated on.  At different points she did awake to vomit.   When she did awake, apparently in some home with the boys, she did not know what had happened.  She and her parents learned from the online chatter and went to the police.  Unfortunately, it was several days later and the girl had showered and any drugs in her system that she might have been given were out of her system.

In those texts and Tweets, as well as in a recently released video, the word "rape" is used repeatedly.  Apparently everyone there knew what they were seeing.

From the Times' article:

Rumors of a possible crime spread, and people, often with little reliable information, quickly took sides. Some residents and others on social media blamed the girl, saying she put the football team in a bad light and put herself in a position to be violated. Others supported the girl, saying she was a victim of what they believed was a hero-worshiping culture built around football players who think they can do no wrong. 

Some said the girl, awakening from her stupor, realized something had gone terribly wrong and rather than accept responsibility for a drunken night, chose to make up the crime against the players.  Given the evidence, it just seems impossible.  

“The rape was just an excuse, I think,” said the 27-year-old Hubbard, who is No. 2 on the Big Red’s career rushing list. 

“What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?” said Hubbard, who is one of the team’s 19 coaches. “She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.

The police chief:

Anonymous complaints and chatter on the Internet about a less than fully aggressive investigation have perhaps not surprisingly proliferated. 

It has left McCafferty, the police chief, fuming and frustrated. 

For weeks after the girl’s parents came forward, he again pleaded to the other partygoers to come forward with information about the possible sexual assault. Only one did, he said. 

“Everybody on those Web sites kept saying stuff that wasn’t true and saying, why wasn’t this person arrested, why aren’t the police doing anything about it,” he said. “Everybody wanted to incriminate more of the football players, some because some of the other schools in the area are simply jealous of Big Red.”

What is stunning is the coach's reactions:

Saccoccia, pronounced SOCK-otch, told the principal and school superintendent that the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties said they did not think they had done anything wrong. Because of that, he said, he had no basis for benching those players.  

Approached in November to be interviewed about the case, Saccoccia said he did not “do the Internet,” so he had not seen the comments and photographs posted online from that night. When asked again about the players involved and why he chose not to discipline them, he became agitated.
“You made me mad now,” he said, throwing in several expletives as he walked from the high school to his car. 

Nearly nose to nose with a reporter, he growled: “You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.” 

Shawn Crosier, the principal of Steubenville High, and Michael McVey, the superintendent of Steubenville schools, said they entrusted Saccoccia with determining whether any players should be disciplined for what they might have done or saw the night of Aug. 11. Neither Crosier nor McVey spoke to any students about the events of that summer night, they said, because they were satisfied that Saccoccia would handle it.  

What is interesting is a crime blogger came into this story and wrote about it because she did not believe the local authorities would actually follow-thru as they should.  

Before many of the partygoers could delete their posts, photographs or videos, she took screen shots of them, posting them on her site, Prinniefied.com. On Aug. 24, just after the arrests, she wrote on her site that it was “a slam dunk case” because, she said, Mays and Richmond videotaped and photographed their crime and then posted those images on the Web. Goddard pressed her case. 

“What normal person would even consider that posting the brutal rape of a young girl is something that should be shared with their peers?” she wrote. “Do they think because they are Big Red players that the rules don’t apply to them?”

From Slate:

Convinced that the case isn't being taken seriously enough by the community or the justice system, online activists under the banner of Anonymous have now started a local leaks page to release information gathered on people they believe are involved in covering up the full extent of the alleged assault. They've organized "Operation Roll Red Roll" to hack the private information of people they think have been involved in the crime and/or what they deem to be the cover-up, and started dumping incriminating info online Jan. 1. They've also organized at least one protest demanding that the football coach lose his job.

Anonymous put up the entire story and a video (about mid-way through their piece) where several of the accused laughingly discuss what happened.  It is a vile and unpleasant piece of footage (I warn you in advance).   They use the word "rape" over and over and clearly believe/know it.  One guy makes the case over and over about how "dead" the girl got raped to the point of comparing her with OJ Simpson's murdered wife, Casey Anthony's dead child and others.  

At one point, one guy (off-camera) asks about what if it were your daughter.  The main guy just laughs and said he wouldn't care and she would be dead to him.  The other guy tries again, "Listen to yourself" but our main guy won't listen.  

He says, "Is it really rape if you don't know if she wanted to or not?"

Here are some of the key issues for us to consider:

But the situation in Steubenville has another layer to it that separates it from many others: It is a sexual assault accusation in the age of social media, when teenagers are capturing much of their lives on their camera phones — even repugnant, possibly criminal behavior, as they did in Steubenville in August — and then posting it on the Web, like a graphic, public diary.  

Is this what our children are doing on Facebook, Twitter and in their cell phone use?  

“The thing I found most disturbing about this is that there were other people around when this was going on,” Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty said of the events that unfolded. “Nobody had the morals to say, ‘Hey, stop it, that isn’t right.’ 

“If you could charge people for not being decent human beings, a lot of people could have been charged that night.” 

I, too, had this thought.  I know the girl I was at 16, 17 and I knew the entire football team in my town.  I would NEVER have stood by and allowed this to happen.  I cannot understand why others did.  Why didn't a single person called the police or their parents even if they could not step forward in the moment?  Especially girls at the party.

The victim was not from Stubenville High School but a nearby small, religious school where she was an honor student and an athlete.   Could it be that because no one really knew her, they didn't relate to her as a person?

From Slate:

This type of online vigilante justice is potentially invading the privacy of or defaming innocent Steubenville residents, and even if everything published is true, there are very serious legal limits to the Anonymous strategy. Not all of the leaked allegations are attached to Twitter or YouTube accounts—many of the most serious cover-up claims, which we won't reprint here, are at this point only rumor. The allegations will infuriate you, but they don't rise to the level of real evidence that can be used to truly hold responsible those who participate in sex crimes.

Good points all.  Is online "justice" worth it to expose a crime even if it harms some who were not involved at all?

These boys were not raised by wolves.  How did they get this idea that behaving like this to anyone is acceptable?

How is it that no one intervened?  And, that no one wants to help the police with this crime?

I was raised in a small town where yes, high school sports were THE event in town.  The athletes were doted on (and this wasn't even football-crazy Texas).  I know the pressure the coaches felt and the power the athletes had.

I like to think this would not happen in a Seattle Schools high school.  We're not a small town with those kinds of pressure.  But I also wonder what Seattle high school kids would say about what they have ever Tweeted or videotaped or texted on their phones about what happened at any given party.  


Jamie said...

I have no words to describe how I feel about this, mostly blind rage coming from my lizard brain. But I wanted to say thank you for posting this, Melissa. It's very necessary.

Anonymous said...

The only thing more tragic than having a daughter assaulted this way, would be having a son or daughter stand by as a witness and do nothing.


Melissa Westbrook said...

My 21-year old son's girlfriend (a keeper and sometimes I like her better than my son) gave me a very funny and entertaining book for Christmas. It's Feminist Ryan Gosling, the imaginings of feminist theory through his decidedly nice eyes by Danielle Henderson.

One, very funny.

Two, very educational. This young woman had me Googling every other page to read about these feminists she has him speak about.

But my favorite page (that and the one on Frida Kahlo) says:

"Hey girl" (every page starts with that phrase)-

"We don't call our sisters bitches."

Because that is one thing I do not like in the young generation of girls/women. Calling your friends "bitches" or "sluts" to show affection or as a joke.

My son's girlfriend and my niece, both say they and their friends don't do this but it is quite popular among other young women they know.

Talk to your daughter about this.

Talk to your son about saying, "Oh that's so gay." (I challenge you to spend a day in a middle or high school and not hear that from several boys. It's pretty common.)

The use of denigrating language on your own friends or sex is going to continue to coarsen our society. Again, it's about respect and humanity.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the term, "retarded". You hear that so often, referencing anything that is broken. People don't even realize that it denigrates a whole class of people. People who would never say the n word, or the b word or "slut", are quite happy to call people or things retarded. The term is so denigrating that it has been removed from the DSM and from IDEA.


Po3 said...

I hate hearing black youth using the "n word" to eachother. Explaining to my children why it's OK for them to use it but wrong for a white person to use it made no sense because I think it's wrong for anybody to use it. But that is the way it is out there these days.

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, Molly, you can't have either been raped or had a close family member raped if you think it would be more tragic for your child to stand by idly as a witness than to be the victim of such a horrific crime.

This is absolutely shocking. As the mother of smaller children (pre-school and younger grade school), I hope we've learned some better ways to navigate social media by the time my kids are old enough to be using it.

As for why a group of boys - presumably not dragged up from the gutter - behaved like this collectively, I don't think it's too hard to explain, unfortunately. Think "Lord of the Flies" plus booze (and probably some other substances besides).


Louise M said...

Excellent post on this in The Nation by Allison Kilkenny today.

My favorite paragraphs:

Occupy Steubenville is a particularly interesting phenomenon given that so much media interest has been devoted to the no-less-horrific gang rape of a young woman named Jyoti Singh Pandey in India. Establishment pundits rushed to condemn the rape, and the rape culture that permitted the attack, when it came to exotic Indian folk in a faraway land, but seem more hesitant to address rape culture within the United States, even though a shining example of women’s second-class status is on display in Ohio.

Men who rape—and rape culture contributors who laugh about it later on Twitter and YouTube—do so precisely because they either don’t think rape is wrong (or, at the very least, raping a drunk girl “doesn’t count”) and/or they know they can rape with impunity. The “justice system” can’t work if there’s a two-tier structure where some people get punished for raping teenage girls, and others don’t simply because they happen to be football players.

But this is the example set by the highest echelons of the NFL, mirrored down the ranks through college football, extending to small communities like Steubenville. Some members of our society are permitted to rape because we like watching them run a ball down a field, and that skill is deemed more culturally valuable than the lives and dignity of women.