I’m probably going to regret this, but we need to talk about rape culture. We’ll begin by looking at recent news.
1. Steubenville’s football coach keeps his job.
Given Coach Saccoccia’s controversial behavior before and during the trial, which drew national scrutiny, many of us thought he at the very least would be shown the door after three decades of service. We all thought wrong. Today we learned that “Coach Sac,” as he is known, has been granted a two-year contract extension by the Steubenville school board. They made this decision despite the fact that a grand jury is meeting next week to assess whether he and others obstructed justice in the case. Saccoccia was legally required to report the sexual assault as soon as he was aware it took place. The grand jury will determine whether or not he in fact knew and tried to sweep it under the turf.
Whatever the conclusions of the grand jury, the question of whether Saccoccia should remain in a position to mold the minds of young men should not have been difficult to answer. Not when there are text messages sent by now-convicted team quarterback Trent Mays that read, “I got Reno. He took care of it and shit ain’t gonna happen, even if they did take it to court. Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried.” Not when, after the boys were arrested and charged, Saccocia kept them on the team for eight more games in their ten game season. Not when Saccoccia went nose-to-nose with a woman reporter looking into the rape case and said, “You’re gonna get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.” Not when Coach Sac oversaw a locker room where the jock culture become inextricably connected to a rape culture.
I’m with Dave Zirin, author of the linked article. Getting rid of Coach Saccoccia seemed to be a no-brainer. The guy’s behavior, across the board, was indefensible. And yet he keeps his job. Why?
2. Innocent until proven guilty doesn’t apply to the girl.
When the assault happened in Forest Hills Central High School’s soundproof band room in 2010, the girl reported it to a teacher, who took the issue to the principal. The principal didn’t immediately offer the girl aid or assistance like you might expect from a human who feels emotions; instead, he told her to stay quiet because the guy was a star basketball players who had a shot at making it into a good school. No really, please watch the Onion clip; it’s uncanny.
The victim and her parents ignored the principal’s request not to file charges, mainly because they were fearful the boy would attack again. And guess what? He did. Two weeks after the first crime, the same boy sexually assaulted another female student.
And what happened to the girl who reported the assault?
As word of the sexual assault spread among the student body, the female victim became the target of an intensive cyber-bullying and harassment campaign—both at school and online—that depicted her as a liar and a “whore” who was trying to bring down an innocent athlete. These cyber-attacks were only reinforced by the fact that the school continued to take no action to reprimand the male student. Not only did fellow students harass the victim, the attacker and his friends verbally and physically harassed the girl as well. They followed her around as she moved in and out of classrooms, through hallways, and around the school campus. The attacker sometimes pushed her into other students as she walked down the hallway, causing her to slam into lockers. Despite repeated efforts by the victim’s parents and other students to alert the principal and the school’s Title IX Coordinator about the viciousness of the harassment by the attacker and other students, school administrators took no action.
But don’t worry, the school finally acted – they benched the guy for a few games because, hey, the punishment should fit the crime. Amiright? The school is now being sued. Good.
Yet another teenage girl killed herself after being sexually assaulted and aggressively cyber-bullied. Will Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Nova Scotia who died last Sunday after attempting suicide a few days earlier, go down in tragic history alongside Amanda Todd and Jessica Laney, two other teens who recently took their own lives under similar circumstances? Perhaps, but probably not, because the “teenage girl kills self after being ‘outed’ as a slut on the internet” phenomenon has become terrifyingly ubiquitous.
“She told me rape is like football, and if you look back on the game what would you have done differently in that situation?” said Annie Clark, describing a school administrator’s response to her sexual assault. Clark said she “absolutely” felt like she was being blamed for the crime against her.
Another student of the university, Andrea Pino, told CNN that school officials accused her of laziness after she reported lasting trauma from being raped.
A sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faces an Honor Court trial for allegedly “intimidating” a fellow student she says raped her.
Landen Gambill and other students filed a federal complaint against UNC last month over its handling of sexual assault cases on campus. Though Gambill never named her alleged attacker, the student has now filed a complaint with the university’s Honor Court against her.
Priorities, people! He felt intimidated! Did she feel intimidated? Who cares! It’s obviously not about her, or her feelings. Here’s the deal, we can dismiss both people’s feelings, but we can’t dismiss one person’s feelings while giving credit to the other person’s feelings. If feelings count, then count all of them.
Look, I believe strongly in innocent until proven guilty, but we rarely reach that point due to the way girls/women are placed on trial immediately after they speak out. Their accusations are simply not being treated seriously. These girls/women are dismissed. They are blamed. They are called liars, sluts, whores, vindictive bitches who are just trying to bring a good guy down. They are subject to constant harassment. Their word is constantly questioned and the message is clear. Speak up and we’ll shut you down… long before a trial. And that’s the point. This dismissive attitude by those in positions of authority combined with the online and in person harassment demonstrates that the verdict is handed down long before anyone enters a courtroom. And don’t think rapists haven’t figured this out. This method works to their advantage.
Today my daughter turns 16, and I can’t imagine how we would handle a situation like this. I would hope we would fight until the bitter end, but I cringe at what that would involve for her because I know that she would be placed on trial and found guilty long before she stepped foot in a courtroom – and the really sad thing is that given the way our system handles these cases, odds are she’d never see the inside of a courtroom. She, like many others, would be labeled guilty… and labeled other things, as well.
So, if we really care about innocent until proven guilty perhaps we should care enough to make it a two way street.
Tags: Rape Culture