Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence. Follow her on Twitter: @joyjaco.
As soon as the “delinquent” verdict came in on Sunday in the Steubenville rape case—Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were convicted in juvenile court of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl and photographing themselves in action—the nasty tweets began appearing. “But it’s the girl’s fault too,” read one. “She is 16 and got drunk till she passed out.” The author of that tweet has since apologized for his victim-blaming. Others were on the receiving end of such outrage that they deleted their Twitter accounts, while a few have staunchly defended their position that the girl was asking for it—“just a loose drunk slut.”
It’s a shockingly pervasive attitude about a dismayingly prevalent crime. If you do a Google news search using the terms “drunk” and “rape” you will find thousands of references to the Steubenville case, but it is far from the only one.
- Last December Dennis Hanson and Bojan Vuckovic, in Fort Collins, Colorado, allegedly raped and injured two young women whom they had given shots of vodka. Hanson made a video of the event on his cell phone, which was recently played in court. Hanson was heard saying, “Do you want me to [expletive] you? Just tell me yes. Nod your head. . . . Can I do whatever I want to you?”
- Last summer Gregory Basped and Lester Green “picked up” a woman at a Sheboygan, Wisconsin, bar, and when she passed out they raped her in her home. The two men were sentenced to five and eight years, respectively, in prison.
- Markley Charles was convicted in Norristown, Pennsylvania, of attacking a 15-year-old girl who was unconscious at a party. “He took advantage of her youth, her level of intoxication and the fact that she was passed out for his own sexual gain,” the judge said.
And let’s not forget the two New York City police officers, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata, acquitted in 2011 of raping an intoxicated woman in her apartment—a case complicated by the fact that “defense lawyers pounced on the credibility of the woman because she was very drunk on the night in question and did not remember many details,” the New York Times reported.
They pounced on the credibility of the woman because she was drunk. It really is that blatantly sexist, isn’t it? Yes, says Helen Redmond in a post called “Is Alcohol the New Short Skirt?”—a look at our society’s condemnation of the woman who drinks as louche and loose and deserving of whatever she gets. Perhaps that’s what is at the root of the invective heaped on the 16-year-old rape victim in the Steubenville case; she has received death threats and other forms of condemnation from both men and women via social media. “Society puts the onus on women to keep themselves safe and avoid dangerous situations,” Redmond says. “So if a woman is drunk, she isn’t taking her personal security seriously and is responsible for what happens to her.”
This to me defines “rape culture”—that we live in a world where too often a woman’s inability to consent to sex means she’s fair game. Redmond cites a study of more than 1,800 men, of whom 120 admitted to committing “acts of interpersonal violence, including rape, battery, and child physical and sexual abuse”; 80% of those said they had assaulted women incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.
It evidently has to be said again and again that the only thing that constitutes sexual consent is an actual “yes.”
One tool that could empower young women is the Circle of 6 cellphone app, which allows a user to send out a “help” message to the six chosen friends in her circle if a date gets uncomfortable or she needs a ride home. It seems brilliant; in a country where only 54% of rapes are reported and a small fraction of those end up with convictions, we will need lots of innovations like this to begin to turn around the attitudes that underlie these crimes.
CORRECTIONS, April 2: In the original post I had incorrectly stated the number of men in this study who had claimed to have raped women. It was 120, not 1,800. Also, I added the word “allegedly” to the discussion of the case of Dennis Hanson and Bojan Vuckovic, who have not yet been convicted of the crimes they’ve been charged with.