Why are female victims of rape treated so poorly? Historically, our judicial system has limited the amount of criminal and civil charges that could be brought against a rapist. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 20th Century that the courts finally recognized spousal rape as a form of rape. Prior to this time, there was a belief that a woman had given advanced consent to a life-long sexual relationship through the wedding vows. Additionally, the court placed a high burden of proof on women accusing a man of rape. They had to prove a lack of consent by showing bruising, scratching, or some other physical evidence of resistance.
Today, many jurisdictions are beginning to favor an approach that places the burden of proof on the alleged rapist, requiring them to demonstrate that there was affirmative consent to have sex. These new reforms, however, do very little to help the actual victims who must continue their lives in a society that fails to recognize the consequences for victims of rape. Just recently, a 16-year-old cheerleader at Silsbee High School in Texas, who was raped at party in 2008 by two of the schools star athletes, was cut from the cheerleading squad for refusing to cheer for the players that had raped her. She had been told by the superintendent to either cheer or be kicked off the cheerleading team.
As an outsider looking in, I wonder what is going on in Texas. How could the school board even tolerate this type of behavior by a public school administrator? I fear it may have to do with the fact that this crime happened in a rural town, a town where high school athletes given the right to do whatever they want and are virtually untouchable. I would not be surprised to find that people in this community point the finger at the victim, accusing her of being a slut and trying to give the athletes a bad name, much like the town’s reactions toward Charlize Theron’s character in “North Country,” in which a girl had been raped by a teacher in high school.
Exactly why does society have such distaste towards women who have been raped? Although one might argue it has to do with the fact that we live in a male dominated society, which therefore is governed by a legal system that is gender biased, this theory does not explain why other women shun these victims as well. It seems that a lack of support by other women for these victims is counterintuitive in that it helps further laws that seem to have a gender bias, such as rape laws. Perhaps it is time to create a stronger solidarity among women, particularly in rural areas, where this support is needed most.