Thursday, October 28, 2010

Victims of rape

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.

5 comments:

Yazzyjazzy said...

That story made my blood boil. I also think that our legal system is WAY too lenient on rapists. Like you said, its very hard for victims to get past the rape; to get over their fears, to trust again, and even to be happy and enjoy life. Nobody should take that away from a woman.

Some people believe that convicted rapists should be punished by having their penises completely severed. That way, they can no longer rape. Also, they will never be able to enjoy sex, as their victims may never again be able to enjoy sex. It would also send a serious message to males that raping has the gravest consequences.

This would probably never be an acceptable punishment in our country, but I think similarly extreme consequences would definitely be appropriate in rape cases.

Chez Marta said...

It is a rare moment when two conversations commence on a public forum about rape! Thank you for keeping this sad phenomenon in the spotlight.

To hammer home my earlier recommendation of books, the Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond, explains the evolutionary role violence against the females of our tribes. It also discusses the relative lack of female solidarity among female chimpanzees, and possibly among female humans. It does not mean that we should excuse rape, not at all. But it is certainly interesting to explore why and how this vestige of our early days as humans survives even today.

Alcestis said...

Our legal system, but our society in general is way too lenient on rapists. When I read the story of the cheerleader getting kicked off her squad as well as the cases of school officials using students victims to catch the accused rapists I was horrified. How could this possibly be happening?

You mentioned possible reasons, including the lack of women support. I definitely think that has a lot to do with it. Women may not support rape victims for various reasons. The first that comes to mind is victim credibility. The idea that she must or may have put herself in that situation and "I" would never do that. But who cares. We must remember that she is a victim of a serious crime. And like other victims to crimes, we must feel compassion and empathy. There should be a focus on the individual and person. She is someone's daughter, sister, friend, etc. Similar to "North Country," there should be a commonality that we do not want this to happen to any of the women in our lives, so we should prevent it from happening to all of us.

Rebecca said...

There are at least two historically entrenched views I can see in this story.

(1) Men are better than girls- particularly the gladiator types- and thus, their bad behavior is excusable. Their value as athletes is superior to the value of girls that do trivial things like cheerleading;

AND

(2) Women are property of men: if they are raped, they are "spoiled" goods. The property is permanently ruined and therefore valueless. Only chaste young women are of value.

I grew up in a rural town. I remember a young girl in my high school band. One day she just disappeared from the town. The rumor mill speculated that she was dead, or that she was pregnant. She was in fact raped by the quarterback. Her family, being devout Catholics could not stomach an abortion, so she was "sent away, " cast out from the community, to have the baby. The quarterback went on to play college ball. After a year or so, the girl came back into town, but never returned to school. Her parents treated her baby as their child. She was treated as a leper. Finally, she moved out of state without her child.

It is a sad story. I wish I could honestly say that 40 years later things have improved in my hometown. Sadly, I cannot: they have not improved, not a little bit.

Dusty said...

I think we also learn to tolerate rape because it is insidious, remember the old 1 in 4 women have been sexually assuaulted in their lifetime. That means at least two women in our class have been statiscally raped. Rape is excused because it is common and because part of why it is common is our constant normalizing to it. Even though we all consider it a tragic wrong, it is a tragedy that affects us all but nobody speaks about really, except in feminist classes, etc. Speaking out about rape is one of the first ways to start deconstructing the normalcy of accepting it as a part of our lives.