Story by Jesse Wright
When one is the victim of a crime, it is reasonable to expect a degree of empathy from society.
After news stories of terrorist attacks, a bank robbery or mass shooting, the media covers the effect such incidences have on the victims.
However, there is one crime which the media and society actively takes the side of the perpetrator over the victim.
That crime is sexual assault.
In May 2013, two teenagers in Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty of raping a 16-year old girl.
One would think the reaction to this news would be sighs of relief that justice was served and that two rapists would pay for their crime, but some didn’t see it that way.
For instance, CNN reporter Candy Crowley was saddened by the verdict and described the young men found guilty of rape as “two young men who had promising futures” and as “star football players and very good students” who watched their lives fall apart at their sentencing.
These sentiments of sympathy toward rapists are not isolated to the Steubenville case.
Recently, a 14-year old young woman named Daisy Coleman was raped in the small town of Maryville, Mo.
As in Steubenville, the reaction was to blame the victim for the attack and sympathize with the attackers.
Days after the incident became public knowledge, the website thinkprogress.org reported that students at the high school began attacking Coleman and her family.
On social media websites students began threatening Coleman, tweeting that she would “get what’s coming.”
Then, charges against the football players were dropped.
Some call such reactions to sexual assault as a sign of America’s “rape culture.”
Caleb Kenison, coordinator for Drake University’s Students Activists for Gender Equality (SAGE), said “Rape culture is the normalization and widespread acceptance of rape and sexual assault.”
Rebecca Stout, the legal services coordinator for The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (IowaCASA), said rape culture has been ingrained in America for a long time.
“I think that it goes back to the colonial days when women were considered property or chattel of their husbands,” Stout said. “People have always seemed to have a hard time calling the perpetrators ‘rapists.’
“Instead, we try to excuse away their behavior and shift blame to the victim. I cannot think of any other crime where the victim is placed under such a microscope than sexual assault. When cases of rape make it to trial in the criminal realm, the character of the victim is called into more question than the alleged perpetrators of the crime.”
In addition, to blaming female victims of sexual violence for their own attacks, some say rape culture is also insulting to men, as it assumes all men are potential rapists who have a constant desire to force themselves on women.
“By fighting against rape culture, we are saying that men are not inherently rapists, that men have self control, and they are responsible for their own actions,” Kenison said. “By saying that victims deserve to get raped, or that they are responsible for it, you are saying that men naturally are rapists. Critiquing this idea is a vital component in fighting against rape culture.”
Stout echoed Kenison’s thoughts on the issue.
“Rape culture is absolutely insulting towards men as it assumes all men have urges to commit rape,” Stout said.
“The stigma placed on victims also hurts men because men are also the victims of sexual assault and the way male victims are treated when they report their attacks is often worse than how female victims are treated.”
For junior Samantha Brenner, another coordinator for SAGE, rape culture is also present on the Drake University campus.
“We can see examples of rape culture all around us. Cat calling, street harassment in general, victim blaming and under-reporting of sexual assault are just some examples.”
Brenner said groups like SAGE are working to raise awareness about the issue of rape culture.
“SAGE is a dialogue-based group with weekly meetings to engage in dialogues from a feminist perspective,” Brenner said.
“We provide a safe space to talk through issues and how they relate to us at Drake University. In the past, SAGE has done a ‘Men Can Stop Rape’ campaign fighting rape culture, and we have promoted the play The Vagina Monologues, where its themes can been seen.”
Stout hopes organizations such as the IowaCASA can also play a part in fighting rape culture.
“People need to start listening to victims of sexual assault instead of jumping to conclusions,” Stout said. “Ultimately, we need to realize that the only person responsible for a rape is the rapist, not the victim.”