Tag Archives: sexual assault

Bodies, Accountability, and Journalism: What’s So Offensive about the Steubenville Trial

Judge Thomas LippsA guilty verdict was handed down by Justice Thomas Lipps today, for both defendants in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case that has caught the attention of the nation. As the verdict was read, reality descended on the two young men charged with raping a drunk and unconscious young woman at a party last August. Multiple reports about the incident noted that before and during that party, young men on the high school football team were used to behaving however they saw fit with no boundaries enforced by the adults in their lives, and that their coach, Reno Saccocchia, was considered a frequent aid in cleaning or covering up the antics of his football players. The trial highlighted accounts by several witnesses and text messages that rather than one awful moment in which Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond had a terrible, hurtful lapse in judgment, this rape behavior was more about an accumulation of unaccountability by the young men, their coach, their friends, and their parents.

The trial itself was not free of misogyny. As I’ve written about during other publicized sexual assault investigations, questions swirled around regarding the ability of the young woman to give consent to her treatment. Even though there were concerns that she’d been drugged by the defendants or their teammates, even though many witnesses attested that she was drunk–which ought to have answered the question of consent right there–and even though the assailants and others said in various media that she was unconscious, “not participating,” or passed out, the defense still saw an avenue to drag her reputation and prior behavior into the testimony at trial. Decades old questions regarding the (in)ability of men to acknowledge or notice a lack or removal of consent were brought to bear as valid discussion once again. In what some analysts called a re-victimization of the young woman, texts, photos, and video of the assault were circulated among other football team members, high school students, and the Internet at large. And of course the trial called up many of those humiliating moments after the fact as part of the prosecution as well as the defense’s case. Read More…

Easy to Remember Instructions for Clueless Guys

This post is filled with triggering stuff about sexual assault.

Okay, so there’s this guy. He’s about my age, from my home town, and in 1984, the summer before I started high school, he was up in my bedroom while we goofed around listening to Pink Floyd and wondering what to do. The upshot here is that our long friendship collapsed in a sexual assault and after he left to walk home, I was left wondering what the hell had just happened.

I took a very long shower. I told nobody about it, but that fall, some part of me asked the guidance counselor if I could join the women’s group therapy meeting. She didn’t ask me why, just said yes, and there I was, holding my uniform skirt to my knees and listening to the awful things in the lives of my peers, wondering why I was there. Repression is a strange thing. I’d blocked out most of what had occurred in my bed the summer before, but close friends asked if everything was okay. I’d picked a high school (I was in the parochial system, not in public school) that most of my friends hadn’t selected, so it was up to me to make new pals and to keep in touch with my besties from eighth grade. As with other people my age in the mid-80s, the phone was my constant companion. I had a cord that stretched down the hall, and luxuriously enough, I had my own number and a phone in my own room (thank you, elder sisters, for paving the way for me).

The story of what happened to me (as opposed to the reality of what happened to me) warped inside my mind, as objects will when submitted to extreme pressure and stress. I told people I’d lost my virginity willingly, I used food to cover up my fear and anguish, and believed that adding another 20 or 30 pounds would limit my appeal to other people. Instead many boys figured I’d be the easy play, so I became more choosy about which after school clubs I should participate in, and which friends would be safe. (Read: Not many men made the cut.) Read More…

Entropy and the Asshole

Todd Akin, rogue scientistTrigger warning: This blog post is about sexual assault.

I’m a believer in entropy. Well, not “in” it exactly, in that I don’t worship at the altar of things coming undone or descending into chaos, but I believe it exists as a force. Clean up a room and slowly things get out of place. Watch the waves come into shore and eventually you’ll notice the beach is growing…or greatly receding. If the universe is replete with patterns, it is also chock full of disorder. Stars collapse, DNA mutates, and here on earth human beings invent new ways of injuring each other.

So it is that in the sea of sound bites that defines the Sunday morning politics shows on American television, Representative Akin (R-Mo), running for the Senate, said that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant because the female body releases a chemical that prevents insemination. This representation of pseudo-science, which stems from an evaluation of how some waterfowl resist pregnancy, is at once a misunderstanding of science, how the human body works, and the range of circumstances that lead to sexual assault in this country. And these are not to mention that it is millions of women, not “thousands” as described by Akin in his amendment to his statement after the Internet cried foul upon his original remarks. Read More…

The Poverty of Consent

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post is about sexual assault.

A friend asked me to write something up about the debacle that was the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund and presumed future candidate for the French Presidency. And then I sat in front of a blank screen, staring and staring and feeling more than one wave of frustration crash over me. Something bothered me about this case—the way it intersected with power, race, and gender hierarchies, its resurrection of the threadbare narrative of “she asked for/deserved it,” and finally, the hopelessness many of us felt because of the outcome of the case that never made it to trial. For if such a preponderance of evidence as was gathered against Mr. Strauss-Kahn still fails to be taken seriously, what possibility remains that any case will actually be heard on its merits? Read More…

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