TRIGGER WARNING: This blog discusses rape.
This blog has been a long time in the making. Today, I feel I have found the right post with which to begin.
A few days ago I had never heard of Steubenville, Ohio. That changed on Christmas eve of 2012, when I stumbled across a thread on Reddit that describes the story of a young girl being horribly raped and humiliated by members of a local football team. In addition to the rape, this girl had to suffer as pictures and videos of the incident, along with nasty comments, spread through social networking sites.
In the following days, I could not get it out of my head. The rape did not occur in an alleyway, or a parking lot, or a nightclub toilet. It happened at a normal house full of normal high school kids. It didn’t even happen behind closed doors. Apparently, several of this young woman’s peers stood by as she was assaulted and did nothing.
At the time of writing, two of the young men directly involved in the rape are awaiting trial and there is much controversy surrounding the case. It’s a tale of idolatry, corruption, gossip and knights in shining armour. There has been much naming and shaming of the young men involved and their supporters. The group of individuals collectively identifying as Anonymous swooped in, launching Operation Roll Red Roll and Occupy Steubenville in support of the victim.
And yet, the more I read, the more I think about the victim and her family.
“She stays in her room a lot and doesn’t want to go to school,” the mother said of her daughter.
The daughter doesn’t sleep much and the mother said she hears her crying at night.
The mother also said her daughter has been ostracized by her friends and their parents who don’t want their kids around her.
The more I read, the more I also understand how we all played a part in this young girl’s rape.
So what makes someone stand by and let a young girl get raped and why are you and I perhaps a little bit responsible for the tragedy that unfolded that fateful night in August?
In a study involving a northeastern university, researchers analyzed surveys from 2,338 incoming undergraduates. The study explored bystander attitudes and their relationship with rape myths.
The researchers found that:
“A higher acceptance of rape myths was reported by males, those pledging a fraternity/sorority, athletes, those without previous rape education, and those who did not know someone sexually assaulted.
A greater willingness to intervene as a bystander was reported by females, those who had previous rape education, and those who knew someone sexually assaulted. Acceptance of rape myths was negatively related to willingness to intervene.”
In other words, if you accept rape myths you are more likely to simply stand by and do nothing when another human being desperately needs your help. On the other hand, if you reject rape myths you are more likely to intervene in situations where your intervention is required and help your fellow humans out.
In another study involving 349 heterosexual students from the University of Granada, almost a third (28%) of the men reported having given alcohol to females in order to have sexual contact. Almost half (44%) of the women acknowledged having suffered this practice.
Men were more favourable to this practice; however, the effect was moderated by to what degree they endorsed rape myths.
“It was also found that males and, in general, those participants who endorsed rape myths, tended to consider that girls who accept alcohol in their interactions with boys are promiscuous.”
In other words, one in three men are likely to have plied at least one woman with alcohol in order to initiate sexual contact. And if they endorse rape myths, even other men – or indeed women – are likely to view girls who drink alcohol as sluts.
So where does that leave us, as a society? Well, thankfully, we can use social norms to prevent rape. In fact, it seems that how would-be-rapists (and presumably also would-be-bystanders) perceive our collective acceptance or tolerance of rape is more important than what their buddies say.
The implications of this are profound. If we, as a society of human beings, refuse to tolerate rape, we can reduce it.
I feel this is a really, really important point, so I’ll say it again.
If we collectively refuse to tolerate rape, we can reduce it.
I followed the developments around #OpRollRedRoll and #OccupySteubenville closely and will continue to do so.
I believe that we are all on the path to enlightenment; we are all bodhisattvas.
Take your next step.