Just when you worry that you might be getting anesthetized to rape culture, it goes and sucker-punches you in the ovaries. Whether it’s rapists getting off with no jail time, #rapeface memes, military rape legislation, rape culture protests, or even just how incredibly inept the federal government is at counting sexual assaults — rape culture is the topic du jour this week. Good times.
No jail for you:
It was hard to miss the headlines on Friday when an Alabama judge slashed a convicted rapist’s sentence to include no jail time. The man was convicted of raping a 14-year-old on three different occasions. But don’t worry, convicted rapist Austin Smith Clem’s life will be totally hard, as ThinkProgress reported:
A judge in Alabama has ruled that a man convicted of raping a 14 year old on three occasions will get no jailtime. Instead, Limestone County Circuit Judge James Woodroof reduced the rapist’s 10- and 20-year prison sentences to two years in a program for nonviolent criminals and three years on probation. He will also pay a $2,000 fine.
In an interview with Mother Jones, Austin Smith Clem’s defense lawyer said the sentence, however light, will inconvenience his client’s lifestyle. “It would seem to be relatively mild,” defense attorney Dan Totten told Mother Jones. “But [Clem’s] lifestyle for the next 6 years is going to be very controlled…If he goes to a party and they’re serving beer, he can’t say, ‘Can I have one?’ If he wanted to go across the Tennessee line, which as the crow flies is 8 or 9 miles from his house, and buy a lottery ticket, he can’t do that…It’s not a slap on the wrist.”
Dude can’t have a bewsky at the party?! Totes hard!
But don’t worry, it’s not completely scary for the sexual assault survivor, now 20, and her family, who fear for their safety:
The family of the raped teenager, now 20, said they were “floored” by the light sentence. She said she fears for her family’s safety because Clem is free. The district attorney, meanwhile, is reviewing his options to pursue a new sentence.
So, you know, fuck you rape survivors!
Unfortunately, these kinds of wrist-slap sentences are all too common in sexual violence cases, according to RAINN. Only THREE out of every 100 rapists will ever serve time. Meanwhile, federal drug offenders serve an average of six years, according to the same ThinkProgress article. Seems legit.
Your face will stay like that:
Over in another corner of the internets, 12-year-olds are giggling at the #rapeface hashtag. As Sandra Hawken Diaz of the Canadian Women’s Foundation explains via Huffington Post, her son couldn’t figure out why calling awkward-smile selfies “rapeface” was at all problematic:
My son has grown up with a mother who works in the women’s movement and he proactively calls out sexism, initiates discussions about why it’s not cool that the most popular song of the summer was about date rape (thanks, Robin Thicke) and he’s won prizes for raising money to end violence against women.
So what is the big deal? He and his friends don’t literally mean that they want to rape someone by using that hashtag. They are not intentionally trying to make fun of rape. They are 12-year-olds who are just being silly. Lighten up, mom.
But that is precisely why it is a big deal. A very big deal. That 12-year-olds would think it was normal, innocent and even funny to tag a photo of themselves #rapeface goes to the heart of how entrenched rape culture is in our country. Canadian Women’s Foundation studies show that victim blame is alive and well in Canada.
It turns out the meme first surfaced in 2008 and was not just about “awkward smiles” but rather to label the expression on the face of a man before he is about to rape a woman. It’s intended as a joke and you can find thousands of photos and videos on Instagram, Vine, YouTube and Twitter tagged #rapeface.
Oh, so this “hysterical” meme totally started out as a gross homage to perpetrators of sexual assault. Because rape culture. … So I’ve got that to look forward to when my kid gets old enough to surf the internet and use whatever social media platform is the shit.
Luckily, we can still turn this around by having conversations with our kids, friends, coworkers, family, and communities, as Diaz points out:
But here’s the thing, words are powerful. Words have consequences. When a word like rape is used as a joke, it trivializes sexual assault, it normalizes the issue and it creates a climate where rape is accepted. By using a word like rape in colloquial slang, we have become desensitized to its real meaning and that invalidates the experience of the hundreds of thousands of women each year who experience sexual violence.
Intended or not, the insensitive normalization of a word like rape is a big deal. It doesn’t mean every kid who tags a photo #rapeface is incapable of empathy or is destined to be a sociopath or rapist. But they are unknowingly contributing to a culture and a climate that tells survivors they aren’t safe or supported. It’s on the continuum of victim blaming and glorifying violence and contributing to a significant and critical issue for women and girls. To be indifferent to the word rape is to be indifferent to the prevalence of rape.
The turning point for my son, was when he thought about how someone who had been raped might feel seeing a silly photo tagged #rapeface. We continued talking and listening to each other. And that’s exactly where we all need to start. We need to be having these conversations with our kids and with our own peers about reclaiming words like rape if we want to start making a big deal about putting an end to rape culture.
The few, the proud, the raped:
I can barely write about the military sexual assault situation, because I feel like my head is going to catch on fire. I mean, 26,000 instances of sexual assault (PDF)?! It gives me this terrible, helpless feeling in the pit of my soul. It’s like living next door to a family in which a woman is being routinely beaten by her partner. But instead of having resources to offer help, I’m tied up on a chair with duct tape over my mouth, forced to endure listening to the violence over and over.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s a light at the end of this incredibly dark tunnel. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)has introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act, which may be debated any day now. Gillibrand’s bill is controversial because it would cause serious crimes, like sexual assault, to be prosecuted in civilian court. Meanwhile, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has a competing bill that would allow military command to remain within the prosecution process, but not to overturn verdicts. Either way, reform is long overdue and justice has been denied for far too long for survivors within the military. My Feminism 2.0 colleague Soraya Chemaly breaks down the situation with 50 facts about sexual assault in the military and why the time is now to #passMJIA. Read it now.
Truly, I sometimes wonder if we treat our folks in uniform as disposable people. From sexual assault to health care to the shameful lack of care and services for veterans (not to mention homeless veterans), we should be hanging our heads as a nation. Whether or not we agree on when, where, and why a war might happen, we must do better to honor the sacrifices of those in uniform. Period.
You can take your rape culture and shove it:
Over this past weekend, thousands of people in New Zealand took to the streets to protest a culture that doesn’t take rape seriously. The public backlash has intensified over the past several weeks, ever since an investigation exposed a group of teens who call themselves the “Roast Busters.”
The members of the Roast Busters target teenage girls, ply them with alcohol until they’re often close to unconsciousness, gang-rape them, and then upload the evidence to social media sites in an attempt to shame their victims. After the news of the Roast Busters began to spread, many New Zealanders were horrified that their society allowed this type of “rape club” to flourish.
At first, the police force claimed that their hands were tied, and they were unable to prosecute the members of the Roast Busters because none of the victims had ever come forward to file a formal complaint. But it turns out that’s not exactly true. At least one victim did attempt to report the crime, but she was essentially told that she didn’t have a case because of what she was wearing at the time of the assault. “They said that I didn’t have enough evidence to show, because I went out in clothes that was pretty much asking for it,” that victim told 3 News. “I was asked a lot of questions about what I was wearing, and I went out in a skirt.” She pointed out that the lack of police action made her feel like the sexual assault was her fault.
Oh, the old she-was-asking-for-it gambit. Classic!
One preventative measure that most activists agree on is very simple: Comprehensive sexual health education. Teaching kids about sexual boundaries from a young age can help reinforce the concept of consent.
Comprehensive sex education? What will those crazy feminists think of next?
1, 742, 1.27 million … wait, let me start over:
You know the first step to attacking a problem is — say it with me — admitting you have a problem. To wit, the federal government just released a new study showing that we have been counting instances of sexual violence all wrong:
How helpful, then, that the Justice Department asked the National Research Council (part of the National Academies, which also includes the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine) to study how successfully the federal government measures rape. The answer has just arrived, in a report out Tuesday with the headline from the press release: “The National Crime Victimization Survey Is Likely Undercounting Rape and Sexual Assault.” We’re not talking about small fractions—we’re talking about the kind of potentially massive underestimate that the military and the Justice Department have warned about for years—and that could be throwing a wrench into the effort to do the most effective type of rape prevention.
The NCVS statistics show the rate of completed and attempted rape in the United States declining from a high of 5 percent of girls and women victimized annually in 1995 to a low of about 2 percent from 2005 to the present. Sounds good, right—men behaving better, women protecting themselves more. But here are the flaws that call the nice-sounding stats into doubt: The NCVS is designed to measure all kinds of crime victimization. The questions it poses about sexual violence are embedded among questions that ask about lots of other types of crime. For example:
(Other than any incidents already mentioned,) has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways: a) with any weapon, for instance, a gun or knife, b) with anything like a baseball bat, frying pan, scissors, or stick, c) by something thrown, such a rock or bottle, d) include any grabbing, punching, or choking, e) any rape, attempted rape or other type of sexual attack, f) any face to face threats, OR g) any attack or threat or use of force by anyone at all?
That’s not a good way to prompt women (or men) to report nonconsensual sex, broadly speaking, especially if they haven’t previously gone to the police—as most rape victims don’t. As the new report puts it: “This context may inhibit reporting of incidents that the respondent does not think of as criminal, did not report to the police, or does not want to report to police.”
The NCVS also doesn’t include scenarios in which a victim is unable to consent to sex because she or he is “drunk, high, drugged, or passed out.” And the NCVS doesn’t do enough to provide survey-takers with privacy. They can’t quietly check off a box on a self-administered questionnaire—they have to answer questions out loud over the phone. These features of the survey have also been shown to inhibit victims from responding.
Luckily, there’s a pretty simple solution here. Start using the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey that the Center for Disease Control has been using for some time, which asks more direct questions such as, “Have you been raped?” It’s so much fun when government agencies don’t talk to each other at all. But it probably doesn’t make that much difference, right?
NISVS was first conducted in 2010, so it doesn’t go back in time the way the NCVS numbers do. But here’s the startling direct comparison between the two measures: NISVS counted 1.27 million total sexual acts of forced penetration for women over the past year (including completed, attempted, and alcohol or drug facilitated). [Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey] counted only 188,380 for rape and sexual assault. And the FBI, which collects its data from local law enforcement, and so only counts rapes and attempted rapes that have been reported as crimes, totaled only 85,593 for 2010.
You know how I know that rape culture is still a big fucking problem? We can’t even figure out how to count who has been sexually assaulted! That’s just counting. My three-year-old knows how to count. She’s three.