A few weeks ago former Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner, was released from prison on good behaviour after serving three months of a six months sentence. In January of last year Turner was discovered by two graduated students raping an unconscious female outside a fraternity house. In March of this year he was found guilty of the crime, facing up to ten years imprisonment but the judge on the case, Judge Persky (a male judge) sentenced him to just six months of prison time due to his otherwise clean criminal record and stating that a harsher punishment would leave a "severe impact" on Turner's life.
As much as this case both angers and disgusts me I'm not here to talk about Brock Turner. I should say I'm not here to solely talk about Brock Turner but the problem of rape culture in general.
Rape culture is what makes a a middle-aged male judge have more concern over how the rapist will live with the consequences of his actions than about how the victim will. Rape culture is singing about "blurred lines" and telling a girl "you know you want it" in a commercial pop song. Rape culture is telling little girls in church to be mindful of how they dress so as not to be "stumbling blocks" for guys. Rape culture is the collective mentality that the victim is to blame for being raped.
Murder victims aren't blamed for getting themselves killed, kids aren't blamed for getting themselves kidnapped and yet when a 50-year-man was convicted of raping a 14-year-old the judge sentenced him to just 30 days because the girl "looked older than her chronological age" suggesting that this fourteen-year-old girl somehow managed to entice this fifty-year-old man.
In Western culture we all outwardly agree rape is wrong but seem to internally disagree about what rape actually is. In May of last year a video was released on the internet defining rape through the analogy of offering tea to a person. It's a very British explanation of consent and as a very British person I am posting it here:
The video verges on the ridiculous because of course everyone knows and understands that you mustn't force a hot beverage down somebody's throat and yet not everybody knows and understands that you mustn't force yourself into somebody else's body. And why would they when an athlete accused of rape isn't held accountable for his actions but instead the victim is called a "career wrecker". Twitter trolls rant that such-and-such athlete or celebrity or good looking male "doesn't need to rape" anyone not understanding that rape isn't so much about sexual pleasure as it is about power. A girl who accuses an athlete of rape is automatically assumed to be lying when in reality less than 8% of rape accusations are false. Just to make that clear, that means 92% of the time rape was committed but less than 3% of accused rapist serve any jail time. That means 97% of rapists get away with it.
Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the American football team the 49ers, has been heavily criticised for not standing for the American anthem in silent protest against the police brutality perpetrated against black people in America. An NFL front office executive said of Kaepernick, "I don't want him anywhere near my team. He's a traitor." The same organisation released a list of 94 ex-players and coaches nominated for the 2017 pro-football hall of fame and amongst these was Darren Sharper, a five-time pro Bowl safety currently serving an 18 year sentence for drugging and raping nine women. A silent protestor for civil rights needs to stay away but a serial rapist is welcomed into the inner circle? Speaks volumes.
We think in the West that we are so enlightened and above the degrading and archaic ways of the East because we don't put victims of rape in jail like they do in Dubai but although we don't jail them we still place the same level of blame upon them.
In 1999 Sweden changed their laws to make it legal to sell sex but illegal to buy sex. This law, along with better education about gender equality and respect has created a society in which women are no longer seen simply as sexual object to satiate a man's appetite. The system isn't perfect – what man-made system is? – but it has had so much success in Sweden that Norway and Iceland have also adopted it.
Last week Atlanta public school teacher Patricia Brown (#TeacherBae) was criticised for wearing tight clothes to work. The main criticism was that her outfits are a distraction to her male students. A) Her outfits are the epitome of appropriate. Apart from wearing a potato sack to work she couldn't really do much more to be appropriate. She is covered from neck to ankle almost, showing barely any skin. She is African American and has a curvy body so whatever she wears is going to look "sexual" perhaps but what do people expect her to do about that? She has the right to look cute just as much as any skinny girl who would choose to wear the exact same outfits. B) She teaches the fourth grade. If 9-10 year-old boys are sexualising their female teacher it is not her fault. Maybe we should work harder to teach young boys that the female body is not solely for their viewing pleasure and gratification instead of telling a grown, professional woman who was just minding her own business and doing her job, what to wear.
In Victorian England women – referred to as "the Sex" in that time – were seen merely as "whores for the gratification of [men's] sexual desires". Prostitution was legal in Victorian England because men saw prostitutes as "the necessary evil to protect the pure, who otherwise might unwittingly provoke the male to rape them." More than 100 years later I would have thought we'd have progressed beyond that. Maybe not.
Girls are slut-shamed but boys will be boys. No, boys will be held accountable to their actions like everybody else. Instead of stifling our girls let's teach our boys respect. When a teenage boy snaps a teenage girl's bra in class and the teacher brushes it off as teenage banter the boy learns he has a right to her body and the girl learns she must grin and bear it. No. the girl's body is her own and the boy has no power over it. No means no. Instead of teaching girls how to say no with their bodies, their clothes, their behaviour, let's teach our boys to hear no when it comes out of her mouth and to respect her choice to decline his advances.
When a person is murdered we blame the murderer. When a person is robbed we blame the thief. When a person is raped we blame the victim. In the words of Sesame Street, one of these things does not belong.
Let's do better.