independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Carol Hunt: We seem to be heading for a vile gender war

The Steubenville rape case is an example of an entire society colluding in a huge human-rights evil.

IT wasn't about the sex. It never is. If it was, they wouldn't have dragged her from place to place, publicly displaying her near-naked body, like a trussed up Thanksgiving turkey. It's about control, power, status and ritual humiliation. It's about the dehumanisation of young women – an entire gender – and the evil that a whole society colludes in.

It's about normalising rape culture.

Last week, young sporting studs Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were convicted of driving a teenage, comatose girl from party to party, during which time they raped her, degraded her, filmed her and encouraged friends and strangers to join in the fun.

And didn't they all look like they were having the time of their lives, these young men; educated, privileged, beloved of their football-mad community, poking, preening, giggling and posing beside their victim.

The video went viral as others jostled to take more pictures, more mementoes: trophy evidence of a young woman, someone's daughter, being treated with less respect than a dead, diseased rat; ritual rape being celebrated, condoned by the more than 50 spectators, ordinary people, who watched and did nothing to stop it. Their excuse? They didn't know that it was wrong.

It has been called rape culture's Abu Ghraib moment – but only by feminists. The rest of the world is calling it a shame, a tragedy – for rapists Richmond and Mays, who may only serve a measly one- and two-year sentence respectively. Because in today's post-feminist world, women are once again blamed for the criminal actions of feral men.

And what did the Steuben-ville girl do to merit her ordeal?

She was drunk. At a party. And, being female, that meant she was fair game. That's the rule now in young – and not so young – machismo, Western circles. No caring friends to bring her home or stop the abuse – just repeated public sexual assaults. She deserved it, seemingly.

Her violators insisted that they did nothing wrong, and didn't believe that they could be convicted of anything. Neither did the adults involved. Mays texted to a friend that his coach, Reno, had said he'd "sort it": "Like, he was joking about it so I'm not worried."

According to the New York Times, "She said she had woken up the next morning naked in the basement living room surrounded by Mr Mays, Mr Richmond and another boy, with no idea where she was or how she had gotten there and unable to find her underwear, shoes, earrings or phone.

"Under questioning from the prosecution, she told the story of waking up confused, naked, ashamed and worried, and then finding out that day that many of her friends had an idea what had happened to her or had even seen a picture of her naked."

In an interview with Piers Morgan after the convictions, Walter Madison, lawyer for Richmond, explained the sympathy that many had with the young rapists.

"You saw a court staff sobbing. You saw a court reporter – news reporters sobbing. There wasn't a dry eye in the courtroom ... "

The media agreed.

"Incredibly difficult . . . to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students literally watched as they believe their life fell apart." This from Poppy Harlow of CNN.

And her colleague, Candy Crowley: "I cannot imagine how emotional the sentencing must have been . . . what is the lasting effect of two young people being guilty in juvenile court of rape essentially?"

". . . lives are destroyed" Paul Callan of CNN said of the rapists (not the raped).

None of the above wondered what the impact of rape, humiliation, degradation and societal abuse on the life of the victim might be, but MSNBC, CNN and Fox News were lax enough to reveal her name to the public. She and her family are now receiving death threats.

Here is a sample of some online comments on the guilty verdict.

"There is no justice in Steubenville today. The girl asked for it and wanted it, in my opinion. They gave it to her. No crime. Appeal!"

"So, you got drunk at a party and twteno people take advantage of you, that's not rape, that's just a loose drunk slut."

"Steubenville: Guilty. I feel bad for those two young guys, Mays and Richmond, they did what most people in their situation would have done."

There are thousands more in the same vein – depressingly, some from young women, two of whom are currently being held in custody charged with intimidation and harassment of the victim.

The Steubenville rape case, and the treatment of the victim of it, shows that, where equality, dignity, basic respect for human life is concerned, we seem to be headed toward some vile, dystopian Neanderthal gender war.

And don't think we're any different on this side of the pond. Even in small-town Ireland, the perpetrators of sexual violence are often excused while victims are blamed. It's why so few rape victims report the crime.

Remember the 50-odd people in Kerry who lined up to commiserate with Danny Foley, who had just been convicted of sexual assault? Remember the priest who made a statement to the effect that this man, guilty of a horrific sexual assault, had "the highest respect for women" and that there wasn't an "abusive bone in his body"?

I have both a young daughter and a younger son. It's frightening to think that not only do I need to fear for the sexual safety of my daughter, but I must also try to instill respect for human life, for female dignity, into my son.

One would think that's a given, but increasingly, the backlash against feminism, the rise in acceptable misogyny, is becoming normalised.

We live in the so-called civilised West; we've had the Enlightenment, female suffrage, the sexual revolution and all the rest of it. Yet, increasingly, women are not allowed to be reckless, to get drunk, to be assertive – all the things that men do – without being punished for getting out of their "pre-ordained" boxes.

There are rules, seemingly, and women have to abide by them. Different countries and cultures have different levels of stringency, but the bottom line is: break the rules – show your face, leave the house without a male relative, drive a car, walk in a dark street, get drunk on a night out, wear too much make-up or too few clothes – and you deserve to be dehumanised; treated like an inanimate blow-up doll or a piece of sexualised meat. Even worse, bystanders, instead of intervening, are now as likely to film the event and share it with their friends online. This attitude is becoming so acceptable that many don't see it as a crime.

This is, without doubt, the very definition of an entire society colluding in a gross and massive human rights evil against a group of its citizens. Name it, shame it.

Irish Independent

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