Before you click the link bellow or read any further – TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault, Sexual Violence, Gang Rape, Serial Rape, Victim Blaming.
This article opens with a seemingly innocent fight song, one similar to many others on campuses across North America. If you’ve attended a University or College, I’m sure you’ve heard of them and maybe even know a few yourself. I remember a particularly vulgar one being chanted on a bus from the University of Guelph on the way down town one night headed to the bars. “I wish all women were more like Venus so they’d have no arms to push a way my penis!” This is continued throughout the article with a number of other chants that get more and more vulgar as the article go on.
The article wastes no time diving right into the deep end as it opens with the recounting of a brutal gang rape of an 18 year old freshmen from the University of Virginia. All of this happens to her after she is led into a room by a frat boy, she thinks this is a date, and she thinks they are alone. She then goes on to think of this as something that she could have somehow stopped, that she should have known that this charming, good looking, frat boy was going to do this to her. She is no different than many other rape victims across the world. Because of the culture we live in, victims are taught that it is their fault that they were raped. The article brings up a very interesting point – this is a defence mechanism. No woman wants to believe that they could fall victim to these kinds of things, but the truth is that 1 in 5 or 1 in 4 (depending on which stats you look at) will have something similar happen to them. Given that we know this is one of the most under reported crimes, I would bet those stats are a lot higher.
Lyndsay Anderson talks about a very similar campus culture in Canada in her Ted Talk “Changing perspectives of consent and rape culture on campus”. She talks about the same fight songs, the same victim blaming, the same indifference that is recounted in this article. All of these instances are things that no one wants to hear about. As the Rolling Stones article points out, no one wants to go to the ‘rape campus’, so schools keep this hush hush.
When I came to university, I was excited to learn and to be a part of a campus culture of academics and bright ideas. I was over the moon to find other like minded feminists, even a few who had penises. What I didn’t expect to find was a culture in which the only sexualized spaces were ones were alcohol and other mind altering substances were involved. I also wasn’t expecting that being a university student would increase the likelihood of my being sexually assaulted as Anderson points out in her talk. I’m excluding coffee from my list of ‘mind altering substances’ for the purpose of this argument. This is because if you act in a sexualized manner, touching someone or grinding on them in a coffee house, you’re a creep. If you do these kind of non consensual acts to someone in a bar however, so long as you’re good looking enough, of they’re drunk enough its fair game.
Being out in the world for the first time is exciting, you have your rose coloured glasses on and everyone is a new friend rather than a potential perp. Alcohol and other drugs make this even easier to deal with as you quickly forget any self-consciousness or fear you once held. Even the most nervous of people become a little more smooth, and a little more outgoing when these substances are in the mix. I am by no means trying to demonize these things. I have been the girl in the short skirt dancing on a coffee table at a house party. I have been the girl who is so drunk that you wonder how she is walking in 6 inch stiletto platforms. Being that girl can be empowering and make you feel desired and like you fit in. Unfortunately, being that girl also puts you in a dangerous position.
I could imagine many people are familiar with the slogan “my dress is not a yes”. This is used in many Slut Walk and Take Back the Night rallies. When a woman is raped, people automatically start picking apart the victim. What was she wearing, how much has she had to drink, was she partaking in recreational drugs, was she dancing provocatively. All of these things are automatically a way to blame her. Defence lawyers have gone as far as using skinny jeans as a defence, saying that her pants were so tight that he couldn’t possibly have gotten them off by himself (read: she wore full length pants and is still being blamed for her attackers actions.) We live in a world where its next to impossible to dress in a conservative fashion because of the options on the shelf. Then we are told that because we bought clothing that was at our disposal we are now asking to be the victims of violent crimes.
Why is it that the people who are perpetrating these crimes are not being blamed? We can go all the way back to the times of Adam and Eve for this one. Christianity pits all the blame on Eve for falling to temptation ( p.55 of Micheline Ishay’s ‘The History of Human Rights‘), and ever since women have been blamed for everything. We see this time and time again. For instance, in Steubenville when the athletes who raped a 16 yr old girl were pitied because the charges would ‘ruin their careers’ while she was tormented for a horrific crime against her that occurred when she was completely unconscious.
Women are taught to be innocent, quiet and polite, and yet if a man shows those characteristics he becomes someone to victimize. The article details how one of the woman’s attackers ‘couldn’t get it up’ and that he ‘looked like he was about to cry or puke’. Because he was unable to victimize her, he became the victim of his soon to be brothers. They jeered at him to man up, telling him this violent act was a right of passage into brotherhood. This instrumental use of gang rape as a bonding tool is not unheard of. Dara Kay Cohen describes the same phenomena in war torn Sierra Leone being used to indoctrinate child soldiers into the militant group. In the article she discusses how gang rapists tend to be less pathological than single perpetrators, that these acts of violence are preferred to continued estrangement from the group. She also goes on to detail that the more extreme the rituals, the stronger the bond between those who perform them. It would only make sense that the ‘most prestigious house on campus’ would have the most intense initiation rituals.
Again here, I don’t want to be mistaken as someone attacking the Greek system. I myself am in a sorority and have experienced the benefits that can come from having a close group that backs you no matter what (not to mention that I have received scholarships and leadership training from them). My sorority was even mentioned in one of the fighting songs, further spurring my will to write this response. That being said, I never took part in initiation rituals and don’t understand how you could consider someone who made you do such horrible things a friend. But I suppose I’m lucky for not having been subject to such things and thus can’t comment on what I would do in the situation.
Because so little value is placed on women and femininity, our society sees it as perfectly fine to ignore those victims. The problem with this mentality is if you do not punish these perpetrators they will act again and again. When I was in residence in first year there was a student that sexually assaulted his residence assistant. Instead of being kicked out of residence, suspended or expelled, he was removed from the environment. By this I mean he was moved to a residence on the opposite side of campus, to one of the nicer, more iconic residences with a bigger room. In the article the victim describes how the frat boy who led her into that room later talked to her on campus, telling her ‘how much fun he had.’ When you don’t punish someone for a crime, they get away with it. Worse, they are taught that it is an acceptable thing to do. Rapist is a nasty word, but these assailants will never be known by that name. By not punishing these crimes we are in effect encouraging sexual assault. It’s no wonder that many of the attackers are serial rapists as the article states. We are conditioning them into being better hunters on the ‘fruitful rape-hunting grounds’ that are college campuses.
It is clear that we need to steer away from this mentality, but how? First, we can begin by taking these crimes seriously. The pressure being put on campuses by the Obama administration is a good start. Programs like the University of Virginias “Sexual Misconduct Board” however, I find problematic. By allowing these crimes to be reported to anyone other than the police, you are saying that these crimes are not as bad as other crimes. This is the equivalent to having a “Homicide Board” where the University tries students who have committed murder on campus. I would argue that rape can be worse than murder, as it is a traumatic, violent crime where the victim has to live with the consequences and scars. As we can see with the victim in the article, she became severely depressed and contemplated suicide. This is not an uncommon reaction for a victim of rape. There needs to be more services in place for victims to seek help. We are clearly not going to stop the problem of rape on campuses over night, so we might as well make the environment more bearable for the victims afterwards.
There is also something to be said about taking on rape culture. Lyndsay Anderson has some good suggestions for how to go about this. Changing the way we talk about sex and about consent to this activity could drastically improve the way we see these things. If sex wasn’t something so taboo that it could only be talked about or sought after in situations where you were drunk out of your mind, maybe this wouldn’t be such a problem. If we didn’t put so much pressure on the shy, quiet guy, maybe he would be confident enough to go after a girl who wasn’t black out drunk. Maybe if we didn’t place such taboo on a girl enjoying sex then she wouldn’t feel she had to be drunk in order to ask for it. If we allowed each gender to be less of its extreme ‘ideal’ and accepted that there is so much in the middle, we would be a lot better off.
I hope that by talking about things more openly, both in reporting rape and discussing sexuality in a non-taboo manner, then maybe we could tackle this rape-culture problem we have.
Maybe then chants wouldn’t state things like:
All the first-year women are morally uptight.
They’ll never do a single thing unless they know it’s right.
But then they come to Rugby Road and soon they’ve seen the light.
And you never know how many men they’ll bring home every night.
Instead they might sound a little like this:
All the first-year boys are morally upright
They’ll never do a single thing unless they know it’s right
But when they ask permission and you give a green light
You’ll never know how many times you’ll scream “oh yes!” all night
The Daemonic Feminist