Friday, March 18, 2011

On Gang Rape and Victim Blaming

Random fun fact: I was raised mostly in Florida. [Born in California, moved to Florida when I was 6, moved back to California at 14, 6 months later moved to Virginia for 6 months, and back to California. This, combined with the fact that both of my parents have a Pennsylvania accent, is why I have a very geographically confused, albeit subtle, accent.]
Whenever the topic comes up, people tend to ask how I liked living there. So I'm honest: It sucked. Why? Because I don't enjoy living somewhere where the average age is 70, the humidity is physically oppressive, the cockroaches are so huge that they're actually something else (Palmetto bugs), one of the first things you need to know is how to outrun an alligator (run in a zig-zag pattern), summer is AKA "hurricane season" complete with apocalyptic weather literally every day, and the school systems are so bad that masking-tape "X"s are considered window protection in a hurricane. But that's just me.

Given all of my warm and fuzzy feelings towards the state, you can imagine my shock when I learned that a Republican Florida state Rep. blamed an 11-year-old girl for her own gang rape. (Background on the 'alleged' gang rape and community response here and here.)

The crucial facts of the actual gang rape case:

  • The (alleged) victim is an 11-year-old girl.
  • So far, 18 men and boys, as young as middle school and as old as 27, have been arrested on charges of assault and abuse. THAT'S 18 MEN WHO GANG RAPED AN 11-YEAR-OLD. (Allegedly.)
  • The age of consent in Texas is 17, meaning anyone younger than that cannot give consent, and having sex with them is, by definition, rape.
  • According to police, some of these men sexually assaulted the girl "during several attacks last year," once in September and once in October, before the 'main incident' (the one involving all 18 men) on November 28.
  • On November 28th, the girl was raped first in a house, then in a nearby abandoned mobile home. 
  • The girl did not report the rape herself. Police investigation began after a friend of the girl reported to a teacher that he had seen a cell phone video that was apparently being sent around of the girl being raped. Just in case that didn't register, video of this gang rape went viral via cell phones.
I can't even address the response of the girl's community as fully as I'd like to because a) my blood pressure is already too high, and b) this post would be like 12 pages long. Apparently, a meeting was held to discuss this incident.
Many who attended the meeting said they supported the group of men and boys who have been charged in the case. Supporters didn't claim that the men and boys did not have sex with the young girl; instead they blamed the girl for the way she dressed or claimed she must have lied about her age — accusations that have drawn strong responses from those who note an 11-year-old cannot consent to sex and that it doesn't matter how she was dressed. [emphasis mine]
 There's also been some uproar about the fact that two of the individuals arrested are "star high school athletes" and their absence from the basketball team has both upset their teammates and diminished the overall winning abilities of the team.
Two players participate in gang raping an 11-year-old girl, and it's not fair that they can't play basketball?! You've gotta be shitting me.

And then there's the "community activist":
On Thursday, Quanell X, a community activist, traveled from Houston to help stage a town hall meeting called to address rising concerns -- especially in Cleveland's African-American community -- about the case.
Among other issues, he said that the girl didn't do enough to stop the alleged assailants.
"It was not the young girl that yelled rape. Stop right there -- something is wrong, brothers and sisters," Quanell X said.
And, speaking over yells of support from the crowd, he also questioned the role of the girl's parents.
"Where was the mother? Where was the father?" he said.
Where is your brain? Apparently, the fact that she didn't yell "rape" or somehow manage to stop 18 men from raping her makes it her fault. The fact that her parents weren't with her EVERY SECOND of the day makes it their fault.

So really, I guess Republican Florida state Representative Kathleen Passidomo was only taking her victim-blaming cues from the girl's own community.
During debate over a bill that would legislate a dress code for Florida students, Passidomo blamed the alleged gang raping of an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas on the way the young girl was dressed.
"There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gangraped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," Passidomo declared.
"And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn’t happen to our students," she added.
As a woman and a human being I'm shocked and appalled at her comments. Apparently Ms. Passidomo is a big supporter of rape culture.

Of course, there will be some people that scoff at my reaction to her comments, calling it (overly) "politically correct," suggesting that while her comments aren't "nice" or "PC," they're true. Those people are wrong and probably morons.

Her comments are offensive because they're disgusting and not remotely based in fact. (And I seriously doubt Rep. Passidomo has actually seen for herself what the girl was "dressed like." Not that it actually matters; I'm just pointing out just how much she's talking out of her ass.) The clothing an individual does or does not wear cannot cause, force, justify, or lead to rape. Period. Not in a legal sense, not in a logical sense, and not in a moral sense. The statement that she "was 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," is wrong on so many levels. Even the statement, "she was (gang) raped because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," is wrong. She wasn't gang raped because of anything she did or didn't do, nor does anything she did or did not do serve as any sort of justification or excuse.

On a side note, the implication of her statement seems to be that it would be okay to (gang) rape a 21-year-old prostitute. And it's not.

Victim blaming is a disgusting habit when it comes to rape and sexual assault. The focus (and responsibility) is somehow all on the victim, while the glaringly obvious problem--that 18 men gang raped someone, an 11-year-old girl no less--is ignored. Rape is never okay, rape is always a crime, there is never an excuse or justification for it, and rape is NEVER, in any way, shape, or form, in part or in whole, the victim's fault or responsibility. There are absolutely zero exceptions or qualifications to that.

And now that I've ranted from my soapbox, I'd like to add that I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page, and I was somewhat heartened by the responses.

Maybe we're not as apathetic as they say.

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