Guest Post: How Steubenville can make a positive difference

After reading Monday’s post, a dear and anonymous friend of mine (someone who I think of as a mentor), asked if she could share her thoughts with my readers on Steubenville and the rape culture that is so pervasive in our society.  Here, she tells her story.  Please be aware that this may be triggering for rape and abuse survivors. Please also be aware that this is a mature topic, so please approach it accordingly.


When I read accounts of the Steubenville rapes, my stomach turned, not only because rape is a horrible thing to happen to a young girl, but also because the whole account hit way too close to home. Over fifteen years ago, my best friend was almost a Jane Doe. The only reason she wasn’t was because I was there. I’ve had many terrible things happen to me in my life. I sat and held my mother’s hand as she took her last breath. I rushed my daughter to the hospital with what I thought was a brain injury. I have endured every kind of abuse, most at the hands of my (now ex) spouse. And I still define that night as the worst in my life.

My friend, who I shall refer to as Mary, became very intoxicated at a party. That night, a young man neither of us had seen before showed up, and seeing me try to haul around my puking, semi-conscious friend, offered to help me “sober her up.” He laid down next to her, and I placed myself on the floor close by, also laying down, and then watched as he mounted her and began kissing her. She was too drunk to refuse him, too drunk to know who he was, too drunk to consent. She was not, however, too drunk to return his affections. A former flame of hers was there that night; for all I know, she thought it was him she was making out with.

I remember watching this, and finally from some deep inner reserve I’m still awed I had at sixteen, I said to him, “Why don’t you mess with someone who’s NOT too drunk to function?” This was the late 90’s, and I was wearing my “uniform” of baggy sweater over an ankle length broomskirt. When the guy heard me say those words, he grinned, said, “Okay,” and then rolled towards me and began sliding his hand up my skirt along one thigh, higher and higher, very slowly, watching my reaction. It took all of my strength not to react. I did not move. I did not make any noise. I lay stock still and waited to see what he’d do next. He was about four inches from seriously molesting me when he spat out some comment about me not reacting to him, and I said, as coldly as I could and with a supreme effort not to let my voice shake, “I want you to be fully aware that what you’re doing is to someone who doesn’t want it.”

His reaction was two-fold. He leaned over, licked my face, and then punched something nearby in anger. Then he stormed off.

I wish I could say the night ended there, but it didn’t. The rest of it is a blur, but he made no more overtures towards Mary or me. In the morning, he tried to hug me and praised how strong I was for staying with her all night and taking care of her. I do not think he meant when I told him, more or less, to leave her alone. I remember him comparing me to his grandmother, even. I remember friends joking about how hot and heavy things got, and lots of lewd jokes about threesomes.

The next afternoon, after we’d all returned home and I’d finally slept and had washed Mary’s puke out of my hair and clothes, she called me. And she said, shakily, “I don’t remember much from last night, but… thank you. I think that guy would have raped me.”

Here’s the thing, though. Despite my own bravery (because looking back now as the mother of two daughters, damn, that sixteen year old me had some nerve I hope my girls inherit!), despite the sacrifice I almost made for her – I did not think she would have been raped. Don’t get me wrong – I thought she would have had sex with that guy. But my sixteen-year-old, raised-in-today’s-rape-culture brain did not realize that what almost happened to Mary – what almost happened to me, even – would have been rape.

That’s the importance of Steubenville, and despite the terrible, terrible things that happened to Jane Doe, and continue happen to her, this should be her legacy. People are talking now about what rape really is. People are realizing that rape is not ignoring the word no, but rather, absence of the word yes.

I learned a lesson that day, and the seed was planted in my mind as I dealt with the aftermath and humiliation of my friends thinking that I’d put myself in a position to have sex with my best friend and a complete stranger, despite nothing happening that night. It was a slow lesson for me to fully absorb, though – a few years later my then-husband told me that he was absolutely disgusted that I’d “wanted” the sexual abuse I’d suffered as a child because I had not told my molester no. Those words cut me more deeply than the original abuse did, and I know that Jane Doe faces that same intense shame and second-guessing and self-hatred, and just as strongly as I know that, I also know she is wrong. Society is wrong, and it’s time to change that.

On her behalf, and on Mary’s behalf, and on behalf of all girls and women out there that have been raped or almost raped or have thought they might be raped, please spread the word that consent means saying yes and being able to do so without reservation or pressure or alcohol. And without that consent, the answer is always, always no, and no woman ever deserves to be shamed or humiliated when that message is misinterpreted, just like any man who chooses to ignore it does deserve to be labeled appropriately: as a rapist. Jane Doe deserves at least that much. Mary deserves at least that much. Your daughters and sisters and cousins and friends deserve that much. But most of all, society deserves that. Be part of the change.

Women, Cycling, and Butt Grabbing

A good friend of mine, posted this article on her newsfeed:

Slovakian cyclist Peter Sagan rapped for bottom-pinch on podium after Tour of Flanders

HIGHLY rated Slovakian cyclist Peter Sagan has been accused of sexism and harassment after he was pictured pinching the bottom of a podium girl after the Tour of Flanders.

Sagan, 23, smirked towards the camera as he grabbed the bottom of a blonde hostess, one of two girls giving congratulatory kisses to race winner Fabian Cancellara.

Poor Sagan.  So charming and cheeky.  Just having a bit of fun, right.  He even non-apologized:

Having had my ass grabbed in a club and at school, let me take a minute to assure any men who might read this who might be inclined to shrug off butt-grabbing as a harmless little prank that it’s anything but.  It is really scary.  Really, really scary.  It leaves you feeling shocked, violated, and afraid.  It is assault, plain and simple.

That said, in the context of this, I am having a hard time understanding the furor that this has caused.  Why is anyone surprised by this? Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the context of this situation.

What I find far more disturbing than the fact that Sagan assaulted that woman is that “podium girls” exist in the first place.  Do race organizers really pay women to stand on the podium and kiss the winner of the race?  That is objectification at its mightiest.  These nameless women exist purely as spoils of war here.  No wonder Sagan felt like he could grab a little ass.  They’re not people, just podium girls.

Does this excuse Sagan’s behavior?  Absolutely not.  But let’s be sure to focus some attention some attention on the bigger issue here: The institutionalized degradation of women in sport.  It’s not just cycling, and it’s not just Sagan.

Rape culture is rampant in sports, and until we as a society stand up and start treating women as human beings and stop promoting this kind of degradation, the Sagans and Steubenville rapists of the world will continue blundering along assaulting women and apologizing for getting caught.

Trolls, Rape, and a Culture of Entitlement

You may have seen the news about the troll who was recently unmasked.  Gawker exposed him a couple of weeks ago in the article Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web to both cheers and outcry.  You may have seen an interview with this man on Anderson Cooper 360 (click here for the video of that interview).  The piece that stood out to me the most, however, was Mary Elizabeth Williams article in The war on 12-year-old girls. If you don’t read anything else about this, read Ms. Williams’ article.

I wasn’t going to write about this.  I’m a firm believer in not feeding trolls.  I imagine that despite the fact that he has been fired from his job, Michael Brutsch is reveling in this attention.  But laying awake at night (and it is 4:30 AM as I am writing this), I can’t stop thinking about these words from Ms. Williams:

I look at my own 12-year-old daughter and I see so much possibility in her. So much strength and wisdom and beauty. And some days, I feel like apologizing to her for everything on the Internet that doesn’t involve tiny pigs. I wish I could write off the likes of Michael Brutsch as one isolated, disturbed individual. And he’s exceptional; a king among trolls, to be sure. But he exists because there is a strong and vocal community of little creeps who are simultaneously aroused and hateful and scared to death of everything that a young girl represents. Who look at her and feel so bad about their own pathetic selves they want nothing more than to tear her down and make her feel ever worse about herself. My dear daughter, I am so sorry these morons are out there, and that you and your friends are in their cross hairs. That they don’t see you as a person but a threat.

My daughters will also be in the crosshairs of people like this someday.  As an adult woman, I live in the crosshairs.

As Ms. Williams writes, Michael Brutsch is not a man alone.  He is not an aberration. His Reddit folders, which included such uplifting titles as Jailbait, Rapebait, Chokeabitch, and Incest, had so many followers that he received an award from Reddit for bringing so much traffic to their site. He was so proud of this award that he brought it with him to show the interviewer from AC360.  Whether or not the average reader of my blog is repulsed by this man, the fact remains that there is a huge section of our culture that thinks Michael Brutsch and the images he and others post are funny, arousing, and worst of all, normal.  He tells AC360 that he got caught up in the excitement of “playing to an audience of college kids.”

College kids.  These are the people that we will someday send our fresh-out-of-high-school girls away to live with.

And it’s not just Michael Brutsch.  A few years ago, there was a Facebook group that existed solely for the purpose of posting images of the battered faces of abused women for mockery.  Remember the “go make me a sandwich” meme?  Many of those pictures were captioned with the following: “Should’ve made me a sandwich.”  Hilarious.  Violence against women is funny.  A joke.  While that group has finally been taken down, a hundred more have sprung up to take its place.

Is it any wonder that 1 in 6 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime? Should we be surprised that every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten and that 20% of teens have been the victim of violence at the hands of a boyfriend?

We live in a culture of rape and violence against women, and Michael Brutsch and his legions of followers are clear evidence of that.  There has been widespread outcry in response to the unmasking of this troll.  Cries of free speech abound.  But in all of this, where is the talk of the young girls who have been affected by this? Michael Brutsch and his followers didn’t post these pictures in a vacuum. There are real people behind those pictures, and as we know from the tragic suicide of Amanda Todd, the consequences of all of this are real.  This is life and death.

The people who populate these kinds of message boards don’t think they have to ask permission to post a photo of someone.  They feel entitled to post pictures of underage girls without their consent.  And make no mistake.  This isn’t limited to girls who the posters might claim were “asking for it” by posting a picture on Facebook of themselves in a swimsuit.  With the existence of boards for posting upskirt photos and creeper shots of girls and women who dared to go out in public, it is clear that the we are all “asking for it” simply because we were born female.  They do this to dehumanize us.  To rob us of our power and our voices. To put us in our places.

As I think of my daughters sleeping peacefully in their beds, I wonder what I can do to protect them from people like this.  I can (and do) teach them to speak out, that their bodies are their own and that no one has the right to touch them without permission, that if someone is bullying them and won’t stop when they tell them to knock it off to tell me or another trusted adult.  When they get older, I will teach them not to post, write, or text anything that they don’t want the whole world to see.  I will tell them not to accept a drink in a bar from a stranger (or a friend), and I will tell them that even if they were too scared to say “NO!” that they can still report that rape, even if the rapist was a friend or boyfriend.  But deep inside, all of this sounds to me like I am saying, “And remember, if you’re going out at night, be sure not to wear a short skirt, because you don’t want anyone to think you are asking for it.” At its root, all of this is a form of victim-blaming.

Starting in elementary school, girls have to go out of the room for the special presentation on puberty and menstruation, and that continues each year until they hit high school.  What if, while the girls are out learning about their periods and then later as a part of the high school mandatory health classes, we had a special section for boys that included these instructions*:

  • If a woman is drunk, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is walking alone at night, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is drugged and unconscious, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is jogging in a park at 5 am, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman looks like your ex-girlfriend you’re still hung up on, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is asleep in her bed, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is asleep in your bed, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is doing her laundry, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is in a coma, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman changes her mind in the middle of or about a particular activity, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman has repeatedly refused a certain activity, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is not yet a woman, but a child, don’t rape her.
  • If your girlfriend or wife is not in the mood, don’t rape her.
  • If your step-daughter is watching TV, don’t rape her.
  • If you break into a house and find a woman there, don’t rape her.
  • If your friend thinks it’s okay to rape someone, tell him it’s not, and that he’s not your friend.
  • If your “friend” tells you he raped someone, report him to the police.
  • If your frat-brother or another guy at the party tells you there’s an unconscious woman upstairs and it’s your turn, don’t rape her, call the police and tell the guy he’s a rapist. Keep her safe until police arrive.
  • Tell your sons, god-sons, nephews, grandsons, sons of friends it’s not okay to rape someone.
  • Don’t tell your women friends how to be safe and avoid rape.
  • Don’t imply that she could have avoided it if she’d only done/not done x.
  • Don’t imply that it’s in any way her fault.
  • Don’t let silence imply agreement when someone tells you he “got some” with the drunk girl.
  • Don’t perpetuate a culture that tells you that you have no control over or responsibility for your actions. You can, too, help yourself.

*I couldn’t find the original source for this, and I certainly can’t claim this as my own idea. If anyone knows where this originally came from , I will be happy to add a link back to the source.

What if we added the following to this list:

  • Don’t post pictures of people on the internet without their consent.
  • Don’t take pictures up people’s skirts without asking permission first.
  • Don’t take creeper shots.
  • Pictures of battered and abused women are not funny.
  • Don’t coerce underage girls into sending you pictures and then threaten her with violence if she doesn’t want to send you more pictures.

This is not about free speech.  This is about body integrity and the rights of young girls to grow up without having to fear that a middle-aged man will post their picture on a message board.