What Feeds Rape Culture?: A Response to Portrayals of Rape in the Media



“It’s happening in your neighborhood, happening in your town, your village, your city,” Ohio Atty. Gen. Mike DeWine said about the Steubenville rape case that found two high school football players guilty of sexually assaulting an incapacitated teenage girl1.

Although sexual assault is not happening in every neighborhood, the effect of the statement is critical. This is an issue that directly impacts enough people – 200,780 cases, nationally, of rape or sexual assault in 2004-20052 – that everyone is affected in some way.

As a newly minted journalist, I have not yet become cynical about the state of the media. So when top media personnel, such as CNN’s Candy Crowley, make comments like “What’s the lasting effect though on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?”3, I am alarmed and ashamed. I am ashamed these are the news outlets and media personalities that people get their news from, that they acclaim. Crowley is an award-winning reporter, and she made, to put it mildly, unsympathetic comments on a story receiving national attention. Why did CNN allow this? Why have there been no apologies?

I realize that there needs to a certain level of freedom of speech, but when the “top” TV news channel broadcasts such comments and does not bother to apologize, there is a serious problem. And this problem reflects what is referred to as “rape culture.”

Rape culture is pretty well defined in a post, “So you’re tired of hearing about rape culture?,” Lauren Nelson wrote on March 19 on her blog, Rant Against the Random. She runs through more than two dozen examples of how American society excuses instances of sexual violence; they include many facets of the Steubenville case but also comedian Daniel Tosh’s rape joke and various offensive advertisements.

What makes it worse is that this media response is echoed on Twitter and Facebook. Nelson included a photo of such comments, and it’s sickening. Everything from blaming the victim to a tweet by zjosiah, who wrote, “Steubenville : Guilty. I feel bad for the two young guys, Mays and Richmond, they did what most people in their situation would have done.” To be fair, zjosiah has since apologized and may have even deleted his account, but the point is that there are significant number of people who somehow think that the rapists’ behavior is acceptable.

Could it be a lack of awareness of the meaning of consent? Some of the comments seem to suggest this because of the focus on how the victim was intoxicated. Regardless of how she became intoxicated, the perpetrators’ actions and those of the bystanders are atrocious. Consent is a process, in that each person needs to agree to each more intimate stage. It needs to be verbal. It needs to be sober. And it cannot be coerced.4 So could the victim be “at fault” for the event? No.

This contradicts what might be the immediate reaction: shouldn’t the victim have to deal with the consequences of her actions? Victim blamers might say that a person who gets raped brought it on herself if she puts herself in a risky situation, wears immodest clothing, or initiates a romantic encounter. The person who gets raped is only completely innocent and deserving of compassion if she is raped by a stranger in a dark alley. I disagree. Nobody with a relatively healthy mind wants to be forced or coerced into sex – rape. The Steubenville victim could not have predicted that her body would become a sex object that night and that nobody would protect her. And besides, this mode of thought presumes that all men are rapists; the simplest provocation will result in rape. It’s ridiculous.

One of the few silver linings is the outstanding number of people who chose to stand up for the victim and others who have faced such violence. Change.org has a petition in which 286,709 people as of March 28 are challenging CNN to “apologize on air for sympathizing with the Steubenville rapists.” A YouTube public service announcement of how men should treat women titled “A Needed Response” by Samantha Stendal, a sophomore film student at the University of Oregon, has gone viral with 1.7 million views as of March 28. There were plenty of radio and TV personalities – Steve Cochran and commentators on The Ed Show, for example - who objected to the attitude of Candy Crowley, Poppy Harlow, and others who had responded similarly. So there is solid reason to expect some cultural change.

Rape and sexual assault is not likely to be a solitary issue; it may reflect a continued, covert misogyny and a lack of regard for human dignity. When Victoria’s Secret has a line of sensualized lingerie for teens and tweens, music contains both clear and concealed messages of disrespect for sexuality, and entertainment tends to be violent, it’s not surprising that rape persists in being nearly accepted by a significant part of society.

This issue is of particular relevance to the pro-life movement because of the question of allowance for abortion in the case of rape. The consistent life ethic calls for no exceptions in abortions because all conceived children have the right to life, no matter the circumstances of their being brought into the world. The crime of the father should not dictate that the child receive the death penalty. There is an opportunity for “abortion abolitionists” to change hearts through acting on a deep sense of compassion for rape victims. By bringing attention to the cause and sharing in the struggle to eliminate rape culture, it logically would become exceedingly more difficult for society to label pro-lifers as the misogynists.

We need to work together to free society of the scourge of sexual violence. Build a culture of life and respect for the dignity of the human being.

Rape victims may want to call a free, confidential, 24-hour hotline such as 1.800.656.HOPE, the National Sexual Assault Hotline, or visit websites, such as RAINN.org, that have relevant resources. ___________ WORKS CITED

1. Abcarian, Robin. "In Steubenville Rape Trial, Social Media Call out Injustice, CNN." Los Angeles Times. 18 Mar. 2013.

2. U.S. Department of Justice. 2005 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2005.

3. Abcarian, Robin.

4. "What Is Consent?" Sexual Assault Violence Prevention. Vassar College

#volume2issue3 #sexualassault

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