Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.


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We Interrupt this Program to Join the Outraged Chorus

If you’re here to read about my latest adventures in Mongolia, I’m afraid you’ll have to come back on Friday. This post is not about Mongolia; it’s about something my friends in the States have recently brought to my attention, to which I feel obligated to respond.

Last month, The Onion came under fire for a tweet calling a certain 9-year-old actress a certain derogatory expletive. Now, I’m not a fan of that word; in fact, it’s probably my least favorite word in the English language, and I’m hard-pressed to come up any acceptable circumstances in which to call a woman that. But in this case, I wasn’t particularly offended. This is a satirical newspaper we’re talking about, after all; their job is to say things so ludicrous that you can’t take them seriously.

Two years ago, they ran a video that probably caused a similar amount of outrage, “College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed. I’d embed it if I knew how, but since I don’t, you’ll just have to click the link.

The video’s content is just as ludicrous as its title. It features sappy music and lauds the athlete in question for continuing his basketball career after he “overcame the trauma of committing a terrible rape” and for “refusing to let what happened to the girl he raped define him.” The girl in question is mentioned only twice, and fleetingly; instead, the coverage sympathizes with the athlete. He gets painted as a victim of an unfortunate circumstance, while the real victim is completely glossed over.

But that wouldn’t happen in real news coverage, would it? Would reporters really lament the potentially ruined futures of the perpetrators of a rape, rather than the victim?

Apparently they would.

Due to the sluggardly nature of my Internet, I’ve only been able to watch CNN and NBC’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case (ABC’s just won’t play for me), but the following viral graphic summarizes the coverage quite well.

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At least NBC’s coverage talks about the victim’s future and laments the common occurrence of this sort of crime, even if it waits until the very end to do so. But the CNN footage is infuriating. It stresses the emotional nature of the courtroom and the verdict’s delivery and focuses on the impact the conviction will have on the defendants’ young lives.

I don’t care if the boys’ football careers and reputations have been ruined. I’m not sorry that the “registered sex offender” label will follow them for the rest of their lives. They committed a crime, and they’re getting off lightly by being tried as juveniles rather than adults. I hope their apologies are heartfelt, and that the tears they shed expressed genuine contrition for their actions rather than sorrow at having “watched as they believe their life fell apart” [sic].

But it seems the reporters at CNN feel differently. They’re so busy focusing on what this sentence will do to the lives of the two rapists that it takes them over five minutes to acknowledge that the rape itself might have had consequences for another person. They mention the victim a few times prior to that five-minute mark, but as an object rather than a person: “the rape of a sixteen-year-old girl,” “a photograph of the victim laying naked on the floor” [sic]. When they do mention the victim and what this crime might have done to her, she’s still subordinated to the consequences suffered by the perpetrators: “when that verdict is handed down,” says CNN’s legal contributor, “there’s always that moment of just, lives are destroyed – and lives have already been destroyed by the crime.”

Yes, lives have been destroyed, but the life destroyed by the crime itself should be the focus of our sympathy, not the lives “destroyed” by the verdict. The victim of the actual crime should not be an afterthought, as she so clearly is here.

From a writer’s standpoint, I can begin to understand why they’ve chosen to present the story this way. Since the victim is also a minor, her name is not being publicly disclosed, nor are any details which might reveal her identity. It’s hard to create sympathy for a Jane Doe, and you can’t center a story around the victim if you can’t actually say anything about her.

But that doesn’t mean that you turn the story of a rape into a lament for the “promising futures” of the young rapists. If we’re going to lament anything, it should be their poor choices and the impact their actions will have on the life of the girl they raped. To turn the defendants of this case into victims does a disservice to actual victims – of this rape, and of all others.

This is not the first time I’ve talked about rape culture on my blog, and unfortunately, I’m sure it won’t be the last. When someone can leave a flyer about “The Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” in a men’s dorm bathroom as a “joke,” there is something wrong with our culture. When blame is placed on the victim of a rape instead of the perpetrators (“she was wearing provocative clothing; she was asking for it”), there is something wrong with our culture.

In the last election, America made a number of steps towards removing rape culture perpetuators from positions of political power. I was heartened by this pattern; it gave me the impression that a number of people were dissatisfied with the status quo, and that we might soon see more efforts to dislodge rape culture’s hold.

I am likewise glad to see how much outrage there is at the main news media’s coverage of this trial. My Facebook news feed is abuzz with indignation, and a Google search for “Steubenville rape coverage” turns up more articles about the media’s slanted reporting than actual articles about the trial – including a petition for CNN to publicly apologize for its coverage. But these responses are found on Gawker, HuffPost, ThinkProgress, and the like, rather than the media stations most Americans rely on for their news.

That needs to change. How must that poor girl and her family feel, watching reporters sympathize with rapists on the nightly news? How must other victims of rape feel when they, too, are implicitly blamed for destroying the lives of those who attacked and violated them?

Rape culture is already firmly ensconced in America, and the last thing we need is for the media to perpetuate it like this.

Not Okay

1 Comment

I think we’ve all seen this by now, be it on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. What we haven’t seen is an official communication–one sent directly from the University itself to the students who attend(ed) it–that explains the incident or what Miami’s response was. From the radio silence of the past week, I’ve had to assume there wasn’t one. As of today, I learned that there were; the details are here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2217259/Outrage-Miami-University-flier-advising-students-away-rape.html

UPDATE: Received an email from Dr. Barbara Jones regarding what actions Miami is taking. Copying that here, so we’re all working with full information:

 

After learning of the anonymously posted flier, Miami officials called a mandatory meeting of all males in the hall.

In addition, these actions were taken with respect to this incident:

• The flier was immediately taken down and reported to authorities.

• The Miami University police department (MUPD) and Miami’s Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity (OEEO) received a copy of the flier from Miami’s office of residence life

• A police report has been filed and Miami University continues to investigate.

• Miami’s Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (OESCR) is investigating. The OESCR can take action if a student is found to have violated Miami’s Student Code of Conduct. Potential code of conduct sections violated by the creation and posting of this flier and related damage in the corridor include section 103B – mental abuse or harm; section 104 – damage to property; and 113 – disorderly conduct.

Potential sanctions for a student found responsible for violating these sections include removal from the residence hall, mandatory educational programs and suspension.

• Miami communicated with residence hall staff to gather any relevant or additional information • Miami’s police chief, with agreement of the dean of students, has increased campus police presence in the hall

Communication with male students in the hall: Staff who spoke with students at the hall meeting represented the Miami University police department (MUPD), the office of residence life, Miami’s student counseling service and a student representative of MARS – Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault.

They spoke with students in the affected corridor about how the flier represents the residents as men in our society, their families and friends, their views on women, and Miami University. Further, they discussed with all male students in the hall how to stop such behavior, the effects of vandalism, creating and maintaining a healthy and safe environment for everyone, and the bystander effect of actions on a community. They also provided information on relevant programs and actions.

Ongoing resources: Miami University’s women’s center, MARS (Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault), and WAVES (Women Against Violence and Sexual Assault) offer programming, information and support. The goal of these resources is to educate, create awareness about and prevent sexual assault and violence.

The university is continually evaluating strategies and educating students about these issues.

 

Even so, I’m profoundly disturbed at having to wait a week for the details, and even more so at having to get them from an overseas newspaper, or having to ask a school official for them. Below, you’ll find the email that I am sending to President Hodge and to Barbara Jones, the vice president for student affairs. I encourage you all to write and send your own so that this message can’t be ignored. (Please don’t just copy and paste – it will be more effective if the letters are different, and since mine is alumni-specific, it would sound silly coming from a current student.)

 

Dear President Hodge,

I am writing to convey my dismay at Miami University’s response to the “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” flyer that was posted in the men’s room at McBride Hall. As of today, I have learned (from a UK-based online-newspaper) that Miami’s reaction included an investigation and a mandatory meeting for the male residents of the hall. I’m glad to hear that something is being done.

Unfortunately, that “something” isn’t nearly enough, and I am outraged by the way Miami mishandled the information regarding the incident. I learned of this flyer’s existence via Facebook, as did many others – current students, alumni, and even people with no relationship to the university. This flyer has gone out on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr; you name it, people have posted it, and most have included their feelings of shock and disgust. While I am heartened by the number of male students who find this attitude reprehensible, it is difficult to see this flyer posted with such captions as “F*ck you Miami, F*ck you and everyone who attends your school” and not be able to defend my school by explaining what Miami’s actions were. If we have no information about what consequences were enacted, how can we offer a believable argument that Miami did not stand idly by and let this happen? How can we fail to be disappointed in “our Miami” when a week of repeated searches turns up no evidence that this incident was even investigated?

We – students and alumni alike – deserved to hear about this from university officials themselves, and in a timely fashion. Reading the official accounts in an overseas newspaper a week later yields too little information, and far too late. While this flyer may not have posed an immediate physical threat to the students of the school, it still made students and alumni feel unsafe and unsettled. Miami’s refusal to notify the student population about the incident only made this worse. Such things cannot be swept under the rug in this era of social media, and attempting to do so only supports the rape culture that makes it possible for some students to consider this kind of thing “funny.”

Unfortunately, this is neither the first time, nor even the second or third, that I have been disappointed by Miami’s failure to notify students of security threats and recent crimes. I can only hope that the university will do a better job of fulfilling its duty to keep the students in future. In the meantime, I am glad that my safety no longer rests in Miami’s hands.

 

Katelin Burke

Class of 2012

 

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