John Scalzi on the Steubenville Rape Case

Steubenville and CNN and the Rest – Whatever.

He writes sensibly about the disconcerting coverage of this case.

It’s a nasty one. Small-town jocks, strip, piss on, masturbate on, digitally penetrate, and lug unconscious girl from place to place in front of a whole bunch of other teenagers. None of whom intervene; many of whom take pictures and videos which find their way onto Facebook and other social media sites. Boys’ coaches, family, friends cover for them. The Anonymous hackers group discovers the case and publicises it. The main culprits are tried as juveniles and found guilty of delinquency.

Cue much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth online and in the media about the future impact on the lives of the boys. And a fair amount of “well, if the victim hadn’t been drunk, nothing would have happened,” as if her drunkenness is a cause of the assault or a mitigation of it, or some such.

As Scalzi puts it, much more cogently than I can manage:

Outside of the news organizations in question, there have been lots of comments that want to find some way to make the girl who was raped share in the blame of her rape, the most obvious of which is the “well, what was she doing drinking so much she lost consciousness?” sort. These comments imply (and in some cases, state explicitly) that if you drink so much you can’t think straight then you kind of deserve what’s coming to you. It should be obvious why this sort of thinking is full of stupid, but as it’s apparently not, let’s go over this again:

1. One’s own poor judgment does not excuse the poor judgment of others.

2. Nothing excuses rape.

Toward the first, yes, it was not a good idea for the girl to drink so much (presuming she did, and was not roofied, or given drinks stronger than she wanted, or all sorts of other scenarios of that sort). This is separate and independent from the fact that it was not a good idea for two boys to rape someone too drunk to give consent. Attempting to link the two is an attempt to suggest causality (“Because the girl was drunk, she was raped”). The causality is easy to infer, but it’s wrong, both legally and morally. The young woman was drunk; separately and independently two young men raped a woman unable to consent to their actions. The young woman should not have been that drunk, perhaps, but her being that drunk does not mean that she invited, should have expected or should bear without complaint, being raped.

Unfortunately, the comment thread for Scalzi’s very sensible post is an annoying and demoralising example of this victim-blaming in action.

Janette’s rule says that in any comment thread about rape, or sexual harassment, or the differences between women’s and men’s experiences, there will always be that one guy (or two or three, if it’s a really good day) who refuses to listen to the other commentators, most of whom are women and are much more informed and experienced about the subject than he is, who minimises the impact and pervasiveness of sexual violence in all its forms, who likes to advise women about how they should behave, and who generally makes the thread all about him. And right on cue, a couple of those guys appeared. They hijacked the thread making it impossible for people to discuss the wider issues and turning it into a repeat of all the other threads about rape.

I don’t get it. Surely it’s simple enough, if the woman doesn’t consent, it’s rape. Being unconscious or terrified or otherwise overwhelmed and therefore unable to say “no” or “stop” does not equal consent. Consent requires an active yes, not simply the passive absence of a no. Women’s bodies belong to themselves, just as men’s do. Therefore, touching women without their consent is a violation, end of story. Even if the woman is unconscious, wearing a short skirt, flirting, sexually active, sexually attractive to the rapist, around when he’s horny, or whatever it might be, this basic fact doesn’t alter.

The pervasive wish to argue away women’s rights to their own bodies, just doesn’t make sense to me.

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