One World, One Rape Culture

Protests in Steubenville, OH. Image courtesy of the CBC.
As the brutal gang rape of a 23-year old woman on a bus in New Delhi continues to outrage the women of India, sending shockwaves to the rest of the world, America is having its own gang rape controversy to contend with.

In Steubenville, Ohio, an old steel town hit hard by the financial crisis, a group of teenaged football players are being tried for the rape and kidnapping of a 16 year-old girl after pictures of her naked body surfaced on several social networking sites. Yet even though the images of the young girl’s unconscious body, which one of her assailants described in a video as “Deader than Trayvon Martin,” had spread throughout Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, convicting the teenaged boys has proven difficult in a town that protects its young football stars with blind adulation, with one local crime blogger being sued by one of the accused students and his parents for defamation. This sense of community denial is reminiscent of the Penn State community’s outrage by the charges against Jerry Sandusky, the college football coach who was eventually found guilty in 2011 of 52 counts of sexual assault of young boys over the span of 15 years.

From the Sandusky affair to the Steubenville assaults to the gang rape on a public bus in India, one thing is clear: the world shares a common culture; a common community that fails to protect its most vulnerable and lays the blame and responsibility solely on the victim. This is what second wave feminists in America call “rape culture,” and its boundaries are limitless.

According to Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, the conviction rate for rape prosecutions in India has fallen from 46% in 1971 to 26% today. Social critic Naomi Wolf notes, however, that this rate is higher than the conviction rates in the UK, Sweden and the US, respectively.

Little wonder, when the legal system in America is so disturbingly flawed, seeped in archaic notions of women as property. For instance, just last week, a man in Los Angeles who infiltrated a woman’s bedroom and had sex with her while she was sleeping was found not guilty to rape charges because the woman was unmarried. The court cited an 1872 law that states:
"[a]ny person who fraudulently obtains the consent of another to sexual relations escapes criminal liability (at least as a sex offender under tit. IX of the Pen. Code), unless he (or she)...masquerades as the victim‟s spouse ..."
Therefore, the law will protect a female rape victim…just so long as she is another man’s property. Such is the state of the “justice” system in America.

In a rape culture, as previously stated, victims of sexual assault are held responsible for the actions of perpetrators. Signs of victim blaming are everywhere in India (see: spiritual leader Asaram Bapu, who said of the bus gang rape: "Mistake is never from one side alone").

In Steubenville, assistant coach Nate Hubbard provides a classic victim-blaming stance. He told the New York Times:
"The rape was just an excuse, I think...What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?"
In fact, the 16-year old victim had no knowledge that she had been violated, because she was drunk to the point of being unconscious, until the pictures started to surface. But this is beside the point.
Other examples of victim blaming are more subtle. Across the United States, universities hold rape aggression defense (“RAD”) courses for students, rather than providing outreach and awareness programs for would-be perpetrators. Although a program that assumes rape is a very real danger and prepares young people for it is commendable, pouring college resources into possible victim education without possible perpetrator education could send a societal message to young people.

Education on all fronts should be a major step in eradicating rape culture. Another should be community involvement in protecting its citizens, since law enforcement officers and the justice system more broadly can never guarantee safety for a society’s most vulnerable.

Many in the US may have wondered, as I did when I heard about the New Delhi rape, why the bus driver didn’t act to protect the young woman as she was being beaten with a metal rod, brutally raped, and left for dead.
As Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty said of the local gang rape that happened on his watch:  
“The thing I found most disturbing about this is that there were other people around when this was going on…Nobody had the morals to say, ‘Hey, stop it, that isn’t right.’”
The protests in India and Steubenville may help bring awareness of rape culture to their respective communities who have been torn apart by these unspeakable acts of violence. But the culture that binds us all should not be overlooked.