It’s time to stop victimizing rapists
Editorial | Rape culture perpetuates misinformation about sexual assault
It’s the year 2014, and sex should not be taboo anymore. Most people are all about pushing the envelope when it comes to discussing sexuality — but as progressive as this generation likes to think it is, the discussions surrounding rape and sexual abuse are still unbelievably backward. At best, a relatively small minority advocates for the victims and survivors of sexual abuse, and at worst, we still find ourselves surrounded by a rape culture that promotes victim blaming and slut shaming whenever a case comes into the media spotlight.
Last week, 21-year-old Parker Gilbert was found not guilty on all counts of aggravated sexual assault and criminal trespass against a fellow student at Dartmouth University. The prosecution claimed that the victim was drunk when Gilbert entered her room and raped her, and that she told him to stop multiple times. But according to her roommate, when she was asked to testify on the incident, she said that they “had sex,” which the defense took to mean that it was consensual and Gilbert had not done anything wrong. This was apparently the “clincher” to the jury that led them to the conclusion that the entire situation was just a harmless case of “drunken, awkward college sex” and not rape. And after the trial was over, Gilbert’s attorney said, “We are relieved that this nightmare is over for Parker Gilbert and his family.”
A girl complained that Gilbert raped her — but not only does he get off completely clean, he also gets sympathy from the jury and from the media for being put through a trial that tarnishes his reputation. Yet the other side of the story is almost completely left out of the picture. And this is not an isolated incident. The general attitude toward victims and perpetrators of rape somehow seems to make excuses for the attacker. It’s absolutely disgusting to us that this kind of mentality even exists, and yet it proves itself again and again in the media — just think of the responses to the recent stories of Dylan Farrow, Daisy Coleman and the Steubenville rape case.
The victim herself said she was sexually assaulted, and she asked Gilbert to stop more than once — so we find ourselves looking at yet another example of his word against hers, and his clearly won. It’s the classic case of “he said, she said” that plagues every case of rape and sexual abuse covered by the media. In every case, the perpetrator and the victim are assigned black and white archetypes: the drunken slut and the hapless guy who was led on. We can’t continue to let our judgment of issues as serious as sexual assault be guided by these stereotypes that simply do not exist.
There is no formulaic approach to dealing with cases of rape, and it’s problematic that we keep viewing it like there is. One thing is consistently clear: Our society has an unacceptable tendency to blame the victim, as patently ridiculous as this is. It is terrifyingly easy for rapists to get away with their crimes, even when we think there is a sense of hyperawareness about the issue. Sexual assault is not just a physical violation — it’s an emotionally and psychologically traumatizing experience with incredibly damaging consequences. There are multiple reasons as to why a victim might not report assault or even come to terms with the very fact that they were violated. The defense in this case claimed that the complainant didn’t immediately report the incident as rape, which diminished the credibility of her case. But so many complexities surround the trauma of being sexually assaulted that are completely ignored. Rape culture has most of our society disturbingly misinformed about what sexual assault is and how it should be dealt with, and it is everyone’s responsibility to diminish the generalizations made when dealing with this issue.
A message from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.