Evidence and Rape Culture: A Response to Justin Vacula
Justin Vacula. Oh Justin, Justin. Why did you have to write an article that denied rape culture and leave it there for me to read first thing in the morning after only getting 6 hours of sleep? I mean really? Because you know what that means? It means I have to respond, and honestly, I’d rather just leave you alone to continue festering in your confirmation bias. But no, you caught me when I’m cranky and that means you get to hear about it.
Justin, you seem to think that rape culture is an unfalsifiable claim, that you “don’t find the concept of ‘rape culture’ to be coherent or even helpful to describe anything. What, exactly, are people talking about when they use this term; what is this ‘culture’ and who are these people within this culture who are allegedly normalizing, excusing, and tolerating rape and sexual assault which is common? What evidence can be marshaled to show that this concept is tenable or not?” You say you don’t know what it’s used to describe, but if you could be bothered to scroll a little further in the Wikipedia article that you even CITE, you would see some extremely specific examples: “For instance, sexist jokes may be told to foster disrespect for women and an accompanying disregard for their well-being. An example would be a female rape victim being blamed for her being raped because of how she dressed or acted. In rape culture, sexualized violence towards women is regarded as a continuum in a society that regards women’s bodies as sexually available by default.“, “According to Michael Parenti, rape culture manifests through the global acceptance of rapes as an everyday occurrence, and even a male prerogative. It is exacerbated by police apathy in handling rape cases, as well as victim blaming, reluctance by the authorities to go against patriarchial cultural norms and practices, as well as fears of stigmatization from rape victims and their families. “, and “Other manifestations of rape culture include denial of widespread rape, institutional apathy towards the problem of rape, minimization of rape cases by government officials, and excusing rapists as social anomalies.“.
So your very first premise that you don’t know what rape culture really is or what it is describing, as well as your inability to see how it is useful in pointing to any specific things makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE, as the very article you cited gives extremely specific examples with citations, and I can find tons and tons of other articles describing specific examples of what rape culture is and how it is harmful with a very brief google search (http://www.upsettingrapeculture.com/rapeculture.html), (http://www.marshall.edu/wpmu/wcenter/sexual-assault/rape-culture/), (http://www.shakesville.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html), (http://stfurapeculture.tumblr.com/FAQ).
As for your next idea that rape culture is an unfalsifiable claim…well first of all rape culture isn’t a claim. Rape culture is an idea or a description. Rape culture is a noun, and a noun in and of itself isn’t a claim. That’s along the lines of saying that a chair is an unfalsifiable claim. It makes NO SENSE. At the end of your blog you ask a number of questions, the second being “2) Is there any evidence which can show ‘rape culture’ to be false?” Again, this doesn’t really make any sense, but I’m going to assume that what you mean is “is there any evidence which can show ‘rape culture’ does not exist?” Well yes, yes there is.
Many people have actually talked about what a non-rape culture would look like. If rape were not incredibly pervasive, affecting as many as 1 in 6 women in their lifetime and 1 in 33 men in their lifetime, then maybe we wouldn’t have a rape culture. If rape were treated like any other crime, instead of treating the victim as the one in the wrong. The LACK of evidence would be enough to prove rape culture false, but we have an abundance of evidence, much of which is shown in this very case: death threats were made against the victim, people suggested she deserved it, people were outraged that these boys were put in jail, the football coach tried to protect the boys, as did many of the people in the town. If we had evidence that there were not many instances in which rape is not prosecuted, in which rapists walk away free, in which people defend rapists and blame the victim, if rape was considered rape when there was no consent, not just when it was forcible: this would be evidence against rape culture.
If you can provide me examples of rape cases where none of this happens, then perhaps I will adjust my position and decide that rape culture is not as pervasive as we believe it is, but since people who have been talking about rape culture have example after example (like the fact that these boys thought it was perfectly ok and they wouldn’t be punished if they took videos, and tweeted about this girl while they were raping and urinating on her), I’m far more convinced by our evidence than yours. Because as much as you spend your article talking about evidence you strangely fail to provide much.
The one strong piece of evidence you did provide was a link to CNN’s coverage that included a focus on the victim. I applaud you for that. I do think that the outrage over the coverage of this case might be a little bit overblown, but that’s probably because reactions of the town and social media have been so despicable. Like you said, it IS easy to pick and choose what we look at and make it appear that media is focusing on particular things. However we should give credit where credit is due, and CNN did dedicate a couple paragraphs to the victim. Of course in that same article they give just as much space to the perpetrators, and spend more time on the emotions and impact on the perpetrators instead of the victim. It’s still not an ideal article that you link to. It still insinuates that the reason the girl was raped was because she lies or sleeps around or was drunk. But you’re right, there was SOME focus on the victim.
You make up some strawman of our position that seems to suggest we ONLY want coverage of the victim. Instead we’re looking for more even coverage that examines the impacts on the victim and portrays her in a more sympathetic light because she was brutally victimized. You suggest that reporters are simply reporting facts, and that that’s their job. However bias is in part made up of which facts you choose to report and how you choose to report them. We are not attributing any MOTIVES to the people who have done this. What we are trying to do is hold them responsible because whether or not they intended it, their telling of the story sends a message, which is that the real victim is the two boys whose futures are ruined, and the girl is a suspicious character whose witness may not be believable (they included quotes to this effect). Portraying a rape case in this light sends a message to other young women who have been raped that they probably shouldn’t come forward, especially when they see how horribly this girl has been treated. The intent has nothing to do with it: the harm that follows is the problem.
Justin, as well as not understanding rape culture you apparently don’t understand what would falsify rape culture. You try to provide an example when you say “We see that the teenagers are also convicted of rape – which seems to provide evidence against this alleged ‘rape culture.’” The problem with this suggestion is that it is a SINGLE piece of evidence, and those who argue that rape culture exists have hundreds of examples in which no one was convicted, no one was even prosecuted. Off the top of my head I can name at least 4 people who were raped in similar circumstances and nothing came of it. In at least two of those circumstances, the rapist laughed when they were told that what they had done was inappropriate. You did give one piece of evidence against rape culture (which shows that you DO know how we would falsify that claim), but unfortunately we have a lot more evidence on our side, so I’m really just not convinced. If you want some of the evidence, check here or here or if you prefer anecdotes over statistics try here or here or even just try talking to any substantial number of women and you will find a fair number of anecdotes from them. I know I have quite a few.
You don’t understand what was so outrageous about this reporting. Clearly you have never been in the position of being taken advantage of or having one of your friends be taken advantage of. As someone who has many close friends who have been raped in similar circumstances, I can tell you that what was outrageous was that there was no mention of the trauma that this girl will likely have to overcome, the same trauma that my friends have had to go through. There was no mention of how it would forever affect her life, and how she had done nothing wrong. Instead it focused on what she did to them, which was simply to prosecute them for a crime they did commit. What is outrageous is that someone who now has to overcome something horrific is being treated like a villain. If this were a murder case, would that ever happen? No. The victim’s family would have been front and center. What’s outrageous is that the coverage of this case ignores the real harm done, the harm that was done to someone who is innocent and will likely have a great deal of trauma in her life after this.
But in your mind all that these outlets have done is express sympathy or empathy for people found guilty of a crime. You ask “Is it morally blameworthy for someone to feel empathy and/or express sympathy for people found guilty of a crime?” Of course not. Of course it is not morally blameworthy to feel empathy. But to express that empathy at the expense of a young girl, her emotions, and the expense of seeing rape as a real crime seems highly blameworthy. And to express sadness over the fact that they now have to face the consequences of their actions seems to make no sense. We can express sadness or remorse that they made the choice they made, but not over the verdict that was handed down because that verdict was more than justified.
Again, if these boys had murdered someone instead, we likely would not be seeing expressions of sadness over their lost futures because we would know that they had done something wrong and now were facing the consequences. We could express sadness at their choices, at the unfortunate fact that they had ruined their own futures, but the language that many commentators have used “Harlow explained that it had been “incredibly difficult” to watch “as these two young men — who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students — literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.”” takes the responsibility away from the boys. Watching your life fall apart is passive. You are not causing it to fall apart. The lives of these two boys did not fall apart: the boys themselves pulled their own lives apart. They aren’t watching things fall apart, they are watching the consequences of their freely taken actions. Language is important. You may not understand how a slight shift in language can change the perception of an event or an individual, but it does, and the way this trial has been described is as a tragedy for the boys and the town, but not the victim.
THAT’S the problem. There is harm being done to young women in similar situations by the coverage of this situation. It is confirming to young men everywhere that their futures shouldn’t be ruined if they rape someone. THAT is harmful and not ok.