EDINBURG, February 17 - Some in the media have noted the apparent disparate treatment of the Jerry Sandusky case and the apparent rapes of two coeds by Notre Dame football players.
There may not be as much difference as some think. There long had been reports of Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys. When Coach Joe Paterno learned of the accusations, he did what he should have. He reported the allegations to Penn State authorities, who chose to do nothing.
This is much more akin, though in miniature scale, to the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, where some priests routinely molested children - boys and girls alike - and were protected by the entire Church hierarchy. Allegations brought to Church authorities, the police, or press generally were “swept under the rug,” just as with Sandusky.
The young college woman brutally beaten, gang raped and murdered in India sparked weeks of protests in India, with demands government take rape of women more seriously, and do more to bring rapists to justice. At the same time, the rape of coeds in our universities by star athletes barely makes a ripple in the press. Where is the outrage here?
Even when gang rapists are high school students, officials work assiduously to conceal the crime. A recent example is Steubenville, Ohio, whose high school football players’ self proclaimed “rape crew” took video and pictures of the gang rape of an unconscious 16 year old girl, as onlookers tweeted pictures, made jokes, and mocked the victim.
When a 16 minute video of the young woman’s brutal rape was made public, rather than demand justice for the woman, many of the good citizens of Steubenville rallied to support her rapists. Indeed, shouldn’t we understand “boys will be boys”? This unconscious girl obviously was a sex-tease, enticing and taunting these upstanding, moral, Christian boys until, their passions stoked beyond any self-control, engaged in a sexual frenzy they never would have participated in had it not been for the intense sexual seduction by this unconscious harlot. Really?
Steubenville school and town officials worked to conceal the rape. When the video was made public, many of the good citizens of Steubenville were outraged someone would try to demean their championship football team and weaken the program.
No, Penn State and Notre Dame are not aberrations; not in the rapes, nor the attempt to conceal and minimize the crimes, nor the rush to defend the schools, nor the attempt to excuse or absolve the perpetrators. Such actions, like rape itself, are as American as apple pie.
Too often when (prominent) men are charged with rape, they are treated as victims rather than perpetrators. That was the case in Steubenville, as press profiles of the rapists focused on how “promising futures” are in danger of being ruined. Despite the video footage and numerous pictures found in cell phones, the “official story” is it is difficult to determine what actually happened that night as an unconscious woman was filmed being stripped and gang raped.
Missing from most press coverage was the young woman; and how this ordeal traumatized her and damaged her life, and the lives of her family. For too many, the focus should be on how tragic this is for the rapists, and for the Steubenville football program, not for the woman raped.
When rape cannot be “swept under the rug,” we are led to believe events at Steubenville, Notre Dame, or Penn State are exceptions; a perverse act committed by “a few bad apples.”
That is not what the data tell us. A 2010 study by the Centers for Disease control, in interviews with almost 10,000 women, found almost 20 percent had been raped at some time in their lives, most either during their teens or early 20’s - 42.2 percent before they were 18; and 79.6 percent before age 25.
We look at the incidence of gang rape in India and lament how inhumane “those people” are. We look at Muslims, and how women are forced to cover themselves head to toe, how they cannot go out in public unless in the company of other women or, better, a male chaperone. We talk about how, in much of the Muslim world, Muslim women are oppressed, treated cruelly, and almost as slaves.
Okay, I do not agree with how women are (mis)treated in most of the Muslim world. That said, at least Muslim men try to protect women. We can say Muslim women are treated like chattel; basically they are. We can say they are denied their rights, that this is unfair, even cruel; but at least Muslim men try to protect women.
We make almost zero effort to protect women. In the U.S., women have achieved some degree of political, economic and social equality. Women are free to go as they please, dress as they please. But, if something happens to them, if they are raped, it is their fault. And it is their fault precisely because of the freedoms accorded them. They made the choices that got them raped; they “asked for it.”
Women in the U.S., too often, are “fair game.” And if that “game” is “bagged”, even against their will, it is a consequence of their choices; and it is their fault.
We are told rape is a crime of passion. This is easily believed by many because it is convenient, and most women who are raped either are raped by someone with whom they have an intimate relationship or by an acquaintance. But rape is not a crime of passion it is a crime of violence; and violence of the most horrible kind.
We need to disabuse ourselves of the mythology of rape. As a society, we need to look closely at our individual and collective attitudes and values that enable the rapist, that lead to the woman being viewed as responsible of her having been attacked, and that too often lead to the rapist being viewed as the victim. This is inexcusable in what is presented to the world as a just society.
Samuel Freeman is a political science professor based in the Rio Grande Valley. His “Left is Right” columns appear regularly in the Guardian.