The following is a response to the crocodile tears of the CNN reporters talking about the conviction and sentencing of the Steubenville rapists. Talk about male privilege! The boys in the Steubenville rape case have been sentenced to short terms in juvenile detention, one of them, possibly, until he’s twenty-one. In their agony over the future of these promising young “star athletes,” CNN seems more concerned that these boys’ lives are ruined than that the young woman at the centre of things — yes, the one that was treated like a sex doll — will have to live with what these yahoos did to her — and with the fact that nude pictures of her have been spread around the internet by an idiot who didn’t seem to realise that he had no right to invade the girl’s privacy in this way, let alone take advantage of her when she was drunk and disoriented — that, in such circumstances, the thing to do is to help, not exploit someone’s weakness – and where none of the onlookers thought it appropriate to put a stop to things. As Ophelia says:
Why did everyone else just let it happen? Why didn’t anyone stop it? How horrible that is. Imagine you’re at a gathering with a lot of adults and one person – a woman – becomes ill, and gets so groggy and dizzy that she can’t respond properly. What happens? A couple of men proceed to pull some of her clothes off, and stick their fingers up her, and text their friends about it, and drag her around the room, while everyone else stands around and laughs?
It’s an a odd world we live in when the lives of criminals are valued over the life of sexually abused teenage girl, and where no one seemed to think that something wrong was taking place. I find it so disturbing that I am truly lost for words.
A couple days ago, after reading Ophelia Benson’s post (linked just above) over at Butterflies and Wheels, I read a number of articles about rape and the sexual abuse of women and girls. It literally left me with a sense of despair that this kind of thing should be so prevalent, at the same time that there is no widespread sense of social crisis. So, when, a few days ago, I put up a post about the role of women in the atheist movement, the discussion went on at such length, and twisted and turned around points of interpretation that were not only picayune, but also irrelevant to the larger point about the language that is appropriate to use regarding women, and how they should be addressed, and respected (or not), that I began to feel that I had quite literally slipped through the looking glass while I was not watching and world had turned upside down and topsy-turvy. I had a sense from some of those who took part in the discussion, and those I blocked from taking part, that any kind of language at all is appropriate where women are concerned, and that free speech demanded the right to use egregiously denigrating epithets in order to delegitimise women’s participation in secular discussion.
Now, of course, I may be a old prude, or a semi-puritan, given my upbringing, but I don’t think so. When discussion of any topic is sidelined simply by the kind of language that gets used, then the time has come to consider the question of civility. But when, as in this case, reporters are emotionally overwrought because some star athletes have received their comeuppance from the courts, because they did behave in ways that criminally disregarded the status of a teenaged girl as a person, and treated her like their own sex toy that they could use and abuse in public, one has to ask where their commitment lies. What is it about star athletes that they deserve to be lamented in so unseemly a fashion — where was the famous journalistic detachment here? — when a girl was abused in such a way that, given the cases of women who have been abused in childhood that I have come across in my life, and the multiple emotional issues that so often remain unresolved, often for a lifetime, her sentence will not be over for a long time to come and may never be over.
Now, I know that a lot of the unbelieving community are of the view that none of us is really responsible for what we do, and that labelling someone as a criminal for harm they have caused others is not as compassionate as these things would be handled in a world without moral responsibility. However, I think that is simply incoherent, and given the power balance in most societies, where women invariably end up with the short end of the stick, it is clearly detrimental to the position of women and their protection from unwanted sexual harassment, demand, and compulsion, where already they are subject to rape and sexual abuse on an almost unbelievable scale, I see no alternative to aspects of the blame-game, and that the failure of society to erect such emotional barriers to the commission of crimes of serious magnitude is a recipe for even worse crimes to come. So, I am pleased to see that the ones chiefly responsible were found guilty and sentenced to spend time in detention, with all the follow-on consequences that this will have for their lives. Their lives will be ruined, we’re told, and yet they gave not a thought to the young woman who suffered so much at their hands.
My main resource, on this occasion, for the grave problem of the rape and sexual abuse of women (and to a less extent of men) – though this is something that all of us know, and simply conveniently forget most of the time — is Soraya Chemaly’s HuffPo piece entitled “Steubenville: We’re Sick and Tired of Rape Being Treated Like an Unavoidable Joke.” One of the points that she makes (which should endear her to the no-moral-responsibility crowd) is that
[the] kids in Steubenville will pay a high price. The thing is, the boys probably are basically “good.” Although I think they are clearly at fault for violating this girl’s body and human rights, I do not think it’s their fault that they were born into a culture where “nice guys” rape all the time and get away with it.
I’m not altogether sure what is meant by this, aside from saying that we live in a society where women’s bodily integrity and dignity are not really valued, and where jocks’ atheletic/scholastic careers are valued more highly than the emotional well-being of girls. The “goodness” of the boys seems to reside in the fact that they don’t always rape young women disoriented by alcohol. But my main concern, besides the more general concern of why the sexual assault of women is so common, is why, when these issues are raised, the question of women’s role in the freethought movement has caused such deep divisions, some of them apparently irresolvable. Thinking on these things, I have simply lapsed into silence over the last couple days.
If you look at some of the statistics on rape given in the linked article under “rape all the time” in Soraya Chemaly’s October 2012 article quoted above, this is a problem of serious proportions. While we complain, and rightly, about the treatment of women in Islam, we tend to ignore the huge problem on our own doorstep, in the way that women are regarded and treated. And then, when women do complain, and express their concern about women’s safety at atheist conferences and gatherings, people, mainly men, go off in high dudgeon, because … — because what? Because their presumptive superiority has been questioned? Because they don’t experience the same kind of threat daily that women do? Because they don’t have to look into the shadows when walking through a car park at night? Because they like to think that hitting on women is one of the perks of being male?
Perhaps it would be worthwhile listing Soraya Chemaly’s 50 facts about rape, just to give a taste of what it might be like — if you’re a man and can’t imagine what it would be like — to be a woman and to be subject to the kinds of threats that women live under day after day:
- Low estimate of the number of women , according to the Department of Justice, raped every year: 300,000
- High estimate of the number of women raped, according to the CDC: 1.3 million
- Percentage of rapes not reported: 54 percent
- A woman’s chance of being raped in the U.S.: 1 in 5
- Chances that a raped woman conceives compared to one engaging in consensual sex: at least two times as likely
- Number of women in the US impregnated against their will each year in the U.S. as a result of rape: 32,000
- Number of states in which rapists can sue for custody and visitation: 31
- Chances that a woman’s body “shuts that whole thing down“: 0 in 3.2 billion
- Rank of U.S. in the world for rape: 13th
- A woman’s chance of being raped in college: 1 in 4 or 5
- Chances that a Native American woman in the U.S. will be raped: 1 in 3
- Percentage of women in Alaska who have suffered sexual assault: 37 percent
- Number of rape kits untested by the Houston police force: 6,000-7,000 (Texas ranked second in nation for “forcible rape”)
- Number of adult men accused of repeatedly gang raping 11-year-old girl in Texas: 14
- Quote in the New York Times regarding the rape: “They said she dressed older than her age.”
- Age of woman raped in Central Park in September, 2012: 73
- Number of rape kits left untested in Detroit, listed by Forbes as one of two the most dangerous places for woman to live in the US: 11,303
- U.S. state in which, in September 2012, mentally disabled rape victim was required to provide evidence of her “kicking, biting, scratching” in objection to her rape: Connecticut
- State seeking to reduce childcare welfare benefits to women cannot provide proof of their pregnancy-causing rapes: Pennsylvannia
- Percentage of sexual assault and rape victims under the age of 12: 15 percent
- Percentage of men who have been raped: 3 percent
- Percentage of rapists who are never incarcerated: 97 perent
- Percentage of rapes that college students think are false claims: 50 percent
- Percentage of rapes that studies find are false claims: 2-8 percent
- Number of rapes reported in the military last year: 16,500
- Pentagon’s estimated percentage of military assuaults not reported: 80-90 percent
- Percentage of military rape victims who were gang raped/raped more than once: 14%/20%
- Percentage of military rape victims that are men: 8-37 percent
- Percentage of military victims who get an “involuntarily” discharge compared to percentage of charged and accused who are discharged with honor: 90 percent involuntary to 80 percent with honor
- Chances an incarcerated person is raped in the U.S.: 1 in 10
- Increase in chance that LGTB prisoner is raped: 15x greater chance
- Number of men raped that could be counted as legally raped before the FBI changed its definition in December of 2011: 0
- Number of rapes noted in commonly used World War II statistics: 0
- Number of rapes of WWII concentration camp inmates: Untallied millions
- Number of rapes of German women by Russian soldiers at the end of WWII: between 1m and 2m
- Number of women raped in 1990s Bosnian conflict: 60,000+
- Number of women raped per hour in Congo during war: 48
- Country where 12 year old was forced to participate in the rape of his mother: U.S.
- Country where women are imprisoned for being raped: Afghanistan
- Age of Moroccan rape victim who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist: 16
- Worldwide number of “child brides” under the age of 18 forced to marry every day: 25,000
- Ages of girls forced to marry a 59-year-old at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministry in Arkansas: 8, 14, 15
- Estimated number of people, primarily children, sexually abused by priests in the U.S. versus the number of senior Catholic officials found guilty of sexual abuse related crimes in the U.S.: 10,667 to 1
- Chances that a woman in the U.S. is raped versus gets breast cancer: 2 to 1
- Chances that a victim is “Emergency Raped” by a stranger versus percentage of victims who consider their rapes emergencies: 7 percent versus 100 percent
- Percentage of victims of rape who report the use of a weapon: 11 percent
- Prison sentences for four men found guilty of participating in gang rapes of two teenage girls in France over two years: one year, six months, suspended sentence
- State where in 2012 a doctor is facing the loss of her medical license for providing an abortion to a pregnant 10-year old incest rape victim: Kansas
- Country where doctors (but not the rapist) were excommunicated for performing a life-saving abortion to nine-year-old incest rape victim: Brazil
- Country where major party’s vice-presidential candidate wants to criminalize all abortions including rape-related ones, because rape is just “another method of conception“: U.S.
Even if you want to make comments on some of the above, surely this list should pose a problem for any thoughtful person. It should make you stop and think, and consider whether, in fact, we do have a huge problem with the way women are so widely regarded even in so-called “progressive” societies. One of the things that is so disturbing is to find such a high proportion of contexts in which the United States plays a lead role in dehumanising women. It may be comforting to unbelievers that many of the problems are related to religion, but it should be concerning to them that the unbelieving community seems to have done so little to defuse these issues so far as the disbelieving community goes. We spend a lot of time discussing liberty, and human rights, among which of course are the rights of women – because religion does not have a stellar record where it comes to giving women an appropriate place in society, and so it is a good stick to beat religion with — but then, it seems, we fall down badly, not only in defending women, but by marginalising women because they believe that nonbelieving communities should be safer for them than they seem to be. One of the things that I have to say is that, after having spent a lifetime in the church, by and large churches are places where women seem to be safer than in the society at large, even where they are not allowed to play an equal role. That doesn’t mean that there are no problems. Of course there are. This seems endemic to the human community. But if atheists want to propose unbelief as a working alternative to religious belief and religious community, then they are going to have to do something to show that when they say that we can be good without god, they actually mean it, that this isn’t just another mantra that is spoken just because the contrary is so often claimed.