CNN is not promoting ‘rape apology’ and ‘rape culture.’

No, CREDO action. They are not.

Two teenage high school students from Steubenville, Ohio were found guilty of rape and will be labeled as sex offenders for life. Almost everyone who pays the slightest attention to social media and American national news is aware of the media coverage prior to the trial, the allegations (which led to convictions), and now reporting from CNN anchor Candy Crowley who is being lampooned – particularly by feminist websites, feminists, so-called ‘social justice bloggers’ and left-leaning internet petitioning circles. A trove of links showing evidence of these accusations is not necessary, but some are included in this piece.

Depending on who you happen to read, CNN is promoting ‘rape culture,’ engaging in ‘rape apologetics,’ ‘blaming the victim,’ ‘grieving for the perpetrators,’ ‘sympathizing with rapists,’ or doing all of these things at the same time. Are these claims tenable? A skeptical, charitable approach should not lead people to believe that CNN is promoting ‘rape culture’ or ‘rape apologetics.’ I will argue that ideology is driving people to find messages where they don’t exist, offer more plausible explanations in defense of the reporting, and briefly argue against the concept of ‘rape culture.’

Comments from Candy Crowley currently under the microscope are taken from a short clip from CNN’s 24-hour news cycle. Crowley, in reference to the convicted teenagers, talks of “young men that had such promising futures, star football students, very good students.” Crowley also said, about the trial, that it must have been emotional – she “could not imagine” it. More of the six-minute clip in question from the reporting discusses the trial and ‘focuses’ on the accused teenagers. According to Raw Story, this reporting is indicative of “CNN griev[ing].” According to CREDO action, the reporting was “outrageous,” “disgusting,” and included “rape apology” and should lead to suspension (!) of CNN staff.

It is not clear to me what is so “outrageous” or “disgusting” about the coverage. Crowley, like reporters do, reports and states facts about the trial. Obviously such a trial is emotional and can be quite unimaginable. Can anyone seriously doubt the emotional nature of the trial which ‘gripped an entire town’ and was blighted by allegations of ‘rape culture’ and rape – a matter which can (and does) quite easily stir emotions.

Is there reason to believe Crowley was grieving? I think not. Crowley states facts – that the teenagers had promising futures, were good students, and were star football players and recognizes — as almost any human being would — that such a verdict will have tremendous implications on their lives. Crowley has empathy, at the very least, and is talking about the emotional nature of the trial. Should she be blameworthy for this – even if she does feel sorry for the teenagers and expresses some sympathy? After all, if we are really living in a ‘rape culture’ shouldn’t we feel sorry for the teenagers who, according to some feminist writers, need to be taught that rape is not okay?

Some commenters argue that Crowley is at fault for not focusing on the victim. A lack of such focus, some argue, is indicative of ‘rape culture’ and ‘rape apologetics.’ To better understand, it should be first important to define terms. Rape culture, according to a Wikipedia article, is “a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, or even tolerate rape.”

I 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? Do attitudes of some people, arguably in a minority, constitute a ‘rape culture’ in the United States – a nation in which criminals are prosecuted and rape is believed to be one of the most heinous crimes imaginable (even worse than murder for some)? Can pointing to laws and attitudes of people contrary to ‘rape culture’ falsify ‘rape culture?’

A theory which is immune to falsification, as philosophers of science such as Karl Popper will tell us (this is well-explained by Naomi Chambers in reference to ‘patriarchy theory’), is not a good theory because it can never be shown to be false. ‘Goal-posts’ can always be shifted and the theory can always be ‘saved’ by ad-hoc (after the fact) explanations. Additionally, ‘rape culture’ seems to be a theory which aims to explain everything, but explains nothing; it can be applied to any given situation and does not allow us to garner useful information outside of what is proposed by the theory itself. Further, it is extremely difficult — if not impossible — in many cases to gauge the attitudes of the persons who allegedly promote ‘rape culture.’ As we see with CREDO action and Raw Story, malicious motives are assigned as if they know what other people are thinking.

We see that the teenagers are also convicted of rape – which seems to provide evidence against this alleged ‘rape culture.’ Regardless of laws in place against sexual assault and societal views which do not tolerate rape, the theory of ‘rape culture’ seems to be preserved in the minds of some while compelling contrary evidence exists. Besides, when considering attitudes of persons who may be ‘supportive’ of the convicted teenagers, ‘football culture’ seems to be the more plausible explanation – people deify football players in high school communities and may often turn a blind eye in an act of irrational tribalism. In the case of college football, we certainly saw this with Penn State…

In response to allegations that CNN is not focusing on the victims (and thus is promoting ‘rape culture’) it does not seem to be the case that there is a lack of focus on the victim when considering the whole picture. It may be quite easy for people to select a short news clip out of a 24-hour news cycle and claim that the network or the reporters within the network are not focusing on the victim; they ignore the ‘misses’ and pay attention to the ‘hits,’ it seems, to conform with their pre-established notions.

It would be quite unreasonable to expect a news network to pay attention to just one part of a story and completely neglecting to comment or focus on other aspects of the story. There are good reasons to cover the entire story or many parts of the story: the audience likely wants to know about the fate of the accused and the on-the-scene reporting including the environment of the courtroom, what people are saying, and what the accused teenagers had to say. Focus on the victim, anyway, can be found right from CNN’s website. Even if there is a large lack of focus on the victim, what is the problem with this? CNN, like other news reporting agencies, will focus on aspects of the stories they want to focus on and even select the stories they want to cover. At any time, it seems, one can unfairly lob accusations of ‘rape culture’ at CNN simply because they failed to discuss a victim of rape [whether they cover other aspects of the story or not].

What seems to be going on here is that people are clinging to a certain ideology — that the United States is a ‘rape culture’ with reporters who offer ‘rape apologetics’ — and ignoring contrary evidence while not looking into the matter – perhaps just taking Raw Story’s or CREDO action’s ‘word for it.’ Rather than considering possible alternative hypotheses which are more plausible, in the case of Candy Crowley’s reporting, people jump tot he worst possible conclusions. It is my whole “Blame and Intent” post all over again… Let’s be skeptical and not jump to conclusions because of our ideologies which we ought to reexamine and ‘keep in check.’ Let’s not find a misogynist in our toast. Let’s please embrace skepticism, call our beliefs into question, and not ‘run on automatic’ with feminist dogma.

I have, then, some simple questions for people who believe CNN’s reporting was inappropriate or even “disgusting” and “outrageous” as CREDO action claims:

1) Should CNN completely fail to comment on or investigate any part of the story which is not directly focusing on the victim?
2) Is there any evidence which can show ‘rape culture’ to be false?
3) Is it morally blameworthy for someone to feel empathy and/or express sympathy for people found guilty of a crime?

As always, feel free to leave answers to these questions (for those who agree with CREDO action and Raw Story) and/or your comments pertaining to this matter below.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.

He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events.

Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • Metalogic42

    1) Should CNN completely fail to comment on or investigate any part of the story which is not directly focusing on the victim?

    No. The news should be as unbiased as possible and report only the facts. While it’s true that they only have a limited amount of time for each story and thus have to cut out some things, information *about* the perpetrators is just as important as information about the victim.

    2) Is there any evidence which can show ‘rape culture’ to be false?

    Those who say rape culture exists better hope so, lest they walk the path of creationists and ID proponents.

    3) Is it morally blameworthy for someone to feel empathy and/or express sympathy for people found guilty of a crime?

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In this specific case, while the perpetrators were old enough to “know better” in terms of “we shouldn’t do this”, perhaps they weren’t old enough to realize the full effects of their actions for both themselves and for the victim. Teenagers have never been very good at introspection or looking at long-term consequences.

    Personally, I do feel some sympathy for them in that our justice system is set up such that they’ll never be able to atone, be properly rehabilitated, or get on with their lives, ever, regardless of whether they mature and decide to lead more ethical lives in the future. The stigma of a past crime will be with them until they die; they’re being sent to hell in a manner of speaking.

    • Jak Charlton

      It is also possible to show regret for the consequences of the perpetrators and to show empathy for their plight, without condoning or agreeing with their actions.

      The perpetrators themselves couldn’t possibly know the full consequences of their actions, and probably won’t until the day they die. They could have known what they were doing was wrong, illegal or inhumane – and the verdict shows that the jury thought they did.

      So they should be punished to the full extent of the law, but we are all dehumanized if we do not empathise with the future path they have committed themselves to.

      • blondein_tokyo

        You are right that they probably didn’t understand the full consequences of their actions, but…is that a typo, or are you saying they *couldn’t* or *could* have known what they were doing was wrong, illegal, or inhumane? Please clarify, if you would.

    • ILikeWeirdStuff

      There is OVERWHELMING evidence of rape culture, but not enough people capable of seeing outside of the norms they’ve been raised into to identify it. People don’t want to admit that rape culture is built into mainstream culture, in every facet of our culture down to social interaction and language.

  • We need to acknowledge that it is possible for culture and media to excuse and even glorify rape. Outstanding examples include Ayn Rand’s novels (e.g. and holy texts such as the Bible ( and movies like Zardoz wherein rape is depicted without any sense of moral condemnation.

    Of course, most examples of what could be called ‘rape culture’ don’t rise to the level of broadcast media, and are really just free-floating memes like some of the nastier jokes I’ve heard about date rape and prison rape. I’d be surprised if anyone has ever tried to quantify the background levels of such memes in different cultures, and I’d be downright shocked to learn that someone has done a time-series analysis which allows us to see if our own culture is getting better or worse.

    • “and movies like Zardoz wherein rape is depicted without any sense of moral condemnation”

      No moral stance? The movie *clearly states* “the penis is evil”.

      • You got me there.

      • ILikeWeirdStuff

        And yet, Zedd “takes a woman for Zardoz” despite Zardoz saying that. Zardoz (the movie) is what happens when a director is given carte blanche without a strong enough feminist movement against rape culture: a movie where rape is just a normal part of existence instead of the awful evil thing that it is, and nobody to question the director’s judgment.

        Keep in mind John Boorman’s previous movie, Deliverance, shows rape of men as this awful thing, but rape of woman in his next movie is matter of fact, part of life as they know it… and then Zardoz rescues the desexualized eternals from themselves? RAPE CULTURE.

        • iamcuriousblue

          Well, how can one argue with such an deep take on this film?

  • alitrix

    #3 — I have a hard time thinking empathy is ever bad, but no doubt someone will correct me on that thought. Anyway, how can you not have empathy and sympathy for a criminal? Their lives have gone seriously wrong. Often it’s just circumstances piling up that lead a person down the wrong road without any active decision making at all.

    These young men were failed by their parents, their families, their teachers and their community. So yes, I feel sorry for them — they are having to bear the burden of many bad decisions that they had no control over. And that’s the shame of this whole situation — that entire community should be taking some of the blame and paying for it along with the boys, but most especially their parents. They didn’t come to the attitudes ended up in a heinous crime all by themselves.

  • Michael Coon


    I won’t comment on the propriety of the CNN reporter’s tone but will on the issue of “rape culture”.

    I understand that a segment of the Steubenville community did their best to obstruct justice in this case. They made efforts to protect the guilty, some refused to cooperate in the
    investigation (I gather that an investigation of these people –and perhaps others- is underway and additional charges may be levied), some have attempted to shift blame for the attacks onto the victim -even onto the victim’s parents- and there has been an effort by some in the community to shield those complicit in the vile social media of cohorts of the attackers and the subsequent cover up, if not crime itself, from consequences. If that isn’t a culture that doesn’t
    have “prevalent attitudes, norms, practices” that “normalize, excuse, or even tolerate rape” I don’t know what does. It doesn’t help your argument to suggest that our culture at large isn’t a rape culture – that is true but doesn’t change the fact that there is a culture in a segment of Steubensville’s population which does excuse rape. I think the events surrounding this awful case are more then enough evidence to suggest a response to your oddly worded question #2 above; no the term “rape culture”is not “false”

    There are many others such examples. We see it in the military, it appears in some college fraternities, we see it in certain strains of hip-hop culture and we see it in some athletic institutions, among others. What I’m suggesting is that I think your complaint about the validity of the term “rape culture” suffers from a lack of focus. Of course those who see “rape culture”
    everywhere suffer from a similar lack of focus though you both are looking through different ends of the microscope. I think examples of “rape culture” abound, though perhaps in order to distinguish it from broader concepts of culture it should be called “rape sub-culture” or something similar.

    • Good points, often it’s not that a sociological concept is totally meaningless per se, it’s that people on the Internet throw it around lazily. I feel the same way about “dominant privilege”, which made perfect sense when I studied it in college and we applied it to meaningful case studies; but on the Internet it just gets tossed around carelessly, usually by people with no expertise trying to sound smart, or quash disagreement.

      I think we’ve all heard of communities where the “good ol’ boys” dominate the local culture, where the football team is worshiped and can do no wrong, where coaches and players can commit rape or other heinous crimes and the community rushes to protect them. It’s disturbing and real.

    • Agreed. I don’t think it’s remotely plausible for “rape culture” to be a fiction, regardless of whether it’s a term that is sometimes bandied about too casually. Here’s a persuasive (if occasionally emotive, as one might expect) blog post on this topic.

    • Jack

      I’m not sure that the reaction of Steubensville’s population to what happened necessarily implies a rape culture in that community. The boys involved were popular football students and if they had committed some other crime I don’t doubt that the reaction would have been similar. I agree with your larger point however that the rape culture theory is usually applied so broadly that it ends up explaining nothing.

  • Reporters stick their feet in their mouths when they are subjective and voice opinion. They are there to report the news not their personal feelings. We saw this locally with Jon Meyer and his commentary on angels. I would have less concern with an entertainment news show like Inside Edition reporting on emotions than CNN – a world leader trusted to report hard news. While I do not agree we have a US rape culture at large, machismo in certain pockets of our society is prevalent, where the attitude toward women is one of ‘subject for my pleasure however I can get it’. It cannot be denied this exists in certain contexts or with certain individuals. It’s quite possible the football team these teens belonged to is one of these pockets that fostered this type of sub-culture. I feel empathy for the victim, the guilty young men in this case and those not yet convicted – as there are likely to be more, because though in different ways, life will never be as it should for any of them.

  • Edward Gemmer

    I was pretty disgusted by the outpouring of joy and euphoria over these teenagers going to prison. It’s a pretty bloodthirsty culture. This idea that CNN saying a couple decent statements about them is somehow akin to promoting rape is ridiculous. It’s nothing more than bloodthirst. Tell me how consensual prison is.

    • blondein_tokyo

      The joy and euphoria isn’t over the boys getting sent to juvenile detention (not prison, to be clear). The joy is over the fact that the victim received justice in a system where many rape victims do not.

      • Edward Gemmer

        No it isn’t. They don’t care about her. They don’t give two shits about her except as a means for which they can demonize the teenagers and justify their own emotions. If they did care about her, they might have respected the family’s wishes to keep this private – instead they tweet and blog and complain relentlessly. It’s all about them, not the victim. It’s easier if the victim is anonymous, then she can be whatever projection they can imagine.

        • blondein_tokyo

          Yes, it is. Because very few rapists are convicted, and seeing justice done to rapists makes people who hate rape happy.

          But you are right that it is tragic that the media moved in like they did. The treatment of the victim has been especially horrific.

  • blondein_tokyo

    1) CNN should absolutely comment on and investigate all aspects of the story, which includes both the victim and perpetrators. The complaint is in regards to the lack of coverage over how this will negatively effect the future of the victim. Has any reporter or commentator expressed sympathy for her? I don’t live in the US and can’t watch the TV news so I might have missed something, but in the stories I’ve read on news sites (CNN, ABC, Yahoo, etc) I haven’t yet seen anyone referring to how long the recovery process will be for the victim, sympathy for how this will effect her future relationships, or how it will negatively effect her feelings towards sex and effect her sexuality for the rest of her life. I also haven’t seen anyone express fear for how she will be able to live in that town and go to school after this. While the feminist blogsphere has covered it, there hasn’t been any coverage that I have found on major news sites about the death and rape threats she has received, and the fact that she is under police protection. In addition, it seems that CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC failed to censor a clip wherein the rape victim was spoken about by name. Why weren’t they more careful? Why haven’t they apologized?

    2) It looks like you are asking us to prove a negative. Rather, the question should be “Is there sufficient evidence for rape culture?” That is, we have to take a look at the evidence for rape culture and show that it is insufficient conclude such a thing exists. And yes, I think there is more than enough evidence. There are many examples that show rape is trivialized in our culture, and victim blaming is the norm. I could go on, but I have limited time and space. I suggest you look it up, read more about it, and then come back to discuss it further when you have better educated yourself, Justin. I mean, if you had to look up the definition on Wikipedia, and if you have to even ask this question, it makes me think you really don’t know much about it at all.

    3) It depends on how it’s worded, doesn’t it. Let’s look at two examples I will make up to demonstrate:

    A) “These boys had a promising future until this girl accused them of rape. It truly is sad.”

    B) “Because of their heinous actions, these boys have ruined their futures. It truly is sad.”

    The first comment blames the victim. The second clearly shows the boys are responsible for ruining their own futures.

    Most of the coverage that I have read has contained quotes like the first example.

  • I do not see the problem with having compassion for all three of them. Johnny and I made a video, posted on my channel, discussing just this thing. What these boys did was very wrong, and very stupid. But they are still boys. I have two sons and one daughter, imagining my daughter a victim or my two sons as the defendants, I have compassion for all three. They are three children – not adults. Brains are not even fully developed until the early 20’s.

    (BTW, I think juvenile sex offenders have different registration requirements, not sure if it is going to be life, sometimes, it is only ten years) I did not verify the facts, so I do not know what the judge has rule yet about their registration requirements. Personally, I am happy with the sentence. I hope the registration requirements are only 5-7 years for these boys. They did something stupid and wrong, but juveniles have the best record for rehabilitation. After all of this – the sentence, the media reporting, the boys reaction in court, I think they will NEVER do something like this again.

  • I have always been ‘off the beaten path’ with my ideas and opinions. CNN reporters showing compassion for the Defendants did not bother me. In fact, compassion is a sign of humanity in my view. I was bothered more that during Traci Lords interview, the caption read “Porn Star Raped in Steubenville” – Note: last adult film she made was 27 yrs ago. She has not been a porn star for a very…very…very long time.

  • Tony Sidaway

    (A copy of this comment previously appeared on Google+)

    It’s fairly straightforward, really. Many people have expressed shock that CNN’s coverage gave so much weight to the suffering of rapists. By giving so much weight to the plight of the rapists, CNN tends to write off rape as an unfortunate lapse that blights the career of a promising sportsman. This is what people mean when they talk of “rape apology”.

    I agree that some critics of the media reporting have ignored or denied that the suffering of the victim was also covered. This doesn’t explain the peculiar editorial choice made by CNN. There is a case to answer.

    I’ve spoken of “rape culture” in the context of statements placing the onus of reducing rape on the victim. That’s unfortunately a pervasive aspect of the way we and our ancestors have treated rape, but it’s changing as governments and other authorities address the need to educate young people about the nature of consent. Another aspect of rape culture, arguably, is the tendency to treat horrifying attacks as human interest stories. I suspect this was the error committed by CNN’s news team. This error would probably never happen in the case of a stranger rape.?

  • From what I saw, the six minutes really was excessively slanted toward the perpetrators and how unfortunate it was that their future would be negatively affected, rather than about the crime itself. So I do think there’s a lot to be criticized about that piece. I don’t follow CNN closely enough to know how representative that was of coverage overall, though, or whether promoters of the concept “rape culture” have taken that clip in isolation to promote what might be an atypical example of media coverage.

    What I saw CNN doing was looking for a “human” story, and considering that the victim is essentially anonymous due to changes in the law and media practice around these crimes, they latched onto human drama they could find, which was the story of the accused. I think what could really be criticized about all of this is the news media’s need for “human drama” in a story like this, rather than concentrating on the facts of the case and, critically, discussing how that fits into a larger picture.

  • Scott Rhoades

    “Do attitudes of some people, arguably in a minority, constitute a
    ‘rape culture’ in the United States – a nation in which criminals are
    prosecuted and rape is believed to be one of the most heinous crimes

    Justin, in
    this case you are confusing a label applied to a subset of American
    Culture (primarily those that lay some or all of the fault of rape on
    the victim and sympathize with the rapists) with American Culture and
    its legal system as a whole. When someone talks about hip-hop culture do you assume they are talking about music in it’s entirety? When we talk about rape culture we are talking about those that imply that the victim owns part of the blame for their own victim-hood and that have sympathy for or defend the rapists in some fashion.

    • The claim is that the entire US is a rape culture.

      • Tony Sidaway

        I agree that this is the claim. I think it has considerable validity, though this is changing. But as a particular aspect of American culture that linger, and may fairly be identified as rape culture, I’d single out the almost universal shaming of “sluts”.

        Needless to say it isn’t solely American, but it certainly is rather disturbing when innocent women are held responsible for the (potential or actual) abusive behaviour of men.

        I’d also single out the widespread acceptance, even celebration of, male-on-male rape in prisons. Many times I’ve heard people joke about the possibility of a convicted criminal being raped in prison, as if that were part of the sentence, and not a further crime. This is rape culture.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Rape is disgusting. I think even the supporters of the Steubenville defendants would admit that. Here’s the dichotomy in this situation. Were the vile acts committed in this case signs of violence or not?

    People don’t analyze it this deeply but the fundamental question is the premise that divides those on both sides of these issues. Nature or nurture? This is the real issue that divides feminists and those who don’t support the feminist views.

    For the supporters of the defendants, these boys are not evil. They were only acting normally. What they did was solely about sex and while they clearly misbehaved, there was no criminal intent. There was no violence to invoke the power of the state to punish these boys.

    For those supporting the verdict, these boys are clearly outside the norm of society. The acts were disgusting. They were vile. This “clearly” cannot be “normal” human behavior so there must be some other explanation. Therefore, there must be some deviant behavior that society must immediately punish.

    This is why people get so upset with CNN. They state the factual position that the defendants are not violent thugs. They haven’t been in trouble. They aren’t abusing animals. Their record up to now shows that they are neither violent and are not disgusting humans beings.

    Those who want to punish the defendants generally want to de-humanize them. We lock away the cruel, the depraved, those who are somehow less than human among us. If I favor locking you away, I must move you from the category of “you’re like me” to the category of “you’re clearly less of a human than me.”

    Personally, I take the position that the defendants are guilty of rape and that their punishment is neither overly harsh nor overly lenient. So, in my mind, justice has been done.

    • Hunt

      Yes, I pretty much agree with you. My preference would be that they receive therapy and guidance instead of a “prison” sentence until 21. I’ve never been thrilled at the idea of incarceration punishment for children, and 16 and 17 yr. olds are still children in spite of what the “let’s dehumanize them” faction wants to portray. The victim, of course, must be provided every resource for recovery, some (or much) of which is going to be recovery and coping with the media firestorm that was set in place by Anonymous.

      Everyone talks about this being a landmark case, but I kind of doubt it. It will cause a lot of things to change with regards to awareness and supervision (I hope). Unlike most others, I don’t think it’s going to ruin lives. I kind of doubt that they’re even going to be registered as adult sex offenders, but that’s just my personal theory. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they play college football. This isn’t a comment on their morality. I’m just looking into my crystal ball. America and Americans are actually pretty reluctant to brand people for anything they’ve done in their childhoods or adolescence. It’s been a pretty hard won lesson that now seems ingrained in our collective unconscious, since there was a time when minors were shown much less mercy and it’s a shameful past memory we are not eager to revisit.

  • sezit

    I try to evaluate my own internal predjudices by mentally setting up opposite scenarios.

    Imagine that 2 girls (with many other unconcerned onlookers) had done the same to a drunken comatose boy. Inserting fingers, laughingly degrading, and proudly videoing – can anyone IMAGINE a situation where newscasters would have reacted with anything other than horror and visceral disgust? We would none of us have much sympathy for girls who were that abberant, vicious and cruel. Who can imagine a community trying to pretend that it was the boy’s fault for tempting the girls into degrading him in such a way?

    So, no, we don’t live in a rape culture. No, we are in a MALE rape culture, where rape is seen as a normal risk for girls and women, and boys and men who rape are seen by the culture as somehow not full agents of their own behavior, and worthy of protection from the community while sacrificing and blaming the rapee as having been at fault for tempting the rapist. It is a win-lose culture where males who have a sexual encounter have “scored” while females “give it up”. Anyone who does not think that our unhealthy attitudes toward sex in this country is not a factor is crazy. My dream is that all sex ed classes in the future will start out on the premise that sex is normal, diverse, and enjoyable, and that the only right way to participate is with an enthusiastic partner. Yes means YES!

    • Hunt

      I’m not sure how useful counterfactual opposite role scenarios are in this case. Newscasters in your hypothetical would probably not be horrified because there’s only a very slim chance the news would ever get that far. For instance, my brother described the bachelor party of a friend of his when his friend got so drunk that some girls wrapped a ribbon around his penis while he was prostrate. The only thing that ever came of it was that it became notable as a legendarily wild party, and no doubt that’s all he ever thought of it himself. I’m not trying to make light of party rape scenarios, and I’m not trying to make any statement regarding the Steubenville case. What I’m saying is that it’s hard to draw any grand conclusions from gender swapping thought experiments when it comes to assault as it is popularly considered. Legally, perhaps this was clear assault, but I can pretty much guarantee that all involved, including the penis wrapped “victim,” would have considered that absurd.

      • sezit

        the point kinda makes itself here – the drunken stunt you describe does not sound like it was done with intent to humiliate and repeatedly degrade the penis-wrapped “victim”. Tho what sounds to me like very poor judgement, it seems like it was a prank among friends, and that he remains part of the circle of friends, with no loss of personhood. There is no way that the Stubenville rape included the rapee as part of the circle of friends. The de-humanizing and repeated degradation WAS the bonding action, and that is unimaginable swapping male/female actors.

        The use of this counterfactual is to startle with the absolute squirming disgust that the situation would invite if it were not what we are used to hearing. If 99.999% of females can be expected to treat a passed out drunken man with humanity, why do we have such low expectations of males? (Answer: ingrained societal apology for male rapes.)

        • Hunt

          Yes, I see your point. They are qualitatively different situations. One was predatory, the other not.

  • sezit

    to say they had futures and they’re thrown away is not true,
    THEY threw away their own futures. It’s not something that happened TO them. Saying it the first way implies that it’s someone else’s fault (the victim).

  • Joseph

    First off, I’m not a feminist, not a woman, not a rape victim, etc.

    “Should she be blameworthy for this – even if she does feel sorry for the
    teenagers and expresses some sympathy? After all, if we are really
    living in a ‘rape culture’ shouldn’t we feel sorry for the teenagers
    who, according to some feminist writers, need to be taught that rape is not okay?”

    Seriously? Sympathy for rapists, again? THAT is “rape apology. If they honestly needed someone to tell them that non-consensual sex with an unconscious body is NOT okay (not even counting video taping it), then they aren’t as intelligent as one would expect from someone with such a “promising future”. It’s not some complex issue of morality, it’s common sense. Unless someone LITERALLY asks for it (consent), be it woman or man, then it’s rape. Simple. They deserve worse punishment than what was served to them, they don’t deserve sympathy. They made their bed, they weren’t stupid, they knew what they were doing, now they have to lie in it.

    This wasn’t addressed in the segment. Call it what you will, but the “rape culture” exists in various forms depending on the civility of the country. Just because it doesn’t occur on the same level it would occur in say, Uganda, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The segment was proof of that. Rape isn’t okay and people shouldn’t feel sympathetic towards rapists. That’s why people are upset.

    • Joseph

      I’m not saying that US is a rape culture, either. Just that this doesn’t invalidate the argument. The CNN segment was ridiculous, regardless of whether or not it was promoting anything.

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