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Steubenville: This Is Rape Culture’s Abu Ghraib Moment


mainstream media expressed immediate sympathy following the guilty verdict. 

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Steubenville is rape culture's Abu Ghraib moment. It’s the moment when America and the world are being forced, despite ourselves, to confront the real human horror of the rapes and sexual assaults that take place in their thousands every day in our communities.

Susan Sontag observed of the Abu Ghraib atrocities that "the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken – with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives. If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880's and 1930's, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib."

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Here we have incontrovertible evidence of happy young people not only hurting and humiliating others, but taking pleasure in it, posing with their victims. The Abu Ghraib torture pictures were trophies. The Steubenville rape photos are trophies. They're mementoes of what must have felt, at the time, like everyone was having the sort of fun they'd want to remember, the sort of fun they'd want to prove to themselves and others later. The Steubenville rapists had fun, and they broadcast that fun to the world. They were confident that nothing could touch them, so baffled by the idea of punishment that they wept like children in court.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>The Steubenville rapists claim that, when they drove a passed-out girl from party to party, slinging her into and out-of cars like a deflated sex-dolly and sticking their fingers inside her, they didn't know they were doing anything wrong. That's plausible, although it's no defence. It's a plausible if, and only if, you have internalised the assumption that women are not real human beings, just bodies to be manipulated with or without consent, pieces of wet and willing meat there for you to use for your pleasure. There's a word for what happens when one group of people sees another as less than human and insists on its right to hurt and humiliate them for fun. It’s an everyday word that is often misused to refer to something outside of ourselves. The word is ‘evil’.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Yes, it is possible to feel a sick spasm of pity for these young men whose tears in the courtroom were described at such melodramatic length by major news outlets. It is possible to feel pity for those who do violent acts, who hurt and shame others simply because they know nobody’s going to stop them and it seems like fun. Young people can get carried away in times of war, and here I include what we must surely think of in these circumstances as a gender war, especially when they’re on the winning team – and these boys were used to winning. Young people get carried away. But not always. And that ‘not always’ is where pity stops like bile in the throat.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>We have sympathy for those who lack that sort of courage only because we worry, even the best of us worry, that there might be circumstances in which we, too, would overlook evil. That’s the question facing every man and not a few women in America right now as the enormity of rape culture begins to dawn. It’s a question of cowardice, and of character. Something is going on – the casual rape and abuse and dehumanisation of women and girls, and some men -  that’s so monstrous that to take its magnitude seriously would implicate a great many of us. The question is whether we have the courage to face it – this time.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>So many of us wonder whether we would be brave enough to stand up in the face of evil. Whether we would allow it to continue. Well, this is the moment. This is our test. Before the next Jane Doe gets hurt, before more young rapists can tearfully claim 'they didn't know', it’s on us all – men and boys and everyone who loves them – to stand and be counted.

 

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