Most Americans were quick to condemn the recent gang rape in India that left a 23-year-old woman with horrific internal injuries that led to her death. We blamed the brutal act on India’s unequal treatment of women, and harshly criticized their sexist and misogynistic society. Yet while we continue to judge other societies for their poor treatment of women and girls, we refuse to examine our own rape culture. It is time for that to change.
In India, a young woman was brutally raped by six strangers on a bus. In the US, a 16-year-old girl was allegedly raped and assaulted all night long by high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio at an end of summer party. Others videotaped the abuse, adding commentary including “They raped her harder than that cop raped Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction,” “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson raped that one girl,” and sending a tweet that read, “Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana” (CNN). A photo that was posted online shows two young men carrying the girl around, one holding her by her hands while the other holds her by her feet. There are allegations that she was urinated on and anally penetrated as well. While this case has yet to go to court, and these alleged perpetrators have not been found guilty of any crimes, there does seem to be evidence of an initial cover up and desire to protect the football team’s reputation rather than fully investigate the alleged crime. So it must be asked, is this not a blatant example of a sexist and misogynistic society?
America’s culture of rape extends into its legal system as well. In 2012, Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which provides vital resources to combat the crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking (4vawa.org). And the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act (SAFER), which would have allocated funding to address the nationwide backlog of untested rape kits, also failed to pass when House republicans refused to pass the Senate version of the bill. Instead, at the very end of the legislative session, they amended the bill, and with no time left to reconcile the different versions, the bill died (MotherJones).
And just this week, a California Appeals Court overturned the rape conviction of a man who pretended to be a sleeping woman’s boyfriend: “He was accused of entering a woman’s bedroom late one night after her boyfriend had gone home and initiating sexual intercourse while she was asleep, after a night of drinking” (Yahoo News). The court ruled that the woman was not protected in this instance because of an outdated law: “The 1872 criminal code, which apparently is still the state’s definition of rape by impersonation, applies as written only if the rapist is pretending to be the husband of a married victim” (Slate). The woman in this case was not married.
The US needs to examine its own issues of violence against women. We need to address the culture of rape within our own society by demanding accountability from our legislators, the media, communities and individuals. If we fail to do this, we only have ourselves to blame for perpetuating the cycle of interpersonal violence.