Friday, April 12, 2013

The Need to Talk, Without Talking

A couple days ago, I posted a link on Facebook to this story about a teenage girl who was gang-raped by four classmates at a friend's house, then shamed and bullied by her peers after photos of the incident were shared online and went viral in her community. The girl hanged herself last week and her family took her off of life support on Sunday.

Despite the photos, an investigation found there was "insufficient evidence to lay charges."

When I shared the link, I wrote above it, "Fuck victim-blaming, slut-shaming, rape culture."  

Rape culture. Our culture in which the victims of violent assault are often treated as though what happened to them was their fault. Our culture in which our justice system too often fails these victims. 

Shortly after I posted the link, a female co-worker (who I will call "Jane") wrote me the following email:

Jane: Just spent 5 minutes in the bathroom crying over that story you posted. I wish I knew how to help, or how to even start helping, without getting cry-y and breaking down.

Jack: Damn, I'm sorry.
Yeah, I know what you mean though. Horrible feeling of helplessness.
This is why I shouldn't be allowed to internet at work. 

Two days later, a message from Jane:

Really? Really? Second story this week?
I just don't understand.

Jack: This has become an epidemic and it scares the shit out of me as a father. Bullying, cyber-bullying, victim blaming.... gay kids, girls who simply got drunk around the wrong people ..... It's so heartbreaking and so enraging that a beautiful loved one can be taken from you in this fashion.

Jane: It scares the shit out of me as a human. And it is heartbreaking, and enraging, and scary. It shouldn't happen - the rape, the glorification of it through shared images, the ridicule, the suicide. It breaks my heart. As angry as I am about it, I'm equally scared. I can't relate, but I can totally understand their feelings. I was talking with [boyfriend] last fall and started bawling (it was after an episode of SVU), I told him I don't know how people do it. I started to seriously think if I was ever raped, I don't know how I would live with myself and what happened. And would probably end my life.

I guess that was a long pointless rant. I'm just angry and scared. That's all.

Jack: Not pointless at all. I think it take a lot of strength for someone to overcome something like that happening to them in the first place. And to be so young makes it seem so much more impossible. Especially when your "world" is so small. Your high school is your world and your classmates are *everyone* and when you feel like everyone thinks you're a slut/whore/piece-of-garbage, life feels hopeless.

Scariest of all is the fact that every decision involved, by all parties involved, all the way from the initial assault, to the sharing of the photos, to the shaming, the blaming, the bullying, to the decision to take one's own life--every one of those decisions are made by young people who aren't equipped mentally, emotionally, or hormonally to make those decisions. Throw in the high school peer pressure/herd mentality and you've got a recipe for disaster.
You've got this tenuous balance of idiot sub-adults making decisions with horrific consequences.

And now we have this share-everything-online culture these kids are raised into, making the situation spiral out of control that much faster.

That's me analyzing the shit out of it. The other part of me just wants these bullies and rapists to suffer for the rest of their lives.

Jane: I want that too. I want justice. But rather than want justice after the fact, I'd rather it not happen at all. And I'm struggling, because I really don't know what to do to even begin to help stop it. I feel so helpless.

Jack: I don't know. Maybe the only thing you can do is to do your part in teaching the young people in your family right from wrong. Which is really the best thing you can possibly do.

Jane: Right. At the very least, it's something. Okay. SORRY about the sadness this morning.

Jack: No need to apologize. Real talk.

Jane and I never actually said a single word to each other during this discussion. We didn't even mention it afterward. Maybe because we were at work. Maybe because it would feel too awkward, talking about such a serious matter. Yet we both needed an outlet. We needed to talk about it. Somehow.


Lauren Wheeler said...

I love that you guys had this discussion. I'm glad for the fact that you as a man do recognize rape culture, and you agree that more should be done to discourage rape rather than discourage people from dressing or acting in a way to "provoke" rape.

Young men and women need to be raised to learn that having sex with some without his or her knowledge or consent is just as much rape as forcing someone who says "No" or is physically fighting back. Buying someone dinner and drinks doesn't mean you have a right to sex in return. Having sex with someone who seemed interested earlier, but then passed out later is not consensual sex. Calling women whores and sluts for having sex only perpetuates rape culture. The fact that this is just now starting to sink in for some people while many still don't understand just boggles my mind.

Jack said...

Thanks for the comment Lauren. I agree that it's sad that there is so much emphasis on teaching women and girls how not to be raped, and less on teaching men and boys NOT TO RAPE.