September 9, 2013 • In web :: Features
Steubenville, De-carceration, and Rape Culture
Whitney Wager weighs in on the Steubenville verdict, rape culture, and the role of incarceration.
Continued from page 1
In her article, “This is what rape culture looks like,” activist and author Jaclyn Friedman, in her analysis of the Ben Roethlisberger rape case, provides a succinct summary of rape culture that is absolutely applicable to Steubenville, and myriad other incidents of rape. She writes, “That’s rape culture. When authorities use their power to deliberately silence rape victims instead of helping them find justice, it not only leaves rapists free but intimidates other victims from coming forward.”
Coupled with this complicity from authority is a media that refuses to actually seriously engage with rape culture and society’s participation in its practice. “When our media won’t talk about rape, people think it doesn’t happen and the rapists face no consequences. That emboldens rapists,” Friedman says. “As this woman’s case proceeds, her body, her actions, her mental state, motives and her history will be put on public trial in a way that would never happen if she were accusing someone of kidnapping or attempted murder. That’s rape culture.” She adds, “When women are too afraid of being re-victimized by the courts and the media to come forward, and when the public gets the message that women who accuse men of rape are lying of did something to deserve it, the cycle continues.”
In short, rape culture relies on silences, erasures, and fear. Rape culture relies on sentences that start with, “It’s not really rape if…” Victims’ experiences and traumas are trivialized in a society that ignores, tolerates, and condones rape through various mediums, whether it’s advertising or stand-up comedy or comments in a school hallway. Rape culture is allowed to continue by a widespread refusal to acknowledge how pervasive it truly is and that ultimately, rape is rape.
Are Prisons Obsolete? Angela Davis, Decarceration, and the Racialization of Crime
Though the Steubenville rapists have been punished under the extent of the law, it’s important to realize that incarceration is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s fairly clear that incarceration is not an effective deterrent to crime overall; in Canada 42 percent of offenders will reconvict after serving time in federal prison. However, it’s worth noting that the reconviction rate for sexual offenders is much lower, at less than two percent. For a case like this, it often seems like society wants to send the guilty part(ies) to prison, slam the cell door, and never give them another thought. But that only serves us until it happens again. And again. Does putting people in jail truly hold them accountable for their crimes? Does punishing someone today make another potential criminal reconsider their actions in the future? We need to ask ourselves how incarceration helps communities, families, and of course, Jane Doe.