Last week, my eighteen-year-old niece graduated from high school.
She is brilliant, and lovely, and vibrant. In the fall, she will be headed to a university.
Where she will stand a one-in-five chance of being raped.
Today, news broke that Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts – a leading institution in sciences and engineering – crafted a legal defense against a lawsuit from a rape victim which was built around blaming the victim. It then went on to say it wasn’t blaming the victim, in a bizarre form of double-speak.
Let us be clear: no victim is ever culpable in their own rape. Ever.
A convertible parked on the street with the top down does not give me license to hop in and drive away. A handgun left out on a counter does not give me license to pick it up and fire it. Just because a house is flammable does not give you license to burn it down. There is not mitigation of the crimes of grand theft or murder or arson because of the makeup or behavior of the property owner. So why in the world should there be mitigation of rape for the same reasons?
After her assault, a woman I love dearly was asked “What were you wearing? Had you been drinking? Why were you at his place?” I share this with her permission, but it is, as she says “the standard shame and blame line for us girls who were asking for it.”
Let that sink in for a second. She was the victim. NONE of those questions were relevant to the assault. She could have been bombed, completely naked, and in his apartment for an orgy, and unless she enthusiastically gave her consent for the attacker to touch her, IT DOES NOT MATTER.
She is not alone. This is what cold-diarrhea Brock Turner, rapist’s victim had to face in court.
And this is what WPI’s Jane Doe – who was raped by a security guard that was supposed to be PROTECTING her – had to face at the hands of her college. And worse, she is not alone. There are too many stories to recount about colleges participating in victim blaming in order to protect the old alma mater, but here are just a few, quoted from this Washington Post article:
Sasha Menu Courey, the University of Missouri swimmer, told a nurse, a rape crisis counselor, a campus therapist, two doctors and an athletic department administrator that she was raped, but no one did anything about it. Sixteen months after the attack, she killed herself.
At a preliminary hearing known as an Article 32, the [United States Naval Academy] midshipman [who was assaulted] was subjected to days of hostile cross-examination by defense attorneys who asked what kind of underwear she had on and how wide she opens her mouth during oral sex.
And at Patrick Henry College [a dry, Christian campus], the [assaulted] women were questioned about what they were wearing and whether they were flirting. One victim was assigned to read a self-help book on modesty. She was told by a college official to delete the e-mails, calls and texts from a young man who apologized for an assault after she asked about calling the police. The dean asked her to trust God, instead.
This happens over and over again, at campus after campus.
In fact, in one report, FIFTY-FOUR percent of college athletes admitted raping their partners. 54%. That’s half of every team. It’s the infield minus the catcher.
You know someone – more than one someone – who is a rapist.
And so do the colleges.
So yes, we should be blaming poor, unable-to-eat-ribeye Brock Turner, convicted rapist. We should be blaming the judge who coddled him, the parents who did not raise him not to rape, the society which teaches girls how to avoid being raped instead of boys to avoid raping.
But we must also blame Stanford, the school with the long history of not doing enough to prevent sexual assault, or to protect victims and punish rapists when it does happen. And the entire university system in this nation, which is in the same rapey boat.
My niece, and the millions of other women in our universities deserve and need better – and urgently.