There are so many great observations about all the shades of gray that crop up when we attempt to dissect the anatomy of a sexual assault, and the lasting painful psychological repercussions.
I think part of the reason experiencing rape and sexual assault is so painful, is because of the ways it is tolerated in our society. Though we are all reluctant to admit it, rape is largely tolerated under certain circumstances- and when someone brings forward accusations of rape, they are breaking the unwritten rule, that rape is to be tolerated.
Why has rape and sexual assault been tolerated for so long? I think it is because the stakes are high, very high.
There is the need for restorative justice, on the one hand for the victim. How do we provide that? As a society, honestly, we have not the slightest clue. Usually we do this through money, but honestly that is not going to cut it. That is not going to stop people from being triggered while attempting to be entertained. How do we do it? We don’t quite know, and so many of us simply pretend the problem does not exist.
On the other hand, with the accused there is the need for due process (as freedom and reputation hang in the balance).
Because of these two very valid concerns this area of investigation, inquiry and criminal justice has always been fraught with extreme divisiveness.
I think the need to blame and degrade the victim grows out of the fear that the consequences are usually pretty severe for the accused and have implications that upset the social environment and status quo profoundly.
Many times in our American history, if the accused was black and male, and the victim was white and female, the consequence was death — and not just death of the accused. Entire black townships have been destroyed over such allegations. At a minimum, if the allegations are criminal in nature (and most sexual assault is), someone may be imprisoned, as well as, labeled not just a convict, which incredibly limits employment opportunities, but a sex criminal which is even more heavily stigmatized than the typical criminal conviction.
And so a lot of people — and mind you I am not one of them, and I am not advocating this train of thought at all — but a lot of people believe that victims of rape, even brutal rape, as was documented via social media with the Stuebensville, Ohio case, should not result in charges being brought against the rapists, and especially if the accused are privileged in any way.
Privilege could mean being white and male. It could mean the accused is an athlete or a celebrity. It could mean the accused is wealthy. It can be a combination of all of these things, but regardless of what the privilege is, to bring allegations against such an individual is to disturb the social order of a place and people, both male and female, fight against these disturbances viciously.
I think it is important to point this out because I believe this is why sexual assault allegations are so divisive and why victims have been ignored, blamed, villainized and disbelieved for so long. It is not as if rape accusations haven’t been used as a weapon — and especially when you look at someone black and male in America- it is hard to discount that this might be at issue.
This is the reason so many African-Americans took issue with the Mike Tyson rape allegations and subsequent conviction. You had the Kennedy rape allegations, very similar in nature, but no conviction. How do you account for the different verdicts? Racism.
And then, to really confuse the whole race, sex, class celebrity thing — you get weird and bizarre loopholes like Cosby. He was black and male — which technically should have caused the rape allegations against him to stick, like they did with Tyson. Especially since his victims were white females. But he was a celebrity; and he had a certain brand — he was the good guy, with family values. He couldn’t have possibly been involved with anything so insidious; and if he was ever correctly labeled as such, do you know how many entities and people would have lost substantial sums of money? Quite a few. A lot of reasons, therefore, to ignore and suppress the Cosby allegations. Acknowledging them would have severely disrupted a sort of social contract Cosby and the entertainment industry supporting him had made with America.
Cosby was also a predator, which is to say, very clever. He knew just the right victims to pursue; and so with Cosby an accused serial rapist, black and male, hiding in plain sight who never experienced any serious consequences for his actions. If you think about how these kinds of allegations against black men have typically ended up (in the South with a lynching) — this is just bizarre.
So what are the takeaways? Society largely doesn’t tolerate accusations of rape and sexual assault against men in any positions of privilege or power, even in the face of some pretty disturbing evidence. Just look at what is going on with Trump. Although the allegations have been pretty divisive, the divide largely occurs along gender lines, and even there, there are still vast numbers of women who so want Trump as a president, he is completely forgiven for everything he has said or done and is probably being given passes to do it all again.
I say all of that to say this, with rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse and the most destructive of all human trafficking — we have met the enemy and it is us. All of us who refuse to admit for a number of reasons related to privilege and power, we think rape is acceptable and we think blaming victims is okay, if doing so will preserve a certain social order.
Additionally, we also have to admit that we are a society that has been complicit in allowing rape and sexual assault accusations to be used as a weapon, if such an accusation will destroy the reputation of someone who is deemed as being in need of being brought down a peg or two. I believe this is what is usually at issue in almost all of the allegations leveled against the privileged and powerful: Cosby, Clinton, Trump, Joe Paterno, Mike Tyson. In all of these cases, these powerful people have been damaged by these allegations, most of which were there all along but are suddenly brought to light because the celebrity attempts to enter a higher level of spotlight or in the case of Cosby and Paterno, are no longer profitable to the industries that served them so dutifully. Thus, they can be easily discarded.
But using sexual assault allegations as a weapon and not really for the benefit of victims (victims are simply pawns in these sorts of cases) is disingenuous to the whole purpose of criminalizing sexual assault. Victims want justice and often times to know there there won’t be other victims. When the powerful and the privileged use sexual assault as a weapon against their adversaries whom they want to disadvantage, justice for victims is incidental if it occurs at all.
These hypocritical antics don’t sit well with most people, who are of two camps primarily-either go along to get along and ignore any sexual assault committed by the privileged and powerful or treat it seriously as the crime that it is, no matter who is the accused and always respect the victim.
It used to be those in the first camp were in the majority, but right here right now, that is shifting and we are seeing — specifically with what is going on with Trump — more people moving into the latter camp — which is a good thing.
Sexual assault is rampant and it is a crime against humanity. But unless we can be really honest about how we deal with it as a society and why, we don’t have a chance, a hope or a prayer of ending it.