By now, we’ve probably heard plenty about the Stanford rape case involving an unnamed 23-year-old woman and 20-year-old former Stanford University student Brock Turner. We’ve heard plenty about the unreasonably short sentencing for Turner even though he was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault.
We’ve also heard about the two letters that circulated following the case. One of them was from the victim to Turner – touching on everything from victim blaming, the re-victimization that happened during trial from Turner’s lawyers and Turner’s three-month jail sentencing. We’ve heard about the other letter from Turner’s father, who sought probation for his son because the younger Turner no longer enjoys his favorite foods and because jail time would be a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
Hopefully by now, we’ve also known that this kind of case is not an anomaly, it’s the norm. Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted; every eight minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison, per statistics by the U.S. Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
And that’s not to mention what happens globally. Hopefully we’ve heard that an estimated 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives, according to U.N. Women. And that’s saying nothing of the cases that go unreported.
But what we haven’t heard enough is that there are many faulty systems that lead to a culture in which these incidents are typical. And one of the most defunct parts is our society’s inability to look past specific cases and see an underlying cultural force that fuels these seemingly separate incidents. It’s hypocritical when international leaders or activists denounce a gang rape in Delhi, India, but not similar sexual assault cases that happen within fraternity houses across the United States.
There’s false virtue when those leaders speak out against honor killings of domestic abuse victims in Saudi Arabia, but they fail to condemn the murders of transgender women of color because of their gender identity. There’s deep dishonesty when U.S. Republicans feverishly write and pass laws to criminalize trans* people going to the bathroom for fear that trans* women are actually male rapists ready to jump and molest women and children. Yet those same Republicans turn a blind eye when actual rape happens (and many convicted in court) at the hands of cisgender male politicians, members of the Church or student-athletes at renowned universities.
We’ve heard a lot of specific instances of sexual violence, but what we haven’t heard enough is that it’s a systemic failure when we don’t see the thread that connects these kinds of incidents. It’s a systemic failure when we don’t recognize that gender-based violence affects everyone from those who live in slums to those in mansions. It’s a systemic failure when we don’t recognize that the millions of incidents, from something as seemingly harmless as catcalls to murders of women, happen because we live in a culture that devalues femininity.
Speaking of hypocrisy, it’s easy for Americans to criticize problems in other countries when we already see its citizens as “other” – uncontrollable male predators and helpless female victims. It’s easy for us to denounce cases in developing countries when we haven’t aired our own dirty laundry, all while patting ourselves on the back for being “progressive.”
Globally, it’s a lot easier for governments to apply Band-Aid solutions for sexual violence than take steps to implement systemic change. It’s easier for the Indian government to make sure that bus windows are no longer tinted so men who rape on buses in broad daylight would more likely be caught – as though men don’t rape in other venues at any other time of day; as though that solves the problem of impunity granted to most men even when they are proven guilty.
It’s easier for U.S. lawmakers to tell men not to rape women by saying that she is someone’s wife or sister or daughter, not simply because she is someone – a person – and therefore doesn’t deserve to be raped regardless of her connection to other people. All this doesn’t mean that these efforts aren’t appreciated, but that even more efforts on all fronts are needed.
It’s easy to blame those who fail to adhere to our standards to what it means to be the “perfect” victim. Does that mean not drunk? Not wearing revealing clothes? Not going to fraternity parties? Not conscious? Not walking with a friend? Even when we do sympathize with a victim or survivor, it’s easier to be mad at certain things and not others. It’s easier to be mad after learning that pop singer Ke$ha had been sexually, physically and emotionally abused by her producer than to also be mad that transgender people and bisexual women of color face the most alarming rates of sexual violence similar to what Ke$ha experienced.
None of these incidents are more important or more worthy of attention than others. If we denounce and address one case, we have to condemn all of them because guess what? They exist within and are perpetuated by the same system. Legal, political, cultural and social systems have to work in tandem. Just on Humanosphere, we’ve covered plenty of efforts led by women to address this issue on multiple levels, from music videos to police training to social media and direct action.
It took a global village to get us in this mess – it’s going to take that same village to get us out of it.