It’s the Little Things

Since news broke of pedophilia allegations against a Penn State University assistant football coach earlier this fall, I have resisted commenting on the situation on Twitter or elsewhere. I was appalled that such behavior had occurred in the first place and deeply disgusted that, as facts unfolded, members of the Penn State athletic community knew of or witnessed illegal actions and said nothing, did nothing to protect the victims. The national media has focused on the nature of collegiate athletics, programs often so valuable to institutions that employees and athletes are given free reign to behave as badly as they’d like, and who knew what, when. The national sports media, divided over the Kobe Bryant rape case, is now unified in its disgust for Sandusky and the coverup, lack of action within the Penn State football association.

But the bigger issue here, I think, is the way in which sex crimes are approached in this country in general. Or rather, I should say, how men, in particular, approach what is and isn’t a crime and what is and isn’t worth mentioning to the authorities.

I’ve blogged a few recent items on tumblr. (You can follow my tumblr here.) The issue of rape “jokes” and the lack of humor women find in them was discussed here by Lipstick Feminists. Is it possible to make a rape “joke”? Well, comics are divided on the issue, but the prevalence of mentions of rape by Donald Glover should raise people’s eyebrows and open a discussion of why men think it’s okay to joke about sexual assault. What kind of message does it send for such a prominent actor/comic to so openly and frequently joke about rape? To use rape as a go-to insult or threat? Or how about this fellow who repeatedly refers to women as “cunts” as he rails against feminism and blisters on and on about why feminists shouldn’t be taken seriously. What does it mean for our society to have such prevalent thoughts and sentiments at the forefront? Even with the widespread abuse epidemic within the Catholic Church in the US, the discussion and acceptance of sexual assault victims, especially men, is still so hushed and peripheral in the US. Just looking at the staggering lack of reports of sexual assault shows how many victims are afraid, ashamed, or unable to speak up in their defense and alert authorities.

To start, some statistics on sex crimes in the US:

  • 44% percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, and 80% are under the age of 30
  • A person is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes in the US
  • It is estimated that only 40% of sexual assaults are ever reported to law enforcement
  • 15 out of 16 rapists/sexual abusers will never spend even one day in jail for their crimes
  • 60-70% of sexual assaults and crimes are committed by person(s) known to the victim
  • 30% of sexual assaults are committed by a intimate partner
The statistics are startling, scary, and make the blood boil of any person with a conscious. Even with about 40% of sexual assaults reported to authorities, there is only a 50% chance of an arrest. If an arrest is actually made, there is only an 80% chance of prosecution. If, by chance, a felony conviction occurs, there is only a 69% chance the convicted with serve jail time. That means that in the 40% of assaults reported, there is only a 16.3% chance that the assailant will serve a jail sentence. Therefore, factoring in unreported cases, only 6% of sexual abusers and rapists will spend time in jail. Sexual assault doesn’t just happen by men against women, men are victims of rape, sexual abuse/assault, and incest as well. In the US, as of a national report published in 2003, just over 10% of sexual assault victims in the US were men or boys.
But the statistics of crimes and reporting of assaults is not nearly as troubling as the statistics of how Americans think about sexual assault:
  • About 50% of college women who were sexually assaulted did not consider the attack a crime
  • In a survey of high school students, 56& of girls and 76% of boys (some were incoming college freshmen) believed that forced sex was acceptable in some situations
At least one factor on how and why the genders have such a skewed view on sexual based crimes may be the pervasive availability and use of pornography, strip club environments, internet and phone sex services, and escort and prostitution services. In a study published in July of this year, Boston-based researcher Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research and Education, commented on how difficult it was to find a control group for her study of men who pay for sexual services.
“We had big, big trouble finding nonusers. We finally had to settle on a definition of non-sex-buyers as men who have not been to a strip club more than two times in the past year, have not purchased a lap dance, have not used pornography more than one time in the last month, and have not purchased phone sex or the services of a sex worker, escort, erotic masseuse, or prostitute.” (Newsweek, July 25, 2011, page 61)
The prevalence of and ease of acquiring sexual services in the digital age has flooded the marketplace, so to speak, with so many easily attainable options that many men and women don’t see most sex industry activities as prostitution. “The more the commercial sex industry normalizes this behavior, the more of this behavior you get,” says Norma Ramos, executive director of the Coalition Against Traffiking in Women, in the same article. Paying for sex has become ordinary, as have feelings that not all forced sexual situations constituent assault or rape or that violence against sex workers is acceptable.
“Overall, the attitudes and habits of sex buyers reveal them to be men who dehumanize and commodify women, view them with anger and contempt, lack empathy for their suffering, and relish their own ability to inflict pain and degradation. Sex buyers are more likely to view sex as divorced from personal relationships than nonbuyers, and they enjoyed the absence of emotional involvement with prostitutes, whom they saw as commodities… In their interviews, the sex buyers often voiced aggression toward women, and were nearly eight times as likely as nonbuyers to say they would rape a woman if they could get away with it. Asked why he bought sex, one man said he liked to “beat women up.” Sex buyers in the study committed more crimes of every kind than nonbuyers, and all crimes associated with violence against women were committed by buy purchasers of sex.” (Newsweek, July 25, 2011, page 61)
The bottom line is this: Why should the lack of action at Penn State bother us now given the historical lack of action to aid and defend victims of sexual assault in this country and bring their accusers to justice? I wonder how many sexual assaults go unreported on Penn State’s campus annually. Why are there no national press conferences shining a light on the fact that 1 in 4 women will be raped or assaulted in college? We’ve let some many “little things” slip past us, become commonplace, that it takes something as shockingly disturbing as serial pedophilia to shock us awake and force us to ask ourselves the hard questions.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Feminism, US

One response to “It’s the Little Things

  1. existentialfish

    Well argued. My basic rule of thumb regarding rape jokes (and please correct me if I’m wrong, this is not something I’ve spent hours refining) is that they’re only OK when aimed at the rapists or something like that. Aiming jokes at rape victims is basically beyond the pale.

    I’m a big believer in that any subject can have funny jokes, but that doesn’t mean (as way too many seem to think) that any attempted joke is somehow equally valid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s