By Liza Doubossarskaia, NOW Communications Intern
A high school girl is gang raped for two and a half hours at her high school homecoming dance. The atrocity takes place in an isolated part of campus, but there are witnesses to the crime. Fifteen young men watch as another human’s life is violated. Some use their cell phones to take pictures and make videos, while others join in on the rape. Not one of them uses his phone to call for help.
What can you possibly say to adequately respond to the bone chilling brutality of the event? And how do you make sense of the fact that fifteen boys stood by and did absolutely nothing to help the girl?
I’ve seen a lot of outraged comments calling the men involved “monsters” and “animals,” but the truth is even more terrifying than the idea of individuals completely devoid of consciousness. The men involved in the crime aren’t so different from anybody else. It is the banality of evil in its purest form. Social psychologists have explained that horrendous acts are committed by regular people who would rather conform to social pressure than be ostracized by their peer group.
Here’s another scary part: We have always lived in a society that constantly devalues women and strips them of their personhood. In this context, rape is more than egregious violation of human rights; it is part of a violent and demeaning sexist culture. Modern culture continues to recycle woman-hating attitudes in misogynistic video games, movies and music (how many sexist jokes have you heard in the last 24 hours?), but these attitudes are nothing new. Also isn’t new is the assumption that men will continue to rape.
Consider this: 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. The statistic is with us every hour of every day of our lives. It is a statistic that prevents us from wearing what we want, going where we want, and doing what we want, for fear that we’ll leave ourselves vulnerable to rape. It is a statistic that severely threatens our freedom of movement, expression and association.
People say that “boys will be boys,” and so the responsibility of avoiding rape is placed on a woman. If she is sexually assaulted, many will quickly point out that she is the one to blame because she failed to follow “the rules.” Even in a case as horrific as the gang rape at Richmond High School, the police still found it necessary to inform the press that the victim was intoxicated at the time of her assault.
Society normalizes violence against women and women-as-sexual-objects attitudes and then blames the victim for what had happened to her. Society makes it easy for a rapist to claim “she wanted it,” thus absolving him from all responsibility. Yet, 98% of rapists are men, and men can stop rape by not raping. The question isn’t why teenage boys at the homecoming dance did nothing to help the girl; the question is when will society start pressuring men to stop rape and the systematic devaluation of women?