A Dispatch From America’s Rape Capital
The violent gang-rape and subsequent death of a 23 year old woman in New Delhi, India, has once again wrestled attention toward the systemic threat women face around the world.
When this kind of atrocity happens in another country, especially a country populated by dark skinned people, it becomes an opportunity for lighter-skinned countries to emphasize the otherness of rape.
In an article from Counterpunch yesterday, Jessica Namakkal concludes her piece with a shot at the “western press” and it’s coverage:
The Western Press has responded to the violence and the protests in India with a plea to act more like a civilized country. A New York Times editorial, titled “Rape in the World’s Largest Democracy,” published on December 28, 2012 reads,
Many victims, shamed into silence and callously disregarded by a male-dominated power structure, never go to the authorities to seek justice.
Women are routinely blamed for inciting violence against them.
Are we really meant to believe that this is particular to India? According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), 54% of all sexual assaults in the United States are not reported to the police, 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, the overwhelming number of whom are women of color.
The New York Times, in line with other major international publications, are calling on India to address violence against women, because, “India, a rising economic power and the world’s largest democracy, can never reach its full potential if half its population lives in fear of unspeakable violence.” This sentence, written during the same month that witnessed the second-largest mass school shooting in American history, and during an election year that saw the GOP challenging the rights of women to access health care, birth control, and abortion services, indicates a lack of self-awareness of superpowers like the United States to issues facing all people, not just those in “less developed” nations such as India. While it is certainly true that the Indian people are currently faced with an urgent need to come together and work for the improvement of gender relations and the rights of women, this situation is not unique to India. The rape and murder of the unnamed 23-year-old woman in Delhi should serve as a wake-up call to people around the world that gender inequalities, sexual violence, and the repression of minority voices are built into the structures of the nation-states that claim to protect us. While historians do not always have access to the silenced voices of women from the past, the women and men of India are currently out in the streets screaming for the whole world to hear. The only hope there is in eliminating the rampant sexual violence that exists, not just in India but globally, is in challenging those who repress these voices, and who continue to perpetuate the neo-colonial patriarchal state.
Back here in America, in Steubenville, Ohio to be exact, an alleged rape-culture celebration by two members of a high school football team is getting serious attention, thanks in part to Anonymous’ intrusion into the case.
The description of the alleged crime is extremely graphic:
Witnesses, some also on the football team, testified at a probable cause hearing that Mays and Richmond spent most of the night of Aug. 11 standing over, directing, transporting, and otherwise controlling the blacked-out drunk victim, who they carried to three separate parties. According to the New York Times, witnesses claim that Mays and Richmond tried to coerce the victim into oral sex, exposed her naked body as a joke to other partygoers, penetrated her digitally, and exposed themselves to her. Other Steubenville students on Twitter and YouTube say they witnessed even worse violations, including urinating on the victim and anal rape, though these are not official statements. (And sadly, these students were more delighted than upset by what they allegedly saw.) While it appears that multiple students taped and photographed the alleged assault, officials claim they haven’t been able to turn up much in the way of evidence, because the evidence has been deleted.
If true, or even remotely accurate, one has to wonder how many young people were at these multiple parties, who through their failure to stop this grotesque revelry, silently condoned it.
For those of us who live in Missoula, temporarily dubbed America’s rape capital by Jezebel writer Katie Baker, we have all experienced the extreme discomfort of being forced to realize how deeply the roots of our rape culture go.
At the Indy, this response exhibited the need to pick apart the messenger. I can understand the hope that a visiting journalist would take a more balanced, nuanced look at the dynamics of our town when reporting on such an emotionally charged issue, but at the same time I feel like, well, the scandal here is so far reaching, it’s time to take our lumps, allow the investigations to proceed (Fred), and do a little collective introspection about how rape culture got so engrained and easily dismissed by our community leaders.
Here’s an excerpt from Baker’s story:
Most people I speak with struggle to differentiate between drunk sex and drunk sexual assault. They’re unable to parrot the politically correct buzzwords they think they should say (“no is no”) without adding a caveat or two (“but girls here are attention whores.”) For example, everyone agrees that, in the words of a man I meet under the disconcertingly fluorescent lighting at a divey sports bar called Missoula Club, football players in particular “don’t need to rape to get fucked.” This is despite the fact that at least six of the school’s football players were involved in the cases currently being investigated by the federal probe.
I am dying to meet some football players, and ask everyone I meet if they can help that happen. A few people try, but their Griz friends never text back once they hear there’s a reporter in town. “Go to Stockman’s” is their next best suggestion. I actually start tallying the number of people who tell me to go to Stockman’s if I want to get roofied or raped. (Also, bizarrely, most people I meet, both guys and girls, claim to have been roofied in Missoula at some point.) The one unabashed Stockman’s fan I meet tells me it’s the best late-night bar because “everyone is so wasted at Stock’s that anything can happen. Everyone is wasted, dancing, and it’s the perfect excuse to flirt with the people you’ve seen in class all semester.” But I lose count of those who call it the “creep bar,” or the “date-rape bar,” or the bar that’s impossible to leave without getting groped at least once. These are often the same people who say girls in Missoula are “well, kind of asking for it.”
Though I do my best to be perpetually righteous (kinda-snark) I was called out back in February for how I angrily responded to the allegation of sexual assault by a Saudi Arabian exchange student attending UM.
So while I post colonial critiques of the Western response to the rape and murder of a young woman in India, when these issues get closer to home, and more emotional, sometimes ugly things rise to surface. It did with me, obviously.
Earlier today, I read this article at Salon.com about a fatwa being issued by a Saudi Arabian cleric calling for “short-term marriages,” for fighters in Syria, a euphemism for rape. Then tonight, when I tried to find the story, it wasn’t there.
Instead I found a mea culpa from Alternet, titled Exhibit A in How an Islamophobic Meme Can Spread Like Wildfire Across the Internet, and after the mea culpa, a bit of digging behind how this story came to be:
…the story also raises many questions. For starters, where did it come from? AlterNet inadvertently picked it up from the overtly anti-Islamic Clarion Fund site. Others pointed to the Iranian regime-backed Press TV as the primary source on Dec. 31, 2012. But the earliest English language reporting comes on December 29 from an obscure YouTube news site called Eretz Zen, tagged as a YouTube channel by a “secular Syrian opposed to having [his] country turned into a Taliban-like state.”
What’s extraordinary and depressing is that a slew of Web sites picked up the story and ran with it, some claiming legitimacy because others had posted it and clearly no one bothered to do some basic fact-checking. Arguably this is just the nature of the net and minute by minute news updates. The story was too sensational to give up. But one would imagine that if a similar story emerged about a Christian cleric or a rabbi, someone, somewhere would have paused before posting it. Sadly, in the case of stories about Muslim clerics or Islamists the same red flags don’t seem to apply.
Perhaps Western journalists are so ignorant of Islam and the cultures in the Middle East that they are willing to believe anything. It’s nothing new — after all, Western notions of the East were always immured in sexual decadence and the allure of harems. That was a trademark of the patronizing Orientalism of the past. Today we have a phobic version of Orientalism — expecting and only seeing and reporting the bad and the ugly.
It’s not just ignorance that fans these flames. The Syrian war is being manipulated by all sides and if journalists and their Web sites want to be taken seriously, they need to be bit more savvy about who’s who on the net. The Clarion Fund is so extreme in its Islamophobia it’s almost satirical. Anything it posts must be taken with a pinch of salt and more. Press TV is the English language satellite station of the Iranian regime. Given that the Syrian conflict is turning into a de facto proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it should come as no surprise that either side would opt for any smear tactics and propaganda for its own ends. Finally, the timing of the so-called story should have been questioned. It broke just as the world was up in arms about the death of a 23-year-old Indian woman gang-raped by six men on a bus. It’s hard to imagine this would be so coincidental.
While the global political dynamics behind this false report are difficult to track, the domestic politics of the GOP’s war against women is a bit simpler to understand, because it goes something like this:
Of the many interconnected issues facing us in 2013 and beyond, the violence and oppression of women across the globe will be central. And while thinking globally is important, it’s how we respond locally that ultimately matters.