This is the sixth and final post in the Steubenville Reflection Series featured on Our Stories Untold the week of March 24-29. It includes two authors submissions. Please feel free to look over the pasts week’s posts and share your own reflections and responses to this tragic event.
Your Sexual Morality is Not My Responsibility by Brooke Natalie Blough
I can still remember declaring that to my male classmates, utterly exasperated with the discussion we were having about our school’s dress code.
I went to a small, Mennonite high school in rural Ohio and (for reasons I don’t remember) we were discussing the merits of our strict dress code in class. The boys, many of whom were my close friends, were attempting to convince me that they couldn’t help but think about sex if they could see my shoulders or thighs. The way I’m restating it isn’t the way they said it; but, honestly, that’s what they were trying to convince me—that if my skirt came above my knee or if my shirt didn’t have sleeves, they would be overcome by deviant sexual thoughts
But, more importantly, both these boys in my class and the administration of my school were trying to tell me that this was my entire problem and not the boys’. My teenage mind knew as well then as my adult one does now: “Your sexual morality is not my responsibility!”
This, in my opinion, is a seemingly innocent component of rape culture. In the wake of Steubenville (which is not very different or far from where I grew up) I have been thinking a lot about what we teach our youth about responsibility. What about the teens at these parties in Steubenville who stood by and took photos? Why didn’t a single one of them take the responsibility of doing something to stop it? I can’t know for sure, but I would imagine that some of them were thinking “Well, if she didn’t want this, she shouldn’t have gone out with these guys. If she didn’t want this, she shouldn’t have gotten drunk. If she didn’t want this, she shouldn’t have been dressed so provocatively.”
And how can we blame them for thinking these things if we are teaching boys that they are sexual animals, incapable of controlling themselves, so that burden lay on the women around them? Of course these boys at my high school thought that rape was something I needed to guard against and not something that they needed to worry about. And if it’s my responsibility alone to guard against their sexual depravity, then it’s “my fault” when I don’t.
I’m not saying that modesty is not important, but teaching our young women that the only reason to be modest is because their bodies are dangerous to the men around them is extremely harmful. Rather, we should be teaching them to be modest out of respect and love for themselves. They should be modest because not being modest is giving in to the world telling them that their only value is as an object. When we teach girls to cover up because the object of their body is the issue, we are teaching them to objectify themselves. Modesty should be taught as a celebration of inner beauty and a rejection of the world’s objectification of women, not as a way to guard against the sin of others.
The Terrifying Reality of Sexual Assault
by Beth Lambier
There is no justice for a survivor of sexual assault in a society where the victim is responsible for preventing rape. The archaic belief that rape is somehow removed from well-lit areas of civilization is partially to blame for the dogmatic victim-blaming we engage in every time a woman reports that she was assaulted. Her behavior, her wardrobe and her choices are suddenly open to public scrutiny: was she drinking? Why was she dressed in a halter top? Why was she hanging out with men she hardly knew? These questions are designed to not only attack the victim’s credibility but to insidiously suggest that only certain types of women are raped.
As a young girl, my mother taught me that there was safety in numbers. If I was going somewhere – especially at night – I should only do so in the company of people I trusted. But that’s the other part of the equation, isn’t it? Rape doesn’t lurk behind dumpsters waiting for inebriated, scantily clad women to victimize. The majority of rapes are committed by boyfriends, friends, co-workers and husbands, as documented by RAINN.org:
- 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone the victim knew
- 73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger
- 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance
- 28% are an intimate
- 7% are a relative
This is the terrifying reality of sexual assault.
It’s in our bedrooms with our “trusted” boyfriends and husbands. It’s in our vehicles when we offer a “trusted” co-worker a lift home. It’s in our living rooms with our “trusted” friends after we drink a bit too much and fall asleep. And the culture that permits this behavior is so pervasive that we don’t even label these assaults as rape but as unwanted sex or the result of poor communication.
Or a last-ditch effort by a “treacherous slut” to save a tarnished reputation and ruin the lives of outstanding young men with promising futures.
What happened to Jane Doe in Steubenville was a gruesome manifestation of a culture that believes men have the right to savagely attack and exploit a woman whose behavior could be considered immodest. The very constructs that shame Doe and question her culpability in regards to her own attack also cement the silence of millions of other survivors.
We need to change how society views rape and the only way to do that is to challenge every person who asks what women can do to prevent it.