Why do we shame victims rather than rapists?

Another disturbing case of a teen’s sexual assault that was recorded, distributed, and the victim-shaming that followed. What would it take to move from a culture of victim-blaming to perpetrator-shaming? Of course, we are happy to ostracize sex offenders when we can see them as deviant strangers, as we do with sex offender registries, and that’s not productive. But when it’s an acquaintance, a boyfriends, a fellow partygoer, we pivot 180 degrees and blame the victim. There has to be a way to change this, so that when people learn about–or even see–a rape, the default, common reaction is to criticize the rapist, not the victim. Not to see him as a monster, but to see that he harmed someone and did a bad thing. It sounds pretty simple, and yet, it’s not happening.

In these moments, I am reminded of Sarah Projansky’s work on the ubiquity of representations of rape in film and popular culture. And I think this helps us understand that these incidents, like Steubenville, are not about teenagers or social media. The ideas about rape they demonstrate are absolutely endemic to our culture. The question is: how do we burn those ideas down?

The fact that Jada, the 16-year-old victim in this case is speaking publicly is astounding. Her bravery, confidence, and clarity about what happened to her is the only encouraging thing about this terrible incident. She says:

I had no control. I didn’t tell anyone to take my clothes off and do what they did to me. … I’m just angry.

If everyone thought about rape as Jada explains it here, we’d be a long way towards solving this problem. She shouldn’t have to explain these things to us. She shouldn’t have to be brave. But we all should all be angry. (edited)


Update: Important analysis from Robin Boylorn at CFC about the complications of celebrating Jada’s bravery:

While I join others in supporting and celebrating Jada’s bravery I worry that being proud of her stoicism is an improper response to the trauma she has experienced.  Jada is 16 years old and not only has she been raped, but publicly exposed, outed, mocked, teased and threatened.  Rape victims are usually afforded privacy and time in which to process the trauma.  Jada, however, has been put in a public spotlight and interrogated about an event with consequences that far exceed the immediate backlash and immaturity of peers. Perhaps instead of being proud of her for being strong we should let her be visibly devastated, distraught, shocked, and inconsolable.  Maybe instead of being impressed that blackgirls can withstand so much suffering and become role models for strength, we should be concerned about their emotional wellness, their vulnerability, their humanity.

… The problem with blackgirl strength is that it never lets up. Blackgirls don’t have the luxury of a time out or a break to breathe. The problem with blackgirl strength is that our very lives are stake and if we don’t learn to mask our pain we won’t know how to survive. The problem with blackgirl strength is that practice makes perfect and after while we have that strength, no pain, never let ‘em see you sweat ish down pat. The problem with blackgirl strength is that it doesn’t offer protection. The problem with blackgirl strength is that nobody ever tells us we don’t have to be strong and we don’t know how not to be. That is a problem.

Child abuse in the name of preventing … child abuse

In the latest absurd sexting news, prosecutors want to induce an erection in a 17-year boy and photograph it in order to prove he sent a picture of his penis to his 15-year-old girlfriend. This is truly unbelievable, but it’s reported in the Washington Post, Alternet, and elsewhere.

I have to agree with the commenter on Gawker who points out the ridiculous irony:

So sexting your girlfriend a picture of your junk is wrong, but sexually assaulting a minor and taking photos of it is ok?

There aren’t a lot of details about this case yet, but it appears that the 17-year-old sent it to her consensually and her parents are upset. The legal issue with teen sexting is that by taking a photo of his erect penis, technically he produced, possessed, and sent child pornography (of himself) and she also possessed it. Usually prosecutors will only pursue these cases if there is some clear harm in the incident. But at the same time, an estimated 7% of all child pornography production arrests in 2009 were for consensual behavior between minors with no aggravating factors. In other words, a couple hundred teens are being arrested each year for consensual sexual behavior.

This is unjust and absurd. In the US it’s currently unconstitutional to arrest same-sex couples for consensual sex. Why are we still criminalizing consensual teen sex?

The sexting-study news cycle

I’m quoted in a CBS News article today.

Hasinoff cautions parents not to worry excessively about kids who spend a lot of time texting. “I don’t know that texting a lot is a particular problem,” she said.

“We need to think of cellphones as a way that kids communicate. You’d never say kids are talking to their classmate too much at recess, or that they used 1,000 words at recess, and that’s excessive,” she added.

… The study says parents may wish to “openly monitor” their kids’ cellphones. But Hasinoff said “that sends the exact wrong message.”

Parents should talk about the importance of privacy and serve as role models, she said. “We want to be teaching kids to respect the privacy of other kids and develop the sense that privacy really matters,” she explained.

Kids should also learn about the need to gain consent for any kind of sexual behavior, including sending someone sexually explicit photos, she added.

This article also illustrates the way that research gets translated into headlines. The study itself was careful to mention that different sexting behaviors were correlated with both riskier sexual behavior and condom use. And the authors noted that the number of young people who were sexually active was too small to draw any conclusions about that. But there it is in the headline, a conclusion: “In middle school, sexting linked to riskier behavior.”

Mobile phones and the 4th Amendment

The Supreme Court ruled today that cell phones cannot be searched without a warrant. It’s a relief, especially since the decision was unanimous. But did the police officers who searched phones without warrants in the first place really think that their actions were constitutional? Were they just hoping to get away with it? Indeed there are some exceptions to the 4th Amendment, which are explained here.

There are so many ways in which the privacy of our mobile phone content is violated. But maybe this ruling is a step towards getting back on track and reigning in the NSA.

“Sexting’s perverse double standard: Why girls are set up to fail”

There’s a great new article on sexting up at Salon.com today by S E Smith. Perhaps I am biased because the author mentioned my Sexting as media production article, but I think it’s a great overview of the sexism in the ways we tend to think about sexting.

Smith concludes:

The real problem isn’t sexually explicit messaging, which is simply a normal expression of adolescent sexuality. It’s how we’re raising our boys, and what we’re telling them about girls.

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