Normalization of Sexual Violence and Its Legitimacy Through Language and Discourse Through Speech and Writing

High School Social Party

“it is unconscionable that anyone would treat another human being this way, be proud of such behavior, then post it online for anyone to see.” ~Gender and Violence, “The Presence of Rape Myths in the Virtual World: A Qualitative Textual Analysis of the Steubenville Sexual Assault Case” by authors Anna E. Kosloski, PhD, Bridget K. Diamond-Welch, and Olivia Mann, PhD.

I have written various posts in the past that touch upon the inhumanity found in the human race. Another such instance of unconscionable behavior is the Steubenville sexual assault case in which the sexual assault of a young teenager was documented through the social media accounts of fellow students who attended Steubenville High School in Ohio. The rape occurred August 11, 2012 and involved a young girl, who was unconscious at the time of the rape. She was carried aloft by by her hands and feet by two football players attending a social party. Of course there was alcohol involved and a careful analysis of the social media content regarding this sexual assault were studied, analyzed, and a reported in Violence and Gender. The alcohol narrative was clear, in that male and female students believed the girl was” at fault” for her own rape because she got drunk.

“Yeah, it’s sad about what happened in Steubenville, but the boys aren’t completely at fault. Don’t get sloppy drunk homegirl.”

Not only was the young girl raped by two high school football students, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, but she was photographed and video footage of the rape with the two football players urinating on her after the crime took place were also published via social media accounts.

The research study conducted by Anna E. Kosloski, PhD, Bridget K. Diamond-Welch, and Olivia Mann, PhD reported the discovery of dominant narratives surrounding sexual violence and supportive evidence of a rape culture in American society. These dominant narratives involve myths surrounding rape which are prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists. Although widely believed by both men and women alike, they are persistently held and are completely false. These myths serve to delegitimize claims of rape by attacking components of the rape itself. For example, phrases like:

“… wasn’t really a rape.”

“….the woman did something to invite the rape or is lying.”

“….the perpetrator did not know what he was doing, and therefore must be innocent.”

“….he is not someone who would actually rape a woman.”

Myths About “Real Rape”

There is a “real rape” stereo typical rape situation in which many people believe that a “real rape” is an attack by a stranger or an unsuspecting victim in an outdoor location, involving the use of threat of force by the assailant and active physical resistance by the victim.

“…..real rape requires the element of physical violence where the victim fights back and sustains injury.”

“…..women’s bodies naturally consent to penetration and therefore rape is not traumatic.”

“…..rape is something women can get over easily.”

Three (3) sub-categories for real rape myths are as follows:

(1) Sexual violence against women is normal, expected, or not a big deal;
(2) Injury is needed to prove a rape has occurred; and
(3) Comments about whether perpetrators and victims were strangers or knew each other.

Narratives used to legitimize a victim of rape are based on the false premise that a victim can prevent the sexual assault

“Victims provoke sexual assault through clothing, drinking, or so-called risky behaviors such as walking alone.”

“To be cast as the perfect rape victim, or a victim who is seen as blameless, a woman has to be what Stevenson (2000) calls an “unequivocal victim”. Such a victim is usually nonsexual, pure, moral, young, white, and avoids any behavior that could be seen as “asking for it.” She should appear distressed, report her assault right away, and have witnesses to corroborate her story and distress.”

“Generally, women who put themselves in dangerous situations by going somewhere or doing something they are not supposed to do are seen as inviting rape.”

“Drinking is one such way a woman can put herself in danger.”

“Women who are highly promiscuous, and especially women who have been intimate with their rapist, are “leading men on” and have therefore invited their own rape.”

“Women can also lead men on with their appearance, especially by dressing provocatively.”

“Women frequently make false rape allegations by “crying rape.”

“These false accusations may be attempts to get revenge, cover up an affair, or reframe a consensual experience the woman regrets.”

Rape victims are characterized in one of three ways:

(1) Comments about how she should have done more to prevent the assault;
(2) Her behavior somehow “asked” for the assault; and
(3) that she was promiscuous.

Myths About The Perpetrator

Rape myths about the rapist frequently function to lessen the rapist’s guilt. For example, normal male sexual aggression may be viewed on the grounds that men are entitled to sex or unable to control their sexual urges. All these beliefs are an attempt to normalize sexual violence and to further legitimize it through the use of language and discourse over social media. One of the major misguided and stated myths is that rape is purely motivated by a desire for sex, this myth serves to lessen a perpetrator’s culpability. Another way culpability can be limited is with the myth that rapists are insane or deviant or not representative of men generally.

An interesting point the article discusses is the idea that women are always consenting to men who are deemed socially attractive, so if a woman is socializing with a socially attractive men she is interested in becoming involved with, then its not “real rape.” These “high status” and thus socially attractive males rape actions are thus, socially understandable. Thus the “characterization of perpetrators” was analyzed through inclusion of three subcategories. In the Steubenville sexual assault case, these included the following:

(1) Adolescent males don’t know better;
(2) good guys who make a mistake should not be penalized or penalized heavily; and
(3) a conviction would ruin their lives.

Reactions on social media were instantly quick to judge the victim on how she was supposed to behave both at the party and after the assault. Online witnesses, Steubenville community members, and strangers on social media platforms attempted to discredit Jane Doe’s story by referring to her as a liar. The two boys, Mays and Richmond’s status as members of the football team became an important part of the narrative about whether they actually could be legitimate perpetrators of sexual violence. Their “football hero” status was used to characterize the boys and excuse their behavior and call into question Jane Doe’s character. It is fair to say that analysis of the rape through social media comments and tags reflected a narrative wealth of victim blaming and excuses made for the perpetrators on how this “one-time” mistake would ruin the boys future lives.

Whereas social media can be used as a platform to spread misguided myths about victim and perpetrator, it can also be a used as a platform delegitimize these misguided beliefs through academic debate, dialogue and logic. We as humans, living together on this planet, have a responsibility to bust these rape myths that normalize not only sexual violence but physical violence as well. Phrases like, “If she behaved in that manner she deserved to die!” Or, “If she behaved in that manner she deserved to be raped!” Or “If she behaved in that manner she deserved to be beaten!” No one deserves vigilante justice. No one deserves to have an arbitrary judge and jury.

Kosloski, Anna E.; Diamond-Welch, Bridget K. (Ph.D.); Mann, Olivia (Ph.D.), The Presence of Rape Myths in the Virtual World: A Qualitative Textual Analysis of the Steubenville Sexual Assault Case. Gender and Violence. Vol. 5, No.3 (published online October 5, 2018)

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