RANTS AND RAMBLES

Because sometimes, things just need to be said.

Welcome to the USA! Home of State Sanctioned Rape

There have been a litany of scathing reports, fuming missives, and social media rages since the release of the U.S. Senate Torture Report this week. If you want to read it in all its horrific detail, you can do so here.

But there is one component that – especially now, when sexual assault and rape culture is a prominent subject of public discourse – is truly nauseating. Under the authority of the United States government, CIA agents used anal penetration as a method of force feeding prisoners.

Attorney and Cornell Law Professor Michael C. Dorf explains it well:

Rectal feeding was originally developed as a means of providing nutrition for people who could not eat regularly–either because they were incapable of doing so or refused to do so–but was largely replaced in medicine once intravenous drips and other methods became reliable. The CIA used rectal feeding and hydration on Khan and other prisoners who were engaging in hunger strikes.

There is no really good method for providing unwanted food and water to a hunger striker. An IV can be difficult to administer to a struggling prisoner and takes a long time. As I noted in a Verdict column last year, it is not even clear that it is legal to force-feed prisoners via a nasogastric tube. But at least there’s a plausible medical argument for using an IV and/or nasogastric tube if one has decided that forced feeding is appropriate. By contrast, there was no medical reason why the CIA chose rectal feeding and hydration for its prisoners. Instead, the Report concludes, the method was chosen as a means of exercising total control over prisoners.

The CIA used rectal feeding and rectal hydration–rather than some less instrusive method of forced feeding or no forced feeding at all–specifically for the purpose of inflicting pain and humiliation on the prisoners. Put more starkly, in addition to threatening to rape the mothers of some of its prisoners, the CIA used rectal feeding and rectal hydration to anally rape prisoners.

For those still confused, let’s break this down simply:

  1. CIA agents forcibly engaged in anal penetration of non-consenting human beings. This was rape.
  2. CIA agents did so even though it was not medically necessary. This was rape.
  3. CIA agents did so even though there were more humane methods of forcible feeding, however questionable the practice in general may be. This was rape.
  4. The torture report revealed that victims of these tactics suffered from, “chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure and symptomatic rectal prolapse.” These, incidentally, are common symptoms of anal rape. This was rape.
  5. The torture report found that the tactic was used as a means of exerting “total control” over the prisoners. This was about power. This was rape.
  6. CIA agents engaged in this behavior under the direction and with the approval of our government. THIS WAS STATE SANCTIONED RAPE.

And we wonder why the state so rarely brings rape cases to trial. We wonder why so many people bend over backwards to discredit the stories of survivors. We wonder why police officers ask irrelevant questions like, “What were you wearing?” We wonder why survivors so rarely come forward. We wonder why survivors are blamed for not being safer or better defending themselves. We wonder why college campuses have determined that expulsion is an appropriate punishment for rape in the rare cases where they find for the survivor. We wonder why those who speak out against rape culture are targeted with rape threats.

Maybe it’s because we live in a country where our government says rape is just necessary sometimes.

 

 

 

16 Things You Should Know About the UVA Rape Story Scandal

If you’ve been paying attention to the news as of late, you know that rape has been one of the top subjects of the moment. While conversations about sexual violence and rape culture have become more visible in the wake of cases like Steubenville, this particular uptick in discourse was the result of a gruesome, terrifying story published by Rolling Stone.

The story shares the account of a woman identified as Jackie. She was raped by a group of men, discouraged from pursuing justice by counselors, and failed by her school. In the aftermath, even more women were attacked in the same fraternity where she was brutalized. All of this occurred at a school currently under investigation by the government for the way in which it handles sexual violence, and where verses of the school’s fight song glorify misogyny, sexual coercion, and sexual assault.

The article went viral, and reignited calls for dialogue on campus sexual violence and rape culture in general. For a moment, that is. Not long after the article was published, several other pieces came out questioning the legitimacy of Jackie’s story. They pointed to an incorrect detail in her account, and criticized Rolling Stone for failing to reach out to the accused rapists – a decision that was made after Jackie requested they not be identified out of concern for their privacy. The growing storm ultimately prompted this apology from Rolling Stone.

But before you get up on a soapbox and brandish this tale as a reason to silence the conversations about rape culture, there are some things you oughta know about this three ring circus.

1. This is not about a false accusation. The point in question has to do with her memory of the events. And memory following a traumatic event is often imperfect. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t raped. That means she’s a human being who was traumatized. As Rolling Stone pointed out in their own apology, there are a litany of corroborating stories to back Jackie’s version of events.

2. No, really – this is not about a false accusation. Some of the loudest critics of Jackie’s story point out several bits of information that indicate the ring leader of the attack – initially identified as a member of the Phi Psi fraternity chapter on UVA’s campus – was not, in fact, a member. The fact that she got the association wrong doesn’t mean she wasn’t attacked. She knows his name. She knows his face. She can identify him. The odds of that being a false accusation are insanely low (see here and here, for starters).

3. Just because that ring leader wasn’t Phi Psi doesn’t mean the others involved were not.

4. Even if none of the attackers were members of Phi Psi, that doesn’t mean they weren’t in a fraternity on campus.

5.  Critics have pointed out that Phi Psi has said there were no date functions or formal events on the night in question. Just because there was nothing formal or scheduled doesn’t mean there wasn’t a party there that night. If you’ve ever had any exposure to frat culture, you know that not every party happens that way. And realistically, this fraternity chapter has every reason to lie about whether an impromptu party occurred; Jackie has none. In the meantime, there are others who have confirmed there was indeed a party that night.

6. Even if no fraternity brothers were involved at all in the attack – which looks highly unlikely at this moment – that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an attack.

7. Even if no fraternity brothers were involved, that doesn’t deny the prevalence of fraternity-connected sexual violence prevalence on campuses. Before the deluge of comments come in: I AM NOT ARGUING THAT ALL FRATERNITY BROTHERS ARE RAPISTS. What I AM arguing is that a 2007 study confirmed the findings of research published in 2005 and 1999 and many more before that. The conclusion? Men who join a fraternity are more likely to commit rape than those who do not, and are more sexually aggressive. But that doesn’t matter. Instead of tackling the issue head on, these misogynist attitudes are more than tolerated in frat communities, with ongoing denial of the issues and defense of frat culture being the norm.

8. Fraternity skepticism aside, there is still a significant problem with sexual violence on our college campuses. A report from the Department of Justice in 2007 found that one in five women will be sexually assaulted at some point during their undergraduate career. Stories like Jackie’s are important because they raise awareness of the problem and give those nauseating statistics the humanity necessary to prompt discourse and change.

9. Fraternity skepticism aside once more, the manner in which universities sweep sexual violence under the rug is genuinely terrifying, and this story punctuates that horror. As Jennifer J. Freyd, research psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, wrote earlier this year:

As a social scientist researching campus sexual violence, I know that even the highest rates of official reported victimization on campuses are substantially lower than what social science data suggest are the real rates of sexual assault. The best national estimate is that approximately 1 in 5 women experience sexual violence in college. But the reported rates are nothing like this, even at those colleges with the highest rates.

Why? Victims of abuse are often reticent about making official reports because they fear the consequences, including being stigmatized or not being believed. This tendency to remain silent is then amplified by institutional barriers to reporting. Colleges and universities have a perverse incentive to discourage sexually victimized students from reporting assault, due to the reputational hit colleges experience if their reported rates of violence are higher than those of their competitors. It’s a profoundly dangerous status quo, because encouraging reporting is one of the key ways colleges can make campuses safer.

Sound like a problem to you? That’s because it is. In fact, the Department of Education is currently investigating over 90 schools in 35 states for their misconduct in this arena. This is rape culture.

10. Even when these crimes are reported on college campuses, the process used to adjudicate the claims is stomach turning.  There are no lawyers, no legal experts, no rape kits, no nothing. Just a good old-fashioned “he-said-she-said” circle jerk. Professors who may or may not have any knowledge on sexual violence make the decisions about guilt or innocence. And essentially, it comes down to whether or not they believe the story of the victim. Even when they do find the accused culpable, the biggest penalty that person will face is expulsion. As unjust as that might be on the surface, it’s even more dangerous when considered more thoroughly. As The Economist recently pointed out:

Studies suggest that the vast majority of campus assaults are committed by a small fraction of college men who tend to rape over and over again. So campuses would be safer if these habitual offenders were swiftly identified and arrested, rather than just expelled—leaving them free to go to another college and rape again.

This is rape culture.

11. This whole “gotcha” cacophony of folks attempting to discredit Jackie’s story is a larger than life example of what too many victims endure when they report. It’s the same old song and dance. In order for a victim to be “worthy” of justice in the eyes of the schools, the legal system, the media, the public, she must have the perfect background and a story confirmed exactly by a dozen other people (preferably males). Accordingly, of course it doesn’t matter that the majority of those who have spoken on this subject have confirmed the salient details of Jackie’s account. Because a handful of people did not tell the exact same version of events, the victim has been deemed unworthy here (in a chilling parallel to the way the Darren Wilson grand jury proceeding played out). This is why Jackie never found justice in the systems that were supposed to give her just that: an ugly and deeply ingrained cultural skepticism of sexual violence victims’ narratives. This is rape culture. 

12. As screwed up as it is that Jackie is now being revictimized all over again, there are even wider implications for this shameful state of affairs. Here was a young woman courageous enough to publicly share a very personal, very painful story, and she has been met with an avalanche of hyper-public disbelief. What message does that send to other scared victims? How many attacks will now go unreported for (frankly justified) fear of the same treatment? How many more women will be attacked as a result? This is rape culture.

13. In case you missed it, Jackie’s identity was recently outed by a conservative blogger on Twitter in a stunning departure from journalistic ethics and convention. Classy, right? Say what you will about Rolling Stone‘s decision to respect her request, but Jackie wouldn’t allow her attackers to be identified in the story out of respect for their privacy and an understanding of how vicious the news and social media cycle can be in the wake of such a story. But Johnson? Absolutely zero qualms about his decision.

Johnson

Yes, you read that right. He referred to a rape victim as an “opponent.” That’s not journalism; that’s being a shitty person. She’s already being threatened with violence by misogynists and MRAs via 4Chan and other notorious hubs for trolls and thugs. As Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women Action and the Media, told the Washington Post, this type of behavior only discourages reporting for fear of shaming, and leaves attackers free to strike again.

“[N]aming her was meant only to punish, and that’s not a journalistic principle,” she stated. “It’s meant to scare survivors and punish them for speaking out.”

This is victim shaming. This is revictimizing. This is rape culture.

14. While journalistic integrity may have called for a statement to be issued by Rolling Stone as new information came to the surface, the collective media reaction since has been vile. It’s not just tacky internet news sites and largely disrespected rags pushing out the sensationalist headlines; it’s the New York Times, it’s the Washington Post. Their words have been nothing short of unapologetic sneers at the significance of rape culture discourse. Again, what message does this send to victims? What message does this send to a too often ill-informed or uninterested public? Wonkette correctly identified what the not so subtle subtext of it all is earlier this week: “Let’s not talk about rape at all.”

This is rape culture. 

15. Absolutely none of the details being discussed here changes any of this. This is rape culture. 

16. Jackie – like so many before her and far too many to follow – deserved better than this. This is rape culture.

Listen, if after reading all of that, you still want to get up on that soapbox and rant and rave about misandry and feminazis and rampant false rape accusations and all such nonsense, that’s your right. But know this: You are part of rape culture. You are part of the problem. And you should be ashamed of yourself.

Your Privilege is Showing. Time to Fix That.

To my fellow white people who don’t “get” privilege:

I am angry and heart-broken and flabbergasted and disgusted and we need to talk.

I understand. I know there’s a lot going on right now.

No, that’s an understatement. There’s been a lot going on for a very long time.

Nope, scratch that –  systemic discrimination nothing short of cultural violence has been flowing through our most revered institutions for an embarrassingly long time.

And we need to take responsibility for that. You, and me, and everyone who has benefitted from the privilege as immutable as our skin tone or gender. Because our silence – our indifference – has made us complicit in the harm that system of privilege has dealt. And because our responses – and failure to engage the problematic responses of others – makes us part of the problem.

Here’s what we know. We know that police are trained in non-lethal submission tactics. We know they are trained to shoot to disable and wound, making lethal shots unnecessary. We know they are trained on the legal rights of the citizens they are meant to protect.

They are forbidden from using the choke hold that, per video and a coroner’s report, took the life of non-violent, unarmed citizen Eric Garner while he screamed that he couldn’t breathe eleven times. They are taught the techniques that made emptying an entire clip into young Mike Brown gratuitous and unforgivable. They go through an education that should have made killing a 12 year old boy who was carrying a gun they had been informed was fake an impossibility.

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And none of that has mattered. These men were taken down by cops who will never face justice, though the advocates who filmed their attacks will get jail time. Their dead bodies laid in the street as the subject of public ogling for hours on end. They weren’t the first, and they certainly won’t be the last. These protests may have been ignited by recent injustices, but these were catalysts after decades of pervasive injustice.

Today, black teens are 21 times more likely than their white counterparts to be killed by police. Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. On average, their sentences are 15% longer than their white counterparts who have committed a similar crime.

And cops like Darren Wilson never have to answer for their disproportionate reactions to black males because black men being scary by nature of being is still somehow an acceptable justification for violence against people of color. They’re hulks. They’re demon-like. It’s the echo of the savage black man myth of the slavery era, a less thought intensive take on phrenology.

Now, there are two conclusions you can reach when looking at this sort of data. Either you believe that there is something very wrong with the system, or you believe that black people are inherently more criminal and violent. The former is a behemoth of a problem that will require serious cultural changes. The latter is nothing less than racist.

And judging by the reactions that have come in the aftermath of Ferguson, those racists beliefs are more prominent than any of us are comfortable admitting. It’s time for some uncomfortable conversation.

Listen – stop trying to convince me that these victims weren’t innocent. I don’t give a fuck. It doesn’t matter what Mike Brown, Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice may or may not have done in the past. It doesn’t justify being slain in the street and laid out for public display. And last time I checked, the victim doesn’t have to prove themselves worthy to be deserving of justice in our legal system – at least in theory.

And before you get started, don’t you dare say that the protesters need to accept the verdicts in these cases because justice has been served. There is an avalanche of data out there that says our justice system is very rarely about justice. There is a long, long history of our courts doling out the opposite of justice on the basis of race. The amount of laws in this country that have been anything but just (including some still on the books) is staggering.

And quit it with your self-righteous monologues about the “destructive” protesters. You’re using the violent behavior of a small, small fraction of what has become a nationwide collective of peaceful protesters to make yourself feel better about shrugging off their very serious, very important, very relevant complaints. Sorry, not going to let you sleep easy on that one. The vast majority of people crying, “Hands up, Don’t shoot!” and “Black lives matter!” and “I can’t breathe!” aren’t destroying anything. They aren’t looting. They aren’t hurting people. They’re being hurt by police and barraged with tear gas that’s been forbidden in international combat, but they aren’t the thugs you’re painting them to be.

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And let’s be real: painting these protesters as thugs is unadulterated bullshit. Where was the pearl clutching on the hundreds of other occasions when white people lit cars on fire over sporting events? Where was the terror when white people drunkenly rioted in the streets of New Hampshire earlier this year over literally nothing?

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And while we’re on the topic of hypocrisy, how ‘bout that one riot that we tout as the epitome of patriotism? You know – the one where citizens destroyed public property over perceived injustice at the hands of the government? Not ringing a bell? I’m talking about the fucking Boston Tea Party.

Before you start trying to tell me it’s not the same, sit down and listen. I’m aware. The thing is, the white folks who threw a bunch of tea in the ocean had a clear adversary with a clear path forward and the ability to target a very specific symbol of their problems. Black people in America are fighting the ambiguous adversary of thinly veiled racial bias in the criminal justice system, U.S. workforce, and every day interactions. There is no clear path forward for cultural upheaval. There is no specific target for their well-justified heartbreak and anger. It may not be as clear cut as we prefer stories be in our history texts, but it is every bit as historic.

I’m not saying violence is cool. I don’t know many people who would. But you don’t need to condone the behavior to understand it. What you need to do is check your reactions to this situation by reflecting on how you’ve reacted to similar behavior from white people.

Oh – and all of you thinking that #AllLivesMatter is the answer – that #BlackLivesMatter is racist – shut the fuck up. There is no such thing as racism against white people, as a starting point. Racism is about systemic prejudice. There is no equivalent for white people. Nothing even remotely close. Shut up.

In most cases, it’s being used by white people looking to feel warm and fuzzy about “taking a stand.” So while I understand the desires behind #AllLivesMatter use, it’s still bullshit. The rate at which it’s being used to band together marginalized populations is nil, and the impact of its majority use outweighs its more appropriate use. 

On a larger level, distinct protest among cultural groups is not a function of exclusion; it is a function of narrative curation as a means of driving comprehension, and a recognition of the distinctive experiences of individuals from different cultures. The focus derived from that narrative curation facilitates a heightened understanding of specific problems, allowing for the development of specific solutions. Without that focus, we’re stuck singing kumbaya and staring down the same statistical representations of inequity.

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And if your primary complaint over all this has been that the protests have somehow marginally inconvenienced you over the course of your day to day lives, fuck you. Seriously. Fuck you. For far too many people in this country, these protests address what is a function of life and death, and you’re pissed about having to take the long way to get to Starbucks. You’re a bad person, and I don’t feel bad about saying that. Go reassess your life.

INCONVENIENCE

Wait, wait, wait, you may be saying. I’m not a judge. I’m not a cop. I don’t see color. I’ve worked hard to get where I am in life – you don’t know me. I’m not racist, and I’m certainly not privileged.

Let me be really clear about this: yes, you are privileged. Each of us experience privilege on some level or another, because it’s not a straight line; it’s a spectrum. The combination of our inherent traits – like gender, race, sexuality – and our circumstances – like income level, faith, geography – and our personal experiences combine to put us on a certain place on this spectrum. This isn’t a personal attack on you; it’s about the FACT that different people have very different experiences in this country, and in many cases, it’s a function of injustice.

YOU may believe you don’t see color. But BECAUSE you believe you “don’t see color,” you probably don’t see the impact color is having on the world around you. OPEN YOUR EYES.

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You may have worked very hard to get where you are. You may be a decent person. Admitting that you are privileged doesn’t deny any of that. In fact, it probably makes you a better person. It means you’re willing to acknowledge injustice. And that’s step one.

You may not be a cop, and you may not be a judge, but you live in a society where our systems are rigged to the disadvantage of our neighbors, and we owe it to each other to do something about that.

But before anything can be done, we have to understand the scope of just how bad things are. We will never truly understand, but we have to try. And that means we have to listen. We have to hear the narratives of people who aren’t like us. We need to put human faces to the statistics that are too often too easy to shrug off. We can’t be working on counterarguments while the stories are told, we can’t be coming up with excuses while tears are shed, we can’t assume that we have answers to a problem we will never face.

And as we listen, we need to learn to be better allies. We can’t tolerate the occasional casually racist joke from our peers. We’ve got to speak up when we hear people perpetuating racial stereotypes. We need to be willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people our willful blindness has traumatized, and demand better – from our institutions, our systems, and ourselves.

Watching photos come in from the past week’s protests with the antiquated filters of today’s mobile apps, the similarities between the 1960’s and now are stomach turning. Our parents and grandparents didn’t march then to have us repeat the past in 2014. I don’t want my daughter to be marching for the same reasons at my age.

We can do better. We can be better. And it’s about damn time.

And if you’re not planning on helping us, you are so on the wrong side of history, and you better get the fuck out of our way. Just sayin’.

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