When two witnesses come across a 12-year-old girl seemingly being raped on school grounds, and one physically intervenes while the other runs for help, you’d think that maybe, just once, we could skip the usual “She wanted it” arguments. But who am I kidding? This is the same culture (and in this case, the same geographical region) in which a 15-year-old girl can be gang-raped while two dozen onlookers do nothing, only to be told that she was asking for trouble in any number of ways. The same culture in which you can walk free for raping an 11-year-old, if the judge thinks she expressed “herself in relation to sexual matters with an awareness which would make many twice her age blush,” and thus must have “welcomed sex” with a grown man who knew she was significantly underage. Or for raping a 10-year-old, as long as you act appropriately embarrassed about mistaking her for 16, and/or if she was “dressed provocatively.” It’s the same culture in which a man who flees the country after raping a 13-year-old and evades capture for over 30 years is widely thought to have been “punished enough” by not being able to pick up his Oscar in person.
“That would be rape culture,” Anna North at Jezebel reminds us. The kind “in which people are quick to deny or explain away a rape as soon as it’s reported.” Also, the kind in which “violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent… women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself” and “both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes,” according to the authors of “Transforming a Rape Culture.” For a stomach-churningly long list of other defining features, please see Melissa McEwan’s “Rape Culture 101“, or try Jaclyn Friedman’s “This Is What Rape Culture Looks Like.” Or, you could just read the local ABC station’s coverage of what happened after those two witnesses intervened in the rape of a 12-year-old girl by a 14-year-old schoolmate.
Marquita Dones, “one of four paid site supervisors at El Cerrito’s Portola Middle School,” believes that the girl was too quiet to have been a real victim. “If she was being raped, why didn’t she scream? Why did these students have to come up and tell us that somebody’s down there?” she asked. Her colleague Mustapha Cannon added, “It was hormones going wild… I know the girl and I know the guy. I know… and I know the girl’s family. I know for a fact that that girl could’ve knocked that guy out with one hand tied behind her back.” So, despite neither of these people having been there when it happened — and the fact that under California law, there is no such thing as consensual sex with a 12-year-old — they’re apparently confident that she must have wanted it.
Obviously, the case hasn’t gone to trial, and thus no one has been convicted of rape. But regardless of whether this kid is found guilty, the response of the security guards to the account of the girl and the witnesses is part of a disturbing pattern. Going back to McEwan: “Rape culture is victim-blaming… Rape culture is tasking victims with the burden of rape prevention. Rape culture is encouraging women to take self-defense as though that is the only solution required to preventing rape. Rape culture is admonishing women to ‘learn common sense’ or ‘be more responsible’ or ‘be aware of barroom risks’ or ‘avoid these places’ or ‘don’t dress this way,’ and failing to admonish men to not rape.” In light of the school security guards’ comments, I think it’s safe to add “Claiming that if the victim didn’t scream, came from a questionable family, or would have been physically capable of fighting her attacker under normal circumstances, she must not have been raped” to that list. Also, “Cravenly covering your ass by claiming an alleged rape must have been consensual, when it was your job to make sure nothing like that happened.”
For those inclined to look for a silver lining, the fact that two other kids did step in to stop and report this assault is encouraging. But as North says, for the young girl “It was probably too little too late.” And the fact that the very authority figures charged with protecting students are now trotting out every victim-blaming cliche in the book to avoid responsibility is just one more outrageous example of how rape culture operates. “She probably wanted it” has become such a standard, accepted response to nearly any reported sexual assault, it’s not even a surprise to hear it said about a 12-year-old who says she was raped in front of two witnesses who were moved to seek help for her. And sadly, infuriatingly, it won’t be a surprise when that account is taken just as seriously as the victim’s — if not more so.