The same week that a leaked video out of Steubenville, Ohio showed high school boys joking and laughing about an unconscious teenager in the next room who had just been raped—“They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!”—House Republicans let the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expire. They opposed an expanded version of the legislation that had increased protections for the LGBT community, immigrants and Native American women.
This week we’ve also seen mass protests in India after a woman was brutally gang raped and died from her injuries. American media covering the Indian protests have repeatedly referenced the sexist culture, reporting how misogyny runs rampant in India. The majority of mainstream coverage of what happened in Steubenville (click here for a primer), however, has made no such connection. In fact, the frequent refrain in discussions of Steubenville in comment threads is that these boys are “sociopaths,” shameful anomalies. We’d rather think of them as monsters than hold ourselves accountable as a nation and tell the truth—these rapists are our sons.
It’s not just the parents of the accused rapists or the boys who made jokes who are complicit—it’s not just Steubenville, a town criticized for putting their prized high school football team above the law and justice for a young woman. Steubenville happens every day in the United States, and we’re all responsible.
We live in a country where politicians call rape a “gift from God” and suggest that women regularly lie about being raped. Where a group of young men in high school think so little of sexual assault that they thought it was fine—hilarious, even—to post pictures online of a passed out rape victim, and to live-tweet the rape, joking about the victim being urinated on. We live in a country where media as revered as The New York Times finds it necessary to describe an 11-year-old gang rape victim as “wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” Where a woman can be fired because her boss finds her “irresistable” and a woman’s rape case falls flat because she isn’t married.
It’s time to acknowledge that the rape epidemic in the United States is not just about the crimes themselves, but our own cultural and political willful ignorance. Rape is as American as apple pie—until we own that, nothing will change.
Undocumented women are some of the most vulnerable to sexual violence. Read how the GOP has left these victims with even fewer options. And don't miss anything from Jessica Valenti, by signing up for The Nation's weekly Feminist Roundup.