What We Talk About When We Talk About “Rape Culture”

An Open Letter to the Good Guys: It’s in your power to punch holes in rape culture in ways we cannot.  

In the Scene

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Anybody who lives in Nashville (and plenty of people who don’t) will have absorbed some of the awful news swirling around Vanderbilt this past year. To recap, a student carried his intoxicated and unconscious sometimes-girlfriend into a dorm room and invited a few friends to join the festivities, all the while shooting iPhone photos and video. Numerous bystanders failed to intervene.

The bad news is: These were not sadists or sociopaths. They were young men whose mamas believe they are “good boys.” Which is why it’s sometimes so hard to tell a rapist from an ordinary person.

Really, there is no good news. But the fact that video evidence existed meant that there was really no way for the young men to reframe the story to make the assault of an incapacitated woman sound like anything other than what it was. Apparently, it was impossible for jurors to watch those videos and believe this was merely a case of “boys being boys.”

Two of the students were convicted last month, thanks to the evidence they themselves collected, and two more will be tried later this year. But what’s most horrifically fascinating about all this is the defense strategy the defendants’ attorneys tried to float at trial: “He was crazy drunk and didn’t know what he was doing,” said defendant Cory Batey’s attorney.

“Such arguments that the defendants were not in their right minds — or that their actions should be blamed on a college culture of licentiousness — did not go over with the jury,” writes Justin Moyer in a Washington Post article of January 28:

Indeed, the idea that anything can happen on a college campus without consequences may have hurt the defense.

“That’s the culture that you really saw here,” Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman said. “Their mindset that they can get away with anything.”

So, that’s kind of good news: The jury didn’t buy it, and they voted to convict.

But a couple of days after the verdict was reached, Nashville Scene columnist Betsy Phillips published a post about what “rape culture” means in America:

There is a lot in our culture that tells potential rapists that they can count on us to take their side if they act on their desires. We know, from study after study where rapists are interviewed that rapists believe that everyone would do what they do, if they had the guts.

Kudos, Betsy! Then, the comments started rolling in.

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More bad news: Convictions or no, there’s still plenty of idiocy out there regarding whether men have the “right” to have sex with a woman, with or without her consent, once they have judged her to be “promiscuous,” drunk, come-hitherly clad, a human female in his sights, etc.

My friend (and Scene editor) Abby White and I drew straws for who was going to get to write the next week’s Vodka Yonic column, and call out some of the obscene bullshit that certain people (such as defense attorneys and comments trolls) actually still believe about rape.

I drew the short straw. You can read that story here.

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See also:

25 Categories of Rape

What Went Wrong with Rolling Stone‘s Journalistic Due Dilligence?

 Unnatural Selection: Excused from the Jury for Cause

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