A personal reaction to Jezebel’s hard-hitting piece on rape and false accusations in what is called the “Rape Capital” of the US.
There’s something very human, and much that’s very disturbing, in this article recently posted on Jezebel.com.
The human part is how much the author, Katie J.M. Baker, finds herself empathizing with the college kids of Missoula, Montana, as they tell her over and over that rape isn’t that big a deal in their town, just that for some mysterious reason there’s something the matter with half the girls in Missoula that makes them claim to have been raped.
Now, I myself actually was the target of a false rape accusation in college, long ago and far away, so there is a part of my brain that wants to consider that maybe these kids are telling the truth, just as Ms. Baker does. Each individual case may be questionable, each set of details is ultimately unknowable, and hey, who are we to say?
The disturbing part is that everyone knows what’s going on, to the extent that they have their rationalizations primed and ready. The disturbing part is a police chief who outright states that most rape accusations are false, in defiance of, you know, the facts. The disturbing part is how quick everyone is to cover up and lie, to push down the knowledge that there sure do seem to be a lot of cases in need of explaining away.
I was once asked how Catholic officials could cover up for priests that they knew to be child molesters. I tried to explain how institutional loyalty works, how you’ve got a few kids on one hand, and the infallible 2000-year-old edifice of the Church on the other, how the Church will be there long after the kids are dead of old age, and why should you allow a few complaints you’re not even 100% sure of to damage those millennia of tradition and authority, right?
It works the same at colleges. Employees, even students, identify so strongly with the school and its reputation that their reflexive alliance, their trained instinct, is to protect the school from… from who? Some girl? Some girl you don’t really know that well, some girl who you started to distrust the instant she threatened the institution? Some girl you can start assigning motives or labels to, since you distrust her? It’s very easy to make the decision to blame the victim to protect the institution, to justify that decision, to live with it. The banality of evil exists at every scale.
Now, imagine for a second that you’re a guy attending UM. Imagine you’ve been raped. By a guy, by a girl, by a professor, a bartender… doesn’t matter. Imagine looking around your community and seeing how people talk about women who’ve spoken up about what happened to them. Seeing what they get called. Imagine hearing about how they wanted it, how they were looking to get laid. Imagine asking yourself who’ll believe you if you try to tell anyone that you, a college boy, didn’t want it, that you tried to say no. Imagine how easy it would be to decide to just keep quiet, cover up, keep your head down, try to persuade yourself it didn’t happen the way you remember it. So much easier, so much safer to go that route, knowing what you know about how things work in Missoula.
Yeah. That’s what we call rape culture.