TRIGGER WARNING for sexual assault and rape
I read yet another report on Facebook about yet another judge who chose to allow yet another convicted rapist to walk free. This time, it wasn’t the rapist’s swimming ability the judge deemed more important than the woman who survived his attack. This time, it was the rapist’s college experience that was crucial to this judge.
My head reels from the barrage of horrific decisions and my heart breaks for the girls and women the judges rule as less valuable than the men who raped them. This latest judge is saying that the young rapist who violated two unconscious women after a party shouldn’t be significantly penalized. He should be allowed to attend college right on schedule. He shouldn’t have to go to jail. He shouldn’t have to register as a sex offender. After all, that would spoil his college experience. Right?
My head feels like it is exploding as I ponder this: “Hey, when is a rape not a rape?” “That’s an easy one: when it goes to court!” “Ha-ha.” But it’s no joke.
How can any judge say the rapist is more important than his victim? Isn’t his crime detrimental to her life? What about HER college experience? Hasn’t the rape radically altered her entire future?
Why do these judges choose to be caring toward convicted rapists? I have a personal theory on this; I call it the “casual rape” effect.
I’m not suggesting there is anything casual about rape. But rape has been so common in our culture for so long that there is a sense of casualness about it. I want to understand what goes on in the minds of these judges. I wonder if the judges look down at these young men and don’t SEE a rapist. They don’t focus on the horror these men created for their victims. They don’t see a criminal, a predator, or a serial rapist-in-training. That is certainly what I believe the judge should see. But they don’t.
Perhaps what they are seeing instead is a reflection of the sexual exploits of their own youth. As they excuse rapist after rapist, I wonder if they are internally excusing actions they may have committed themselves as young men.
When I was a teenager and throughout my early twenties, I experienced sexual assault so often that it was a normal part of dating. It looked a lot like these recent rapes. See if you can picture this: I’m drinking at a party, my date and I are kissing, and I’m enjoying it. Then suddenly, he is groping me. I’m actively saying “NO!” I’m even fighting it, but he fails to respect me or hear my boundaries. I end up unable to keep my date’s hands at bay. Today, I know that was sexual assault.
As a younger teenager, I experienced sexual assault and what I now know is rape. I was sleeping out under a gigantic army tent, with twenty or thirty other teens. An unknown and unseen hand slipped into my sleeping bag—waking me from a sound sleep—violating me. I was terrified and I froze, unable to speak or move, horrified at what was happening. The penetration was acutely painful to me and seemed to go on endlessly. I remember even now the conscious choice I made to pretend to be asleep; too ashamed and embarrassed and degraded to even think of confrontation.
The next morning, not having slept nor dared move a muscle the rest of the night, I remember looking at the empty sleeping bags near mine, trying to figure out who it might have been, and never knowing.
Things like this weren’t exclusively happening to me, either. In my circle of friends, it wasn’t unusual at all. While we girls hated these situations—and tried our best to give one another fair warnings about this boy or that one—none of us felt empowered enough to call it out as rape. None of us ever said that we shouldn’t have to wrestle with our dates to keep our bodies intact.
I can still clearly remember the first time I experienced a man treating me with respect while we were being intimate. I was thirty-three years old. I’d had a few dates with this man and we ended up back at his apartment. We were kissing, and I was enjoying it. His hands moved toward my breasts and I tensed up and softly said, “No, I’m not comfortable with that, yet.”
I’ll never, ever forget what happened next; it is seared into my memory: He simply stopped and put his arms around me again, whispered “Ok” and continued to plant glorious kisses on my astonished face. My brain whirred, and recorded this unprecedented paradigm shift. He did not ignore what I had said and continue to grab at me. He didn’t become angry. He didn’t plead or try to talk me into doing more than I wanted. He didn’t even pull away or push me away to punish me for my non-compliance. He didn’t sulk. He simply respected and allowed for the boundary I had set, and continued to enjoy with me what I was comfortable doing.
Decades later, the memory of this continues to sparkle, but it also makes me sad. It makes me sad that it took me thirty-three years to find one man who actively respected me. A man who didn’t view me as an object and a target. It makes me sad that the boys and men I’d encountered as a young woman, so readily perpetrated the same crimes and violations that these recent rapists performed. It makes me sad that none of those boys or men ever acknowledged that they were doing anything criminal.
If my girlfriends or I had felt empowered to say that what they were doing was rape, they would have denied it to their last breath and truly believed themselves to be innocent. Many would have placed the blame right back on our heads as if our stupidity for dating them in the first place was an offense punishable by rape.
I think about those men and boys and wonder if any of them ended up sitting in a courtroom in robes on a bench, looking down at some young man found guilty of doing the exact same sorts of things that they had done as young men.
I wonder if somewhere, buried deep within these judges, they recall a young girl or woman like me saying “NO!” and trying to fight off their advances. And I wonder what, if anything, these judges said to themselves as boys and young men growing up in an age when they felt entitled and encouraged to notch their belts. In an age when their conquests were celebrated among their peers. A time when none of them were taught to consider that their Friday night conquests were fellow human beings, women worthy of respect and consideration. An age where “casual rape” was the norm.
More by author Raven Anne Quigley here on The Good Men Project:
A mother evaluates her adult son’s misogyny and her contribution to his attitudes and behaviors.
The reason men see a licensed massage therapist tell us much about our society’s gender norms.
Photo credit: Flickr/Garry Knight