It is never OK

January 29th, 2015

For the past two weeks, I've kept a close watch on what my community has dubbed #VandyTrial. (You can read a detailed account from the trial on the The Tennessean website, but please note, there is graphic and unsettling information throughout the news reports.) The case is one against four former Vanderbilt football players accused of a plethora of charges in relation to the rape of another former Vanderbilt student in June of 2013. Two of those four men were convicted Tuesday on all the charges brought against them (two charges were lowered, but also received guilty verdicts).

There are numerous things wrong with this story. The rape, for starters, was atrocious. The victim was unconscious and one of the now-convicted men was her boyfriend at the time. I can't fathom the "how" in this scenario. It seems more like an episode of "Law & Order SVU" than it does a reality.

There were four men involved in some way — four who allegedly participated or watched. Football is a spectator sport, and it seems to these men so is violently sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Aside from the obvious “How could someone do this?” question, I keep asking myself: How many people could've stopped this from happening? How many people serving them drinks could have said, "That's enough."? How many people interacting with them at the bar could have seen the drinking was getting out-of-hand? How many people saw them carrying an unconscious woman into a dorm? How many people saw the victim lying in the hallway unconscious? How many people didn’t stop and consider, "This is wrong. Maybe I should stop it."?

It breaks my heart in a tremendous way — a way that found me weeping in my car alone after I heard the verdicts. I can't adequately describe the emotion I've felt watching this trial, and I cannot begin to comprehend or understand how this victim must have felt as this unfolded. Without knowing her personally, she is one of the bravest and strongest women I will ever know of and someone I will always hold in the highest regard. I don’t think I will ever cease praying for her.

I've heard multiple people argue about her lifestyle or her actions the night of the crime, and this aspect of the trial has enraged me. It does not matter what she was wearing. It doesn’t matter what she had to drink. It doesn’t matter what her sexual history looked like. This was not OK. It is never OK.

I made some incredibly poor decisions in college. I drank too much at times, and I didn't always choose the right friends or the right crowds with whom to spend my time. In this case, the victim was with people she trusted and with people she saw on a daily basis, yet the unimaginable still happened. Perhaps that's the undercurrent of the emotion I've felt while following this trial; perhaps part of me recognizes the reality of what could have happened in my life and the lives of so many other women I knew in college.

Blaming the victim in any capacity should be an abhorred practice and one we, as a society, should end immediately. Many try to justify it with:

  • What were you wearing...
  • You were drinking; what did you expect...
  • Why did you put yourself in that situation...
  • Maybe if you weren't so promiscuous...
But there is no argument for this type of behavior and to suggest otherwise is nothing short of ludicrous.

The current rape culture keeps victims quiet. It keeps sinister criminals on the street. It causes shame, guilt and remorse for victims when there should be justice, advocacy and healing instead.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, RAINN, 1 in 6 women have been involved in an attempted or completed rape. That's 17 percent of the female population in America. That's someone you know. What about the statistic RAINN offers that 97 of every 100 rapists never see jail time?

In this particular case, there was video and photographic evidence. That’s not typically the story in most rape cases, another contributing factor for silence after an attack. But what if more women felt safe in reporting attacks? What if they didn’t fear judgment or backlash? What if they didn’t fear shame or blame? What if they knew their past wouldn’t be used as a character witness? What if they knew they had an advocate and a chance at winning a case? Would more come forward? Would the culture shift?

A local columnist for The Tennessean wrote, "Justice is harsh because we sometimes need to be reminded how harsh the crimes are to those who are victimized."

We have to stop shaming and blaming victims for rape and sexual crimes. Instead of teaching women how to not get raped, let's educate men on not raping. Let's remind society that 'no' really does mean 'no', and not some challenge to make it a 'yes'. Let's protect victims and stand up for them. Let's stop digging into their past sexual history as a justification for a violent crime. There is never an excuse, never a justification, never a rationalization and never a defense of rape.


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