Letting Jane Doe Down


The outrage of really ignorant people that anybody would dare convict two football players of raping a drunk girl (because unconsciousness implies consent!) makes me feel like all my electronic devices need to be dumped in the shower, possibly cleansed with bleach, and definitely scrubbed vigorously with a really abrasive exfoliating soap. I’d suggest doing the same to the Internet but it’s really hard to exfoliate something that doesn’t have a physical presence.

But still, I find myself tempted to try. That’s how unbelievably gross this is.

A computer keyboard, mostly submerged in suds, with a scrub pad floating on top of it.
Image via 3D Cleaning Game.

I can’t believe we live in a society that would look at this case and say things remotely resembling what Michael Crook said: that rape doesn’t exist, that it’s usually an accusation made by a girl with “a case of buyer’s remorse”. (Never mind that the girl in question wasn’t conscious to make a transaction in the first place.) Or that the boys at the party were “blamelessly driven by natural hormones”.  That the young woman in question needs to “examine her own role” because she was wearing “immodest shorts and a tight shirt” – in other words, normal warm-weather clothing for teen girls. That people who drink as much as she had deserve whatever happens to them – because we should expect a sixteen-year-old girl at a party to have perfect knowledge and decision-making about how alcohol affects their body, even though teenage boys apparently can’t be expected to keep their pants on if they see anything above the female knee.

Five pictures of celebrity women wearing denim shorts.
Image via Songlee’s Bizarre.

(Incidentally, I checked out Michael Crook on Twitter, and there is in fact no indication there that he’s not a terrible human being.)

How about some sympathy for the girl, guys? How about some sympathy for all girls? Nobody would ever suggest to a guy who got assaulted at a party that it was his fault for even showing up. No one would tell him that he should have avoided alcohol or dressed differently. If a bunch of hooligans beat somebody up because they’re cheering for the wrong soccer team, we don’t excuse the violence by saying, “Hey, he knew his team sucked when he put on that jersey, he was asking for it”.

This jerk doesn’t think that the girl consented. He thinks that good girls don’t go to parties or dress for hot weather or even consider drinking alcohol. He thinks that girls who do these things are so bad, consent becomes irrelevant.

CNN’s Candy Crowley described watching “these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students” receive the verdict in court – a sentiment I can understand to an extent. It is tragic when young men with great gifts end up with criminal records. But the tragedy isn’t that they got convicted of a crime they pretty obviously committed, and now all that potential gets wasted; it’s that they committed the crime in the first place. That was the point when their potential got wasted, because it would be a gross miscarriage of justice for them to get a pass after violating a woman because, oh well, they’re really talented and they do well at school.

As Gawker notes, “For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are.”

Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond, defendants in the Steubenville rape case, sitting in court.
Image via ESPN.

I regret that these guys’ potential got wasted, and I have empathy for the regret they’re displaying now (even if it’s regret at experiencing consequences, not regret at having victimized a person). I think it’s important to show a modicum empathy for criminals, especially young offenders, if we want them to become better people who understand how they hurt someone and therefore deserved the punishment they got, instead of embittered souls who think they’re justified in woman-hating. Taking a “lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key” attitude helps nobody. They’re people who did a reprehensible thing, but they’re not necessarily human scum.

But I also am well aware that they did a reprehensible thing. I believe we can have empathy without pretending like these boys don’t deserve to pay for their very serious crimes. They absolutely deserve the consequences they now have to face, and I’m furious that the Internet is pretending they don’t.

The best I can say for those boys is that I’m really angry they live in a society where women are viewed largely as property and as rewards for male success. They took the lessons of that society to heart, lived them out, and found that the law doesn’t work that way. I think it sucks that society should get a pass on educating these guys to believe they weren’t doing wrong. That hurts everyone and shouldn’t go unremarked. Society is not to blame, of course – it didn’t rape that girl, these guys did – but  it’s still worth observing that it teaches boys and men really bad lessons about consent, which can result in horrific actions by men who haven’t learned to consider a woman’s perspective because, what the hell, you wouldn’t ask your car whether it wants to be driven or your football whether it wants to be punted.

Even if our society taught them to believe women are prizes for athleticism and good grades, these guys still need to be punished for violating a woman’s consent, or else we continue to reinforce the very lessons that contribute to an anti-woman rape culture in the first place. Human beings should reap the consequences if they don’t have enough empathy to think, “This girl is unconscious, and she might be upset if I have sex with her, so I’m going to seek out someone who’s enthusiastic and willing instead”.

A public-service ad depicting two men restraining a woman in a public restroom. The caption reads: "It's not sex when she's wasted. Sex with someone unable to consent is sexual asault. Don't be that guy."
Image via Lousy Canuck.

This is as far as our empathy should go; it definitely shouldn’t extend to siding with them instead of the woman they victimized. But if it doesn’t exist at all, we risk treating these guys as two bad apples when in fact their actions are symptomatic of a larger cultural trend. If we don’t address the cultural narratives that tell men it’s acceptable to rape women, we’re letting down Jane Doe and all the future Jane Does to come after her.

And while we’re on the subject of people who’ve really let down the victim here, I feel like I really ought to mention this poor girl’s so-called best friends, who testified for the defendants at this trial. Okay, sure – they expressed concern for her at the time and suggested that she should leave the party. But then when she didn’t, they left her on her own to be raped, and when she dared to speak up against the popular football players who did it, they sided with the guys instead of with their friend. I’ve had to learn some hard lessons about friendship and loyalty in my lifetime, but I’ve never faced anything that terrible.

I hope to God I raise my kids to be more moral than these ones were. And I hope the parents around me do the same. Otherwise we’re letting all our kids down.


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