Thursday, March 21, 2013

An Open Letter to Steubenville’s Jane Doe

Dear Jane Doe,

I don’t know your name, and most likely never will. All I know about you is that you are one of the most brave people I’ve ever read about. You were victimized and treated horribly and with no regard, and not just by the two boys who raped you when you were passed out drunk at a party.

You’ve been victimized by the people who took your photo as you were violated, turning your rape into not just a sexual assault but a party game while they looked on and did nothing to save you. You’ve been victimized by your own community, where you are receiving death threats for ruining the lives of those “promising young men.” You’ve been victimized by your peers, by other girls who go on Twitter and call you a slut. You’ve even been victimized by the American media, because CNN reporters were practically choking back tears as Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson were sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile detention for what they did to you. You’ve been victimized by all the rape apologists who point out that the fault is your own, because you were drunk and went to a party with boys.

You’ve even been victimize by politicians who claim that rape isn’t really rape, and that a woman’s body will “shut down” in the case of “legitimate rape,” whatever the hell that is supposed to mean.

What makes me sad is that none of this is new. While the term “rape culture” is a fairly recent one in our society, the fact is that this has been going on for decades. When I was in high school, long before you were born, Jane Doe, this was happening - especially if you go to school in some little Ohio town where football is king.

I remember overhearing Monday morning whispers about Cheerleader X getting drunk at a party Saturday night and being a toy for the whole football team. “Tee hee, what a whore,” everyone giggled. None of us were smart enough or confident enough to know that this was wrong. But I do know it made me thankful that I was unpopular enough not to get invited to a party full of jocks.

Jane Doe, here’s why I want to thank you. Not just for speaking out, not just for being brave, but for something you may be completely unaware of. Your case has CHANGED things.

Your case is, as one blogger put it, rape culture’s Abu Ghraib. Your case is the one that has people up in arms and - dare I say it - angry. Finally, after all these years, people are saying enough is enough. They’re condemning the news media for the shitty, biased, sympathetic coverage of your rapists (because that’s what Mays and Thompson are, no matter what anyone says), and they’re condemning a society in which children are being raised to have no regard for others.

And for once, it’s not just women that are angry. Men are stopping to speak out too. They’re pointing out, and rightfully so, that (a) not all men are rapists but (b) those who are should be treated as rapists, and not fallen heroes.

Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson raped you while you were unconscious and then laughed about it on social media. And still there are people who are sympathetic to their cause. But I’m thankful to say that it looks like finally, the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way. Finally, people are realizing - and not just realizing, but vocalizing - that it doesn’t matter how drunk you were, it doesn’t matter what you were wearing, because NO ONE has the right to rape anyone else.

Your case is one that has parents talking to their children and to each other, about what’s not okay, and more importantly, what to do if you see something happening that’s not okay.

And that, Jane Doe, is because of you.

Someday, you might decide to come forward and tell the world who you are. Or you may not. It's your choice - something you didn't have the night that those boys assaulted you. Either way, you’ve made a difference - and it’s a difference you may not even be aware of, because of all the other people whose lives you’ve impacted.

Let’s face it, it would have been pretty easy for you to keep your mouth shut and never tell a soul, despite the fact that photos were all over Twitter of you being assaulted. You could have pretended it never happened, and let Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson go off to college to play football, where they’d have done the same thing to drunk sorority girls.

But you weren’t silent. You spoke out, and when you were ignored and the police department dropped the ball, others spoke for you.

I know things are awful for you right now, and I know that people are being shitty to you up there in Steubenville. I want you to know that Steubenville and your school are only a very small blip on the microcosm of humanity and the world, and someday you’ll be able to turn around and flip Steubenville and everyone in it a big ol’ Fuck You.

In the meantime, understand that as awful as some people can be, there are so many millions more of us who admire you for your bravery and courage, and can only hope that other young people - both female and male - can be as strong as you have been.

1 comment:

  1. Why do we never make excuses for murderers or thieves, but seem to try to look at things from the rapists' point of view?