Monday, March 18, 2013

The Culture of Victim-Blaming and Finders, Keepers

The Steubenville rape case has been bothering me since I first saw one of the horrendous videos that involved a witness laughing about the victim’s ordeal.  I couldn’t even watch the entire video.  I have followed the case and cringed at the continuous humiliation of the victim by everyone from the national news media to random, anonymous, cowardly commentators on online news stories.

We hear comments like these with every publicized rape case:  What was she doing there?  She shouldn’t have been drinking.  Why was she walking alone at night?  Why was she dressed like that?  Why was she at that party?  Why was she in a man’s hotel room?  I heard she was a slut.  She led him on.  Why didn’t she fight back more?

This goes beyond rape cases.  I hear victim-blaming all the time from my high school students.  For example, a student stole a cell phone and sold it to another student.  When I discussed the crime with this young man, he still believed he did not actually steal the phone.  He found the phone in a classroom.  It had fallen out of the pocket of another student.  He felt like taking the phone and selling it was perfectly fine because the student who lost the phone should have been more careful.  This is one example of many.  My students, and it seems most people in general, truly believe in the childish idea of “finders, keepers” --an idea that manifested itself in a much more horrifying manner in the Steubenville case.

The boys “found” a passed-out girl and invoked their “right” to “keep” her to do with her as they wished.  Instead of talking about why these boys felt they were entitled to brutalize and humiliate this girl, we talk about why this girl deserved to be raped.  We talk about how the boys’ lives are now ruined.  They simply took what was theirs, just like a wallet left behind in a cab, or a phone fallen out of a pocket.  The girl should have been more careful. 

The only way to change this culture of victim-blaming is by teaching our children that they are not entitled to everything they want.  If you find something that doesn’t belong to you, return it to the owner or an authority figure.  Do this in front of your child.  If you see someone in trouble, help her.  Teach your children to do the same.  If your child doesn’t do his homework, consider taking away his video game privileges instead of yelling at the teacher for assigning too much work.  If your daughter wants to be on the soccer team, tell her to practice.  Don’t call the coach and threaten her if she doesn’t let your little girl on the team.  Teach your children how to save money for a new toy they want to buy.  These things will help to teach our children that they are not entitled to do whatever they want or take whatever they want. 

Instead of teaching your daughter to dress like a nun and not go out at night, teach your son to be the man who gives a drunk girl a ride home, instead of the boy who takes pictures of her.  Teach him to be the man who tells his so-called friends to leave her alone, not the boy who laughs while they hurt her.  Teach him to be the man that understands that “finders, keepers” is no moral code.