Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Rape of Children and Gender. WILL TRIGGER.

Two recent articles discuss the Sandusky allegations from the point of view of the gender of a rape victim. Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Times asks:
WHAT if it had been a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?

The likely answer to that question reveals an ugly truth, one that goes stubbornly undiscussed. Whichever version of Mike McQueary’s story you choose to believe — his grand jury testimony, in which a “distraught” Mr. McQueary, then a graduate assistant to the football team, “left immediately” after witnessing the former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sodomize a young boy, or the e-mail recently leaked to the press, in which he wrote, “I did stop it, not physically ... but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room” — the mind recoils at the grotesque failure to intervene more forcefully. How could a grown man have left the scene without taking the child with him? Mr. McQueary wants us to imagine that his brain was racing during those “30 to 45 seconds,” that he “had to make tough impacting quick decisions.” But it seems clear he wasn’t thinking at all — and it’s hard not to wonder why.

I think it was the gender of the victim.
Don Lemon at CNN.com, in a brave and moving article about the sexual abuse he underwent as a child, makes a similar argument (though more focused on the legal definition of rape in Pennsylvania):
So, I imagine it’s difficult for people who haven’t dealt with abuse to confront it, face it, or, for that matter, know what to call it. But if the events at Penn State are to teach us anything, it should be that we can no longer turn away from something so ugly just because we struggle to define it or accept it exists.
So, let’s just call it for what it is: rape.
Rape is what former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of doing to at least one boy in a university shower. But because the victim is a boy, under Pennsylvania law, Sandusky is charged with deviant sexual behavior. If the victim had been a little girl, in fact, the law would call it rape.


But as painful as it is for us, as far removed as we are, no matter how much we may want to put it out of our minds, no matter how much we want to turn away, we cannot and should not. Our inability to view and talk about male and female rape in the same way might have permitted a man to continue his alleged depraved behavior for decades. Rape is rape no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim. Pedophilia is wrong no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim.
I agree that rape should be called rape, whether the victim is female or male. Indeed, feminists have worked hard to get the definition of forcible rape the FBI uses changed:
The FBI took a step away from the archaic way it defines rape on Tuesday, when an agency panel voted to update the federal definition for the first time since 1929.
Currently, the FBI defines rape as the "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will."
This definition is narrower than the one used by many police departments around the country, and women's rights advocates say it leads to the under-counting of thousands of sexual assaults each year.
On Tuesday, an FBI panel composed of outside experts from criminal justice agencies and national security agencies voted to broaden the federal government's definition.
The new definition would take out the requirement that the sexual assault be "forcible," remove the restriction that the attack be toward a woman and include non-vaginal/penile rape and rape by a blood relative.
The panel's recommended definition reads: "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

Emphasis mine. Women's rights activists have been working to get the definition of rape changed so that the victim does not have to be female or the penetration vaginal and with a penis. I wish this work was better known, for obvious reasons.

What about Mendelsohn's question concerning the victim's gender and the answer to that question given in the article:
WHAT if it had been a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?


Does anyone believe that if a burly graduate student had walked in on a 58-year-old man raping a naked little girl in the shower, he would have left without calling the police and without trying to rescue the girl? But the victim in this case was a boy, and so Mr. McQueary left and called his dad (who didn’t seem to think that it was a matter for the police either).
Perhaps Mendelsohn is right. Perhaps he is wrong. I really don't know*.

But the accused man, Jerry Sandusky, was very powerful. Would such power somehow not have had any effect if the alleged victim had been a ten-year-old girl? I doubt that.

I applaud these gentlemen for writing on the topic of rape. It is important to shed as much light on the evil consequences of rape and sexual abuse. If these articles help the survivors of sexual abuse to come forward and seek help when help is needed, they have paid for themselves.

At the same time, I hope that the work feminists have done in the area was better known, that we didn't always slide towards another round of Oppression Olympics and that future articles on the sexual abuse of boys didn't have to end with these sorts of statements:
But true masculinity, like true sportsmanship, contains other virtues, too: forthrightness, honesty, fair play, courage in difficult situations, readiness to acknowledge error, concern for the weak as well as admiration for the strong. In their handling of Mr. Sandusky, the leaders of Penn State’s legendary football program failed to display a single one of these qualities.
Emphasis mine.
*Mostly because the answer depends on the way he posed the question. There's the problem of how sexual abusers of children choose the place for the abuse. By focusing on events that allegedly happened in men's locker-room, Mendelsohn adds something to the basic question he wants to ask about the treatment of girls and boys as victims of sexual abuse, and that is the presence of a girl in an all-male space.

But those who sexually abuse young girls will not do so in an all-male environment such as showers for men, because they are more likely to be caught. Both boys and girls are more likely to be abused in a setting where the abuse can be masked as something more innocent.

Ideally, Mendelsohn should have asked whether people are more likely to acknowledge the rape of a ten-year-old girl than a ten-year-old boy. The environment in which those are most likely to happen are not necessarily the same.

In some countries ten-year-old girls can be legally married off. This suggests that getting answers to such a question on worldwide level might be tricky.