Today in Rape Culture

[Content Note: Sexual violence; rape culture tropes.]

Shaker everestmckinley sent along this article by Dan Wetzel for Yahoo! Sports about the goings-on at the Jerry Sandusky trial, perfectly describing how the rape culture works:
Yes, even after Victim No. 9 had wept on the witness stand last Thursday and detailed being forced into repeated acts of oral and anal sex by Sandusky. Even after he'd described screaming from Sandusky's basement in the hope someone would save him. Even after he conveyed general disgust at Sandusky expressing love for him – "It was creepy, I was a kid," he'd testified.

Even after the boy's mother bawled on the witness stand and disclosed regret at not realizing what her son was going through. Even after the boy said he'd often bleed from the assaults and his mother testified she kept asking why he often returned from the Sandusky's without his underwear – "He'd tell me he'd have an accident in them and he threw them out."

Even after all of that, Jerry Sandusky was flipping through a file and basking in some notion that he'd been good for the boy all along.

Once the kid turned his back on him and Second Mile, that's when the trouble came.

This is the delusion Jerry Sandusky appears to still operate under.
Yes, because he is a predator—and like many sexual predators, he is a narcissist, who believes that his needs eclipse others' safety and who further believes his intent should dictate others' emotions. If he did not intend to harm, then no one should feel harmed.

That, culturally, we tend to indulge this line of reasoning (or lack thereof) is a key feature of the rape culture. The undue emphasis on the intent of people who harm is what underwrites the rape apologia that takes the form of searching for some other reason, any reason, why a man would have "hugged" a naked child in a shower, or why a man would have "had sex with" an unconscious woman, or any of the other incidents of sexual violence for which we reflexively try to find some explanation, some excuse. He didn't know, he didn't realize, it's his generation, it's his culture...

Predators like Jerry Sandusky know that we value intent as much as anyone. They trade on it. They exploit it. His self-professed "harmlessness" is less likely a delusion than a well-rehearsed play at mystification that appeals to the cultural urge to find some reason to credit his "good intentions."
[Former Penn State assistant coach Dick Anderson and fellow former assistant coach Booker Brooks testified in Sandusky's defense] they too had showered with young boys, either in the Penn State locker room or the local YMCA. Both clearly stated they'd never engaged in the kind of behavior Sandusky has admitted to, such as hugging, wrestling and soaping up the kids, sometimes in empty locker rooms late at night. Still, the testimony was memorable.

"At the YMCA, at Penn State, at other places," Anderson said of places he'd showered where boys were present. "The first time I took a shower in high school was with coaches; it was part of my life."

"You showered with young boys?" deputy attorney general Joseph E. McGettigan III asked Anderson on cross-examination.

"Oh, yes," Anderson said.

"Eleven year-olds?" McGettigan said.

"Oh, yes," Anderson said.

"Who you didn't know?" McGettigan said.

"Oh, yes," Anderson said. "I still do. There are regularly young boys at the YMCA showering at the same time there are older people showering."

"Do you hug him in the shower?" McGettigan said.

"No," Anderson said.

Brooks testified that he's taken his granddaughter, whose age wasn't specified, into the showers with him at the YMCA.
Never mind that Anderson is not accused of doing what Sandusky has allegedly done, nor even what Sandusky has admitted doing ("hugging, wrestling and soaping up the kids"), which renders his showering habits irrelevant, anyway. This is certainly questionable behavior to which he's admitting, at best, yet its supposed commonness is being used to frame Sandusky's abuse within a spectrum of "normal," thus justifying it.

The rape culture's pervasiveness is routinely used to excuse sexual violence by normalizing, and thus minimizing, it.

As an aside: Communal showering, ubiquitous in US schools and sports programs, is an upsetting and/or traumatizing experience for many people, male and female. Especially the "mandatory showering" to which many of us are subjected, in which gym teachers/coaches watch us shower and check off our names as if taking attendance, to be sure we've washed. I have even heard adult coaches express how communal and/or mandatory showering made them uncomfortable as children, yet continue the practice, simply because it's habit. "Well, I got over it; they'll get over it, too." or: "I was just a weird kid; most kids don't mind." This is how the rape culture perpetuates itself—by making those who experience trauma via violation of healthy boundaries feel alone and weird and exceptional, and by treating the violation of healthy boundaries as a rite of passage we all share.

Back to Sandusky:
Later, the defense called a parade of witnesses to speak on Sandusky's behalf.

There was the Army veteran who had positive memories of Second Mile. There was a co-worker at the charity that saw great acts from Sandusky. There was a local teacher impressed with Sandusky's dedication. There were the assistant coaches alluding to Sandusky's sterling reputation in the community. There was Anderson intimating that even the iconic Paterno held Sandusky in high regard.

All of this is fine but isn't the heart of the case.

There is no denying that Sandusky and Second Mile made a positive impact on many troubled youths or that prior to being the center of sexual molestation case most viewed the old coach as a good man or that the showers at the YMCA are open to all.

But what about all those other kids who said Sandusky molested them? Remember them?
Here, too, is a common narrative of the rape culture: If someone is a "good person," he can't possibly be a rapist. (And the corollary: If someone is a rapist, then he will show no evidence of being a "good person.") Humans, even rapists, are complex entities. A rapist is capable of doing good things for some people, while doing grave harm to others. In Sandusky's case, what appeared to be (and in some cases maybe actually was) good works was simultaneously the grooming of victims.

That should underscore the danger of narratives like, "He'd never do that; he's such a nice guy." I hope the sports writers who are rightfully taking Sandusky's defense to task for this bullshit (but typical) line of defense remember that next time an adult woman brings charges against a professional sports hero who's done charity work, instead of immediately accusing her of lying because "he's a such a nice guy." Rapists do charity work, too.
Monday was the defense's big chance to make an immediate impression, to jolt the jury into believing that the state's case is rickety, that there were compelling counter facts, that Sandusky's side could trot out powerful witnesses, too.

Instead it was some kind of strange ode to Jerry, strange ode to the normalcy of showering with boys, strange ode to the kind of delusion that makes Sandusky listen to a kid and his mom break down in terror on a witness stand and conclude that their problems didn't come until after they kicked Jerry Sandusky out of their lives.
In other words: The rape culture in action.

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