Trigger warnings for rape, rape apologia, victim-blaming, and general rape-culture fuckery.
This week, two popular Internet publications—The Onion and The Daily Beast–apparently engaged in a competition to see who could publish the most disgusting piece of rape-culture-perpetuating clickbait on the whole entire Internet. It was almost as though TDB saw the steaming pile The Onion excreted on Tuesday (in which they appeared to be competing with their recent Chris Brown piece for some sort of internal fuckwit prize) and thought, “You know, I’ll bet we can get something out by Thursday that gives them a run for their money.”
I’m not linking to either of these pieces, but I will tell you a bit about each and how you can let these pubs know what you think, if you’re so inclined. We’ll start with The Onion’s attempt to point up the tragedy of child rape. Here’s the headline:
Adolescent Girl Reaching Age Where She Starts Exploring Stepfather’s Body
When I saw this, I tweeted something about finding a way to get their attention and make them aware of the damage they’re doing with this type of piece. Predictably (and I predict this will happen here, as well) I almost instantaneously got a reply from a guy who didn’t get what the big deal was. “IT’S SATIRE!” he explained. “Where’s the damage?” he wanted to know.
Many if not most of my readers will not need to read past this headline to understand—if only at a gut level—what the problem is. But here are just a few of the ways I and two fellow feminists attempted to clarify it for him.
The headline is probably the worst thing about this piece, second only to the image choice, which I’ll cover below. It tells a story not of a predator and a potential victim, but of a young girl “coming of age” and getting ready to explore sex with an adult. It practically makes the victim the aggressor, for Christ’s sake. I just can’t believe I have to explain to anyone why this is a problem.
Satire is meant to point up: to sting the people in power—the ones who perpetuate the problem the satire is spotlighting. Satire should sting the perpetrators—not the victims. This is what I call lazy or just plain bad satire: it points in the wrong direction and makes its point at the expense of the people it claims to want to help.
As was the case with the Chris Brown/Rihanna piece they did a few months ago, they made the victim the punchline. I have been a professional writer for 25 years, and I know that there’s always a way to write around a problem. There was a way—there were multiple ways—for The Onion to make the point they wanted to make—that child rape is tragic and sick and all-to-prevalent—without making the victim the joke. Why not write from the POV of a child rapist? Why involve the victim at all? And tell me why in the name of all that is good and holy you would lead with this image?
Seriously? My brain is just a whirlwind of everything that’s wrong with this, from what it does to my insides seeing it in this context, to the fact that there is an actual little girl out there to whom this face belongs. I just can’t even with this shit. FUCK.
And finally, survivors of rape do not benefit from satirical stories that make light of their pain and terror and trauma and abuse.
Again, predictably, we got nowhere. I don’t know how to make it any clearer: This type of piece perpetuates rape culture and hurts the people it purports to help.
You can contact The Onion at email@example.com. Let them know what you think. I personally think they are a) failing at satire, b) whoring for links, c) becoming no better than their hack competitors, d) perpetuating rape culture and violence against women by trivializing same and making victims the punchline.
On to The Daily Beast. When Chelsea Manning announced yesterday that she was a woman, the Internet exploded. I watched as the press flubbed pronouns and terminology left and right, as folks on Twitter corrected one another, got angry, called for calm, asked questions, learned things. Then TDB published a piece of rape apologia that made my hair stand on end, and if I thought the tweets had been flying before, well…it wasn’t long before TDB issued a Twitter fauxpology (and I mean a SEVERELY weak thing of weakness) and posted an editor’s note at the top of the piece pointing out that the original draft had been even worse. Then they quietly began editing out the most outrageous bits, like this:
Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn’t mean that homosexual sex doesn’t occur—it certainly does. But it’s really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then— simply because they’ve never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality—tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.
Quiet as it’s kept, this is one reason for high recidivism rates. In prison, closeted homosexuals can receive what they desire but are able to maintain to the world they really find such behavior disgusting; in this manner they don’t have to take responsibility for what happened to them.
I can only imagine that the editor had an emergency root canal and this piece somehow slipped by without anyone with the words “fact-check” in their job description laying eyes on it. And if that was the case, removing the piece and issuing a sincere apology for publishing it would probably have meant that by now, we’d just be shaking our heads wondering how such a thing could happen. But removing what they perceived to be the “offending” chunks of the article without making note of the fact is sneaky as hell and this purposeful attempt to rewrite history has stripped TDB of all credibility with many of us. They’ve got a lot of work to do to fix this mess.
Prison Culture has published an article containing contact information for TDB and a list of demands they need to meet in order to start making things right. Please take a moment to let TDB know what you think about their rape apologia and utter lack of journalistic integrity.
And the winner is…The Daily Beast because they’re actually supposed to be journalists and they have failed at that in a major way. But The Onion is a very close second for learning absolutely nothing this year when they’ve had so many opportunities.
Let me know what you think in the comments (but if you’re considering explaining satire to me, please fuck right off).
The Daily Beast has issued an apology acknowledging how wrong they were to publish the piece in question. On the other hand, they have opted to leave the piece up, and have so far not edited the note at the top to include this acknowledgement. I really hope they do, and that they apologize to Chelsea Manning.
- Chelsea Manning, media bias, and cissexism (canada.com)
- Earlier today, The Daily Beast published a rape apologist, homophobic, transphobic article on Chelsea Manning. (jezebel.com)
- The Day The Onion Died (makemeasammich.org)
- Internet Finds Onion Rape & Incest Story Deeply Unfunny (theatlanticwire.com)
PS/Update: Here’s a video by The Onion showing that they do know how to do satire that sheds light on a problem without perpetuating it–instead ridiculing rapists, rape apologists, and rape culture and leaving the victim the hell out of it:
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Last fall  when the GOP was falling all over itself to determine who in their ranks could make the most asinine comment revealing their ignorance about rape and biology and pretty much everything, Soraya Chemaly wrote this article on HuffPo reminding us of some very relevant (sourced) facts re: rape. I’ve chosen a few I think are particularly interesting/topical/important/timely to explore a bit. (See the above article for additional sources.)
Most Rapes Go Unreported
Many, many survivors do not report their rapes. The Department of Justice estimates that fewer than 50% of rapes are reported each year, and gives a low estimate of 300,000 yearly rapes nationwide. The Center for Disease Control has placed their high estimate at 1.3 million. I’m inclined to go with the higher number since, of my rapes, I’ve reported fewer than 50% myself (only one went to arrest/prosecution), and none of the many cases of child molestation (some of which were absolutely rape or attempted rape, and yet see how I still make a distinction) were ever reported to the police.
Most Rapists Never Serve Time
The statistic says that 97% of rapists never serve time. That’s based on the following from RAINN:
Of the 46 rapes (out of this statistical 100) that are reported, only 12 of those reports lead to an arrest. Let’s think about that for a moment:
In 34 out of 46 instances, when a rape victim files a police report regarding his/her rape, the police don’t even bother to make an arrest.
Consider that statistics have also shown that most rapes are not, in fact, stranger rapes, but are committed by someone the victim knows. And then remember the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that sit untested on shelves in police department evidence lockers across the US (one of mine in Dallas, TX). Because prosecuting rape is clearly not a priority in this country.
From Wikipedia via the National Institute of Justice:
“18 percent of unsolved alleged sexual assaults that occurred from 2002 to 2007 contained forensic evidence that was still in police custody (not submitted to a crime lab for analysis)”; 2) One major challenge is that 43% of law enforcement agencies “do not have a computerized system for tracking forensic evidence, either in their inventory or after it is sent to the crime lab”; 3) On average, 50–60% of kits test positive for biological material that does not belong to the victim; 4) Survey responses indicated that there may be some misunderstanding of the value of biological evidence. 44% of the law enforcement agencies said that one of the reasons they did not send evidence to the lab was that a suspect had not been identified. 15% said that they did not submit evidence because “analysis had not been requested by a prosecutor.”
So, we don’t bother testing rape kits if no one asks us to, or because we haven’t identified a suspect. Wait, I watch cop shows—isn’t DNA one of the ways cops ID suspects who have raped before? Oh, for that to work they’d need to test even more rape kits, and in this country, we’re way too busy with the war on medical marijuana to worry about justice for rape survivors.
32,000 Women Become Pregnant Resulting from Rape Each Year
That’s right, Todd Akin: According to the National Institute of Health, rape results in 32,000 pregnancies yearly. In fact, in a 2003 study, scientists found that pregnancy occurs twice as often as a result of rape than of consensual sex.
Our analysis suggests that per-incident rape-pregnancy rates exceed per-incident consensual pregnancy rates by a sizable margin, even before adjusting for the use of relevant forms of birth control.
And yet, right-wing politicians who think their hearts are in the right places believe it’s perfectly ok to restrict Plan B, the “morning after” pill to “emergency rapes.” You know, those stranger rapes that happen more often on television than they do in real life. Thanks, GOP.
In 31 of these United States, Rapists Have Parental Rights
Imagine for a moment that you’re a woman who has survived rape and become pregnant. Should you desire an abortion, 24 states require a waiting period. Should you decide to keep the child, the rapist can sue for parental rights in 31. This is a nightmare I can’t even bring myself to imagine for more than a moment. And yet thousands of women face this in our country each year–hundreds of thousands live with it even as I write.
Here’s a handy graphic from Huffington Post showing how each state rates when it comes to laws regarding pregnancy resulting from rape:
Most Military Rapes Go Unreported
The Pentagon estimates that in the US Armed Forces, 80-90% of rapes go unreported. In 2011, 16,500 rapes were reported. I’ll let you do the math. Estimates place the number of male rape survivors in the military at anywhere from 8-37%—much higher than in civilian life (but possibly lower than in the prison system, depending on who you ask).
Also, I’m going to quote this one directly from the list:
I have no words for how fucked up that is. <—Except those ones.
Prison is a Rape Culture All Its Own
It is estimated by some that prison rape is one of the most underreported forms of rape. Some will tell you that when it comes to rape culture, prison has the outside world beat hands down. Personally, I don’t see it as a competition, but I am well-aware (as are most of us, I think) that prison rape is a huge problem not only in our prisons, but for our society. Our “correctional system” breaks people and then releases them back into the world where they’re completely unequipped to survive and thrive. At least 20% of prison inmates experience rape, and if you’re LGBT, your chances increase significantly.
From the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
- An estimated 4.4% of prison inmates and 3.1% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months.
- Female inmates in prison (4.7%) or jail (3.1%) were more than twice as likely as male inmates in prison (1.9%) or jail (1.3%) to report experiencing inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.
- Among inmates who reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, 13% of male prison inmates and 19% of male jail inmates said they were victimized within the first 24 hours after admission, compared to 4% of female inmates in prison and jail.
- Among heterosexual state and federal prisoners, an estimated 1.3% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 2.5% reported being victimized by staff (table 8). In contrast, among prison inmates with a sexual orientation
other than heterosexual (including bisexual, homosexual, gay or lesbian, or other), 11.2% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 6.6% reported being sexually victimized by staff.
- Similar differences were reported among jail inmates, with heterosexual inmates reporting lower rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization (1.1%) and staff sexual misconduct (1.9%) than nonheterosexual inmates (7.2% and 3.5%, respectively).
Rape as a Weapon of War
Again, I’m going to take these directly from the list. These numbers serve as a startling reminder that rape—especially male-on-female rape—is and has always been considered a good way to humiliate your enemy and reward the troops for a job well done.
- Number of rapes noted in commonly used World War II statistics: 0
- Number of rapes of WWII concentration camp inmates: Untallied millions
- Number of rapes of German women by Russian soldiers at the end of WWII: between 1m and 2m
- Number of women raped in 1990s Bosnian conflict: 60,000+
- Number of women raped per hour in Congo during war: 48
Actions vs. Words
The above only scratches the surface. There is so much work to be done. A reader commented today on Always Aware that we need less talk and more action. I’m in total agreement, and yet I feel paralyzed in the face of all this to do anything but read and learn and write and discuss and try to understand what it is that will turn our culture around—to understand what actions I can take out in the world to make real change.
I’m planning a road-trip sometime in the future, and I’d like it to be a thing of action and not just words. I’ll be thinking more about what that means, but if you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know.
- Most Victims Know Their Attacker – National Institute of Justice
- Female Victims Of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010 – Bureau of Justice Statistics
- Rape-related pregnancy: estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women – National Library of Medicine
- Sexual Victimization In Prisons And Jails Reported By Inmates, 2008-09 – Bureau of Justice Statistics
On the Web:
- Why I Won’t Publish Your Comments About False Rape Accusations – Rethink the Rant
- Is the United States the only country where more men are raped every year than women? – Feministe
- Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – TIME
- Always Aware: Keeping Our Eye on the Meaning of SAAM – The Sin City Siren
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
- Always Aware
- I Am Jane Doe
- Letter from Another Jane Doe
- Bree’s Story
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.