Stopping Rape…

I am sure most of you have heard about the Richmond High School gang rape case. For those of you living in a closet here is just a bit of the coverage available on the news lately:

Police in suburban San Francisco believe as many as a dozen people watched, laughed, took snapshots, and stole jewelry as a 15-year-old girl was beaten and gang-raped outside her high school homecoming dance without reporting it.

One suspect is in custody, but police said as many as six other men attacked the intoxicated girl over a two-hour period Friday night outside Richmond High School.

The girl left the dance at approximately 9:30PM and was walking to meet her father for a ride home when a classmate invited her to join a group drinking in the nearby courtyard. The victim had already consumed a large amount of alcohol by the time the assault began. Investigators say as many as 15 people, all males, stood around watching the assault, but did not call police or help the victim.

“She was raped, beaten, robbed and dehumanized by several suspects who were obviously OK enough with it to behave that way in each other’s presence,” Lt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police tells CNN. “What makes it even more disturbing is the presence of others. People came by, saw what was happening and failed to report it.”

“Based on witness statements and suspect statements, and also physical evidence, we know that she was raped by at least four suspects committing multiple sex acts,” Gagan said. “As people announced over time that this was going on, more people came to see, and some actually participated,” he added.

Manuel Ortega, a 19-year-old former student at the school, was arrested soon after he fled the scene and will face charges of rape, robbery and kidnapping, police say. He is being held on $800,000 bail for investigation of rape, and robbery.

“That’s just wrong,” senior class president Gina Saechao, who helped organize the dance, said on Monday. “What if it was your little sister? What if it was your mom?”

The victim remained hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Much of the coverage of this and most high profile sexual assault cases are frustrating because of our culture’s tendency to blame the victim and minimize trauma. I was pleasantly surprised to find the following post. It focuses on what men can do to change the cultural climate that allows for rape and violence towards women to happen.

Men Can Stop Rape:

mobilizes male youth to prevent men’s violence against women. We build young men’s capacity to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity.

The following is their letter published in PTA Magazine.

Everyone would agree that the gang rape outside Richmond High School was horrific. While this criminal act is particularly troubling because of the large number of perpetrators and witnesses, the incident should not be viewed in isolation. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), a sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the United States. In Men Can Stop Rape’s (MCSR) view, rape happens because we as a country have not committed to creating cultures of prevention focused on sexual and dating violence in our schools and communities.

If we pay attention to who commits rape, we see that the majority of assaults are perpetrated by men attacking women and other men. But the majority of men do not commit sexual violence and therefore are potential allies with women. By providing a blueprint for transforming bystanders into active agents of social change, MCSR mobilizes young men across the country to create cultures of rape prevention in their schools and communities.

What gets in the way of prioritizing the creation of these cultures nationwide? Victim-blaming, for one. We worry that people will hold the the young woman in Richmond accountable for her assault, especially since there were reports in the media that she had been drinking alcohol. No rape survivors are ever at fault for their assault, whatever the circumstances. To place responsibility on her is a way of diverting responsibility from the young men who committed the rape.

Outsiders typecasting sexual assault as occurring in communities with troubled youth serves as another way of not addressing rape as a social issue. In an October 28 Contra Costa Times article, one student is deeply disturbed that all the Richmond High students were described as animals in response to the assault. There were 400 students at the prom who did not commit rape. And there were female and male students who took steps to call the police. What enabled them to act in a humane manner? These students should be part of the story.

So, what can we do? First, we need an understanding of rape prevention that is broader in scope, that involves females and males, and that is based on respecting our cultures and ourselves. Historically, preventing sexual assault has been thought of in terms of females engaging in risk reduction, such as walking in pairs or dressing conservatively. For lasting change to occur, however, men and women can prevent sexual violence by challenging the attitudes and assumptions that dehumanize women. Atianna Gibbs, a recent Richmond High graduate, says in the October 28 Contra Costa Times article, “That could easily have been their sister, their mom. …Nobody deserves that.” Her comment suggests that it is easier to hurt someone who is of no importance to us than someone who is. This act of dehumanization is an attitude connected to rape and other forms of violence. Racist violence, gay bashing, and rape clearly all share this dynamic.

Fathers can serve as role models of healthy masculinity for their sons and daughters by treating everyone with respect and empathy. Mothers and fathers can discuss with their children what consent and healthy relationships look like. They can become involved with groups like PTA to work to ensure that there are multiple ways schools engage in creating a culture of rape prevention, such as classroom curricula, after-school groups, teacher trainings, and public education campaigns. Parents should support their sons’ involvement with youth programs that encourage healthy masculinity and relationships, like Men Can Stop Rape’s middle school and high school Men of Strength Clubs.

Through our clubs, young men choose to define their own masculinity by evaluating whether messages about manhood, like “don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” play a role in creating unhealthy and unsafe relationships. They learn skills to speak out effectively when they see attitudes and behaviors that degrade women and girls. Club members translate their curriculum lessons into public education and peer education, uniting a wide cross-section of the community consisting of students, parents, educators, administrators, and business leaders. The young men in the club pledge to be men whose strength is used for respect, not for hurting.

If we want healthy cultures, empathy must occupy the center of a culture’s core, nonviolence must be a shared value, and everyone must matter. Men and women can prevent rape by sharing responsibility and by recognizing that if our cultures are going to be healthy, everyone must play a part in caring to make them so.

Patrick McGann, PhD, is vice president of communications for Men Can Stop Rape, Washington, DC.

Neil Irvin is vice president of programs for Men Can Stop Rape and a member of the Forrest Knolls PTA of Silver Spring, Maryland.

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~ by After Silence on November 6, 2009.

2 Responses to “Stopping Rape…”

  1. Some rapists use a loaded gun. Bet many more use a loaded victim.

    Paul Kivel’s book, “Men’s Work” is insightful and it’s definitely NOT all show and no go.

  2. This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday – http://www.fivestarfriday.com/2009/11/five-star-fridays-edition-79.html

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