Posts Tagged ‘rape’

Ending the Culture of Rape

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

The web group Anonymous collected and posted information on the accused Steubenville rapists.

By Bob Gaydos

The culture of rape. Yet another disheartening fact of life hammered into our collective consciousness — and perhaps, conscience — through the collective conversation of social media. This week, the messages came from opposite sides of the planet, separated by light years of history as well as thousands of miles of geography.

To wit: Some people — far too many people — think of rape as an inevitable fact of life, almost a rite of passage, something to be tsked-tsked at, but, ultimately, not serious enough to “ruin” the lives of the rapists and certainly something over which the victim has some control.

From India, where the culture of rape is apparently well-known and a tradition of long standing and where many citizens are still angry over efforts to cover up a recent fatal gang rape, comes the story of a Swiss tourist who was the victim of another gang rape. The local police chief said she and her husband should have known better than to camp where they did, seeing as his county is apparently the gang rape capital of India. A couple of days later, a British tourist leaped from the third-floor balcony of her hotel room to escape the hotel manager trying to assault her. She suffered two broken legs and head injuries. It was in a different county.

From Steubenville, Ohio, where high school football is apparently the only game and claim to fame in the town, comes the story of two star high school football players who raped a teen-ages girl, bragged about it in sickening detail on Twitter, and almost got away with it because a football coach and a lot of other local residents apparently valued high school football success over the rights of a female not to have her body violently invaded against her will.

The Steubenville case came to light because of persistent efforts by the web group Anonymous, which gathered information on the attack and posted it on the internet, and the heroic efforts of a local blogger who risked her own life in collecting and posting the Twitter accounts and demanding arrests. The victim was called a “slut” in posts commenting on the local blogger’s reports.

Unfortunately, when the two athletes finally came to trial and were convicted, major electronic media perpetuated the culture of rape by focusing on the way in which the two young men’s lives were “ruined“ by their raping someone and ignoring any possible impact the rape may have had on the victim. Fox News went so far as to name the victim, a departure from traditional news media treatment of rape victims. The attackers were convicted as juveniles and could be free in a couple of years, but they will be listed as sex offenders, which is what they are.

I have no desire to rehash the details of these cases, all well-covered, as I said, on the Internet. Suffice to say, Facebook is awash in posts on the Steubenville case and the Ohio attorney general is talking about an investigation of the attempted coverup of the assault. The world is watching.

In response to widespread disgust and embarrassment across the country, the Indian parliament has passed a law expanding the penalties for repeat rape offenders to life in prison or even death and imposing harsher penalties on stalking. More likely to have an impact, several countries, Britain and Switzerland among them, have issued warnings to citizens about traveling to India — not safe for females because of sexually motivated assaults. With billions in tourism dollars potentially at stake, even the most insensitive, clueless politician has to pay attention.

But as far as I’m concerned Steubenville and India deserve whatever negative effects they suffer from the rape cases for allowing the culture of rape to comfortably exist within their borders. Unfortunately, they are not alone. This attitude of semi-acceptance of men sexually harassing and assaulting women has prevailed on the planet for centuries. Again, the Internet, especially social media, may, slowly, be driving a change in attitude.

Among the reasons for some optimism in this regard is the effort of Breakthrough, an international human rights group, which is seeking to obtain concrete promises from 1 million men to end discrimination and sexual assault against women. The group wants to alter the impression given to boys that it is acceptable to objectify, dehumanize and violate women. As one male supporter of the effort put it: We should raise boys to be men, rather than raising them to not be women or gay.

There’s more. As news of these attacks spread on social media, so did reports of other rapes and the way in which they were being treated by police authorities and news media. Sensing a greater awareness and, more significantly, a willingness to talk about rape, women’s rights groups have begun an effort to change the way the conversation is focused. They want to look at how the attackers are dealt with. What messages are being sent to young boys?

Other positive signs? In Congress, despite the incomprehensible efforts of Republicans to defeat it, the Violence Against Women Act was renewed and signed into law by President Obama. In London, a huge crowd joined the One Billion Rising campaign in front or Parliament to protest violence against women. Even in Egypt, where sexual harassment and sexual attacks against women have been commonplace since its revolution, groups are rising up to protest the culture of rape.

These efforts will gain worldwide support through the Internet, but will inevitably face strong opposition from the existing male power structure, many of whose members look upon it as a matter of superiority — men being the superior ones and women being vessels for invasion and reproduction. Just recall the inane comments made about rape by some male Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate last year. (They all lost, another positive sign.)

Of course, any attempt to change the focus of the discussion of rape from the victim to the attackers will require men and women to agree on changes in arrest and prosecution of sexual assaults so that more women feel free to report the crimes. (Some reports say that only three out of every 100 men accused of rape in this country spend any time behind bars.) It will require a willingness for both sexes to talk honestly about the issue. And it will require a recognition that the existence of a culture of rape within any community — be it Steubenville, Ohio, or India — is an assault on the psyche of the community itself and must be exorcised for the well-being of all.

Let the effort begin.



GOP ‘Reform’: The Crying Game

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, 113th Congress

By Emily Theroux

By focusing his second inaugural address on equal opportunity, did Barack Obama finally give John Boehner something to cry about?

I certainly hope so.

At the very least, the Weeper of the House still appears to be running scared. After Obama walloped Republican prognosticators in November by depriving Mitt Romney of what they envisioned as certain victory, Boehner appeared shell-shocked during his post-election press briefing.

“We’re ready to be led, not as Democrats or as Republicans but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative but as a President of the United States of America. We want you to succeed. Let’s challenge ourselves to finding the common ground that has eluded us. Let’s rise above the dysfunction and do the right thing together for our country.”

Boehner’s acquiescence was a far cry from his disingenuous “Hell no, you don’t!” eruption in 2010. As columnist Dana Milbank noted, Boehner delivered his 2012 speech in a room named for Speaker Sam Rayburn, who allegedly said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one.” (“Boehner sounds as though he’s ready to pick up hammer and nail,” Milbank observed. “But will his fellow Republicans stop kicking?”)

President Barack Obama

That question set the stage for the contentious two-headed behemoth that the Republican Party has devolved into since last fall. Boehner has already changed strategies several times. After the president’s speech, the beleaguered House speaker told the conservative Ripon Society he believes Obama intends to “annihilate the Republican Party, to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”

(If Boehner asked me, I’d advise him to guard his right flank. He won a second term as speaker with a record 12 GOP defections — probably revenge for ousting four recalcitrant teabaggers from their committee assignments in December. The refusal of far-right ideologues to support the speaker’s agenda — particularly when it emerges from a bargain with the president — has driven Boehner to assemble a pragmatic yet uncertain coalition of  moderate Republicans and Democrats who have voted so far to thwart the fiscal cliff, pass Obama’s tax increase on the wealthy, allocate Hurricane Sandy aid, and postpone another disastrous debt-ceiling stalemate.)

Republicans are terrified by Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda of passing progressive legislation on comprehensive immigration reform, gun control, gay rights,  and climate change. They’re dismayed that the president has converted his campaign machinery into a nonprofit group, to promote his initiatives and oppose GOP intractability. They’re also rattled because Obama is bypassing them, as he did during the campaign, and speaking to Americans directly — and Americans appear to be listening.)


Will Republicans ever stop kicking?

In the three months since the president’s reelection threw them for a loop, Republicans have advanced and retreated; pissed and moaned; stamped their feet and squealed like stuck pigs. On occasion, they’ve done a 180 and meekly fallen in line to vote with Democrats. Here are a few highlights of the GOP’s baffling recent machinations on matters of policy, posturing, and the subterfuge known as “messaging”:

La. Gov. Bobby Jindal

1) The ‘stupid party’: Immediately after Gov. Willard “Mitt” Romney lost the 2012 election, Gov. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, the son of Punjabi immigrants (and Louisiana’s first non-white governor since African-American newspaper publisher P.B.S. Pinchback served for 35 days during Reconstruction), began angling to position himself as the multicultural face of the “new” GOP. “We’ve got to stop being the ‘stupid party’,” Jindal railed. Unfortunately, his harsh, regressive policy proposals (drastically cutting Medicaid benefits for nursing homes and the poor, and replacing state income and corporate taxes with a sales tax increase targeting the bottom 80 percent of Louisiana residents) tarnish any claim he might eventually stake to the 2016 nomination.

 2) Rekindling the ‘war on women’: Jindal and other Republicans have called out failed Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock for making “offensive and bizarre” remarks about rape. For awhile, the GOP appeared to have shifted its frenzied campaign against women’s reproductive rights to the back burner. Then John Boehner inexplicably dialed up the misogyny by throwing red meat to the culture warriors at the “March for Life”, an annual D.C. anti-abortion protest. Boehner vowed “to make abortion a relic of the past” and a fundamental Republican goal.  (Translation:  to criminalize safe, legal abortion, returning us to an era of butchery that all too frequently terminated the woman along with the pregnancy.)

3) ‘And build the danged fence’: After Romney lost the Latino vote by 40 points, pols and pundits proclaimed that the GOP needed to retire its blatant aversion to immigrants. What Republican policy-makers fail to realize is that even if they eventually climb aboard Obama’s bandwagon and support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, it may do little to thwart the repercussions from decades of right-wing ethnic prejudice against Latinos. (Right now, green cards look like a distant prospect. The president’s immigration proposal is meeting determined resistance from GOP hardliners who would rather shine the president on than cooperate, strutting their belligerent “border security” stuff  all the way from Laredo to San Diego.)


Summit attendees oddly complacent

What does the Republican Party need to do to recoup?” asked MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. “They need to get back to a message of hope, instead of a message of rejection.”

The problem with the “evolving” GOP is that it many of its members seem to have reached a premature verdict (especially in light of the strange complacency on display at last weekend’s National Review post-election summit): The party’s problem resides not in its core precepts, but in its candidates, its tactics, its “messaging.” These folks have decided they don’t need to change what they’re saying; just rejiggering the words they’re using, and the people who are saying them, should suffice. They’re probably too deeply invested in Machiavellian chicanery (which masquerades, for them, as “principle”) to truly change.

The Republican Party has become a figment of its own delusions, the same ones it devised to foist on unwary simpletons. It has no moral center, and Americans know it.

Faced with the enormity of the GOP’s decline into selfishness, avarice, and intolerance, Professor David Schultz pronounced its aging white constituency “the real takers.” Columnist David Brooks advised throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them,” Brooks observed, adding that the GOP conundrum of battling government is incompatible with actual governance. His conclusion: “It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party” that can compete outside the South and rural West.

Do any of the cagey, conflicted partisans in the current GOP dare call their recent experimentation with “messaging” and theatrics “Republican Party reform”? Don’t believe it until you see the whites of their eyes — and then be sure to look for any trace of genuine tears.

Malala Was the Clear Person of the Year

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Time's version of a Malala cover.

By Bob Gaydos

I finally got around to checking to see who Time magazine selected as the person of the year for 2012. Turns out the editors, who have been known to like surprise choices, went with the safe, conventional wisdom choice — the leader of the free world, Barack Obama.

To which I say, in all humility, they got it wrong. Yes, Obama had a good year, but he was already president and he beat a chameleon to get re-elected. The clear person of the year, the person who made a profound impact on the world without being the leader of the most powerful nation ever to exist, was Time’s Number 2 choice — Malala Yousafzi. The 15-year-old Pakistani girl became an instant symbol of courage and hope and, I believe, a spokesperson for women’s rights worldwide, simply by refusing to bow to threats from Taliban terrorists and taking a bullet in the head as a result.

Malala, who survived an assassination attempt on a bus in her hometown and has been recovering in a London hospital, had already been an outspoken advocate for access to education for Pakistani girls for several years as a blogger before the Taliban decided that killing her was the only way to stop her, even though they expected public outrage. Instead, their botched attempt made Malala a worldwide heroine and sparked public protests in Pakistan for the very thing the Taliban fear most — educated women.

But something else has also happened, I believe. In neighboring India, traditional enemy of Pakistan, there were also demonstrations to support Malala‘s cause. And most recently, India’s culture of acceptable rape by gangs of men against women has given rise to large protests throughout that country as well as in Pakistan, where violence against women also has not been a major issue. Until now.

There is, I sense, a worldwide stirring for women‘s rights, most notably in countries where they have traditionally been ignored. These range from the widespread outrage in India over the death of a 23-year-old rape victim to the mostly symbolic, yet significant, appointment of 30 women to the previously all-male Shura Council in Sauid Arabia. The council is only advisory to King Abdullah, who made the appointments, but the move stirred protests by some Saudi clerics anyway. Saudi women have male guardians who guide their “decisions,” are not allowed to drive and will vote for the first time next year. Expect more pressure to speed the process of equality.

Back to India, where male children are much favored and abortion of female fetuses is still common, even though against the law. The public outcry over the gang rape forced authorities to reverse initial efforts to let the rapists go and punish the protestors. This is not India’s usual way of dealing with women. I think Malala has had a lot to do with that and with social media efforts to point out similar outrages by men in positions of power.

Even in the “enlightened” United States, political candidates, elected officials and judges have been publicly exposed for views on rape that can only be described as criminally ignorant.

Malala’s unique weapon is apparently an unwavering belief that what she wants — access to education for all girls in Pakistan — is unassailably right and, so, undeniable. She can see no other way. And her age provides certainty to her and, I suspect, a degree of shame to adults who agree with her but did not dare to say so publicly at the risk of their lives. She has no armies, navies, air forces or weapons of mass destruction at her call. She has no great wealth at her disposal. World leaders do not seek her out for favors. She is a teenaged girl with an innate sense of what is right and just, for women and men, and the courage to say so out loud.

As such, she has become the voice of millions of women, and men, around the globe. The person of the year beyond doubt.



Questions for Todd Akin

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

This is a certainty. Rep. Todd Akin, who is 65, knows less about human reproduction than a precocious 12-year old. His explanation of the relationship between rape and pregnancy is right out of the Dark Ages.

“It seems to be,” he said, “first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down,” he said.

As a result of Akin’s bizarre reference to “legitimate rape” – is that the kind where you ask permission? – the Republican Establishment, such as it is, called for him to withdraw from the Senate race in Missouri. But he promptly told Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and Senator Scott Brown, (R-Mass.) and others to go to hell. In the incumbent, Democrat Claire McCaskill, Akin sees easy pickings and nothing like a little ignorance on pregnancy is going to knock him out of the campaign.

Quit the race? When a day after his idiotic remark, Akin apologized but made sure to inform listeners to Mike Huckabee’s radio program that he was running by the grace of you know who? Romney and other critics must be nuts.

So that’s how it stands.

Except that when you ignorantly dismiss an issue affecting half the American population, there are questions you are required to answer.

Congressman Akin:

–How “really rare” is it for a woman who has been raped to get pregnant? You attribute this to some doctors. Identify them.

How many doctors told you that such pregnancies are really rare? Was it more than two?

–What were their sources? Police records? FBI crime statistics? Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Oh, wait. These agencies don’t differentiate between legitimate rape and illegitimate rape, so what information did you examine? You did actually see this information, didn’t you?

–What precisely is a “legitimate rape?” How does a legitimate rape differ from an illegitimate rape? Has anyone else ever used the word “legitimate” to describe a rape? Or are you breaking new ground?

–Do you have any idea of what you’re talking about when you say that a woman’s body “has ways to try to shut the whole thing down”? What are those ways?

–In your apology you said your comment was ill-conceived and wrong, and that you apologize. But you also said, “I used the wrong words in the wrong way.” Please elaborate. And please give an example of how someone could use the wrong words in the right way.

–Please explain why your initial statement and subsequent apology appear on your campaign web site, but not on your Congressional site?

Todd Akin, who is old enough to qualify for Medicare, is the father of six children. You’d think by this time he would know a little something about sex.