'Ban Rape, Not Books'

Monday, August 22, 2011 / 8:22 AM

Ask yourself this: what do you do to protect yourself from rape? Byron Hurt reflected on this question back in March in an article for The Root:

"The following day, I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: "Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?"

Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, "Nothing." 

Then Katz asked the women, "What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?" Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:

"I don’t make eye contact with men when I walk down the street," said one.

"I don’t put my drink down at parties," said another.

"I use the buddy system when I go to parties."

"I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction."

"I use my keys as a potential weapon."

The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men’s side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life--including my mother, sister and girlfriend--and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender."

There are a lot of statistics and numbers that can be thrown around from year to year, and I'm surprised if you're surprised to learn that rape is one of the most under-reported crimes. Allegations of sexual abuse or assault are often not taken seriously and it's a shame to acknowledge that we live in a rape culture--one that teaches us "don't get raped" instead of "don't rape;" a system that labels domestic violence as a preexisting condition; a society that victim-blames and questions the victim's behavior before punishing an attacker. Men and women of every age can be a victim and anyone can be an attacker. It doesn't matter if the victim knows the attacker or not and it doesn't matter if the victim takes one day, one month or one year to report it--there is no excuse for rape.

Recently in North Hampton, Missouri, a lawsuit was filed against the Republic School District by the mother of a seventh-grade female special education student who was raped twice on school property. The first incident occurred during the 2008-09 school year. When school officials did not believe the girl after she reported it, she immediately withdrew her claims and was forced to write an apology letter to the boy who she accused. The girl was also expelled from the school. Officials failed to take note of the girl's file in which a psychological report stated "that [the girl] was conflict adverse, behaviorally passive and 'would forego her own needs and wishes to satisfy the request of others around so she can be accepted.'"

The girl was allowed back into school for the following year, where the same boy who had harassed and attacked her the year before raped her again. She did not report the rape in fear of being expelled a second time.

After an examination by the Child Advocacy Center, DNA evidence showed that she had, in fact, been raped. The boy was taken to Juvenile Court where he pleaded guilty. The current suit filed against the Republic School District and school officials was filed at the beginning of July, and the district's response came weeks later: "Plaintiff’s claims against the District are frivolous, and have no basis in fact or law. Therefore, the District Defendants are entitled to an award of their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs."

The Springfield News-Leader also reports, "The girl failed and neglected to use reasonable means to protect her self, the response says. Any damages the girl may have sustained, 'were as a result of the negligence, carelessness, or conduct of third parties over whom the District Defendants had neither control nor the right to control,' according to the school district response."

Understandably and rightfully so, the community is outraged. "Both times they didn't believe her; that's the bottom line. If it can happen with her, it can happen with another child," said Casey Kaylor Crump, the creator of a Facebook event titled "A Protest Against Republic School's Handling of a Student's Rape."

"These educators have lost their privilege of teaching children in the community," Crump said.

Meanwhile, the Republic school board has banned two books, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer, from library shelves. The board ironically voted to allow Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak to remain in schools.

An ad from Scotland that needs to be spread worldwide.
Every allegation of sexual harassment, assault, abuse and rape must be taken seriously. The more victims are scared into silence, the more endangered we all are. Rape happens. It can happen to anyone and it happens too often. The immediate assumption that every accusation is a false one is ignorant. To exist in a world where the abused are punished and made to feel ashamed of something they could not control is unacceptable. It's time we talk about this violence so that we no longer live in a rape culture.

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  1. The number of cases that arise in which a victim is questioned for his/her behavior is astounding and I would argue that the claim that allegations are not often taken seriously is not "a bit of a stretch." As someone who has reported on issues of sexual violence and talked to victims, advocates and law officials, it is common to doubt the credibility of the victim. It is as much a generalization to say that her reliability as a source should be questioned because she is a special education student. The stigma associated with special ed students needs to change. We also do not know the extent of her special needs, so it isn't fair to assume that she is immediately unreliable. Also, it should be the school's responsibility for ensuring a safe environment for their students.

  2. Honestly, every time I have seen news coverage of a rape case, there is questioning and criticism of the accuser. While I know everybody needs to be given a fair trial and that we need to avoid false accusation, I still consider it noteworthy that EVERY rape case I've heard of has included discrediting of the accuser. And those are only the cases taken up by the media, probably a fraction of the ones that actually happen.
    From what I have heard of this particular case, the school acted with appalling ignorance and lazy judgment. And I don't think the girl's status as a special education student is any reason to treat her claims with less seriousness- in fact, her vulnerability makes her MORE deserving of protection from administrators. Failing to sufficiently investigate her claims because she is lower functioning is negligence bordering on discrimination.