Guilty: lawyer Walter Madison holds his client, 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond.Photo: AP
Rape is a heinous crime. Rape is second only to murder. Rape is not tolerated in our society.
How is it then, that this very society that so deplores rape manages to not only permit, but actually provide the necessary conditions for sexual violence against women to flourish?
Two things happened yesterday that demonstrate just how much.
First, in Ohio, Ma’lik Richmond, one of two teenage perpetrators in the notorious Steubenville rape case, was released from juvenile detention after serving nine months of a minimum one-year sentence.
As Katie McDonough writes in Salon, the justice system entitles Richmond, who was 16 at the time, to rehabilitation.
However, in order to be rehabilitated some sort of remorse has to be expressed. In confirming his release, a statement released by Richmond’s lawyer, not only indicates a lack of repentance but omits any mention of the crime:
“At sixteen years old, Ma'Lik…endured hardness beyond imagination for any adult yet alone child. He has persevered…and made the most of yet another unfortunate set of circumstances in his life. As with each other obstacle, Ma'Lik has met it squarely, lifted his chin, and set his shoulders; he is braced for the balance of his life. While away, Ma'Lik has reflected, learned, matured, and grown in many ways. He is a better, stronger person and looks forward to school, life, and spending time with family. At this point, Ma'Lik wants most to be a high school teenager.“
Of all the offensive nonsense in this remorseless screed, none exemplifies our skewed attitude to rape more than the bizarre claim that Richmond’s stint in juvenile detention was the result of an ‘unfortunate set of circumstances’ that was somehow outside of his control.
Even after conviction and serving time, the rapist is positioned as the victim. The consequences of his crime are ‘obstacles’ and ‘hardships’ that he must somehow overcome as he struggles to ‘persevere’ in his quest for a normal life.
Sure, we can try to dismiss the statement as the weasel words of a lawyer attempting to make his client look good. But we’d be more successful if they weren’t so reminiscent of how the media reports on such rape cases and how communities react to them.
Take this notorious New York Times article on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas, which does a pretty good job of lamenting the futures of the alleged rapists. ‘How could (the) young men be drawn into such an act?’ the journalist asks, as if there was mysterious entity, and not their own intentions, compelling them.
‘It’s just destroyed our community,’ one resident told the newspaper. ‘These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.’
Likewise, when the guilty verdict was handed down in Steubenville, Twitter lit up with outrage at the ‘whore’ who had ruined the lives of these poor boys.
Even more disturbing was the spectacle of the media agonising over ‘the lasting effect on two young men’ whose ‘lives are destroyed’ by a crime that ‘will haunt them for the rest of their lives.’
All of which helps explain the lawyer’s statement. But unlike Ma’lik Richmond’s lawyer, I can imagine a ’hardness’ more difficult to endure than that of his client: the one suffered by his all but forgotten, anonymous 16-year-old victim.
Which brings me to the second thing that happened yesterday for which we can thank our culture of rape apologia.
Daisy Coleman, the teenager from Maryland, Missouri, who at 13 was allegedly raped, also while unconscious and also while being filmed, before being dumped in freezing temperatures on her mother’s front porch, attempted suicide for the third time.
Despite video evidence linking 17-year-old Matthew Barrett to her rape, the case was dropped before trial. Barrett who came from a prominent local family and whose grandfather is a Missouri state representative, carried on as before.
Coleman, however, was run out of town, bullied, and sent death threats. Eventually she tried to end her life. Three times.
Let’s recap. Ma’lik Richmond, a convicted rapist, whose crime was deemed severe enough to warrant Ohio’s second toughest qualification, requiring him to register as a sex offender every six months (although his profile will not be visible to the public), is able to resume his life a mere nine months later.
Meanwhile, the victim of a crime almost identical to his own finds herself so crippled by her experiences she believes she is better off dead.
This is what we talk about when we talk about rape culture. Even as we claim to hate rape, we pity the rapist and scorn his victims.
Even as we claim to hate rape, we police the behaviour of young women rather than address the entitlement of young men who think girls owe them access to their bodies.
Even as we claim to hate rape, we pretend it isn’t happening.
Our society is clearly failing young women. That young men are sufficiently comfortable in their behaviour that they think nothing of taping and distributing their crimes shows just how little society values young women.
But we are also failing young men because we keep permitting this cycle to repeat. Perhaps these boys act like they did nothing wrong because they have absorbed the convoluted messages of a culture that reassures them that they haven’t.
Yes, our society ‘hates’ rape. But only certain kinds of rape and certain kinds of rapists. When a woman is snatched off the street on her way home, or raped in her own bed by an invader, that is the kind of rape we abhor.
But when it comes to popular students and footballers, when the victim has been drinking or wearing the wrong clothes, or even when she has had consensual sex before, then the lines become blurred and suddenly the scramble is on to absolve the perpetrators of responsibility.
She must have wanted it. She must have asked for it. What did she think was going to happen? It is 2014 and still we can’t overcome the biblical view of women as the keepers of moral virtue. The slightest hint a victim isn’t sexually ‘pure’ and suddenly she becomes complicit in her own rape, a temptress, a predator, luring unsuspecting men astray.
The wellbeing of Ma’lik Richmond’s victim at Steubenville remains unknown to the public, and the life of Daisy Coleman hangs in the balance. But what Richmond’s lawyer thinks you should know is this:
‘Ma'Lik will be taking all the time necessary to focus on his academic and personal goals. We ask for your support and prayers as we move forward.’
Moving forward. If only it were that easy for the actual victims.