Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently bought the Washington Post. If columns posted there over the last few days are any indication, he can’t take over soon enough. In two editorials — one by a guest editorialist, another by a veteran columnist — the Post went all-in to defend rapists from committing rape, while blaming society for creating rapists in the first place. In the process, the Post became, as This Week in Blackness editor Imani Gandy put it, a “pro-rape propaganda rag.”
The first of the two pieces of propaganda came from former lawyer Betsy Karasik, who argued that sex between a 50-year-old teacher and his 14-year-old student shouldn’t be prosecuted because hey, it isn’t “rape-rape.” Besides, she knows all kinds of students who have slept with their teachers; it’s practically a trend!
Karasik wrote about the awful case of a girl who committed suicide at 16, after having been raped by her teacher, Stacey Rambold. As you may recall, Rambold was allowed to enter a diversionary program, which he later flunked out of. Nevertheless, he was only sentenced to 30 days in jail by Judge G. Todd Baugh, who blamed the victim of the crime as much as Rambold. Rambold, in turn, blamed prosecutors for prosecuting Rambold in the first place, saying the prosecution, not the rape itself, led to the victim’s death.
You may think I’m exaggerating, but I am not:
As protesters decry the leniency of Rambold’s sentence — he will spend 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to raping [the victim], who committed suicide at age 16 — I find myself troubled for the opposite reason. I don’t believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized. While I am not defending Judge G. Todd Baughs comments about [the victim] being “as much in control of the situation” — for which he has appropriately apologized — tarring and feathering him for attempting to articulate the context that informed his sentence will not advance this much-needed dialogue.
This leads to the obvious question: what much-needed dialogue? Is there anyone out there strongly advocating for the right of teachers to sleep with their 14-year-old students? If so, can you please let me know, so I can keep them away from everyone I know?
With limited exceptions, the lowest age of consent in the United States is 16. That means, simply, that there can’t be sex between a 50-year-old and a 14-year-old, because we recognize that a 14-year-old is not old enough to meaningfully consent to someone who is significantly older than them and has much more life experience to draw on — especially if that older person is in a position of power over them, as a teacher unquestionably is.
By definition, if you’re a mature adult having sex with a 14-year-old, you aren’t having sex. You’re a rapist. It doesn’t matter if it’s “consensual.” It can’t be consensual, because those kids are simply too young to consent in any meaningful way. It is no different than taking advantage of someone who’s too drunk to know what they’re doing.
Speaking of which, you may recall the awful Steubenville rape case, in which two high school football players were convicted of raping a girl who was too drunk to resist. The case ended in convictions for Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richardson, but not before the victim’s entire life was opened up to scrutiny and shaming.
What caused the assault in Steubenville? Was it just a couple of kids gone bad? Or was it a part of our culture, in which rape by men, especially star athletes, is minimized, and indeed sometimes even condoned? Was this just one incident, or did it throw the entirety of rape culture into relief? What, ultimately, caused this?
Well, Post columnist, noted sexual harasser and pro-racial profiling advocate Richard Cohen has gotten to the bottom of it at last. Remember Richard Cohen? Sure you do! He’s the guy who’s upset that ladies are now attracted to Daniel Craig, just because the guy works out. Remember when young ladies were all atwitter over guys like Richard Cohen — I mean, Cary Grant? Alas, those days are gone.
Anyhow, Cohen has finally answered the question of Steubenville, and the answer is simple: Miley Cyrus twerked.
Now, you may be surprised to learn that Miley Cyrus traveled back in time and twerked in Steubenville, thus setting off this whole chain of events, but Cohen has never let logic get in the way of a good screed. First, he wants to make sure you understand that, like 14-year-olds getting raped by 50-year-olds, Steubenville wasn’t “rape-rape,” either:
The first thing you should know about the so-called Steubenville Rape is that this was not a rape involving intercourse. The next thing you should know is that there weren’t many young men involved — just two were convicted. The next thing you should know is that just about everything you do know about the case from TV and the Internet was wrong. One medium fed the other, a vicious circle of rumor, innuendo and just plain lies. It made for marvelous television.
Yes, only two men were convicted, which totally proves that all of the other people who videotaped the event and helped to cover it up are innocent. They weren’t involved at all! This leads Cohen to tut-tut that the internet had “formed itself into a digital lynch mob that demanded the arrest of the innocent for a crime — gang rape — that had not been committed.” Because, I guess, two men is not enough to be a “gang.”
Now, Cohen is completely wrong about the conduct in the Steubenville case falling short of rape — according to Ohio law, it most certainly was. Still, that’s not even the worst part about Cohen’s rape apologism. That he saves for Miley Cyrus.
So now back to Miley Cyrus and her twerking. I run the risk of old-fogeyness for suggesting the girl’s a tasteless twit — especially that bit with the foam finger. (Look it up, if you must.) But let me also suggest that acts such as hers not only objectify women but debase them. They encourage a teenage culture that has set the women’s movement back on its heels. What is being celebrated is not sexuality but sexual exploitation, a mean casualness that deprives intimacy of all intimacy.
Look, Miley Cyrus deserves a thorough razzing, primarily because her act was chock full of cultural appropriation. However, is Cohen really going to argue that it’s Cyrus and her ilk who caused at least two men in Steubenville to rape? That allegedly caused their coach to cover it up? That caused their peer group to pass around the video of the assault as if it was a keepsake?
I have news for Richard Cohen. Rape predates the internet by thousands, if not millions, of years. Indeed, as our culture has become more open about sexuality, the incidence of rape has dropped. Now, that doesn’t mean that the drop is caused by a more free-spirited and open sexuality. However, it does mean that we shouldn’t blame Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe or Mae West for rape existing.
You know who’s responsible for rape? Rapists. They’re the men (and yes, sometimes women) who choose to ignore the fact that their partner is unable to consent, who choose to find means, violent or otherwise, to make them incapable of consent, or who violate others intimately, causing grievous harm. Whether their victim is 14 or 40, whether their victim is a friend or stranger, whether their victim is drunk, drugged or held at knifepoint, rapists are the ones making the choice to rape.
Until we as a society stop making excuses for rapists, stop blaming their crimes on others, they will continue to do so. Until the Post stops posting rape apology masked as deep thinking, I will be ignoring them.
Take Action! Demand that Judge G. Todd Baugh resign!
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