The stories keep getting worse out of Torrington. Four different teenage boys affiliated with the Torrington High football program were charged in February and March with statutory rape. On the heels of that, some of their classmates took to social media to further humiliate the victims. And now there’s this:
Another incident surfaced in Litchfield Superior Court this week in which three other boys — two of whom were affiliated football team at the time — are charged with the 2011 gang-rape of an intoxicated 13-year-old girl. The Register Citizen reports details of the allegations unflinchingly and graphically in this harrowing read.
It feels like there’s no end to revelations about sexual assault, not just in Torrington but everywhere. And yet, nothing seems to ever change. A friend of mine wondered if things were somehow getting worse, if abusers were being more brazen and open than ever before. She offered as proof the constant online harassment of victims and websites where rapists brag about their crimes.
I’m still not sure if she’s right or if this is pushback against the culture starting to change for the better, but I am absolutely certain that right now we could be doing an awful lot better.
You know things are bad when I read a story like this and I brace myself the excuses that are sure to start rolling in. It shouldn’t take long for people to start saying nonsense like: She was dressed provocatively. She led them on. She flirted. She regretted it later and turned on them. It was innocent fun. They couldn’t help it. It wasn’t football’s fault, there’s no cultural problem, nobody needs to do anything to fix it.
It’s such a predictable pattern. A lot of it is intended to remove blame from the perpetrators or the society that has shaped them, and to place it squarely on the shoulders of the victim. This happens over and over again. It happened in Steubenville, Ohio. It happened in Torrington. It’ll keep happening until something changes and we stop making excuses.
If you think we don’t have a problem, let me point you at what’s been happening over just the last week:
—Three athletes on the basketball and football teams have been accused of rape at Morehouse University.
—Dartmouth University canceled a day of classes in an attempt to get a handle on things following threats of rape and hate speech aimed at students protesting sexual assaults at the school.
—A University of Arizona student has been carrying around a sign saying “You Deserve Rape,” which is apparently supposed to scare women into dressing modestly.
A cursory search of Google News turns up so, so much more.
Here in Connecticut, UConn student Carolyn Luby wrote an open letter to university president Susan Herbst, which was published by the Feminist Wire.
Luby questioned the university’s recent rebranding program and called attention to a pattern of bad behavior by male athletes.
“Instead of giving these problematic aspects of male athletic peer culture at UConn a second look,” Luby wrote, “It appears that the focus of your administration is prioritizing the remodeling of the fictional face of the Husky Logo.”
It’s a valid critique. But several online outlets twisted her words to suggest she was arguing the logo itself was the problem, and she was viciously attacked by people like Rush Limbaugh for it. Online commenters attacked her looks and threatened her with rape, while on campus she was harassed and ridiculed. People did whatever they could to avoid addressing the substance of her argument, choosing instead to turn on her.
All of this happened in just the last week, here in Connecticut and all around the country.
It amazes me that people still can’t accept that rape culture, in which rape is normalized and excused, is everywhere. There’s a problem with the way boys are raised, and with how society treats boys and girls differently. There’s a problem with the kinds of sexualized expectations we place on young men, and with how society, media, and role models train them to view women. There’s a problem with marquee men’s athletics programs and the culture of entitlement that grows up around them.
There are ways to address these problems, and all of them involve raising boys who know what rape is, that rape is wrong, and that blaming and harassing the victims and their defenders is cowardice. Before we get there, though, we have to stop making excuses. We can’t let the subject be changed.
Because our complacency is the biggest problem of all.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.