Changing The Trajectory

The amazing Soraya Chemaly just released this Huffington Post piece on Rehtaeh Parsons, rape, and cultures of conformity.

Soraya Chemaly: What Rehtaeh Parsons Death Teaches Us About Rape as a Conformity.

We have children attacking other children, friends they’ve known for years, and then releasing the images of the attacks on social media like trophies. The victims are doubly shamed, harmed, hurt, while the reputations of the good young men with potential are protected.

It’s a must read and I agree strongly with her statement that the trajectory of shaming victims and supporting attackers must be changed:

“The issue is: Why are so many boys so very sure that they can get away with raping? Or learning that their status and prestige are enhanced by sharing photo-documentary evidence of their actions? They think they can get away with it because we teach them that they can and that they might even be rewarded for it. Their victims feel shame and are shamed. What we have to do is reverse this trajectory.

The shameless conformists are the rapists. The transgressors — who are treated as whistleblowers — are the victims who dare to speak up. When they are bullied and threatened, it is by others who are conforming to silence and abuse of power and expect the raped to as well.”

I am unsure though, how we do so in a way that doesn’t create the reverse system of shaming the children and families that were the actual transgressors. We currently have a system within which revenge and “old testament” thinking is in place

I think what justice system should say is: “We will NOT put you in the same position of being raped, because while you must serve time in prison, you must make deep amends for your crime through reparations and work after prison to educate others etc, we will not as a culture allow you to be tortured in the same way.” We as a culture have to be better than the people who are causing crime. As it is, we turn blind eyes to crimes in prison, allow for it, expect it, dehumanize prisoners purposefully. Huge corporations make money off of it and it is a national shame.

People already know that they might be raped in prison. It does not seem like a deterrent that is currently working. But there are calls all over the internet for it, which is horrible to me. It’s nothing but dominance and shame in cycle after cycle.

These criminals clearly deserve justice and to be removed from society. How do we do that without the “See how you like it!” revenge fantasy? Revenge feels powerful. Empathy and compassion feels, well, like being soft on crime. I think there can be justice and there can be compassion, but that doesn’t mean I want them to be wrapped in unicorn blankets and spoonfed cotton candy. It means we as a nation have to make some seriously hard choices about how we do what we do and who we are.

We need leaders like MLK in all this.

There should be MORE training of police to deal with victims, MORE support in school settings to understand the dynamics of bullying, MORE work done on how the use of social media is problematic MORE work around the toxic myths of gender that help support a culture of rape, of all those things.

It’s that Hydra thing I wrote about.

But no, there should be no rape there, no torture, in prison. There should be no assault by other prisoners or by guards. People know they’ll be raped and hurt in prison. That’s obviously not much of a deterrent currently.

Over the last 10 years we’ve allowed torture to become part of our culture. Actually, I’m sure it was used behind the scenes in decades past, but we are openly justifying it now, with things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib capturing public imagination. It’s wrong. It’s evil.

Our fear and anxiety and disconnection has increased year after year. Our devotion to sarcasm and irony and anger, increased also.

We are disengaged from our moral center if we think that how these criminals got to where they are will be fixed in any way in our current prison set up. We are father away still, when we simply seek revenge instead of truly trying to fix the system.

Belonging is a core need of the human animal. Those girls who have died at their own hands, took their lives because that need was destroyed and severed. It’s a crime beyond imagining. The boys involved deserve to be punished.

We need a new imagination though, to reverse, as Soraya Chemaly suggests, that trajectory, and it will take a kind of work I’m not sure we all have the collective stomach for because it will mean letting go of our desires for vengeance, greed, dominance, anger, harshness.

There is something much bigger going on right now in our culture and society and we have to work together to identify and heal it. I’m glad for Sorya and others who are doing that work. Non-violence may be harder than violence. But it’s more important too.



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6 responses to “Changing The Trajectory

  1. jessica arjet

    I feel that we should be moving towards restorative justice ( rather than our current system of punishment. The research, (and some of my personal experiences from my social work days) shows that there is a huge need for the victims of rape to confront their attackers. They need an apology and to know why the attacker did it. They need to tell their story and have the attacker hear it. When this happens, it is absolutely transformational for both parties involved. Even with surrogates (rape victims talking to other perpetrators) it is a very powerful tool.
    But this is completely outside of our regular court system, and so the needs of both go unmet because they don’t fit into the punishment mode of our justice system.
    I don’t know what it would take to start moving in the direction of having people actually atone for their crimes, but I would love to see it happen.

    • Thanks for this comment Jessica, as it turns out, I’ve been in a heated argument for much of the day with a woman insisting that RJ is biblical in nature and thus not to be trusted. My research indicates it’s far older than J/C texts and used/found in all the major religions. She linked to a very right wing Xtian site about it. But, I think the idea that connection is healing and humanizing is hard to fathom. It’s much easier to hate on people and put them in prison, and more profitable too. I had a hard time in the conversation and at one point she came close to saying I was advocating FOR rapists. Or something it wasn’t clear.

      Inasmuch as they are human beings and I don’t want them harmed out of vengeance, yeah I guess I’m advocating for them.

      People aren’t like rabid dogs. We can’t just “put down” any sociopath we deem is sociopathic. Hell, we’d probably have to kill 1/5th of our country at that point. I’d go so far as to say the whole system we live in is sociopathic, from the computer I”m typing on (made by Chinese children in sweatshops with metals mined by other slaves in Africa) to how we treat each other in lawsuits, to the food we eat and throw away while the homeless starve….I mean come one.

      One person on the thread said that non violence as a philosophy was pathological. I don’t get it.

      • HeatherN

        “One person on the thread said that non violence as a philosophy was pathological. I don’t get it.”

        I think it comes from a more hedonistic view of human nature…a more libertine approach to humanity…and a misunderstanding of what you mean by non-violence. Except, well, hedonism and libertine are more sexual terms…but I mean more…an approach that says that a non-violent philosophy is denying and repressing aspects of our true selves, which are violent and animalistic. And so repressing parts of our selves, and restricting ourselves (including the violent bits) is pathological. And so there is justified/”good” violence…and there is unjustified/”bad” violence…but trying to be non-violent completely is to repress ourselves and be naive and “childish” to think that’ll get anything accomplished.

        Personally, I think that whole view of human nature is a symptom of our rather violence-prone and violence-accepting culture. Non-violence is only seen as childish because we are in a culture which promotes the idea that maturity = dominance.

  2. HeatherN

    I actually don’t think we’ll ever get very far in preventing violent assault and rape until we change how we deal with the perpetrators of such crimes. Rape is about dehumanization, objectification, dominance, violence and power. If our response to rape is further dehumanization, dominance, etc., then all we’ve really told the rapists we’ve prosecuted is that they picked the wrong target.

    I’d go so far as to say our current prison system is part of rape culture (or maybe rape culture is part of our prison system)…when we talk about victims of poor prisoner treatment it’s the same sort of backwards logic we use when talking about victims of rape: “they should have known better,” “they shouldn’t have worn the skirt/committed the crime,” “they deserve it for having done something society deems unacceptable.”

    It’s not exactly the same, by any means. Criminals have committed a crime and (aside from some glaring exceptions like a lot of drug crimes) have victimized other human beings. Victims of rape haven’t done squat to anyone. But the logic that we use to justify the dehumanization of each group is actually quite similar.

  3. There is always going to be part of the population with socio/psychopathy and a subset of those will sadly go on to harm others. Are they fully aware their actions are that bad? If yes then how do we reintroduce some form of decency into their behaviour? If no then how do we teach them the level of damage done by their behaviour?

    I’ve wondered if there was a way to let rapists feel power in other ways that could satisfy some needs, is there a way to divert them from taking power from someone else? A healthy outlet for their feelings? I don’t fully understand why people rape but I do hope there is a way to prevent future rape if we can somehow get people to exercise a healthy way to gain control or power or whatever the hell they desire that doesn’t harm others.

    Preventing initial abuse will help prevent further abuse but what do we do about those who were not abused, who are fully unknown until they attack? Will teaching them rape is wrong change the minds of most who commit rape? I don’t know anyone that doesn’t understand rape is wrong (at least I hope they all understand) and what scares me is that the rapists may just not care. I really do hope we can drastically reduce rape n abuse by teaching people but I fear there is a point we will get to where the rapists who are left will simply not give a damn and continue to harm others. I think rape will always exist, there is always going to be some people who simply lack the empathy n humanity to bother with consent and that scares me a lot.

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