Steubenville High School Rapist Released

Conflicting Feelings: On Steubenville, Rape Culture, and Incarceration of Black Men

When I opened up the news earlier this week, I couldn’t believe my eyes:

Steubenville High School Rapist Released

My immediate reaction was fury.

10 months!?  Convicted of rape, and he served 10 MONTHS!?

And then I saw the statement from his lawyer:

“The past sixteen months have been extremely challenging for Ma’lik [Richmond] and his extended family . . . At sixteen years old, Ma’lik and his family endured hardness beyond imagination for any adult yet alone child. He has persevered the hardness and made the most of yet another unfortunate set of circumstances in his life.”

Not once in the statement was the victim, her trauma, or her family mentioned.  The victim, clearly, was Ma’lik, and this was just an “unfortunate set of circumstances,” not a series of deliberate choices to hurt another human being.

And then I read some of the comments sections.  Don’t ask me why I chose to read the comments on a piece about sexual violence, but I did.

They ranged from blaming the survivor for her own rape to wishing prison rape (often in a “hilarious, joking,” sort of way) on Richmond.

Literally nothing about this story left me feeling hopeful or good or like justice had been served.  So I took some time away from this story.  I didn’t click any links relating to Steubenville or Richmond at all.

But I couldn’t turn off my brain, and over the last few days, some nuance has crept into my thoughts.

And now I find myself with two conflicting feelings:

  1. In a society where too few who commit sexual assault are held accountable for their actions, I want to see him serve his term.
  2. But in a society where far too many young, Black men are locked up (and are more likely to be locked up for committing the same crimes as White men), I have to admit that seeing one less in jail felt good.

Even as I write this, I am afraid to admit the second one.  After all, I don’t want to be labeled and lambasted for being a “rape apologist” or accused of saying that a Black rapist shouldn’t serve time simply because he’s Black.  After all, the internet is a place of over-simplification, and over-simplification doesn’t advance dialogue.

So as I think through those feelings, I have to ask myself why I want to see him serve his term and why it felt important to see a young Black man free of prison.

Punishment vs Rehabilitation

When I heard that Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays were convicted and sentenced to prison for rape, I cheered.  I cheered because far too often, men who commit this heinous crime walk free, and many in the town where they live did everything they could to make sure these young men were not held accountable for their actions.

But was I also cheering because I wanted to see them punished?  Most definitely.  And they deserved punishment.  But unfortunately, our criminal “justice” system rarely goes even a single step beyond punishment.  Rehabilitation is almost never considered, and worse, when people are released from prison (no matter their crime), they are unlikely to be able to access the resources they need to avoid going back to prison.

Hence my conflicted feelings.

I wonder whether Richmond could possibly have come to understand his crime considering his short jail term and the sentiment of his lawyer that established Richmond as the victim.  Yet I also wonder what kind of access to rehabilitation and counseling Richmond actually had in youth criminal detention.

As noted in this Slate piece by Irin Carmon (ignore the terrible title and focus on the point),

Rehabilitation, of course, is one of only three separate functions that intervening in sexual offenses serves, explains Mark Chaffin, professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and director of research at the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. There is “community protection,” identifying predators and keeping those who might re-offend away from potential victims. There is “accountability,” which sends a message as to what is and isn’t acceptable in a community. And then there is rehabilitation, on which researchers are quite optimistic — at least when it comes to juveniles.

“Twenty years ago people lumped juveniles and adults together, and had this idea that if a kid committed a sex offense, he was on this immovable trajectory that was going to head towards more and more sexual deviancy and a lifetime of predation,” says Letourneau. “But that just isn’t the case.”

More and more research indicates that rehabilitation of sex offenders, particular young sex offenders, is possible!  And as Katie McDonough puts it, “Consensus in the juvenile justice and medical communities holds that young people should be given counseling, not hard time, for crimes they commit.”

Perhaps by releasing Richmond early, the state has failed in the “community protection” and “accountability” aspects of “intervening in sexual offenses,” but what of the third aspect, rehabilitation? While his sentence mandated counseling, did Richmond receive competent rehabilitation services?  And was his progress in those services part of his release?

It’s unclear.

Locking Up Black Men

But the lack of rehabilitation in our “justice” system, highlighted well in The New Jim Crow, is one of the many reasons why I generally do not cheer when I see that someone’s going to be locked up in our society.  And the other reasons that I don’t cheer are the very root of my conflicted feelings.

Our prison system does little more than produce more crime while disproportionately destroying the lives of the poor and people of Color.

When 1 in 3 Black men can expect to go to prison at some point in their lives, a strong plurality for non-violent drug offenses, and considering the racial disproportionality of sentencing in the U.S., seeing a young Black man who could be reformed gave me pause.

I felt some hope for Ma’lik Richmond.  Maybe I’m not supposed to, as he is a rapist, and statistically, that tells us that he will rape again.  But I felt some hope.

After all, if there is a chance that one less Black man will be caught up for a lifetime in our racist criminal justice system, could that not be a good thing?

Nuanced Complexity

And so I wrestle.  I wrestle with the desire to see someone punished, even when I don’t believe our criminal justice system should focus on punishment.  I wrestle with my hope that Richmond received counseling to help him change for the better, though I know our system does a terrible job at that.  And I wrestle with wanting simultaneously to see one less young Black man locked up while wanting to ensure justice for a young woman who was assaulted.

I wrestle.

And I reflect.

Because I know there are no easy answers, but nuance and complexity in my feelings are far more conducive to my growth than than the certainty I know I don’t feel.

Podcast: Strategies for Sexual Violence Prevention on College Campuses

I normally don’t like to post on Saturdays, as fewer people are likely to see the article/video/rant that I post that week.  But I really wanted to wait this week for something to go public, and it happened to go public on a Saturday.

This week’s Everyday Feminism podcast is a conversation between Sandra Kim, founder of Everyday Feminism, and myself about preventing sexual violence on college campuses.  It is by no means comprehensive, but it’s meant to be the beginning of a conversation on how to do more than simply respond to sexual violence as it takes place on college campuses where 1 in 4 and 1 in 8 men are sexually assaulted.

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With rare exceptions, no one who is throwing a party spends the time, energy, and money so that people will get assaulted. Yet, the grim reality is that at least 1 in 4 college women are survivors of sexual violence, and our institutions are not doing enough to stem this terrible tide.

Here to discuss this phenomenon and offer advice on how to begin the change is Jamie Utt, sexual violence prevention educator and Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. In this podcast episode, Jamie will distinguish between preventative and responsive approaches, discuss the recent rise in sexual violence on college campuses, and will paint a picture of what a sex-positive campus might look like.

Based on our articles How We Can Address Sexual Violence on Campuses and Booze, Booty Shaking, and Backroom Hookups: Making College Party Culture Sex-Positive, Jamie offers tips for students and educators alike!

Click here to read the transcript.

In this episode, we will discuss:

  • Statistics and research regarding sexual violence on college campuses.
  • The different approaches to sexual violence response, prevention and education on college campuses.
  • How to implement the different approaches to sexual violence.
  • Common questions to consider when dealing with sexual violence education on college campuses.
  • Resources for sexual violence response and prevention.

Resources

Listen to the podcast at Everyday Feminism.

Thinking Comprehensively: Preventing Sexual Violence

There is a parable used often in education to describe the reforms that are needed to better serve those students who are left behind or pushed out of our educational system:

A man and a woman were having a picnic along the river outside of their village. As they were eating, they heard a baby crying and, looking around for the source, saw a baby floating down the middle of the river.

The woman waded out and caught the baby and passed it to the man, only to realize there was another baby coming. The man ran to the village to get help, and before long, there was an organized party who were forming a chain across the river to stop the ever growing number of babies who were floating down the river. They saved a lot of children, but the number of babies was too many, and they could not save them all.

Then a young girl walked away from her duties on the riverbank and marched upstream. People yelled at her, “Where are you going!? We need your help!”

She replied, “I’m going to find who is throwing all these babies in the river so that we can stop them!”

Here’s the lesson for any social justice cause: If we don’t get to the root of the issue, all we’re doing is pulling some individuals to safety while losing others to the river.

In combatting sexual violence, undoubtedly, we must work to help survivors heal, seek justice, and find the “new normal” in their life, but that cannot be our only work.

We must prevent sexual violence before it happens. But how do we do that? What does it look like?

Expanding Who We Think of As Survivors

We can start by changing how we think about who experiences sexual assault.

In most prevention and response work, the focus tends to be on cisgender, straight women as victims and cisgender, straight men as perpetrators.

And there’s good reason for that: The vast majority of survivors are straight, cisgender women.

And with limited resources (especially in these times of austerity), those who work to prevent violence and support survivors tend to focus on that majority in order to best serve as many survivors as possible.

But to prevent sexual violence, we must acknowledge the incredible diversity of survivors and perpetrators.

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism.

How We Can Address Sexual Violence on Campuses

Everyday FeminismThis week’s post is published over at the incredible Everyday Feminism.

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On every single college campus in the United States, there is a powerful, committed group of feminists and feminist allies who are working to prevent sexual violence and respond to the needs of survivors.

These incredible coalitions of students, professors, staff, administrators, and wider community members are working every single day to ensure that survivors have the support they need while working to prevent further sexual assaults.

Too often, though, they are working against institutions and campus environments that shame survivors, protect perpetrators, and reinforce the rape culture that is endemic in our society.

The grim reality is that at least 1 in 4 college women are survivors of sexual violence, and our institutions are not doing enough to stem this terrible tide.

It is time that more of us join these committed activists in transforming the culture and climate of our college and university campuses.

Whether you’re a parent, a student, an alumni, or simply a concerned community member, here are a few ways that you help:

1. Change How We Talk About Sexual Violence

The messages that are sent to women and men about sexual violence on college campuses tend to be misguided at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Whether the message is delivered formally through a New Student Orientation program or through norms and mores, the traditional wisdom for sexual violence prevention on college campuses can often be boiled down to:

“Ladies, be careful so you don’t get raped.”

Whether we tell women to go out in groups, watch their drinks, or never walk across campus alone at night, the conversation is the same – the responsibility for preventing sexual violence is on women.

But considering that the VAST majority of rapes are committed by men, we can’t afford to leave men out of the conversation!

To place the responsibility for sexual violence prevention on women not only completely ignores those who perpetrate the majority of sexual assaults, but it lends itself to victim blaming.

“You shouldn’t have been dressed that way.” “You shouldn’t have gone out alone.” “You shouldn’t have been drinking.”

Thus, in both our informal conversations and as we look to change how our institutions address sexual violence, we must shift the conversation to ones of positive sexuality, enthusiastic consenthealthy masculinity, and support for survivors.

First, if sex and sexuality is talked about openly and honestly, we can begin to have more accountable conversations regarding positive sexuality.

We can introduce the ideas behind and methods for realizing enthusiastic consent. We can encourage healthier relationships and healthier sexuality in all their forms. So that people of all genders understand what healthy and consensual sexual relationships can and should look like,

Secondly, we must also end the culture of male sexual entitlement, disrespect, cat calling, and objectification that protects perpetrators of sexual violence.

Men, women have been trying to tell us these things for ages. It’s time for us to be the leaders in ending sexual violence. We, as men, need to work with other men to change how we talk about and practice sex.

Third, we need to change how we talk about sexual violence so that it reflects reality and not myths about rape.

A good place to start is changing where we place the onus for prevention. The only person responsible for a sexual assault is the perpetrator. Plain and simple. From there, we can do a better job of supporting those who experience sexual assault.

Finally, we have to make sure that our conversations don’t accidentally silence survivors who don’t fit our understanding of “normal.” Any person of any gender or any sexual orientation can experience sexual violence. 50% of transgender peopleexperience sexual violence and approximately 8% of all men (by conservative estimates) are raped by a former partner.

Often, conversations around rape focus solely on straight relationships, but lesbian, gay, and bisexual people commonly experience sexual violence too. Further, 1 in 10 survivors of sexual violence are men, and we need to have resources that support male survivors.

Lastly, we need to expand the conversation around sexual violence beyond rape (forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration) to other types of unwanted sexual contact and coercive sexual activity (including forced kissing, groping, forced hand jobs, non-consensual kissing, etc).

Otherwise, those who experience sexual violence that they would not call rape may feel like their experience is not legitimate or worthy of attention. But they often still experience trauma like rape survivors because it was still not consensual.

In short, we can make our conversations more inclusive, and we can push to make our campus programming more inclusive.

2. Transform Party Culture

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism.

Rethinking Lisak & Miller – Checking the Math

Over the last month or so, I have received a lot of criticisms in personal messages and emails regarding the piece I published on the groundbreaking Lisak & Miller 2002 study.  In particular, many of the criticisms relate to the math done by Thomas MacAulay Millar in his piece, “Good Men Project’s Rape Faceplant, Predators and the Social License to Operate.”  Rather than continuing to respond individually to this concern, I figured it would make sense to post my response here as a quick blog post to further the discussion.

In his piece, Millar attempts to extrapolate the results of Lisak & Miller’s research to a larger population:

Let’s use Lisak & Miller’s numbers, with a population of a million men and a million women.  If 2% of the men are single-offense rapists meeting Lisak’s definition, and a further 4% are repeaters with an average of 5.8 victims, that implies that 20,000 of the men are single-offenders with 20,000 victims, and the 40,000 repeat offenders have 232,000 victims.  To oversimplify and assume that no women rape, no men are victims, everyone is either a man or a woman and there are no repeat victims, we then have 252,000 victims, or about a quarter of the population of women.  If we believe the various victim-report data, that’s about what we would expect.  So, while Lisak & Miller’s questions certainly will not capture every rape, they do capture the vast majority — they have to, unless she’s postulating a victimization rate much higher than the victim report data account for. If she’s saying that maybe half of all women are raped … well, you can say that, but where is the data to back that up?

If the reality of sexual violence were as simple as Millar’s “oversimplifications,” then his math would be spot on: The offenses committed by the men in Lisak & Miller’s study would account for 25% of women experiencing sexual violence, which reflects the common estimates of victimization rates.  Unfortunately, the reality of sexual violence is not so simple.

What does it look like to ACTUALLY stop rapists? First, we have to understand who the rapists are, and Lisak & Miller fall short.

What does it look like to ACTUALLY stop rapists? First, we have to understand who the rapists are, and Lisak & Miller fall short.

Millar’s oversimplifications are incredibly problematic if we are trying to understand the true nature of sexual violence.  To say that “no women rape” and that “no men are victims” ignores a few important realities: sexual violence happens in 14% of Lesbian relationships and 13% of Gay relationships, and approximately 8% of all men are raped by a former partner (both male and female).  Further, to simplify the gender spectrum by saying that “everyone is either a man or a woman” further hides the reality that as many as 50% of Transgender people , many of whom do not fit into the simple categories of “man” and “woman,” experience sexual violence.

Perhaps the most egregious oversimplification in its impact on estimates of sexual violence, though, is when he says “there are no repeat victims.”  In a review of the research on the subject, Classen, et al, found that two thirds of those who are victims of sexual violence will experience sexual violence more than once.  This is not one isolated study.  This is a review of the research, and TWO THIRDS of survivors are likely to experience sexual violence more than once!

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