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.

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The Top 10 of 2013: Change From Within’s Year in Review

Happy New Year!

2013 was a transformative year for me and my writing.  My business and my blogging have changed and grown a lot in the last 12 months.  In a lot of ways, my writing here at Change From Within has taken a back seat to my writing for larger platforms, namely Everyday Feminism and The Good Men Project, which has been cool to see. As is my yearly tradition, it’s time to reflect on my writing of the past year and highlight those pieces that were most widely-read.

Over at Everyday Feminism, three of my pieces really stood out in terms of reception and hits:

‘That’s Racist Against White People’ A Discussion on Power and Privilege was by far my most popular piece of 2013 at EF with more than 80,000 hits.

Also worthy of mention from my Everyday Feminism writing in 2013 are Intent vs Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter and So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know.

At The Good Men Project, I had a few different pieces go bananas in 2013.

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21“, a piece I co-wrote with Alyssa Royse, Julie Gillis, and Joanna Schroeder, was by far my most-read contribution of 2013 with more than 1 million hits on numerous platforms.

My Open Letter to the Rapey Frat Brother and the ‘How to Get Laid’ Generation also was widely read, getting picked up by the Huffington Post.

Change From Within’s Top 10 Articles of 2013

Over here at Change From Within, the posts that were most read speak to the changes in my own work.  More and more, I have tried to highlight the writing and perspectives of the amazing people in my community, and that’s reflected in the most-read articles of the year.  4 of the top 10 articles of 2013 were composed by friends and mentors!

Without further ado, here are the top posts from Change From Within in 2013:

10. Shaking Off the “Harlem Shake” Meme – Tools for Resisting Cultural Appropriation

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 4.35.47 PM

After “Racism, Appropriation, and the Harlem Shake” (coming in at #2 below), lots of readers were asking questions like, “So what are we supposed to do?  How do we actually resist cultural appropriation?”  In response, I wrote out a list of simple actions that we can all take to resist cultural appropriation around us.

9.  Standing Up to Racial and Religious Profiling

Kadra Abdi

After being racially and religiously profiled by the TSA in June of 2013, my dear friend Kadra Abdi wrote this powerful call to action with ways that we all can stand up to racial and religious profiling.  Her compelling story challenges us to think critically about our own judgments and how we can be part of the solution to this pressing problem.

8.  Rethinking Lisak & Miller: Checking the Math

After much criticism for my piece entitled “Preventing Sexual Violence – Rethinking Lisak & Miller,” I wrote a piece that tackled some of the math being used in criticizing my reconsideration of the groundbreaking Lisak & Miller research.  My friend Rida helped me run some mathematical scenarios that rethink the “predator theory” for who exactly we should be focusing on in our work to prevent sexual violence.

7.  Coming Out of the Woods: On Hugo Schwyzer and Accountability

In August, Hugo Schwyzer, a man who I have defended in the past, showed everyone who he truly is: a misogynistic, racist fraud.  In turn, I owed a lot of people apologies for my defense of this indefensible man.  Here is the public version of that apology.

6. 33+ Suggestions for Action After the Zimmerman Verdict

Justice for Trayvon MartinFor me, like many people, the “not-guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was devastating.  It wasn’t particularly surprising, but it was devastating emotionally and in its wider implications.  Thus, I was incredibly thankful when my friend and mentor Daniel Escalante emailed me with a list of suggestions for action that he (and others) put together. Now, a few months after the verdict, it is good for me to revisit these suggestions and recommit to action in 2014.  I encourage you to do the same.

Continue Reading

An Open Letter to the Rapey Frat Brother and the “How to Get Laid” Generation

I published this piece over at the Good Men Project this week, and it’s been blowing up!  Since then, it’s been republished at the Huffington Post, and I have recorded a CNN iReport on the subject that’s had almost 40,000 views.  Plus, HLN’s Raising America asked me to record another video!

It’s incredibly exciting to see this message of consent and sex positive relationships getting so much positive attention.

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My brother,

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt.

I’m not sure you deserve it, and a lot of people are going to give me hell for it, but I’m going to try. Because when you wrote the email “Luring your Rapebait” to your Georgia Tech fraternity brothers at ΦKT, you touched on something much bigger than yourself.

You touched on a problem we see in masculinity and party culture on every single college campus.

It’s ironic. In the email you expressed the exact cognitive dissonance that I see with college men I work with all over the United States: You explicitly said, “NO RAPING.” Yet everything you described encourages rape!

So it makes me wonder: Have we sent you that many messed up messages about sex, consent, rape, “blurred lines,” partying, and alcohol that you don’t actually know what is and isn’t rape?  

Have we, as the men in your life, taught you that many terrible messages about masculinity that you honestly think this is how men are supposed to act in order to get laid?

Have we sent you that many messed up messages about your own self worth and the personhood of women that you think it’s actually normal and acceptable to refer to women as rapebait (or any other terrible, objectifying term) when you think you’re only talking to your brothers?

If the answer to any of these questions could even possibly be a “yes”, then I have a responsibility as your brother to offer you some perspective.

Again, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, and despite what your letter tells me, I am going to assume that you don’t actually want to rape anyone – if not because you value the personhood and autonomy of your sexual partners then because you don’t want to be expelled, go to jail, and register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.

♦◊♦

So let me throw out an absolutely crazy idea: if you actually want to “get laid,” and you want your sex to be inany way better than a sloppy drunk encounter that may actually be sexually assault, forget about your 7 E’s of Hooking Up.

Instead, consider the 7 A’s of Hooking Up:

  1. Ask – See someone at the party that you’re interested in?  Ask her a bit about herself (or him about himself – no need for heteronormativity here, but I will use the female pronoun since your letter seemed pretty focused on female “rapebait”).  Get to know her a bit.  And do so genuinely.  I promise – should your night end with a hookup, your sex will be a hell of a lot better if you’ve talked and felt out the chemistry.
  2. Ask – Ask your newfound friend if they’d like to come with you to go get a drink.  Don’t offer to get a drink for her, as there are some really messed up people out there (of which you’re not one, right?) who would drop something in someone’s drink. If she doesn’t want a drink, no need for “aww, that’s no fun” – sometimes sober sex is the best sex.
  3. Ask – Ask her if she’d like to dance.  If she doesn’t, see if she’d like to play a game like bags or just hang out and talk some more. If she does want to dance, don’t do that creepy “rub your penis against their ass” b.s. that you described. I promise that showing off your ability to actually dance is going to a lot further in impressing her than grinding against her like a dog in heat. Then, if you want to grind a bit,ask!  A simple, “Is this alright?” can suffice.  Also, don’t just run your hands all over her body without her permission. Check in. I promise, asking is sexy.
  4. Ask – As the night progresses, if you have some chemistry and are getting along, ask her if she’d be interested in leaving with you. If she’s not, respect that. If she is, great! Just don’t assume that means you’re getting laid.
  5. Ask Ask where she’d like to go – her place? Your place? Out on a date another time when you’re both more sober and can appreciate each other’s company a bit more?
  6. Ask – If it looks like you might hook up, make sure you check in along the way. Ask if you can kiss her. Ask if you can remove your clothing or hers. Ask.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Consent doesn’t have to be plastic and boring. The single sexiest question someone can be asked is, “Tell me what you want.”  Not sure how to make asking sexy? Check out this article.
  7. Ask – So you’ve hooked up.  Maybe that means you just made out all night.  Maybe you had oral or you “went all the way” (whatever that means). Rather than being a creep (“Expunge, send them out of your room and on their way out when you are finished”), consider this: Sex gets better over time with every single partner. The more you know each other’s bodies, the more you and your partner will know what will make for mind-blowing pleasure. Ask what they’d like in the future. Be honest, and let her be honest. Not really feeling something long-term? Say so. Really like her and want to pursue a relationship or at least a date or two? Communicate that. And respect what she wants.

Follow the 7 A’s of Hooking Up, and I promise your sex will be better and you and your partner will have a much better night. Oh, and you won’t rape anyone.

One last thing. If you’re interested in throwing parties where every person has an amazing time, where those who want to hook up can meet someone, and where sexual violence is not the end result, let’s have a conversation about sex-positive party culture.

I want to see you and all of my brothers and sisters have the kind of amazing, mind-blowing, sex positive experiences that are possible if we leave behind this toxic, rapebait bullshit.

In Sex Positivity,

Jamie

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.

Booze, Booty Shaking, and Back Room Hookups: Making College Party Culture Sex Positive

I get to participate in some pretty awesome conversations as part of my work.

One of my favorites, though, is when I get to talk to college students about what makes for a mind-blowing, talk-about-it-for-years party.

I ask the question, and students just start shouting out things like:

“The perfect DJ!” “Everybody’s dancing!” “Booze.” “Drugs.” “Some non-alcoholic drinks/mixers.” “Sexy ladies!” “Sexier men!” “No drama.” “Food.” “Sex!”  “Everybody’s gettin’ lucky!” “SEX!”

Let’s be honest: By and large, one of the only things that college students love more than partying and sex is talking about partying and sex.

What’s phenomenal about this conversation, though, is the opportunity it provides to extend the dialogue beyond beer bongs, booty shaking, and backroom hookups.It provides an entry into a conversation about positive sexuality and sexual violence prevention.

With rare exceptions, no one who is throwing a party spends the time, energy, and money so that people will get assaulted. Yet there is a clear connection betweencollege party culture and sexual violence.

After all, 74% of perpetrators of sexual violence on college campuses were under the influence of alcohol when they committed the assault, and 55% of survivors of sexual violence on campuses were under the influence of alcohol when assaulted.

Unfortunately, on college campuses,  this dialogue translates too often into shaming and blaming of survivors for their decisions to drink or approaches to“prevention” that place the onus on potential “victims” to keep themselves from getting raped.

And to mitigate the risk, most colleges simply take a punitive approach (with varying levels of alcohol education – which is fantastic – thrown in) to alcohol on campus.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, we need to see college partying and the terrifying link to sexual violence as an opening to a different kind of conversation about the social time our young people are spending on college campuses or anywhere for that matter.

Shifting to Sex Positivity

Most of the college students that I work with have never heard of the concept of sex positivity.  I know I sure hadn’t when I started college.

But in any conversation about sex with young people, when I introduce the definition I work from, the tone shifts considerably, no matter how we were discussing sex before.

Here’s the definition I’m working from:

Sex positivity refers to positive, affirming, consensual sexual relationships, characterized by open, honest communication and attention to the needs and desires of oneself and one’s partner(s).

Sounds amazing, right?

Well, most of the young people I get to work with on college campuses all over the US think so, too!

So when I tell them that it’s possible to make simple changes to your average party environment that make it more sex positive, they are pumped!

But every now and then, I have the skeptical workshop participant (usually a dude, but not always) who says something to the effect of “It sounds like one giant cock-block to me.”

But without fail, whenever this sentiment is expressed, I don’t even have to respond!

Last time this happened, a young woman explained, “Unless you’re looking to rape somebody, this sounds like the opposite of a cock block. Nothing sounds hotter than dancing with someone at a party only to learn that they are a great kisser who asks first!”

Undoubtedly, we have to spend some time and energy thinking about the worst case scenario, understanding and exposing predators, and taking preventative precautions.

But sexual violence prevention, particularly as it relates to parties, can (and must)be so much more than that!

What Does Sex-Positive Partying Look Like?

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.