This Is What Rape Culture Looks Like
I often get asked what the phrase “rape culture” means. And while, honestly, the answer is no further away than wikipedia, it’s sometimes easier to grasp a concept by observing it in the wild.
Ben Roethlisberger is the Super-Bowl-winning QB of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last summer he was in Lake Tahoe for a celebrity golf tournament. While there, he flirted up a female host at Harrahs, the casino hotel where he was staying. Whether or not she voluntarlily flirted with him is unknowable – as a rich, high profile celebrity, he knew that it was her job to flirt with him, and so did she. That’s rape culture. When men make choices about what women do with their sexuality, that strengthens the idea that men can control women’s bodies.
The following night, he called her to say his TV wasn’t working – would she come take a look? She couldn’t find a tech person to do it, so she went herself, knowing that she had to do everything possible to keep her celeb guest happy. Once up there, she discovered a perfectly functioning TV. And then, allegedly, Roethlisberger blocked her exit and raped her. That’s rape.
When she reported the attack to Harrah’s security chief Guy Hyder, he declined to investiage and allegedly told her that she was “overreacting” and that “most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger.” He also told her to either keep it from their boss at Harrah’s, or to tell their boss they’d had sex voluntarily, in order to keep everybody happy. That’s rape culture. When people in power refuse to take women’s rape charges seriously, it means there are no consequences for rapists, which makes them more free to rape.
Later, while she was hospitalized for depression as a result of the assault, Hyder convinced her parents to give him the key to her house. He and other Harrah’s employees used it, allegedly, to enter her home without permission and erase information from her computer. That’s rape culture. When authorities use their power to deliberately silence rape victims instead of helping them find justice, it not only leaves rapists free but intimidates other victims from coming forward.
And now, as these details emerge, ESPN has instructed its entire team of reporters to not report any of this information. [Update: ESPN may be easing its ban, but it's still unclear how much and what will be reported.] Yes, the same network whose sideline reporter is currently being exploited all over the ‘net in a peeping tom video. You’d think that would make them more sympathetic to the sexual exploitation of women just trying to do their job, but they’re too focused on protecting access to the star athletes who are their cash cows to even do their basic job as journalists. That’s rape culture. When our media won’t talk about rape, people think it doesn’t happen, and the rapists face no consequences. That emboldens rapists.
Gossip blogger Perez Hilton is already suggesting she may be a lying golddigger. That’s rape culture. As this woman’s case proceeds, her body, her actions, her mental state, motives and her history will be put on public trial in a way that would never happen if she were accusing someone of kidnapping or attempted murder. That’s rape culture. When women are too afraid of being re-victimized by the courts and the media to come forward, and when the public gets the message that women who accuse men of rape are lying or did something to deserve it, the cycle continues.
There is only one rapist alleged here. But there are so, so many participants. That’s rape culture, and it has to stop. In this case, let’s start with holding the media accountable for their role. Contact ESPN here.
[UPDATE #2: Read NBC Sports' spot-on takedown of ESPN's excuses for their "do not report" policy here. h/t Anna Clark]