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As We Seek Justice Remember That Words Have Impact

October 8, 2016

Last week, we posted a reaction to the Netflix documentary “Audrie & Daisy.” All of us here at Catharsis who watched the film felt a great deal of frustration about the way the sexual assault cases involving Audrie, Daisy and other teenage girls were handled.

As we prepared our own reactions, we also read through other reviews of the movie, news articles about each case and social media posts in support of the girls. As many viewers and readers cried out for justice, we also saw something troubling – people calling for sexual or other physical violence against the perpetrators of the assaults. Comments about assaulting the sheriff or others involved with the case. Insinuations that Daisy’s brother should have used physical violence against the boy who raped her as retaliation.

We saw it earlier this year as well, in people’s reactions to the Brock Turner sentencing. Again, these comments weren’t limited to wishing he would spend a longer term in prison as punishment for his crime, but that he deserves to go to prison in order to be raped and assaulted himself.

None of this is OK.

Let’s get one thing straight – we’re human beings. That means we’re going to have emotional and at times, irrational, reactions to news that upsets us and makes us angry. Especially in cases where justice was not served and victims were blamed for their own attacks. Lots of us are going to have that first gut response that the perpetrator should suffer – perhaps suffer the same thing he or she put their victim through.

Where it gets tricky is when people, especially allies in the fight against sexual violence, make these comments in a public forum. Because comments like these, calls for violence, and jokes about perpetrators being raped or assaulted contribute to rape culture. Rape culture is what makes it harder for survivors to receive justice and support following an assault.

The expectation that inmates will be raped in prison is such a deeply ingrained part of our culture many people forget that it is wrong. The Department of Justice has reported that an estimated 80,000 incarcerated men and women are sexually victimized each year. That number is staggering and not something to be celebrated. In fact, President George W. Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act into law in 2003, recognizing that widespread sexual violence in prison is a violation of our justice system. Unfortunately, most states are still not in full compliance with the law.  

These comments also contribute to survivors of sexual assault being afraid to report the crimes. When rape is portrayed in our culture as a shaming act that “bad people” deserve, survivors are marginalized, less likely to seek justice or support and vulnerable to suicide and other self-harming behaviors.

Finally, these comments perpetuate the notion that rape is somehow an acceptable punishment for real or perceived behaviors or logical consequence of certain actions. Those ideas are the very root of the victim blaming and institutional biases that were so frustrating to us about cases like Audrie’s, Daisy’s and the Stanford Rape Survivor.

No one ever deserves to be raped. Rape is never the victim’s fault.

So, how can we turn unhelpful reactions or statements into action that will make a difference?

·       Learn how to support survivorsRAINN has some fantastic resources here.  

·       Call out statements that perpetuate rape culture. Push back when someone calls for violence against perpetrators of assault.  

·       Join efforts to change our laws and speak directly to public policymakers. It’s going to take systemic change to stop rape and sexual violence in this country. The filmmakers behind “Audrie & Daisy” also have some detailed action plans for students, parents, community members and educators.

Let us know how you are working to turn violent responses into proactive activities!

Catharsis Productions

Catharsis Productions' mission is to change the world by producing innovative, accessible and 
research-supported programming that challenges oppressive attitudes and shifts behavior.