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Crime and Punishment: Why Isn’t Rape Always Treated Seriously?

“Rape is a form of mass terrorism, for the victims of rape are chosen indiscriminately, but the propagandists for male supremacy broadcast that it is women who cause rape by being unchaste or in the wrong place at the wrong time—in essence, by behaving as though they were free” (Susan Griffin, author of “Rape: The All-American Crime”).

*I know this is an incredibly controversial and touchy subject; please be aware that though facts and news stories are used, the opinions are entirely mine.

Rape is an unfortunately common occurrence—one study estimates that 1 in 6 women over 18 in the U.S. have been victims of attempted or completed rape. Though common, the FBI estimates only 16 percent of all rapes are reported. Despite the obvious maltreatment rape involves, not everyone agrees that rape is a horrific crime. We’ve seen some examples of this with cases involving controversial sentences for rapists in the past few years. One case that got national coverage was Brock Turner’s trial and the events leading up to it. Coverage emphasized his good qualities, specifically the fact that he was an acclaimed swimmer:

  • Three-time All-American Stanford swimmer found guilty of rape –New York Post
  • All-American swimmer found guilty of sexually assaulting unconscious woman on Stanford campus –The Washington Post

Instead of focusing on the news event itself, the vast majority of coverage focused on showing Turner as a “good ole boy”, and a sports hero. Despite raping an unconscious woman, Turner’s sentence was only six months, which he finished early due to good behavior. To provide a frame of reference, the average prison sentence for drug possession in 2004 was 3 years; this number is estimated to have increased. Drug possession is a serious crime in America, but many would consider rape to be deserving of longer punishment. Though the decision on Turner’s sentence was controversial, it is not entirely surprising due to Turner’s status as an athlete.

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities football team was protesting the suspension of ten of their teammates for an alleged rape that occurred in September. Their protest originally had them boycotting all football activities until these suspensions are lifted. Now the suspensions have not been changed, but the boycott has been called off. Four of the ten players were suspended in September while being investigated but were reinstated when Hennepin County prosecutors did not pursue charges. All ten of the players were suspended in mid-December due to a different investigation. By boycotting football activities until the suspensions were lifted, the remainder of the team showed they feel the suspensions are inappropriate. Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky read a statement about the team’s boycott and request to meet with university regents about lifting the suspensions.

The team’s boycott was controversial but has not seemed to attract much criticism. This boycott assumed the rape never occurred, or that if it did, there is no reason for punishment. Although the county chose not to pursue charges, the university is conducting a separate investigation since they have some different policies regarding sexual assault. Lee Hutton, the ten players’ lawyer, said five of the players face expulsion and four may be suspended for a year. Clearly the university is taking these allegations seriously, yet the team’s statement shows they feel the punishment is too severe for the crime.

I can’t help but wonder why we as a society continue to debate over this crime. Rape is considered a war crime, which shows how seriously the international community takes it, but we cannot seem to agree that it’s serious when it occurs domestically. Some rapists receive long sentences, but for those with the right qualifications, like Brock Turner, sentences are distressingly short. Prison reform is an important thing to discuss, but until details are determined, the system of punishing rapists is clearly unjust. In this case, I am glad the University of Minnesota is taking the situation seriously. Though the boycott was short-lived, the decision behind this change doesn’t necessarily mean the team rethought their response. Did they question whether they should do this boycott because they reconsidered they could be considered as condoning rape? Or did they decide halting football activities was not a sacrifice they were willing to make this time of year? The Minnesota football team is competing against Washington State in the Holiday Bowl on December 27th; this seems too much to be a coincidence for the boycott being called off.

Whatever the reasons for calling the boycott off, creating the boycott in the first place shows how callously we treat the crime of rape and its victims. Any circumstance of rape will always be devastating. Standing by and letting rape culture here in America continue on unquestioned is horrible in a different way. It may feel like one voice cannot make a difference, but I feel that though it’s difficult for one voice to make a difference, it’s still possible. If we join our voices together for the purpose of making this the world we want to live in, we will be powerful. If we sit idly by and stay silent, we should not be surprised when the story of Brock Turner becomes a common occurrence, or when groups protest rape investigations and suspensions. I believe we are better than this and I hope we will bring our voices together to make our world a better, more humane place. This is the world we live in if we do nothing: 

Rape is all too common

Though we know it’s a common occurrence, we continue to blame victims and often assume they’re lying instead of telling the truth

Don’t let this be the end of the story.

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