What we Learn from Richard Rojo

Cross-posted at Amplify

I’ve been putting off writing about this because every time I try to, honestly, I feel like throwing up. Last Thursday University of Pacific spokesman Richard Rojo said the following, concerning the rape case of a woman who attended the school:

Richard_Rojo_WebPacific spokesman Richard Rojo said Thursday that the school does not consider the incident to be a rape.

“We would call it date rape,” he said.

Rojo said the university considers “outright rape” and date rape to be different, in that date rape does not involve “a rapist jumping out of bushes and attacking people randomly.”

He said, “These are people who knew each other. … It’s a social situation and unfortunately an all-too common problem at universities.

“It doesn’t make it right. It’s a sexual assault, and that’s why the university took action in this matter.”

Now, many people are furious over this statement – and understandably so – up until a few hours ago I was one of those people who believed this man honestly needed to be fired over this. What changed my mind? I looked around.

[ETA: This post on The Curvature does an excellent job of breaking down exactly why what Richard Rojo said was so, so wrong.]

Rojo’s statement was wrong, make no mistake about that – but I do not believe Rojo said with the intent of being hurtful or to diminishing what happened to this woman. His statement is not symptomatic of a flaw in the man, Richard Rojo, but rather our society.

This is what people mean when they say we’re living in a Rape Culture – we’re living in a culture where we are trained to think of “real” bold-faced, capital letters, bad-guy-thrown-in-jail RAPE as the kind that only occurs in alleyways, behind bushes, with sketchy clearly evil perpetrators who violate defenseless women by force. Situations like that occur, I won’t deny it, but there is a danger (that Richard Rojo is a perfect example of) in pushing this one instance of rape as the be all and end all – a danger that the victims of rape, more than anyone else, pay dearly for.

In this case the victim of a rape was shamed and treated awfully by people who have been indoctrinated by a culture that has trained them to do just that. The young woman who was attacked at  University of Pacific in 2008 ended up leaving the school, unable to continue because “Pacific’s handling of the matter was hostile, causing her to feel unwanted at Pacific,” and “administrators declined to dismiss and permanently ban from campus all the men [she] said assaulted her.”

The specifics of this case are confusing – the men who committed the assault were punished, one was eventually expelled and the other two suspended, but not before the victim was put through a great deal of trauma and re-victimization. For instance, the victim alleges that Pacific Vice-President blamed her for the assault and claimed that the men “are very popular and do not need to force anyone to have sex with them.”

The school also allowed statements like the following to play a role in the men’s hearing:

One women’s basketball player said Doe was engaging in “a lot of ‘sleazy behavior,'” the university said in its filing. That student said Doe also “made comments such as, ‘Who is going to get laid tonight?'” Pacific claimed, and two witnesses said they saw Doe hug one of the accused men after the incident.

I’m not trying to pass judgment on the University, or even this case, because at the end of the day I don’t know all of the facts. I believe that a woman was raped (the percentage of false reports are infinitesimally low – people don’t tend to lie about rape) and that the situation was mishandled. However, how much of that mishandling was malicious and how much was misunderstanding?

Should we be focusing our energy on blaming people for buying into common rape myths that society perpetuates or should we be actively working to dispel those myths and move towards a society that makes no apology for rapists, regardless of the form they or their victims take on?

This post that I wrote a few months ago takes on common rape myths like:

Women often get themselves into situations that lead to rape by getting drunk, wearing revealing clothing, going out alone at night, etc; Men cannot be sexually assaulted; Rape almost always happens in a dangerous situation (like a dark alleyway) at the hands of a stranger; Its not rape if she doesn’t say no; A woman who is married/in a committed relationship cannot be raped; Sexually active people cannot be raped… and even if they are, its not as “serious”; Rape is an impulsive, uncontrollable crime of lust; and so on…

That list of myths and their brief counter arguments could be an excellent staring off point for you to engage those around you (family, friends, educators, etc.) in a conversation about our cultural understanding of rape. Through this education of both yourself and the people who surround you, you can be the catalyst of a small but significant change in our social consciousness – a change that, if it occurs often enough, could alter the way rape cases are treated by the media, law enforcement, judges, and so on.

I hope that, from this dialogue we will be able to move past our anger at Pacific and it’s representatives and direct that anger, instead, at the culture that these people were raised in, the culture that allowed them to conceive and believe their victim blaming excuses in the first place.

We owe it to the victim of this rape and it’s aftermath (and all of the women and men facing situations sililar to hers) to work to change our society; to make attacks like this less prevalent, and less excusable when they do occur.

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