Monday, June 18, 2012

Sandusky: Why We Need To Redefine The Word Rape

The trial accusing former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, of 51 counts of child sexual abuse has been more than a fiery automobile crash I can't look away from. The testimony of the ten victims brave enough to tell a court room full of people, including their alleged attacker, and rows of journalists recording their every word, has been something I feel compelled to read, compelled to feel, compelled to cringe along to. I read only as much as I can take and then jump to the end. I imagine these young men sharing their stories, voices cracking, anger shaking them, the tears as they relive a childhood that was violently taken from them. The articles will have little excerpts about how Sandusky's neighbors want "justice." Justice? There is no justice for these acts. There is no "make up" or "do over." There is no great equalizer. There is no punishment and no grace big enough. The defense alludes to some of the victims wanting monetary compensation as if the humiliation they feel in sharing these experiences could ever be compensated.

Today, Sandusky pointed to a case, that of Victim 9 who had some of the most harrowing testimony. He tried to say that the boy's grades in school had dropped after he had left Sandusky's outreach charity organization. He tried to use the victim's mother's testimony that her son just "stopped caring" as proof that the gentleman was doing great when he was "with him."

I can't imagine the rage.

There is nothing that can be given to these boys that will make any of this "okay." The best anyone can hope for is some healing by talking about their experiences, but no one can measure that, perhaps not even these young men just yet.

In 2000, I had to share my experience in a court room about my own assault. There were more men than women in that house, a couple rows of cops, my father, and then my attacker and his entire family except for his two sisters, one of them who had been my best friend through high school. It took me over ten years to finally use the word "rape." And even to this day, I am uncomfortable using that word, as if admitting it is still something shameful for me to admit. Somewhere, there is still the feeling that I should have been able to protect myself. I don't remember anything I said that day and in fact the only thing I do remember is from my Dad's speech who said what was one of the hardest things for him to witness was to watch his daughter, who was once the captain of her soccer team, a leader by birth, a woman who tore onto the field, now walk her days with her head down, her fearlessness replaced by doubt, shame, her curiosity in life lost to a sort of detachment, a numbing defeatist attitude, a woman who no longer cared.

When we talk about rape, we don't always talk about the silent effects. We don't talk about the soccer captain who then put on twenty five pounds and blocked out eight months of her freshman year of college. We don't talk about the young man who was rising above the challenges of his single parent home, surpassing his urban limitations and the world's expectations who "just deals with" repeatedly being raped in silence until one day there is no physical evidence to prove anything other than a young man who suddenly gives up caring, gives up on life.  We talk a little  about the shame involved with experiencing such an attack, but what about the shame involved when doing the one thing that is supposed to help heal, supposed to reclaim some of our power back, the shame of sharing? We talk about rape being an act of power, an act of dehumanization, an act that is ironically impersonal. But do we talk about how the act of "healing" can be just as dehumanizing and feel ironically personal? When we talk about rape are we talking about the right things? Are we talking about everything? Are we reading the entire testimony? And can somebody PLEASE tell me why the legal definition of rape still has not be changed. It is a disservice to our society to say things like "he was forced to have oral and anal sex."  To have suggests there was something given. There was nothing given here, only taken.

As of yet there is no verdict in the Sandusky trial. The defense is currently scrambling for something, anything, and while I like to try to keep an open mind to the whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing, I admit that with this case, I am overwhelmingly biased.

What I hope for most with this case is not necessarily some symbolic 100 year incarceration sentence for Sandusky. The idea of "justice" bewilders me. But what is truly inspiring about this case is how huge it is in terms of the Penn State connections. How not only is Sandusky guilty but so is Penn State who had enough people there who knew what was going on but chose to see glory and money and fame over a fucking football program than pay attention and do what was right. This case is David and Goliath and I want to see Goliath fall. I want Penn State to feel tainted. I want all the shame that these nine victims felt to be cast three fold on this institution and to rattle the bones of other institutions where the same shit is happening, where injustice is aloud to prevail under the guise of money, prestige, and  "honor." And before you crucify me I know, most of the University did not know. The students, the faculty, the alumni, the donors, they are not to blame. But enough people knew that chose to protect the name of this University over what was right and for that I have to question the ethical code that was practiced at Penn State.

In truth, what I want more than anything is for these boys to be alright in life.  I want to be able to tell them they will be. I want to be assured of the impossible. I want this trial to set a precedence. I want Sandusky's conviction and I want it to have the power to stop this kind of predatory situation from ever happening again. I want us to redefine the word rape. I want people to feel empowered to bring down the giants who do them wrong. I want them to stop using the word "justice." I want to know what it really takes to heal. I want to know that we will all be okay.


SteveB said...

I have been amazed by how many people I've seen come forward in recent years and bring the things that were done to them into the light -- it turns my stomach to think of how many more are out there still trying to find the way to.

I was a kid in a parish that had its Monsignor "transfer" at a moment's notice. Now, of course, the why is clear and I know some kids that were my peers that he preyed upon. I think of how lucky I was that it wasn't me.

And as for some way to "wash" the idea that only a guy with a mask and knife commits rape and that the priest, the coach, the teacher, the "friend" is something-else-but-not-rape-rape-y-know is repugnant.

Lindsey said...

Thanks for your comment. It is repugnant. The abuse that has been happening in the church for centuries is also repugnant. In fact, my attacker said once he got out of prison he was thinking of joining the priesthood. Perhaps that was a plot to get less time, but seriously? There is a great documentary on people coming forward about their experiences and taking on the Catholic Church called Deliver Us From Evil directed by Amy Berg. Definitely worth a watch.