The epidemic of rape and rape culture in the United States

Paul Hubbard comments on the crisis of rape culture in Steubenville, the Catholic Church, and throughout capitalist society.

On March 8th, we celebrated International Women’s Day, a day that highlights not only the progress of women in society, but most importantly how far we still have to go to achieve real emancipation.

On March 17th, two Steubenville, Ohio football players, Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, were found delinquent and sentenced to at least one year in juvenile jail for the rape of a 16 year old young woman at a party last summer. The two teenagers could also be held until they are 21 years old. Only massive pressure and outrage forced the authorities to prosecute. Attorney general Mike DeWine has now announced the convening of a grand jury to further investigate the circumstances of the crime.
Stopping rape culture begins with educating both young men and young women, but especially young men.

Sexism is toxic, learned behavior that is transmitted early in life, starting with the sex stereotyping of girls and boys in early childhood. Schools, religion, and the nuclear family are the primary institutions in society that re-enforce sexist ideas and behaviors.

Male infants are not born chauvinistic, just as all infants are not born racist. Both ideologies are ingrained at early ages in order to justify the greater crimes of bourgeois society, sex and race oppression. There are specific and very powerful institutions in society that have been built upon the dissemination and promulgation of sexist and racist ideologies. To wit: the church, popular media, police, courts, schools, the military, the workplace, and the nuclear family are all part of a system of sexual and racial oppression with their attendant ideologies, sexism and racism.

The wholly unnatural celibacy among Catholic priests was enforced through the strict patriarchal world of the Catholic Church hierarchy in order to protect the church’s property. Married priests with children tended to leave their property to their heirs (i.e. their children). Since unmarried priests are (supposed to be) without (legitimate) children, they are forced to leave their property to the church which, before the celibacy rules were instituted, became a fundamental crisis that threatened the very existence of the Catholic Church. With the rise of private property, especially under capitalism where private property is sacrosanct, the church hierarchy had to find a way to insure that a dead priest’s property stayed within it and not go to his children. Thus strict rules that mandated celibacy within the priesthood came into existence.

The monstrous crimes of child rape committed by pedophile priests have nothing to do with homosexuality. An estimated 20% of the victims of pedophile priests are thought to be young girls (see here, for example). Why is this only an estimate? Because Cardinal Ratzinger (ex-Pope Benedict XVI) is sitting on all of the relevant documents which he collected, at the direction of Pope John Paul ll, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – a.k.a. the inquisition.

“In 2001, Pope John Paul II transferred responsibility for dealing with the sex scandals enveloping the institution to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s office. In that role, Ratzinger received tens of thousands of complaints alleging sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. Those documents often went into lurid detail, and Ratzinger is said to have been deeply affected by the experience.

As a theologian and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict gained the not-so-flattering nickname ‘God’s Rottweiler’ for his rigid interpretations of doctrine and his stringent enforcement of church rules. In practice, he has frequently displayed a preference — both as a pope and as a cardinal — for confronting predatory priests behind closed doors and protecting the church’s reputation at the expense of public accountability.” – Elias Groll, Foreign Policy magazine

Bradley Manning’s heroic example of whistleblowing has been taken up, albeit in different forms, first by the bartender who filmed Mit Romney’s 47% comments and now by the pope’s butler at the Vatican.

A huge shining light is about to illuminate the deep, dark, unnatural, hypocritical, and inhuman world of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, the details of which might shock even the most cynical among us. One of society’s most persistent, predatory, reactionary institutions is going through an extended crisis. Ireland, a country that has suffered for centuries under the whip and lash of British imperialism, is now in the process of shaking off the Vatican’s special physical and psychological oppressions (see for example the Magdalene Laundries). Church attendance in Ireland has fallen off a cliff – down 90% by some estimates. Speaking to the Irish Parliament in 2011, after revelations in the Cloyne Report, prime minister Edna Kenney was forced to issue this withering criticism of the church and its Vatican overseers:

“The revelations of the Cloyne report have brought the Government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture. It’s fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy Reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of [its] children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order. Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic – as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism …. the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.

The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’. Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’ … the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer. This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded. The radicalism, humility and compassion which are the very essence of its foundation and purpose. The behaviour being a case of Roma locuta est: causa finita est. Except in this instance, nothing could be further from the truth.”

By rejecting the Church and its Vatican rulers, the Irish people are in the process of taking a huge leap forward towards their freedom. In the US, a country founded on genocide against the indigenous Indian peoples and made wealthy on the backs of African slave labor, rape and rape culture have a long and criminal history that goes all the way back to the “founding fathers.” Thomas Jefferson raped Sally Hemings, a fourteen year-old slave girl, and fathered several children by her.

The US military, another hierarchical, patriarchal institution in US society, is likewise experiencing an epidemic of rape and sexual assault within its ranks. Fully one-third of women in the US military are sexually assaulted, but what is not generally known is that between 5-10% of men in the military are sexually assaulted as well. The US military’s response to this crisis has been analogous to its parallel institution, the Catholic Church – deny, blame the victims, protect and promote the rapists, cover it up, then proceed with business as usual.

Given the above, it is not surprising that US society has rampant rape within two of its major institutions, and a vicious rape culture across the rest of society. What is it that these institutions have in common that promotes rape and rape culture? They are hierarchical, patriarchal institutions that depend on power relations and dynamics which place certain individuals in control over others. In other words, they are the most top-down in society. These power relations exist across most other institutions in capitalist society as well, for example in the workplace and on college campuses where sexual assault and rape are on the rise.

It’s important to note that rape and sexual assault are not primarily crimes about sex, but crimes of power and power dynamics that are the result of women’s oppression and the sexist ideology that justifies it. Rape, sexual assault, and rape culture are certainly not new to the world of sports or college campuses. What is new is that the victims are standing up and no longer taking it which is the best short term antidote to rape and rape culture. Schools and coaches need to develop strict “no tolerance” policies that carry serious sanctions against offenders. Outspoken rejection of rape of culture has to be instituted in team locker rooms. The rising movement of mostly young women on college campuses (see Landen Gambill) which represents the beginning of a new wave of feminism, but also including the victims of the Catholic Church (see SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), will help society take important steps towards confronting and stopping rape and rape culture. The long term solution is eliminating the system that has, ingrained as part of its DNA, class oppression and a patriarchal culture of sexism and rape. That system is capitalism.

For more on the Steubenville case and the crisis of rape culture, see recent coverage in Socialist Worker.