Fun Fact: Early child abuse court cases tried to treat the children as animals. Because it protected the children.
Got your attention? You see, before we had laws against child abuse, we had laws against animal abuse. So the lawyers tried to get the courts to think of the children as animals because then they could be protected under animal abuse laws. The animals had better protection than the children.
Today we are better off. But still, there is at least one way in which animals are better protected: Society believes that it is wrong to abuse animals, but many people manage to tolerate abusing humans via rape.
Amanda Marcotte raises this point in relaying a story of a kid who rescued a cat who was being tortured by a gang of other kids. The reaction was as you’d expect: People thought the rescuer was noble, and they thought the gang was terrible.
The striking thing is that our culture has a strong current that treats rape quite differently.
A lot of people in comments said that we should teach boys not to torture cats, specifically noting cultural changes that could be instituted to prevent cat torture. These people were not subjected to an angry flame war where they were accused of being stupid, called by misogynist or racist names, or told that they should be tortured themselves until they understood that the only way to stop cat torture is for cats to defend themselves. It was understood that cats do try to defend themselves, but unfortunately, self-defense is sometimes not enough to prevent cat torture. It was accepted that cat torture is a crime that is cultural in origin, and that by changing the culture, we can prevent it.
But these things do happen to folks who suggest we teach men not to rape.
No analogy is perfect, but this is spot on. The Stubenville rape trial caught a lot of attention. But imagine for a moment if it was a cat being tortured instead of a woman being raped. Imagine someone talking to a camera laughing about how that cat is “so tortured”, ha ha ha. You wouldn’t see it because, as a society, we know that torturing animals is shameful, wrong, evil. The other kids around a cat torture might be too intimidated or uncertain to intervene, but they would be disgusted. Any kid that wasn’t would have the smarts, at least, to hide that shameful secret.
In fact we don’t even have to wonder about this. Remember star quarterback Michael Vick and his dog fighting ring? There was no ambivalence about how society felt about it. He may have been a major sports hero, but dog torture was beyond acceptable, beyond tolerable.
Would those Stubenville students have sat around at a party laughing while a couple of sports stars tortured a cat? Would their coach have been cavalier about it? Would others in the school decided that the cat was asking for it?
We need to get our society to feel that when rape happens, the main reactions are that the victim is a victim and the rapist is disgusting. Asking whether the rape happened is a question of justice, and is fair, even necessary. But if it happened, wondering if (say) a girl who can’t walk might actually have consented? Not OK, at least not in public, because it’s shameful to worry more about the rapist than the raped, just like it’s shameful to worry more about the torturer than the cat.
We need to treat our rape victims as well as we treat our cats.
[Thanks to Kee Hinckley for the pointer.]