Wow, it’s been a really awful week in woman news, right? Obviously there’s the case in Cleveland that has just been the worst. On top of that, the Pentagon study on sexual assault in the military seems to have finally brought some attention to an issue that’s been widely discussed in feminist circles. These two stories have dominated the news cycle; cable news has particularly been obsessed with Cleveland. Charles Ramsey has been lauded as a hero, rightly so, and Castro is becoming the embodiment of evil, which seems pretty accurate to me. Hearing and reading about Cleveland and the Pentagon nearly non-stop all week highlights some of the major problems in our country when it comes to domestic and sexual violence against women – it’s pervasive to the point of commonness and we only care when it’s particularly gruesome.
When the Cleveland story broke, after the initial “Ho. Ly. Crap.” reaction, I felt an air of familiarity. The kidnapped, kept in captivity, sex slave/torture victim is a pretty common story line. I know I’ve read books by authors such as James Patterson and John Sanford, I’ve seen it on shows like Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU. We’ve seen it in real life as well – Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard; the more you think about it, the more you realize it’s everywhere. I’m not pointing this out to reduce the experiences of the women in Cleveland. I am saying these types of things happen, get sensationalized by the news media, get retold by our entertainment media over and over until it is a part of our culture. Abduction, rape and torture – our fascination teeters on, and often falls over, the line of decency.
We accept violence against women every day. We perpetuate it. We buy into it. Part of Castro’s “reasoning” for his acts? The girls shouldn’t have gotten in his car. The news reports this with a “can you believe this crazy shit?” air. But how is this different than every other sexual assault or domestic violence story? We’ve been told that if we dress a certain way, act a certain way, say yes to some things, go certain places, fight back, don’t fight back, have any sort of history, don’t carry a gun, stay out too late, do anything alone, walk down the street, sleep with a window open, go on a date, talk with people online, flirt, say no too late, drink, fucking breathe – well, then, you were asking for it. We invite abuse by simply existing. You should have been smarter, more aware. If you get abducted, you should have known self-defense. If you don’t want harassment, don’t be a woman.
Women are raped. We are beaten. We are harassed. We are stalked. We are murdered. Every. Single. Day. Poor women, women of color, rich women, white women, women in cities, women on farms, immigrants, doctors, teachers, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, co-workers, every age, every religion, fat, thin, beautiful, not-beautiful, conservatives, liberals, educated, ignorant. Every day. We walk down the street and we’re told by strangers that we should fuck them, that we should smile, that we have a nice ass. We date people who slowly erase our confidence until we feel like we deserve to get hit. We go to a bar with friends and get groped. We get on public transportation and are rubbed, touched, assaulted. We go out for a run and get followed, get threatened, get pushed, get raped. We live in constant fear – know that our rape is just around the corner, that if we go out we might not come back. If we piss that guy off, we could end up in the hospital, in therapy, in the morgue. Every. Single. Day.
The worst part? Whoever did it is probably not going to be caught. If he is, he probably won’t go to trial. If he does, he probably won’t go to jail. If he does, he won’t be there long. He will come back for us. He will do this to someone else. He’ll continue to live his life when ours is gone.
So we accept it. We don’t revise the criminal justice system. We don’t increase funding for education. We don’t believe the women. We don’t pay attention, it isn’t our business. We watch a movie with graphic violence against women, we go out and watch Charlie Sheen, we listen to Chris Brown, we joke about black eyes, we say that boys will be boys. Every day. We make it a part of our lives, our society. Then, when something happens in Cleveland, we are shocked and horrified. And it is already too late.