Tuesday Reads, Part I: “Rape is as American as Apple Pie”Posted: January 8, 2013
I decided to do the morning reads in two parts today. Part I is another tale of America’s rape culture. Part II will provide other news links. That way if you can’t face reading Part I, you can return for Part II in a little bit. Here goes….
I was very glad to see that Notre Dame was crushed, 42-14, in the BCS championship game last night. Thank goodness keeping two accused rapists on their team didn’t help Notre Dame in the end. Dave Zirin at the Nation compares the reactions of sports writers to the scandals at Penn State vs. Notre Dame:
Two storied college football programs. Two rape scandals. Only one national outcry. How do we begin to explain the exponentially different levels of attention paid to crimes of violence and power at Penn State and Notre Dame?
At Penn State, revered assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was raping young boys while being shielded by a conspiracy of silence of those in power at the football powerhouse. At Notre Dame, it’s not young boys being raped by an assistant coach. It’s women being threatened, assaulted, and raped by players on the school’s unbeaten football team. Yet sports media that are overwhelmingly male and ineffably giddy about Fighting Irish football’s return to prominence have enacted their own conspiracy of silence….
The main reason this is taking place is because their accusers are not pressing charges. One cannot, because she is dead. Nineteen-year-old Lizzy Seeberg, a student at neighboring St. Mary’s College, took her own life after her claims of being assaulted in a dorm room were met with threats and indifference. The other accuser, despite description of a brutal rape, won’t file charges—“absolutely 100%”—because of what Seeberg experienced.
I’ll provide a few more links about Lizzy’s story in a minute, but Zirin says straight out what I have been thinking for a long time: Violence against women has become “normalized” in American culture.
This is not just a Notre Dame issue. At too many universities, too many football players are schooled to see women as the spoils of being a campus god. But it’s also an issue beyond the commodification of women on a big football campus. It’s the fruit of a culture where politicians can write laws that aim to define the difference between “rape” and “forcible rape” and candidates for the Senate can speak about pregnancy from rape being either a “gift from God” or biologically impossible in the case of “legitimate rape.” It’s a culture where comedians like Daniel Tosh or Tucker Max can joke about violently raping, as Max puts it, a “gender hardwired for whoredom.” The themes of power, rape and lack of accountability are just as clear in the case of the Steubenville, Ohio, football players not only boasting that they “so raped” an unconscious girl but feeling confident enough to videotape their boasts.
After I read this article, I looked for more background on the Notre Dame situation. I ended up so depressed and nauseated that I couldn’t write this post last night. Sorry–I’ve been doing that a lot lately, but sometimes after I read the latest bad news, I need to sleep on it before I can write about it.
Melinda Henneberger, a Notre Dame alumnus and Washington Post columnist, has been writing about the cover-up at Notre Dame for a couple of years now, and she probably deserves credit for keeping the story alive, though low on the radar. Here’s a piece she wrote in December: Why I won’t be cheering for old Notre Dame.
Two years ago, Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old freshman at Saint Mary’s College, across the street from Notre Dame, committed suicide after accusing an ND football player of sexually assaulting her. The friend Lizzy told immediately afterward said she was crying so hard she was having trouble breathing.
Yet after Lizzy went to the police, a friend of the player’s sent her a series of texts that frightened her as much as anything that had happened in the player’s dorm room. “Don’t do anything you would regret,” one of them said. “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”
At the time of her death, 10 days after reporting the attack to campus police, who have jurisdiction for even the most serious crimes on school property, investigators still had not interviewed the accused. It took them five more days after she died to get around to that, though they investigated Lizzy herself quite thoroughly, even debriefing a former roommate at another school with whom she’d clashed.
Six months later — after the story had become national news — Notre Dame did convene a closed-door disciplinary hearing. The player testified that until he actually met with police, he hadn’t even known why they wanted to speak to him — though his buddy who’d warned Lizzy not to mess with Notre Dame football had spoken to investigators 13 days earlier. He was found “not responsible,” and never sat out a game.
Even after Lizzy killed herself, Notre Dame officials continued to investigate her and try to tarnish her character. They painted her as possibly mentally ill and claimed she had been the aggressor in the assault. Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, repeatedly refused to meet with Lizzy’s family and did not even extend condolences to them after her death. It is obvious that there is a culture at Notre Dame (and at other colleges and universities) that protects athletes and covers up their violent acts against female students. Naturally, the next girl–who was violently raped–by a member of the football team decided it wasn’t worthwhile to complain about it.
You can read more on this case by Henneberger here. As she investigated, Henneberger found that the rape culture at Notre Dame goes way back.
In 1974, a South Bend woman who was hospitalized and then spent a month in a psychiatric facility after reporting being gang-raped by six Notre Dame football players was described by a top university administrator as “a queen of the slums with a mattress tied to her back.” No charges were filed, but the accused were suspended for a year for violating school rules. At the time, even so revered a figure as Holy Cross Fr. Theodore Hesburgh said: “We didn’t have to talk to the girl; we talked to the boys.” Hesburgh, who is 94, made that remark to Notre Dame alumnus Robert Sam Anson, who in his student days had founded the campus newspaper. Anson quoted Hesburgh in a story very much like this one, written 35 years ago.
In talking to friends who had also gone to the school, Henneberger heard more and more stories of rapes and cover-ups.
the real constant seems to be, as my friend Ann Therese Palmer put it, “If this happens to you, then you’re the one who is wrong.” Palmer, an attorney and financial writer who was in the first class of women at Notre Dame in 1972, loves our alma mater as much as anyone I know….
Recently, though, so many daughters of her Notre Dame friends have been raped on campus that she’s concluded she needs to warn women who are thinking of attending. The tipping point came when she realized that two friends who’d been roommates both had daughters who had reported being raped at Notre Dame — and that one of the accused was the son of yet another friend and alumna. “It’s not the Notre Dame I knew.”
But then, there is so much we did not know about what went on even back then that it’s only now I realize that when I was a freshman, I knew one of the players accused of raping that so-called queen of the slums a couple of years earlier; we flirted in the dining hall sometimes, and I certainly never heard that about him. And even if I had heard the story, would I have believed it?
That same year, a 17-year-old across the street at St. Mary’s was not having such a wonderful time. Now a lawyer, she contacted me after reading an earlier story I wrote about Lizzy Seeberg to say that two of the same young men accused in the case Anson wrote about, along with a third man, were caught in the act of raping her in her dorm room two years after the original case. Her resident assistant shooed them out of the room and took her to a top St. Mary’s official, who she says told her that one of the men had raped another St. Mary’s student as well. And then? “I was told to shut up and mind my own business,” and she did, until now. Which is not to say she ever really healed: “Every part of my life, every decision I’ve made has been completely different because of what happened that night.”
Surely such things will keep happening, too, as long as there is such a straight line between the collective shrug over that “queen of the slums,” and the disrespect shown Lizzy Seeberg even in death.
Yes, it will undoubtedly keep happening, even after the months-long civil rights investigation of Notre Dame’s sexual assault policies by the Department of Education; because, as Jessica Valenti recently wrote, “rape is as American as apple pie.”
I’ll end Part I with some quick updates on the Steubenville rape case.
Atlantic Wire: The Steubenville Rape Case’s Party Host Has His Sports Scholarship Under Review. (This is about Charlie Keenan, son of Steubenville’s prosecuting attorney.)
Daily Beast: Michael Nodianos of Steubenville ‘Rape’ Video Drops Out of OSU, Citing Threats. Oh, boo hoo hoo.