Laurie Toby Edison

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Rape-Apology Rhetoric Used to Attack Children

Laurie and Debbie say:

Last week, a defense attorney in Cleveland, Texas, described an 11-year-old girl who was gang-raped by as many as 18 men as a “spider” luring men into her web:

Like the spider and the fly. Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?’ ” Taylor asked.

At roughly the same time, the Moraga school district in the San Francisco Bay Area, was faced with enough pressure to make them step back from their outrageous allegation that Kristen Cunnane, who was sexually abused in that school when she was 12, was responsible for the abuse:

Plaintiff was herself careless and negligent in and about the matters alleged in the complaint, and that said carelessness and negligence on said Plaintiff’s part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages complained of, if any there were

Although the Moraga school district has apologized, this can’t affect the impact of what their lawyers said on their behalf. Cunnane’s response was:

“It is beyond devastating that the District would blame me for the years of horrific sexual abuse I was subjected to when I was just a child. There is a critical need for a culture shift in Moraga and elsewhere when it comes to tolerance of child abuse in schools, and this just underscores that we have further to go than I even thought. I can only hope that this lawsuit will move us one step closer to zero tolerance, while also going some way to compensate me for the years of abuse I suffered.”

Accusing pre-pubescent girls of being guilty temptresses has been around forever. Sigmund Freud built it into his theory of psychosexual development. Since the testimony of survivors in the 1970s and 1980s revealed the enormity of child abuse in our society, it had largely fallen out of American public discourse. Women’s and children’s allegations have been taken more seriously, and some of the old standard men’s defenses (“she had sex with other people, so I can’t have raped her”) have been taken less seriously. The concepts persisted in people’s minds, but became far less acceptable to say in public or use in court. Just last year, the United States FBI redefined “rape” in much more appropriate way (so, much more sympathetic to rape victims).

Now this rhetoric is clearly back, and the Republican rape apologists (such as Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and their ilk) carry part of the guilt. By bringing myths about rape, victim-blaming, and outright misogynist lies into the mainstream discourse, these men and the people who support them are giving permission to other people everywhere to say the same things out loud. Yes, the prominent ones running for office all lost their elections, but while they were doing so, they pushed the envelope in the wrong direction. Every time someone with any kind of power or authority says “some girls rape easy” in public, millions of people see and hear it, and permission to blame the victim is reinforced.

In fact, just calling women “girls” makes it easier to forget that an 11-year-old or 12-year-old girl has a different kind of agency, sexuality, and ability to protect herself than a 25-year-old (or 50-year-old) “girl,” and easier to conflate them all into a group that deserves no protection.

The way we talk about victims and rapists after the fact percolates back to how we fail to protect people in the first place.

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Laurie Toby Edison by Carol Squires

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