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When You're Forced to Cheer for the Man Who Raped You

The story of a high school cheerleader from Texas who was forced to cheer for her rapist has become a horrifying Rorschach test for how our culture views rape and rape victims.

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Though most comments argue that [H.S.] was poorly treated by the school (or at least by Bolton) not many ask the correlating questions:

Why is a student accused of rape allowed to play in the game? Why would any school put another student, one who argues that she has been raped, into that position: of seeing her rapist rewarded?

I am not writing about the actual court case. Whether H.S. had free speech rights or not is unclear. I am writing about the greater atrocity so very evident here: The rape culture.

What’s rape culture? Academically speaking, it’s a “complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women.” But Melissa McEwan at Shakesville lays out what it means in everyday life:

Rape culture is encouraging men to use the language of rape to establish dominance over one another ("I'll make you my bitch")….Rape culture is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Rape culture is not even talking about the reality that many women are sexually assaulted multiple times in their lives. Rape culture is the way in which the constant threat of sexual assault affects women's daily movements….Rape culture is a judge blaming a child for her own rape….Rape culture is encouraging women to take self-defense as though that is the only solution required to preventing rape. Rape culture is admonishing women to "learn common sense" or "be more responsible" or "be aware of barroom risks" or "avoid these places" or "don't dress this way," and failing to admonish men to not rape.

H.S. was a victim not just of rape, but of a rape culture that enabled two men to sexually violate a fellow student in the middle of a school party, that led to a school principal asking a rape victim to stay away from her attackers (rather than the other way around), that allowed a panel of judges to let off an accused rapist on a misdemeanor charge, that caused two courthouses to think that a rape victim waived her First Amendment rights when she became a cheerleader, and that has empowered anonymous Internet commenters, and no doubt scores of people watching the nightly news, to suggest that a teenage rape victim has made too much of a fuss out of this case and should put the incident behind her.

H.S. has continued to push forward in the courts, saying the fight has been worth it to help pave the way for other rape victims who may want to take on the criminal justice system. But she acknowledges that it’s been a frustrating battle. "All I've wanted out of this all along is for somebody to say they've done wrong."

For his part, Bolton had this to say after his recent hearing: "I have no hard feelings toward the girl. It was a misunderstanding."

Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, the L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn.

 
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