We stand with Jane Doe

April 1, 2013

Crystal Stella Becerril reports on a Chicago speak-out in solidarity with Jane Doe, the young woman who was raped in Steubenville, Ohio.

"WHATEVER WE wear, wherever we go. Yes means YES! No means NO!" was one of many chants that rang out in Chicago's downtown on March 21, as 25 women's rights activists made their way from Federal Plaza to Daley Plaza for a speak-out in solidarity with the young woman who was raped in Steubenville, Ohio.

The Chicago Jane Doe Solidarity Group--made up of students, women's advocacy organizers and survivors of sexual assault--called the action to stand in solidarity with Steubenville's Jane Doe and to respond to the media's outpouring of sympathy for the rapists and onslaught of victim-blaming.

Following the March 17 verdict in which the two accused athletes--Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond--were found guilty of rape, the mainstream media invoked sympathy for the athletes without a mention of the victim and her trauma.

CNN's Poppy Harlow, who has since come under fire for her comment, lamented how it was "incredibly difficult to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures...literally watched as they believed their life fell apart." That the media by and large focused their coverage on the "star football players" and not the young woman who they violated is quite telling of the sexism that continues to pervade our society.

Taking a stand to say no to sexual violence

Equally telling, however, is the wave of outrage that Harlow and Co.'s comments incited. Bloggers, tweeters and other online activists condemned the media's disgusting and lopsided coverage. A Change.org petition gathered over 280,000 signatures to demand that CNN issue an on-air apology for sympathizing with the Steubenville rapists.

These same motivations brought out the women--and men--to the Chicago rally. Many had never participated in any sort of protest before, but felt empowered to come out of the shadows, speak out against rape culture and tell Jane Doe, "You are not alone."

When Kat Hogan--a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who had never organized a protest before--found out that the defendants' lawyers planned to claim that Jane Doe's "silence" (i.e., her state of unconsciousness) the night of the attack signaled her consent, she was so outraged that she created a Facebook event page calling for the speak-out.

"I felt a bit guilty for not taking a stand earlier," she said. "I felt angry for all of us affected by rape culture, and I felt I needed to be taking a stand against rape and misogyny."

MANY WOMEN--particularly college-aged women--have in recent years begun to take a bold and unapologetic stand against a system that blames victims and excuses rapists. Actions like SlutWalk and Take Back the Night bring these grievances to the fore and demand an end to slut-shaming and victim-blaming. The message is clear: Blame the system, not the victim.

The sentence Mays and Richmond received for their crime doesn't solve the problem of rape in our society. But the fact that the defense's victim-blaming failed is a small but significant step in the right direction.

We have to take on the idea that if an individual is unable--for whatever reason, be it intoxication or intimidation--to say "no," then their answer must be "yes"--or the notion that women "cry rape" the morning after sleeping with someone because they regreat having said "yes." All too often, victims of sexual assault are doubted, dismissed and criminalized for coming forward.

Furthermore, we also need to challenge what has become known as "gray rape"--the idea that rape can be justified when the aggressor claims they were "unaware that the victim hadn't consented" because there were too many "mixed signals."

Nearly every speaker at Thursday's rally spoke of a system that is rotten to its core and must be uprooted if we wish to do away with rape and oppression. A number of speakers argued that imprisonment isn't the solution, because not only is the prison industrial complex a for-profit racist institution that imprisons Black and Brown individuals disproportionately, but locking up rapists doesn't address the material causes of rape and violence against women.

Whatever the specific reasons each speaker gave, the message was clear: locking up individuals is not going to end rape. We need to get rid of a system that dehumanizes people and engenders violence against them. We need a world free of sexism, misogyny and oppression--not more jails and not more flawed legislation.

As University of Chicago graduate student and activist Trish Kahle said during the speak-out:

Alone, they can continue to victimize us--if not by assaulting us, by blaming and shaming us, by denying our right to bodily autonomy and safety. Together, we can build a force that is more powerful than victim-blaming lawyers, more powerful than the injustice system that locks up millions of Black men while ignoring violence against women.

We have to stand together, because it's the same cops who are running stop-and-frisk who rape women coming to them for help. It's the same people implementing devastating neoliberal policies around the world who victimize immigrant working women.

The time for a new women's movement is long overdue. Justice for every Jane Doe--this is our starting point, and from here, we need to build a movement with its sights set on nothing less than full liberation.

Further Reading

From the archives