By Guest Blogger Taylor Brogan
People throw themselves behind Really Important Movements in fits of collective outrage all the time (I’m looking at you, Kony 2012). Sooner or later, every atrocity starts to look like all the others. Your children are starving? Mine have early onset diabetes. If we tried to fix everything, we would never fix anything. So I try to avoid the outrage glasses. But I’m putting them on now. It’s been difficult for me to understand why women on the right have so infrequently addressed the problem victim blaming in cases of sexual abuse and assault. I know that conservative women have long stood opposed to physical and mental violence against women, but where victim blaming is concerned, I simply have not heard enough of an outcry.
Let me take a little bit of a step back and try to explain what I’m actually talking about. When I say “victim blaming” I am referring to the all-too common practice of saying that the victims of sexual abuse either “had it coming” or were flat-out to blame for the crimes committed against them. This used to sound absurd to me. Nobody ACTUALLY thinks that the victims are to blame, right? But I recently have seen some people go so far as to claim that there are no “victims” at all in certain cases of abuse. There’s just a guy with an insatiable sexual appetite and a girl who was totally leading him on. Guys will be guys! The easiest place to see this kind of behavior is the comment section on Internet websites. You don’t believe this kind of behavior exists? Read an article about rape or sexual abuse, and scroll down. No, all the way down, to the dregs. You’ll find some fascinating, if not utterly revolting stuff down there.
Shall we go to a case study? A recent Smoking Gun article details the arrest of modestly famous YouTube musician and alleged child pornographer, Mike Lombardo. For background, the accused was charged with at least four counts of child pornography accumulated over a period of at least two years, with victims ranging in age from 14 to 17. The youngest victim, referred to as V-1, was allegedly manipulated and coerced into some seriously uncomfortable situations by Lombardo (who was for all intents and purposes a sort of Justin Bieber for nerdy girls on the Internet).
But what does the Internet have to say about the Lombardo case?
(1) “The girls do not have a case nor charge against him. They enjoyed being naughty. Through these acts, they think they are “young women”; and indeed they are not far.” (2) “….If these girls were raised properly and behaved NORMALLY they would not be taking off their clothes for ANYONE because they would KNOW that its wrong…….Yes he is a sick bastard and needs to be charged and jailed….BUT if these girls had “scrupples” they could’ve avoided the whole situation …instead.. most of these young girls dress like french whores …..” (3) “Because everyone knows that fifteen -to-seventeen-year-old females are NEVER sexual initiators. It’s okay for them to have babies on reality TV, but not to Skype naked? What an incredible waste of taxpayer money.” (4) “LMAO @ calling willing participants ‘victims’” (5) “Sounds to me like the parents of these kids need to have a talk with them about not using equipment that they undoubtedly purchased for them to send strange men naked photos and videos of themselves. They didn’t have to comply, it’s not like he was holding a gun to their heads.”
Do you see the problem here? These were just a few of the dozens of problematic comments on the article, and now I want to spend some time addressing each one.
(1) To say that these girls “do not have a case or a charge against him” is not only wrong from a legal standpoint (I’d say they have a pretty good case), it’s also wrong on a very fundamental human level. A reasonably well-known and well-liked musician used his power and fame to manipulate girls into engaging in acts of child pornography. In not one single instance did any of the girls offer; Lombardo asked, and asked again, and again. If the case is true, he threatened not physical harm but put his approval on the line and used guilt as a weapon. There is no denying that Lombardo knew the ages of the girls involved (with whom he had sustained contact over periods of at least two years), and it is likely he will be convicted for his alleged crimes. As for the claim that “they enjoyed being naughty,” this is a gross assumption, based not on the actual evidence presented, but the firmly-held societal belief that normal, wholesome girls with normal, wholesome parenting can’t be the targets of unwanted sexual advances.
Which brings me to the next point – (2) “Most of these young girls dress like french whores.” It doesn’t matter what “these young girls” are dressing like. If I were a parent, I surely wouldn’t let my daughter out of the house in anything inappropriate, but that’s more a matter of self-respect and decency than it is a matter of sexual abuse. I don’t care if you’re wearing a potato sack or dressed like Britney Spears in her “Baby One More Time” video. Perverts are perverts. Speaking from experience with the community in which Mike Lombardo was famous (known as “Nerdfightaria” on the internet, you should google it), I find it HIGHLY doubtful that any of these girls wears anything more than a t-shirt and jeans on a daily basis. The commenter demonstrates an incredible knack for assumption. Still, even if they were dressed provocatively, the accused is still the sole instigator in this case, and he alone is responsible. Like I said. Perverts are perverts.
(3) The obvious difference between teen pregnancy and child pornography is one is a form of abuse and the other is not. Nobody is saying that teenagers are the world’s best decision makers. That’s why we make such a big deal about teen pregnancy to begin with, and that’s why teenagers are tried differently in the court of law. So you can’t argue one minute that “these girls knew what they were doing” and then tell me the next minute that teenagers are free from all the hormonal and psychological challenges that go hand-in-hand with being a teenager. Take it from me! I’m 19 now, and while I consider myself to have been a pretty exceptionally level-headed teenager, I still did some really stupid things.
Teenagers can be incredibly smart and self-aware, but they are also particularly susceptible to infatuation and manipulation, which are precisely the components of the sexual abuse we’re talking about here. A teenager with great parents and a strong moral compass is not immune to obsessing over celebrities. (4)
No. (5) “They didn’t have to comply, it’s not like he was holding a gun to their heads.” Raise your hand if you have ever felt threatened by someone who wasn’t holding a gun to your head. That’s right, mental threats can be just as potent as physical ones. What is worse is that these mental threats, manipulations, power plays, etc. are not immediately apparent. A gun is obviously a very tangible thing. With words there is subtext, doubt and double entendre, and it’s almost impossible for anyone but the communicators to understand the full implication of what is said.
This is not to say that all communication is relative or that there is never a clear yes/no, black/white divide. What I am saying, though, is that there is much more at stake in a situation like this than physical harm. Hopefully I haven’t put anyone off with this argument. I’m very curious to see how conservative women feel about this situation – Can underage victims ever be held responsible for their actions? If so, where do we draw the line? How do we react to claims that the victims of sexual abuse “had it coming?” Do we react at all, or do we refrain from putting on those proverbial outrage glasses? Whether you agree with me or not, hopefully you’ll realize that this is an issue that’s missing from the dialogue on among conservative women, and I sincerely hope we change that.
Taylor Brogan is a rising Junior at the University of Chicago.