It doesn't take much to raise the outrage I felt over Jerry Sandusky's abuse of young boys while the Penn State football gang looked the other way, but at least there's comfort in justice. Unfortunately, too many victims become victims twice when the crimes committed against them go ignored and silenced.
Notre Dame: Justice Ignored
In The Nation, Dave Zirin writes about the differences and similarities between Penn State and Notre Dame's football program, and the silence surrounding what appears to be a rape culture inside a cone of silence:
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.
As unbeaten Notre Dame prepares to play in tonight’s national championship game against Alabama, the sports media have chosen not to discuss the fact that this football team has two players on its roster suspected of sexual assault and rape; two players whose crimes have been ignored; two players whose accusers felt harassed and intimidated; two players whose presence on the field Monday night should be seen as a national disgrace.
In 2010, Lizzy Seeberg was a freshman at Notre Dame. Lizzy was, among other things, a brand-spanking new member of the College Republicans and a good conservative girl. She also suffered from anxiety attacks.
Only a month after her freshman year began, she was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. She reported the assault, and submitted to evidence collection. Then she waited. And waited.
All their lives, women Lizzy's age have been taught to report unwanted touching. But after she did, the same friend of the player who'd left her alone with him sent her a series of text messages that scared her as much as the player himself had. "Don't do anything you would regret," he wrote. "Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea." Over the next 10 days, Lizzy became convinced he was right about that. The player wasn't hard to find on the practice field each afternoon, so what were investigators waiting for? It crushed Lizzy, said her therapist in Chicago, Dr. Heather Hale, that reporting a crime somehow made her a traitor to the school she'd grown up revering.
But she also couldn't get past the idea that failing to follow through legally would make her party to any harm that came to other women on campus, either from the same man or others emboldened by her silence. In a Skype session with Lizzy the day before she died, Hale said, "the conflict was, 'Do I do the best I can and get on with my life, versus the fear that if I do that, this could happen to someone else?' "
Remarkably, Lizzy did everything she could to show her loyalty to the team between the time she reported the assault and her suicide. Zirin:
To show that she wouldn’t rock the boat, Lizzy was compelled by her peers to go to the next game, stencil the Notre Dame logos into her face and cheer her assaulter.
Gosh, that sort of reminds me of a case in Texas. The one where a court ordered the rape victim to cheer for her rapist?
Washington Post reporter and Notre Dame alum who has investigated the sexual assaults on campus extensively, wrote, “On Sept. 7, she wrote her therapist, ‘I can’t get out of this f*!#ing hole I’ve started to dig. I’m trying to go to sleep because I’m sick with a cold and need to get rest but I can’t stop thinking about taking all the pills I can find. I’m ready to check out because this sucks.’ She promised [her therapist] she would never follow through. But then, on Sept. 9, she had a panic attack during a mandatory freshman orientation on sexual assault.”
That panic attack preceded her suicide. If in life Lizzy Seeberg suffered at the hands of not only players on the team but the people in power who ignored her pleas, in death these forces have gone further and slandered her to a shocking degree. They have claimed Lizzy was a “troubled girl” who was “all over the boy”, as well as mentally unstable. As Henneberger wrote, “The damage to her memory since then is arguably more of a violation than anything she reported to police — and all the more shocking because it was not done thoughtlessly, by a kid in a moment he can’t take back, but on purpose, by the very adults who heavily market the moral leadership of a Catholic institution. Notre Dame’s mission statement could not be clearer: ‘The university is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake.’ But in this case, the university did just the opposite.”
Lizzy Seeberg wasn't the only victim, in death and in life, as Henneberger chronicles. Football supremacy at the cost of a few sexual assaults is part of a long-standing tradition evidently, dating back years and years until it has become a regular part of the school's culture. Not only the school's culture, but South Bend's culture, too. Zirin:
But this conspiracy of silence and slander is bigger than just the school. Deindustrialized South Bend, Indiana, is a company town, and the company is Notre Dame football. The football program in 2012 was valued by Forbes as the third “most valuable” in the country, behind far larger state universities in Texas and Michigan. This is just the formal economy. Informally, every hotel, every bar, every kid at the side of the road selling bottled water depends on Notre Dame football. Home games generate $10 million in local spending for a community of just 100,000 people. It is the beating economic heart of South Bend and women have become, in this sclerotic set up, the collateral damage.
The economic heart and soul of South Bend can't be disturbed because some women are assaulted by testosterone-deranged football players, right?
Why the hell not? When did a sport supersede the rule of law? When did it become acceptable to turn the other way and ignore what is happening, or worse, shame the victims to protect the program?
Anonymous has been protesting in Steubenville after a sixteen-year old girl was used as two football players' rape toy for a night. Either drunk or drugged or both, the young victim -- an honor student at a private Catholic high school -- woke up the next day with no memory of what happened until she signed onto her social networks and found tweets and pictures of the alleged assault.
Occupy Steubenville is a particularly interesting phenomenon given that so much media interest has been devoted to the no-less-horrific gang rape of a young woman named Jyoti Singh Pandey in India. Establishment pundits rushed to condemn the rape, and the rape culture that permitted the attack, when it came to exotic Indian folk in a faraway land, but seem more hesitant to address rape culture within the United States, even though a shining example of women’s second-class status is on display in Ohio.
Men who rape—and rape culture contributors who laugh about it later on Twitter and YouTube—do so precisely because they either don’t think rape is wrong (or, at the very least, raping a drunk girl “doesn’t count”) and/or they know they can rape with impunity. The “justice system” can’t work if there’s a two-tier structure where someone people get punished for raping teenage girls, and others don’t simply because they happen to be football players.
In the case of Steubenville, it seems that everyone has an opinion and some of those opinions fall on the side of the players. Breitbart writer Lee Stranahan has suggested that the New York Times slanted their account with some sort of "agenda", that she asked for it, that even if it was rape, it wasn't necessarily brutal, and that there's a manufactured vendetta against the entire town of Steubenville.
How is what Stranahan and those who deny anything happened any different than the posthumous sliming of Lizzy Seeburg? Is there any time to actually accept that these things do happen, that they are the product of a culture which values how men move a ball down a 100-yard field more than women?
There's a double standard about pointing our fingers at the young lady who committed suicide in India after being raped and how we look at rape victims here. There's always a way to slut-shame the victims. They were drinking, they were there voluntarily, they were throwing themselves at those poor boys, they were just poor judges of character, they were dressed in scanty clothing, and so on.
Rape is brutal, it can cause PTSD, and it can lead to suicide, depression, and self-harm. There is no such thing as gentle rape. They are all brutal, whether or not the rapist uses fists or whatever. Even more brutal is the aftermath, particularly if a victim challenges the establishment as in the revered football programs in Steubenville and South Bend.
A Texas cheerleader. A Notre Dame freshman. A high school honor student. They are all people, they are all worthy of receiving our society's sympathy and justice for the wrongs done them. Yet none of them saw that justice, simply because they were on the wrong side of the football power structure and the culture that defends them.