Only the truth will save us

David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty Images

Two teen girls say they were given alcohol and attacked during a party at this Maryville, Mo., home.

Another story about rape and football.

Two girls say they're raped in small town Missouri. Felony charges are leveled against a high school football player, then dropped. Under what influence? One juvenile offender is convicted on a lesser charge. The social media bullying begins. Local authorities shrug as the victim is run out of town. Or attempts suicide. Months later, the whole rotten story appears in the Kansas City Star, and under even greater political pressure those authorities are forced to consider taking the matter up again. Sound familiar?

As it is in Annapolis, where two football players face court-martial. As it is in Nashville, where a football player pleads guilty to covering up the gang rape allegedly committed by his teammates. As it is in Steubenville, where two football players commit rape and the community harasses the victims. So it is in Maryville. Is football culture rape culture?

The news here might be that this is not news. Rather, it's an antique pattern of behavior played out in every corner of this country and at every station of money and class and social standing. Rich or poor, highborn or low. Nothing new. Just worse and worse and worse. And not only among football players, but among their coaches and fans and boosters, the zealots and true believers on whom the fantasy of Football as Character Builder depends. How many more girls are we willing to sacrifice to jock entitlement, to misbegotten hero worship, to "clear eyes, full heart, can't lose" cliché?

Reporting more of these stories more honestly is a start. Holding authorities -- and authority figures -- to account is a beginning. But the vast majority of sexual assaults still go unreported. Because victims understand they'll be victimized again by the very system in which they seek justice. The recent scandal at the Naval Academy made that point all too graphically.

Nothing will change until we make the reporting of rape easier and safer for victims. Until we de-stigmatize victims and stigmatize offenders, no matter how popular and no matter how far they can throw a football. Nothing will change until we hold institutions and individuals completely accountable for what they do. And for what they cover up.

Blaming the victim, unsubtle slut-shaming masquerading as advice, is as American as apple pie. So this was a very big week for told-you-so paternalism and boilerplate schoolmarms. Ladies, stay away from jazz and liquor!

But the problem with rape culture isn't alcohol.

The problem with rape culture is rape.

Does anyone anywhere honestly think the subtle philosophical and critical jiu jitsu of Fifth Wave Feminism and personal responsibility being written at places like Slate is being read by the mouth-breathing rape culture knuckleheads who need most to read it? Or by their moms? Or their pops? Or even by their interviewers on the network morning shows?

Instead, we find new ways to lock up our daughters because if we send our children out into a world of bad appetite and violence with an empty head and a mouth full of no-means-no pieties, armed with nothing but our own fear and ignorance, what can we expect? No amount of well-meant moralizing or earnest finger-pointing will change a thing. No hand-wringing will keep anyone safe. No call to the better angels of human nature will prevent a single rape.

So maybe it's a further truth to say that the culture of male entitlement and institutional spinelessness isn't exclusive to football. Or even to sports. Or America. After all, the only Stop Snitchin' culture tighter than that of a football team might be a street gang. Or the cops. Or the mob. Or the military. Or the BBC. Or the Catholic Church. Every one of these cases is shot through with Bronze Age sexism and bureaucratic self-preservation. Choosing sides can only be a fool's game. Rape culture is rape culture, and it doesn't matter who had how much to drink. Or who wore a surplice or a captain's bars. Rape is a rape is a rape.

The answer to which is the same in every case at every level, from the Vatican to the service academies to every jerkwater high school in America. Aptly or ironically it comes from the Executive Summary of last May's Pentagon report  on the Pentagon's own failure to address the sharp rise in sexual assault in the military.

Nothing will change until we make the reporting of rape easier and safer for victims. Until we de-stigmatize victims and stigmatize offenders, no matter how popular and no matter how far they can throw a football. Nothing will change until we hold institutions and individuals completely accountable for what they do. And for what they cover up.

All of which seems obvious, self-evident. And yet here we are. Still. Again. And now we're arguing over what's funnier to a high school football team, a skit about gang rape, or a skit about "consensual" group sex. Maybe the parents can sort it out.

These are your sons and these are your daughters and these are your sisters and brothers. We've known what to do for a long time. We've known how to stop it. Our ongoing failure, yours and mine, in football and out of it, is our cowardice.

The investigation in Missouri should be reopened. Only the truth will save us.

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