As we watched Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro sentenced to 1,000 years with no possibility of parole on Thursday, many were left in awe of victim Michelle Knight’s strength.
And we hesitate to use the term "victim" because Knight has shown unbelievable courage since she was rescued from her 11 years in captivity.
She made a heartbreaking victim’s impact statement.
Castro, on the other hand, had the audacity to make excuses. And every "apology" was accompanied by delusional reasoning.
Castro claimed he and his victims actually "lived in harmony." He’s "addicted to porn." The girls "weren’t virgins" when he took them. He wasn't a "wife beater"… until he married his wife. He’s a "victim." Despite years of physical and emotional torture, he made the claim that sex with his three victims was "consensual."
You can watch both Knight and Castro here:
Words can’t fully describe what we felt as we watched Castro offer up his take. Twitter and the blogosphere reacted with similar horror. This is one of those cases where nothing matters: your party affiliation, your gender, your race. Nothing. We all agree. This man is a monster. These crimes, unthinkable.
But there’s something we hope people take a moment to consider: Ariel Castro’s non-apology can be seen as the embodiment of unchecked rape culture. He is the product of a society that makes excuses for violence against women. "She shouldn't have dressed that way." "She shouldn't have walked alone late at night." "She shouldn't have gotten that drunk." "She’s a slut." "She was asking for it" (remember Steubenville?)
The horror in Cleveland, this monster, should inspire us to reflect on the larger picture. Where does this kind of evil begin? What can we do, as a society, to teach our men and protect our women?
We can start by taking on institutionalized leniency towards crimes of a sexual nature. Take a look at Yale’s Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct (January 1-June 30). The most striking part of this report is the characterization of abuse. The word "rape" appears only ONCE in the 16-page report.
Instead they use the term: "non-consensual sex." What does “non-consensual sex” mean aside from rape? And I don’t even want an answer for that. Because I know the answer: It’s a sterilized version of an uglier truth. It’s another example of public relations taking precedent over taking action to affect change.
What do most of the perpetrators of “non-consensual sex” receive as punishment?
A written reprimand. Counseling. Gender sensitivity training. No-contact orders. Suspension. Probation. They’ll be graduating. Alongside their victims. And potential future victims. They will get an Ivy League education. Whatever excuse they've made for committing an act of “non-consensual sex” is basically validated. The victim, women in the Yale community, women beyond the Yale community, are essentially being told this type of behavior can be absolved with a slap on the wrist.
Ariel Castro became the monster that he is not only through the acts he committed—but also with every excuse that he made. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We cannot fail to take action for change within our own communities and no battle is too small.
So, let’s call it what it is: rape.
And let’s respond accordingly.