Quite a few feminist bloggers in the US have already made this connection, so I’m just repeating it for emphasis: the outrage which has erupted over Joe Paterno, legendarily successful head football coach at Penn State, being sacked (finally) after tolerating a known/witnessed paedophile on his coaching staff for over a decade? the outrage which says that it’s “unfair” to expect Paterno to have done more than just kick it upstairs with one report to a college administrator and then feel he’d done enough even when he saw that no action was being taken against the child-abuser for years and years afterwards? the outrage which had people abusing and spitting on a man outside their football stadium who held up signs reminding the spectators that children had been raped, that the whole college administration had decided to cover it up, and that the victims deserved prioritising over football?
That reaction (prioritising the accused) is exactly what feminists mean by rape culture: a societal tendency to excuse and/or collude with those accused of rape whenever the rapist is deemed too important or too nice (or just too much like one of us). Instead of meaningful acknowledgement of the damage done by the accused, it is the whistleblowers who are demonised as having axes to grind/ just wanting to ruin a reputation, while the victims are painted as unreliable witnesses (too slutty/nutty etc) and the experience of rape itself is trivialised as “not that bad”. Besides, Everybody Knows™ that Rapists Are Monsters™, and just look at how nice/decent/ordinary this person we all like and/or respect is! Not A Monster = Not A Rapist – QED!
This, no doubt, is what the colluders at Penn State thought about assistant coach Sandusky and the accusations that he was molesting or raping young boys. He didn’t seem to be a monster, and therefore it couldn’t really be true, and by damn he’s a good assistant coach so let’s just forget about it and pretend no accusations have ever been made. After all, it’s not our kids who will be in any danger even if it is true, is it?
Despite what many people like to think about themselves and their communities, the truth is that the normative human response to bad things happening to people whose social spheres hardly intersect with their own is not usually compassionate generosity and support, the normative response tends to be indifference. For the Trustees of Penn State, it took an arrest, a huge media scandal and the threat of losing millions of dollars of endowment money before they decided to stop being indifferent about the rape of poor people’s children by one of their employees under the aegis of a charity he set up that traded on Penn State’s reputation.
This indifference regarding actual incidents of sexual abuse/exploitation/coercion is not an exception to the rule. People prioritise their existing relationships over justice for victims time after time after time after time, all over the world. This indifference towards the victims and the “standing by” the accused is actually the status quo.
Joe Paterno knowingly looked the other way when he could have gone to the police to get justice for raped children. Thousands of people are defending him. It’s a large scale example of patterns of looking-away-from-rapists and deeming rape-as-not-rape that play out in smaller communities every year. It’s rape culture.