There are very few certainties in life, besides as they say, death and taxes, and the fact that the number of people who actually watch reality television will always be higher than the number who admit that they do.
But there is another. For every rape survivor, there is at least one person who's convinced she (or he) was "asking for it."
There was a time when blaming the victim was limited to a certain type. You all know who I'm talking about: The scantily clad girl, who had a little bit too much to drink, a little bit of a reputation and who really should have known better than to go off with that potential rapist. You know the guy who uttered the ominous words, "Would you like to have dinner?" "How could she not have known what that really meant?" her critics ask. But this blame game has officially reached critical mass and now includes a class of victims we all hoped it never would: children.
This became crystal clear to me upon reading coverage of the rape of an 11-year-old girl in my home state of Texas. In a New York Times article on the story, we hear from outraged community members who seem both appalled and embarrassed by the ordeal. Not so much by the fact that an 11-year-old girl was raped and that they live among a group of young men who could do such a thing, but appalled by the fact that she dressed provocatively and that these young men could have their lives ruined by the fallout. (I guess in their eyes being gang-raped before reaching puberty does not qualify as a life-ruining experience.)
I've often said there are very few political issues in which there is absolutely no gray area, but simply right and wrong. Well the rape of a child is one such issue, or at least it should be. Yet despite this being one of the few issues that every human being should be able to agree on, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation, there still seems to be a sort of ambivalence about the wrongness of it all when it comes to sexual abuse and the law.
If 18 men and boys had beaten up an 11-year-old girl the only question anyone would be asking is how quickly can we lock the prison door and throwaway the key? But if she's raped, then apparently we have to ask several questions, namely: "Was she asking for it?"
"Was she dressed like she was asking for it?"
"Did she maybe unintentionally signal that she was asking for it by being alone with them?"
Newsflash. She's a child and as such cannot ask for "it." EVER.
But what I find more disturbing than members of the community asking these questions, is the fact that they are all simply taking their cues from a society that consistently validates the legitimacy of this line of questioning.
I lost track of how many defenders of convicted pedophile and Academy-Award winning director Roman Polanski, tried to frame his assault as the story of a helpless older man who simply gave in to the temptation of a sexually precocious young siren. (His victim was 13 at the time.) By that twisted logic I guess we should stop letting toddlers run around wearing nothing but their diapers. Wouldn't want any other helpless older men to get the wrong idea. (To see a list of celebrities who signed a petition in support of Polanski -- or as I like to call it the list of people who will no longer be privy to my twelve dollars at the cinema -- click here.)
Much like the case of the young girl in Texas there were many who asked what role the mother of Polanski's victim played in her exploitation. That is a fair question. But the correct answer to that question is not, "Let's blame the victim." If anything it simply means that yet another adult should have been held accountable for her abuse.
But ultimately our society is not hardwired that way and our legal system reflects that. During a panel discussion at the Women in the World Conference Malika Saar, who runs the Rebecca Project which aids survivors of sex trafficking, said that society, including judges often refuse to look at victims of sex trafficking as victims but as "bad girls," regardless of how young they may be.
Doug Justus, a retired police sergeant on the panel, cited a case involving a man in his sixties who was caught by a police officer engaging in a sex act with a 14-year-old girl. He said that the man hired a high-powered attorney who claimed to the judge that the officer was "mistaken" and that the man was unaware she was a minor. His punishment? A $1000 fine. The punchline? The unidentified man had previously been mentioned in the media as having a net worth of $15 million. I'm sure he lost a lot of sleep over that fine which was probably the financial equivalent of a fancy dinner for him.
While I wish this story were a rarity, unfortunately it's not. I previously wrote about the case of William George Barney, a convicted pedophile who served less than a year in jail for molesting six boys who put the ultimate faith in him as a Boy Scout leader. Upon his release he was later convicted of molesting another child for an extended period of time, but will serve less than six years for that crime, before most likely getting out and doing the same thing all over again. As I noted in my previous column on his case, Barney was sentenced to less time than disgraced Tyco exec Dennis Kozlowski and 144 years less than Bernie Madoff.
While I realize these men committed serious offenses, doesn't it say something about our priorities as a culture when stealing money is considered a more serious crime than stealing a child's innocence? Although as one pedophile interviewed by Oprah Winfrey confessed, a pedophile steals more than a child's innocence. He steals her future. He described his crime as a form of murder because, as he said, "I killed who she could have been one day."
But Roman Polanski doesn't see it that way. Apparently he thinks he's been treated more harshly than some murderers. In a notorious interview he said, "If I had killed somebody, it wouldn't have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But... f--ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f-- young girls. Juries want to f-- young girls. Everyone wants to f-- young girls!"
Maybe he's on to something. Maybe the reason we can't get our criminal justice system and others in power to take sexual crimes against children more seriously is because too many of them believe that under the right (or rather wrong) circumstances they too could find themselves the accidental "victim" of the seductive charms of a young siren -- whose age they really didn't know (wink, wink.)
And wouldn't that be terrible for them to find their lives ruined?
Especially if she was really asking for it.
* Click here to learn about ways you can help improve our laws and societal attitudes as they pertain to sex crimes. But perhaps the most important thing you can do? The next time you hear someone ask what a survivor of a sex crime was wearing, ask that person, "Does it matter?" This piece originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.