We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV – two high school football players raped a drunk 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head. “Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.” from Serena Williams: The Great One in Rolling Stone
I don’t know if I should be more pissed at Serena for making her dumbass statement, or the people who are saying that the backlash aimed at her for it is because she’s black. With that one comment, I lost my respect for her. Now, while I can respect her talent as an athlete, I don’t respect her as a person. It has nothing to do with the color of the skin and everything to do with the words that came out of her mouth.
Serena isn’t the only person in the world who has shamed the victim in Steubenville, or in any other rape case. She also isn’t the only person who has faced a backlash for expressing the same or a similar attitude about rape, Steubenville, etc. If you remember Poppy Harlow said the following and was publicly shamed for it:
I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.
After she made that comment, there were petitions that went up calling for CNN, who employs Harlow, to apologize for the comment and there were people who wanted Harlow fired for it. If you haven’t seen a picture of Poppy Harlow, I can assure you that she’s not a black woman. She’s a white woman with blonde hair. She sympathized with rapists and she will probably always be remembered for that. Chances are Serena’s comments will eventually be forgotten because she’s a celebrity.
Persons of color do face a lot of unfair criticisms and stereotypes in this world because of their race, but this is not a case of her being shamed because she’s a black woman. Public shaming of Steubenville rape victims is pretty much an equal opportunity thing. (Examples: 1, 2, 3, & 4.) And her race should not be an excuse for her to make comments like this. Your race, your gender, your religious beliefs, your orientation, etc. should not make it okay for you to blame a sexual assault victim for their assault. What she said was wrong.
Is it possible that she and other victim-blamers are right that the girl wouldn’t have been raped if she didn’t get drunk that night? Yeah. It’s also possible that she would have been raped anyway or that another girl would have been. Or maybe if it didn’t happen that night, maybe it would have happened another night. If these boys didn’t understand that it isn’t okay to stick your fingers up the vagina of a girl or woman who hasn’t consented or force someone to perform oral sex on you, then it probably wouldn’t have mattered what her state of mind was. I’m guessing there would still be blame involved no matter how the rape took place or who was involved. It doesn’t matter if she’s a sober virgin or a drunk “slut”, a good person or a bad person, gay or straight, sexual acts performed without consent are wrong. Too often people try to put some or all of the blame on the victim, and that isn’t right. The only person to blame for rape is the rapist. No, wait. The only people to blame for it are the rapist and any person who says that this kind of behavior is okay or acceptable in any way.
Any person who makes an excuse for rape should hold some of the blame for the rape. Serena Williams deserves this backlash. Maybe she could reach out to RAINN or other groups that work with rape victims to find out how to change her very, very wrong outlook on rape.