Tuesday, November 12

Alexandra Tashman: Rape culture produces harmful discussion of sexual assault cases


Jeans lie on the lawns of Meyerhoff Park as part of the Clothesline Project at UCLA’s “Denim Day” demonstration on Wednesday.

Jeans lie on the lawns of Meyerhoff Park as part of the Clothesline Project at UCLA’s “Denim Day” demonstration on Wednesday. Tim Bradbury / Daily Bruin


UCLA RAPE TREATMENT RESOURCES

  • The Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Hospital provides survivors with support and legal information and will gather DNA and physical evidence survivors can use if they choose to report the assault to the police.
  • Campus Assault Resources and Education, an extension of UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services, offers a 24-hour crisis line, free counseling for survivors, as well as an advocate to help them navigate the legal options available.
SOURCE: Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services. Compiled by Alexandra Tashman, Bruin contributor.

Callous approaches to discussions about rape and sexual assault are nothing new. Too often, we see instances in which the conversation surrounding these crimes does not take into account the gravity and implications of these acts for all parties involved.

The prevailing attitude which allows such crimes to be taken lightly is commonly known as “rape culture,” a mindset in which sexual assault is normalized or even seen as acceptable, the severity of rape is denigrated openly, and legitimacy is lent to the accused over the accuser.

While those accused of a crime are innocent until proven guilty, it can become easy for one side to steer the conversation to the detriment of the other party.

The YouTube video “Hakop Kaplanyan – Innocence 2013,” which at present has almost 70,000 views, asserts that Kaplanyan, a redshirt freshman water polo player, is innocent of committing rape – an alleged crime he was arrested for in early April.

On Thursday, at his arraignment hearing, no charges were filed against Kaplanyan by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review and until it proceeds further, Kaplanyan is legally innocent.

The video, which was published well before Kaplanyan’s court date, makes its case by listing Kaplanyan’s various athletic and academic achievements and identifying his many positive personal attributes as a means of conveying his innocence.

“Our friend Hakop is trying to prove his innocence. So we are all coming together, friends, family, classmates and teammates, to project one truth, one belief, one voice,” say the people in the video. None of the people featured in the video are affiliated with UCLA.

But in a case like this one, there is almost never “one truth,” never “one belief” and there are always at least two voices.

Kaplanyan, like any accused person, has the right to defend himself and his friends should not be hindered in their support of him and their belief in his innocence. But this video serves to impede any form of constructive discussion about how to protect all parties involved in a case of rape by presenting select characteristics as evidence of their assertion.

Negating the possibility that someone committed a violent, demeaning crime based on their kindness, smile or athletic excellence (as the video suggests) is a logical fallacy. To say one counteracts the other is absurd, even insulting, especially to survivors of rape and sexual assault.

The video disregards the serious nature of rape by implying that personal accomplishments and anecdotal interactions are enough to ignore the reality that a grave allegation has been made and that it should be addressed with sensitivity by all parties, no matter their relationship to the case.

The video calls the case “a rough obstacle” and fails to acknowledge the young woman who brought forward the accusation.

Rape affects a larger segment of our population than almost any other crime but has incredibly low report and conviction rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 19 percent of college-aged women have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.

Equipped with this knowledge, the very medium used by the creators of the video should be scrutinized. While their intent was grounded in friendship and altruism, their message not only affects how those interested in Kaplanyan’s case view rape, but how anyone can look at the issue.

We see that insensitivity toward sexual violence pervades the most pedestrian conversations: People frequently use the word “rape” in conversation as a way to describe their academic performance, or even their success in a video game. By doing so they cast rape as a positive action and equate sexual assault with achievement.

As a society, the messages we send after an allegation of rape or sexual assault has been made, but before it is decided in court, are equally as important as the proceedings within the court itself.

One voice or one group should not dictate the conversation at the cost of the dignity or validity of another.

Email Tashman at [email protected] or tweet her @Alexandra_Tash. Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBOpinion.

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  • truebruin

    I’ll be damned if anybody intelligent believes that he’s innocent just because he seems like a nice guy.

    • lkjfdsa

      I agree. I have noticed that there seems to be aura of invincibility among the Armenian community’s youth today. Just because their community is a powerhouse in Glendale and very influential here in Los Angeles, does not mean they are above the law. Many Armenian youngsters (including those who are like 26-27 years old) here in Southern California believe that they are above the law. They are not. I met an Armenian dental student who is very well accomplished and tries to act very nice and all, but he is one of the most disgustingly mean people I have ever met. I know he thinks that he is above everyone else because of his Armenian ethnicity (he loves to brag about how Armenians are so superior to everyone else), but when he moves out of California, reality will set in for him.

      • LOL

        Maybe someone should equate your prejudiced generalizations to rape culture. Or perhaps the fact that you chose to comment on the ethnicity of the accused rather than the crime speaks for itself.

  • Razmig Sarkissian

    Thank you so much for this article, the prevalence and perpetuation of rape culture and misogyny is disgusting and makes me livid!!!!!

    Also, it is disheartening and disappointing to see comments below equating the actions of an individual with a diverse, multifaceted community with a rich culture. Do NOT use the important issue of rape culture as a platform for your narrow, xenophobic, discriminatory viewpoints about the Armenian-American community, or ANY community.

  • causalcynic

    ‘Negating the possibility that someone committed a violent, demeaning crime based on their kindness, smile or athletic excellence (as the video suggests) is a logical fallacy.’

    Wrong. Categorize rape as a vicious crime. Nice people don’t do commit vicious things. It is a perfectly plausible argument that a person has underlying traits that govern his actions. There’s a whole field dedicated to that subject. I think it goes by the name of psychology.

    ‘One voice or one group should not dictate the conversation at the cost of the dignity or validity of another.’

    Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing by writing this? But wait, you say, we may join the conversation. So can the alleged victim if she chooses too. This conversation is only one-sided because the accuser hides. In fact, it is her whistleblowing that dictated this affair at the cost of Hagop’s dignity, and his supporter’s are joining to defend his dignity and not to assault her’s.

    Your title is dangerous. By alleging the discussion in this video is harmful, you are muzzling his supporters. Don’t muzzle people.

    • triplea11

      Um. Are you serious? “Nice people don’t do commit vicious things.” ???

      Let’s talk about that. How many college students who were interviewed that knew the younger brother of the Boston bombers were in shock that he could do such a thing and thought he was a normal, funny guy like any other college student? Plenty.

      What about Columbine? One of the shooters was really popular and loved by his teachers, contrary to the popular belief that he was bullied.

      Of course I’m not equating their actions to the accused actions of Kaplanyan. All I’m saying is- Do your research. And try not refer to psychology, a field of study hugely based on generalizations and inferences, when trying to make a factual argument.

  • USC!

    Interesting

    • Campbell Hall

      Indeed!

  • denise w

    Very good article, good writing, good points! I am a victim myself, although not rape, but sexual. I can tell you that it is difficult surviving a sexual abuse, because it all to often involves one’s genitals, and therefore difficult to go get advocacy for that simply because you just can’t drop your pants and say “see?”. The victim has to “come out” in order to accuse their attacker or perpetrator. If the perpetrator is family, then that can cause ramifications for where the victim sleeps at night. If the victim is a member of a religious group, they might be alienated, depending on the nature of the attack (eg, was the victim doing something “wrong” like drinking, or drugs).
    I hope the victim puts together a counter-video.

  • Jim

    His friends have every right to make a video and share their opinions. He is innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof is on the prosecution. If someone disagrees, they should speak up and share their thoughts, but not try to suppress the conversation.