The Rape Culture of Rape Cages

Rape Doesn’t Suddenly Become Okay If You’re A Criminal

by Avens O’Brien

On Thursday, December 10th, Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty of five counts of rape and an additional 13 counts of sexual assault against eight women. He’ll be sentenced in late January and is facing life in prison.

The details of this case are horrific – Holtzclaw was a police officer in Oklahoma City and was accused of raping at least 13 women over a seven-month period. He appeared to specifically target women whom he presumed nobody would care about or believe. They were all from an impoverished neighborhood, and each encountered him while he was in uniform and on duty.

One of his accusers was 17 years old at the time he assaulted her, and wondered aloud during her testimony: “what kind of police do you call on the police?”

You can read the individual testimony of each alleged victim on Buzzfeed. As you might observe, he abused his badge and his position, and assaulted women with warrants, women on drugs, women suspected of drug use or possession, and ultimately, women he expected nobody would care about. Women who society might decide “deserved” whatever came to them. Women he could threaten with arrest, with violence, with the force the state gave him the right to wield with his badge.

His suspension pending investigation, eventual arrest, trial and now conviction has been a long, hard road for the victims and their families. On Thursday, the judge read the jury’s individual verdicts on each count, and you can see the 6’1”, 260 pound man shaking and crying through the reading of it.

I read through the materials surrounding the case and I watched that video — originally I watched it on a Facebook feed, and the commentary of the thousands of strangers wrenched my heart.

You see, I concur with the judgements that this man is evil. He raped numerous women – had the audacity to do it as a man who is paid to represent the law, and I look forward to him rotting in prison for the rest of his life for his crimes.

However, there are far too many people laughing in the comments – gleefully commenting that he’ll be raped in prison, that he’ll “feel what he did to those women”. That he’ll be made into someone’s “bitch” and raped repeatedly – particularly due to the fact that he’s an ex-cop.

Now, I’m well-aware that he can ask for, and probably will receive, special protection and treatment inside prison. I know he may find himself spared from that horror, and I’m not going to go into how completely messed up it is that some prisoners can get special protection from the hell that others (less well-connected, less obviously targeted) have to endure.

But people are laughing about rape here. Thankfully, not about the women who were raped. But they are laughing about someone being raped – a man, and yes, a rapist. But somehow, suddenly rape is okay? It’s okay that he’s going to be assaulted? It’s okay that it’s going to happen in a cage?

There’s the tiniest part of me that thinks “he deserves it”.

But I can’t laugh. I can’t feel anything but bitter pity for every soul involved.

Pity for every woman who endured his abuse and the things that got them there, “easy targets” in the first place. Pity for the other people in prison with him. Pity for him – not because he doesn’t deserve punishment for his crimes – because the conditions of our prison system are that we assume he will experience this “unofficial” punishment society has accepted: abuse and rape within his cage.

Rape is not a joke. Rape is not a punishment. Rape is an absolutely horrific act one human being does to another.

Yes, he did horrible things. He deserves punishment. But rape is not a punishment. It should never be treated as such.

The mainstream media was largely quiet on the story of this cop when it broke. People didn’t want to hear about these women because they weren’t TV-perfect victims. There were drug addicts among them, the poor, the uneducated, women suspected of prostitution. These are women society often decides “deserve it”, or “asked for it” through their own poor choices.

But does any human being deserve that violation? That dehumanization? Does the fact that he did it to someone somehow make it okay that someone else will do it to him?

Ultimately, we cage our fellow human beings. Some of them have done horrible things and need to be removed from society. This is how we deal with that. But we don’t just cage them for horrible crimes like rape and murder and violence. We cage them for drug addiction and abuse, for prostitution, and for violating arbitrary rules where “the State” is the victim.

There are people in prison right now who haven’t hurt anyone else. There are not just people who’ve committed the “crime” of possessing or using plants the government doesn’t like, but also the innocent: people falsely accused, improperly convicted and innocent of any crime whatsoever.

I could pull up any number of articles of innocent people wrongly imprisoned and how awful it is that they might endure what Holtzclaw may endure. Somehow, however, this is the occasion – a man who is by reasonable standards guilty of terrible crimes – this is my opportunity to soapbox on the way we treat prisoners here.

I am so glad a cop has finally been arrested, charged and found guilty for the awful crimes he has committed. It feels like far too many get away with literal murder, and it looks like he assumed he would too. I wish many more corrupt cops would face punishment for their crimes.

However we also need to reform criminal justice in this country. We need to reform the culture of cages we accept as a threat for misbehavior. We need to reform the rape culture we still actively laugh about.

Our nation of 318 million people has over 2.2 million prisoners. Less than half of them are violent offenders.

People laugh about rape. About rape happening in prison. In this country we’ve accepted that our government throws people in cages like animals – we treat them like animals, they behave like animals, and as if the loss of liberty and caging wasn’t enough, there’s an unofficial punishment we accept as fact: rape within that cage.

Feminism discusses “rape culture”, and even within feminist circles there’s friction about what that means and how relevant it is to modern America. Rape culture, however, includes the notion that rape is somehow acceptable within a culture, and I’ve never seen it more widely accepted in modern society than within our prisons.

I hate that this exists. As much as I hate rapists and violent offenders who violate the life and liberty of other people, I hate that we accept horrible treatment of these people. We decide they “deserve” it. Holtzclaw is a criminal, a rapist, human scum of the earth, but nobody deserves a rape cage. Nobody deserves this dehumanization.

I pity it all. The system, the society, the situation that accepts that this is the best we can do for justice.

I want to throw up when I think about it. What he did. What he deserves and what he will get. Lastly, I’m made nauseated over the glee. The glee and cheers and disturbing blood lust of the people who think anyone deserves this – and are happy it will happen.

We deal with monsters, and they make monsters of us.

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