The Avodah Blog

An Uphill Battle: Fighting Against Media Portrayal of Sexual Assault


By Gillian Schaps

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I stand in front of fifteen middle school boys and teach them about dating violence.  We discuss power and control, respect, consent, and bystander intervention.  Each week, I struggle to counteract the stories ripped from headlines: Yeardly Love, Chris Brown and Rihanna.

But last month–sexual assault awareness month–I couldn’t keep up. I went to work to fight against sexual assault and taught young males how to prevent sexual assault, all while news outlets continued to report stories more despicable than the last. Retaeh Parsons, Stubenville, New Delhi, Dartmouth.  A quick search of the Washington Post’s website brings up stories of a Metro bus driver sexually assaulting a passenger, the rape of a five-year old girl in India, and the case of Audrie Pott (which bears remarkable similarity to the more-publicized story of Retaeh Parsons).

But for as many stories that make headlines, there are still thousands that will never be brought to our attention.  As Megan Carpentier wrote on January 8th of this year, “In the 149 days since the Steubenville survivor was assaulted, statistics indicate that nearly another 85,000 sexual assaults have been committed in the United States.”  And that was over 100 days ago.  Some of the most disturbing stories will never make it to your newsfeed, your homepage, or your morning paper.

One of those stories involves (albeit indirectly) my housemate and fellow AVODAH corps member Sarah Brammer-Shlay.  Brammer-Shlay is a champion of women’s rights and the founder of Real Life Athena (RLA), a feminist collective blog.  She recently wrote a controversial piece calling out the Minnesota hip-hop group DAVIDBLAYNE for what was a deceitful, misogynistic, and despicable song and accompanying music video.  Read her article here; she writes more passionately than I ever could (WARNING: graphic material).

After posting the article to RLA and linking to her twitter, Brammer-Shlay encountered a firestorm of backlash from the hip hop community for reacting to what they claimed was satire.  I recently sat down with Brammer-Shlay to discuss the video, the response, and what it says about the larger picture of rape culture in our society and media (more on that here).  Though her story takes place mostly in the social media world–a world that does not have the content editing and screening of professional media–the negative and positive implications of a world so easily accessed are profound.

If sexual assault is a topic of conversation on major news outlets and social media alike, what conversations are we having, exactly?  Are they constructive or ultimately more harmful, perpetuating what they claim to be fighting? What is the media telling us about rape culture, and what in turn should we be telling our students and children?

Stay tuned – I’ve got more to say on this topic (to be continued).

Gillian Schaps hails from Atlanta, GA! She spent the past 4 years at the University of Georgia ( majoring in English and Political Science.  During the day, her AVODAH placement is at DC SAFE, a domestic violence nonprofit. In her free time she can usually be found mindlessly watching Netflix or churning out baked goods with her housemates.  

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