A series of high-profile cases has drawn attention to the idea that a ‘rape culture’ exists in American colleges - a micro-climate where sexually predatory behaviour is both normalised, and enabled by social codes around masculinity. And one, too, where victims are either disbelieved or blamed. Cork-based playwright Lynda Radley’s latest play is a 360 degree view of a female student Karen’s experience of reporting a campus rape, and seeking justice. But unlike most reporting on campus rapes, it takes her perspective, showing the serious mental health impact of her experiences while her college football star rapist Smith emerges unscathed.
There’s a culture of doubting rape victims, one that’s made worse both by right-wing observers who pounce on the very rare incidents of false reports. In particular, the 2014 Rolling Stone article ‘A Rape On Campus’ received widespread criticism for the way in which it trusted and relied on the testimony of victim ‘Jackie’ - the magazine retracted the article in the wake of multiple lawsuits. In Radley’s play, media commentators use the discredited Rolling Stone article as a reason to disbelieve Karen’s story.
But there are other, more pragmatic reasons for doubting Karen. Smith is a star quarterback, who has huge symbolic and monetary value to the college: the administration rallies round their sporting cash cow. Meanwhile, hostile college students point to Smith’s social cachet to suggest that Karen must have been attracted to him, then regretted the incident later.
Radley’s play is densely researched, giving it a verbatim feel. It offers an insight into the huge range of strategies used to discredit women who report rapes: including the notorious 1999 case where a judge ruled that a woman wearing jeans could not have be raped, as they were difficult to remove without her consent. But her comprehensive approach is given immediacy and urgency by its use of a cast of 12 performers from Peppardine University. They’ve got a stereotypically all-American preppiness and wholesomeness that evokes a culture that’s very different from British universities - one where sports stars are idolised, and fraternities give a social elite of male students added control over the wider student body.
Karen’s experience transforms her from being a confident member of this social elite into a hated outcast, depressed and failing her classes. It’s a multi-layered insight into how the mental health repercussions of rape are multiplied by a system that works to silence survivors by systematic gaslighting, bullying, and intimidation. (AS)
The Interference was on at C Venues from 9-16 August - more information here: http://www.cthefestival.com/press/2016/the-interference
Rolling Stone’s retraction of its article ‘A Rape On Campus’: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/a-note-to-our-readers-20141205
A survey of the three lawsuits in progress as part of the fallout from the Rolling Stone article ‘A Rape On Campus’: http://www.npr.org/2016/04/10/473702981/revisiting-rolling-stone-s-discredited-campus-rape-story
Judge’s ruling in 1999 rape case: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/277263.stm
Lynda Radley’s website: http://www.lyndaradley.com/