Thursday, May 5, 2011

Supreme Court to Cheerleader: You Should Have Cheered for Your Rapist

 Trigger Warning:  This post discusses rape and rape culture.

I just read about a horrible decision* by the U.S. Supreme Court, and I’m infuriated. Do you remember the Texas high school cheerleader who was kicked off the squad for refusing to cheer for her rapist? She just lost her court case against the school.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

A federal appeals court ruled in September that the cheerleader was speaking for the school, not herself, and had no right to remain silent when called on to cheer the athlete by name.

The Supreme Court denied review of the case Monday without comment.

I am incredibly tired of a culture and legal system that blame and punish victims. Too many people in the legal system have very little understanding of trauma and how it affects the brain. Short statutes of limitation are one indication of this lack of understanding. The nature of trauma—especially human-induced trauma—makes it difficult, if not impossible, in many cases to pursue justice against a perpetrator in a timely fashion. But even when statutes can be tolled, they generally begin to run as soon as the victim realizes or “should have” realized that she has been harmed—not when she is psychologically capable of taking legal action.

This case is just another example of the iniquities that victims of violent crimes must face in a country that claims to be the land of the free, and the home of the brave. “Cowardly” does not begin to describe the officials at this young woman’s school and a Supreme Court that would not even hear her appeal. And she is hardly free when her First Amendment rights have been obstructed by a school that wanted to force her to cheer for her rapist.

High school graduates are not prepared to participate in a democracy when their rights have been trampled upon during an autocratic high school experience. Women and others who have been victimized are being sent a terrible message by the failure of the legal system to provide justice for this young rape victim. There needs to be a national protest of this reprehensible court decision.

My Short Skirt” may in fact be part of a cheerleading uniform.

* Clarification 5/6/11:  It has been brought to my attention that my use of the word "decision" here may be misleading.  I am referring to the Supreme Court's decision to deny review of the case, not a decision to uphold the ruling of the federal appeals court.  I realize that the word "decision" in a legal context usually refers to the latter, and I apologize for any confusion.


  1. Truly, an unconscionable and infamous decision. And that's saying something considering the fascist male elements of this current Court.

  2. It is probably unwise to read too much into a SCOTUS refusal to review an appeal of a lower-court decision.

    On the other hand, it does appear that the Federal appeals court lost its mind. It is not clear what the original suit was about and how it came to be appealed. The school seems to have been heavy-handed and how is it that the alleged rapist (I assume there has been no criminal charge or conviction) is in school?

  3. I should have read the SFGate article first. It explains that the rapist was subject to a misdemeanor conviction and is back in school.

    There have always been free-speech issues around students with respect to school activities. I understand that this case is particularly unsettling because of the specific situation. However, we in the public tend to think that the free-speech provision of the constitution applies universally and it doesn't. If the suit was brought on free-speech grounds, it seems to have failed in ways that many do.

    I don't agree with the school's conduct, but suing for a place on the cheerleader squad had to be iffy. I wish they had better legal advice. Getting socked with the court costs for a frivolous law suit is not fun, any more than a charge of rape is reduced to a misdemeanor, even if the rapist was a minor.

  4. Perhaps the suit should have been brought to the court on something other than free-speech grounds; I don't know. I'm not an attorney.

    On a human level, though, this is a clear case of secondary wounding and revictimization. Part of the point I was trying to make in this post is that the legal system is not designed with the psychological effects of trauma in mind. Major reforms are needed.