When Conservatives Exploit Rape Victims For Anti-Immigration Propaganda

Sean Hannity (Credit: flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The hypocrisy of conservatives who care about sexual assault when the perpetrator is an immigrant is glaringly evident.

Recently, a 14-year-old girl from Maryland was allegedly gang raped in the bathroom of Montgomery High School. This case serves as a chilling reminder that our children are at great risk, even in places meant to keep them safe. But rather than focusing on school safety, justice for survivors, or how our society systematically normalizes sexual violence, Republicans and right-wing media wasted no time using the case to further their anti-immigration agenda.

One of the assailants in the case was reportedly in the country illegally — and this fact was used to “prove” that undocumented immigrants are predators by nature, and that sanctuary cities are hotbeds of immigrant-based crime.

Here’s a sampling of headlines about the case: “Rape focuses critical attention on ‘sanctuary’ states” (Fox News); “Sanctuary Policies ‘Led To’ Brutal Bathroom Rape Of 14-Year-Old Girl” (WND); “Police: Illegal Alien Suspects Charged After Allegedly Raping And Sodomizing 14-Year-Old Maryland High School Student” (Breitbart).

A representative right-wing headline about the Maryland case

After the Maryland attack, political pundit Sean Hannity took to the air stating “the victim in this crime is just the latest in the long list of Americans who are victims because of illegal immigration” and that “we are not protecting the American people.”

Naturally, the White House also exploited the Maryland case to further its anti-immigration policies. Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated “the reason the president has made it such a priority to crack down on illegal immigration is because of cases like this.” This stance was subsequently applauded by right-wing media, which framed it as Trump displaying genuine concern for victims of sexual assault. (“White House: Md. school rape underscores Trump’s compassion for victims of illegal immigrant crimes,” read one Washington Times headline.)

Naturally, the White House exploited the Maryland case to further its anti-immigration policies.

The Maryland case hardly exists in a vacuum; right-wing media and pundits have a long history of exploiting rape and sexual assault cases to demonize all immigrants. Last month, Breitbart ran at least two stories focused on exposing “immigrant rapists”: “Illegal Immigrant Teen Charged For Alleged Sibling Rape” and “Illegal Immigrant Accused Of Repeatedly Raping, Kidnapping Autistic Woman.” And such headlines, of course, have been implicitly endorsed by our president, who notoriously kicked off his campaign by asserting that Mexico sends its “rapists” to the U.S.

In the aftermath of the alleged Rockville High crime, Maryland’s Governor, Larry Hogan, expressed what many felt when he said he was “outraged by the brutal and violent rape of a 14-year-old girl.” And he’s right, of course — we absolutely should be outraged. But we shouldn’t be upset because of where one of the assailants is from — we should be upset that crimes like this are happening at staggering rates in America.

More than that, we should be upset that the conservative establishment has chosen to turn a blind eye to our society’s rampant sexual abuse — while selectively exploiting rape cases to further its anti-immigrant views.

The conservative idea that sexual assault is largely perpetrated by immigrants is refuted by cold, hard facts. In the U.S., one in five women are raped in their lifetime. And the vast majority of these crimes are committed by native citizens; one Sentencing Commission report found that more than 95% of sexual assault cases were committed by native-born Americans.

The hypocrisy of conservatives who suddenly care about sexual assault is glaringly evident when you consider their silence on the issue absent immigrant involvement.

In the U.S., one in five women are raped in their lifetime.

Where was the conservative outrage when Brandon Vandenburg, a freshman at Vanderbilt University, along with three other assailants, filmed his girlfriend being gang raped, passed out condoms to her attackers, and later bragged about his actions? For that matter, where was the right-wing fuming over the recent gang rape in Mississippi, in which five high school students were charged with the sexual battery of a fellow student?

Could it be that conservatives looked the other way because Vandenburg is an American-born college student who has stated he is a “strong Christian” with a “high level of character,” and because the Mississippi assailants appear to be native-born?

Bill O’ Reilly recently claimed that the media has not covered the Maryland rape case enough, despite it being widely reported on—yet he, and many right-wing outlets, were virtually silent on the Vandenburg and Mississippi rape cases.

The only sexual assault cases that seem to matter to conservatives are those that frame immigrants as criminals.

(It’s also worth noting how absurd it is for O’Reilly to be staking the moral high ground here, considering he has been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment and once said a rape victim was assaulted because of her “short skirt and halter top.”)

The only sexual assault cases that seem to matter to conservatives are those that frame immigrants as criminals.

Moreover, if conservatives care so much about the victims of sexual crimes, you’d think they’d stop pushing policies that actively harm said victims. Even moderate Republicans have expressed little concern over parts of Trump’s budget which, if passed, would cut funding for the necessary programs created by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes providing services to victims of sexual assault. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has called VAWA “a misuse of federal resources and a distraction [emphasis added] from the concerns that are truly the province of federal government.” A staggering 160 Republican senators and representatives voted against renewing the act.

Additionally, the GOP voted nearly unanimously to appoint Betsy DeVos to Secretary of Education, despite the fact that her family foundation has donated heftily to organizations that side with students who perpetrate sexual assault, and that in her confirmation hearing, she indicated she may curb protections in place for those sexually assaulted on campus. Even at the state level, the GOP has hindered justice for victims by blocking numerous pieces of legislation aimed at helping survivors of assault. For example, the New Hampshire GOP recently introduced a bill, HB 106, aimed at making it harder for rape victims to bring cases to trial.

Just yesterday, the administration tapped a man accused of sexually assaulting five college students to a State Department position. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the president himself has been accused repeatedly of sexual assault, and has openly bragged about it on video—none of which was enough to make the GOP turn its back on him.

Such actions indicate that the recent conservative outrage over rape is duplicitous. Rather than caring about the victims of sexual abuse or the safety of women, these right-wingers are using sexual assault cases involving undocumented perpetrators to further their political agenda.

Violence against women and nonbinary people is a cancer that infects our society; it does not just seep in one day from Mexico, and it is not stopped by a wall or defined by immigration status. To use these rape victims as part of a political platform is to grossly ignore the fact that our communities are already overrun with sexual violence, and that these heinous acts have long deserved our outrage.

When the conservative establishment purports to speak for the survivors of sexual violence, they are overwhelmingly doing so within the narrow context of illegal immigration. Meanwhile, their collective legislative agenda has a long history of undermining the rights of victims.

Assault is assault, and the outrage should always be there — regardless of the immigration status of the perpetrator.

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