Friday, April 26, 2013

Spring Awakening: Rape Culture

by Jenni Morin

During Spring Awakening’s off-Broadway run, the final scene of the first act ends with Wendla succumbing to Melchior even though she does not understand what is transpiring. As they commit the act, she cries out against it leaving the audience to believe a rape has occurred. The implications of rape were softened and left more ambiguous in the Broadway version and The Playhouse’s production portrays the encounter as consensual. This controversial scene teeters on the brink of defining rape, mirroring the current ambivalence in the crime and leniency in punishment.

Far beyond the risks of STDs, unintended pregnancy and physical and psychological trauma is the lasting and more prevalent shame and blame of rape victims. Social media has proliferated and exacerbated the blame-the-victim mentality and turned yesterday’s date rape into a gang rape extravaganza complete with viral videos, photos, commentary and incessant cyberbullying. Lizzy Seeberg, Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott were all involved in sexual assault cases splashed across news feeds and all found suicide as the only solace. According to the World Health Organization, sexual assault victims are four times more likely to contemplate suicide.

In Steubenville, Ohio, the perpetrators provided their own incriminating evidence by posting videos, circulating photos and exchanging text messages. In the digital age of the virtual life and viral controversy, rape becomes a spectator sport and somewhat detached from the implications of the act. Unfortunately, the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey found 54 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the police and the Department of Justice reports only about three percent will spend even a single day in jail.

The common misconception that strangers perpetrate rapes was debunked when the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found 26 percent of rapes committed by a current or former intimate partner, seven percent by another relative, 38 percent by a friend of acquaintance. This leaves teenage girls most susceptible to rape and sexual assault by classmates they may see on a daily basis walking the halls of their schools. No party, especially one with unsupervised, underage binge drinking, is safe. In the U.S., drugs, especially alcohol, is frequently a factor in rape with both victim and perpetrator drinking in 47 percent of rapes.

Approximately every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey. Studies for the Department of Justice and National Violence Against Women found that between 15 and 20 percent of women experience rape at least once in their lifetime. About three percent of men experience sexual assault or rape in their lifetime. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12. These statistics show how pervasive sexual assault and rape is, but the question remains if it is frequent enough and happening to enough people to really have become the laissez-faire pastime of teenagers with overactive social media accounts and digital cameras.

Throughout Spring Awakening, the dramatic media and video elements will bare witness to the power of imagery inundating “news” coverage, whether through social media channels or credible media outlets. The script also addresses, even in 19th century Germany, how consumed teenagers’ lives are with sex and physical expression and a need to understand themselves and the world around them. What seems to be missing in the rape culture of today is a sense of right and wrong and a difference between reality and entertainment.

Spring Awakening will run at the Russell Hill Rogers Theater at The Playhouse from May 17-June 9, 2013 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

[Editor's Note: Spring Awakening is a rock musical set in late 19th century Germany, based off of a play by the same name by Frank Wedekind. It examines tough themes that still plague our society over a century later because they are controversial and difficult to explain or remedy.  What this piece does is present the issues, the truths and consequences of actions in order to reopen the age-old discourse of how to talk about and/or prevent the dangers resulting from each. 
This is part of a series of posts intended to present the various themes illuminated in the upcoming production of Spring Awakening at The Playhouse. While the intent is to remain objective, any opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of The Playhouse, those involved in the production of Spring Awakening or Theatre For Change.]

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