Disney’s Rape Problem

19 Jun

Disney.

Now there’s a word that’s bound to conjure up some kind of feeling in pretty much everyone in the western world. And, I mean, love ‘em or hate ‘em (and there are tons of people in both camps), you can’t ignore the fact that, as a brand, they’ve had an enormous cultural impact.

My own relationship with Disney is pretty ambivalent. I grew up watching the movies, and I would be lying if I said that there aren’t a few of them that I can still quote, verbatim, to this day – especially Disney’s Robin Hood. Man, I watched the shit out of that movie, and I still love it, even now. I like to joke that it was my introduction to the social justice movement; it was the first time that I’d ever realized that just because something was against the law didn’t mean that it couldn’t also be morally right, and it taught me that even just a few people standing up against powerful government forces could affect change. I also think that that movie was the beginning of my love for all things historical, especially the medieval period in Europe. And yeah, for sure, Disney didn’t come up with the story of Robin Hood, but they did present it in a way that was fun and relatable for children, and they added foxes. Man, I love foxes! In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Disney’s Robin Hood is responsible for that, too.

Disney's Robin Hood also taught me that men can cook and do their own laundry!

Disney’s Robin Hood also taught me that men can cook and do their own laundry!

As a teenager and young adult, I became pretty critical of Disney and all that it stood for. I became conscious of the toxicity of “princess culture,” and began to question why basically everyone in their movies was white. I became cynical of how aggressively Disney tried to breed brand loyalty among even the youngest of children, up to and including offering free Disney onesies to new babies in hospitals. On top of that, the more that I learned about Walt Disney and his business practices, especially the special deals that he brokered in Florida while building Disney World, the more weirded out I became.

Still, when my mother announced a family vacation to Disney World a few summers ago, I was game. I’d never been before, but my mother and sisters had done the Disney thing back in 2005, while I was still living in Halifax, and I knew that they’d had a blast. It wasn’t so much about the brand or even all the fun things to do, my family insisted, it was about how well the staff treated you, how special and important you felt. And when my family and I, my five-month-old son in tow, descended on Disney World in July of 2011, I discovered that they were right. And maybe it was because I was still in the middle of that funny culture shock that comes after you have a kid, those few months where you’re slowly and painfully discovering that the world is nowhere near as easy to navigate as you once thought it was, but I remember being so incredibly grateful for the fact that Disney World seemed to have thought of absolutely everything when it came to dealing with families with small children. Disney World was the first place that I’d ever taken Theo where I didn’t feel like my child’s needs were a burden or a hassle to the staff.

And let’s just get one thing straight here: Disney’s staff are excellent. Really, really excellent. They are people that the company should be incredibly thankful for. Instead, as I’ve recently learned, Disney doesn’t have much interest in caring for or protecting their staff. In fact, when it comes to the issue of sexual assault in the workplace, they’re pretty happy to throw their female employees to the wolves and wash their hands of any responsibility.

In fact, Disney is pretty firm on the idea that if you are an employee who was raped while drinking and socializing with employees of the opposite sex, then it’s all your fault.

Many of you have probably already read Dana Wierzbicki’s post on XOJane from Monday called “It Happened To Me: I Was Raped Disney World And Nobody Cared” – for those of you who haven’t, I’ll give you a  brief rundown:

Dana was an employee at Disney World while participating in the Disney College Program, a program that allows post-secondary students from all over the world to come live in Florida, work at Disney World, enjoy unlimited access to the parks all summer, and take a few courses in business management on the side. It should have been the best summer of Dana’s life, and it was, up until she was raped by a co-worker. She says,

He and I went to a party together, we went back to his apartment later, and I said “no,” but he wouldn’t stop.

For two months I kept everything that happened that night to myself. I told my roommates that things went fine and I had a good night.  I didn’t know how to feel about what happened. In the beginning, I told myself it was a misunderstanding; maybe he hadn’t heard me. I blamed myself; I should have yelled louder. I should have pushed harder. I should have punched him and ran out of the room.  I always thought that if I was ever raped I would beat the guy up. Does that mean I wasn’t raped?
After trying to handle the emotional and physical fallout of the rape on her own, Dana eventually decided to seek help from the counselling service that Disney provided. This decision, she writes, was triggered by the fact that she later saw her rapist flirting with other girls at a party, and realized that if she didn’t do something, anything, then he would almost certainly end up raping someone else.
Her experience with the counselling service was, unfortunately, pretty grim. At one point, the counsellor told her, “Well, now you know not to be hanging around boys in the middle of the night. You know what they want.”
When Dana told her about seeing her rapist flirting with girls at a party and expressed concern that he was likely to rape again, the counsellor took this to mean that she was jealous of the attention that these other girls were receiving. She advised Dana to show up at the next party looking “hot” and tried to reassure her by saying, “You’re a pretty girl. I’m sure you get all the boys.”
Dana then spent several days trying to figure out how she was supposed to properly report her rapist. She was passed from one department to another, and no one seemed to be entirely sure who or what was supposed to handle this type of stuff. Finally, she spoke to someone in Employee Relations who gave her more victim-blaming bullshit and told her that she should have gone to the police back when the rape had happened, but there was nothing that anyone could do now. The woman in Employee Relations told Dana that they would open an investigation, but likely nothing would come of it.
Dana flew home and tried to resume her normal life, but she did follow up with the Employee Relations office several times. She was eventually told that her case had been closed. She called a friend of hers who was still working at Disney World and was told that her rapist was still employed there, and had suffered no repercussions for what he’d done.
After reading Dana’s story, I was admittedly shocked by how terrible Disney’s response was. Surely they couldn’t actually care so little about their employees, could they? Dana’s experience must have been a fluke right? So I spoke to my friend Laura*, who had also participated in the Disney College Program, and asked her if any of Dana’s story meshed with what she’d seen during her own time at Disney World. She said that Dana’s experience unfortunately wasn’t uncommon, and that she’d realized from pretty much day one that Disney was not interested in dealing with sexual assault. She said,
In my first week I was in a room with about 250 Canadian kids learning the rules of the dorms and this big, corporate guy comes in and starts talking to us. He tells us – and I’m paraphrasing a little here – that this is a high crime area and there are sexual assaults regularly around the dorms. That if you are a girl, you should not go out after dark alone, or you might get assaulted. That you should not go to the bars, and definitely not alone, because ‘girls get drugged.’ That you should not make friends with strange men, not go into other people’s dorms alone and not dress provocatively, because girls get assaulted and go home all the time. And if you do get assaulted, don’t go to the housing department, call the police, because there is nothing that housing or Disney can do for you.
And, you know what, without even touching on any of the victim-blaming bullshit that Disney is spewing, can we talk about how fucking ridiculous this is when it comes to anti-rape advice? Like, you are bringing in hundreds of people in their teens and early 20s to work and live together, and you somehow think that it’s sensible to tell people not to associate with the opposite sex? Not to drink? Not to wear “provocative” clothes? Not to go to boys’ dorm rooms? Like, that’s what these kids are there for – I mean, yeah, they are there to work at Disney, but a lot of them are also there to have a good time, and that good time involves drinking and having sex. That is what a lot of people do, and just flat-out advising them not to do it is not going to change anything. But Disney, meanwhile, feels as if they’ve covered all of their bases, and if a girl ends up being the victim of a sexual assault, well, Disney doesn’t want to hear about it because it’s all her fault.
And before you jump in and say that Disney has no control over what their employees do within the comfort of their own apartments, and that the girl should have gone to the police instead of Disney, let’s be clear on something – these dorms and apartments are belong to Disney. Laura says,
[The apartments] are not in “Walt Disney World” itself, they are about 10 minutes away in Lake Buena Vista, FL. Which is fine. They are contracted out from Disney and run by a separate property company for maintenance and stuff, but they are gated residence complexes run exclusively for the Disney college program, the rent money is taken by Disney and Disney Housing arranges everything and has offices on the properties and as a member of the program you are not allowed to live anywhere else but these residences. So, while the rape wouldn’t have happened on “Disney property,” as in not in Walt Disney World proper, it did happen at Disney, in a residence run by Disney, where Disney was forcing it’s program participants to stay and collecting money for it.
With regards to the whole “she should have gone to the police” idea, the fact is that the majority of the people participating in the Disney College Program are not from Florida. In fact, many of them are not from the United States. So it makes sense that they would go to Disney, the employer that brought them there and was housing and educating them, for help after being raped. It’s also not uncommon for people to be intimidated or afraid of the police, and it’s totally logical for someone to feel that going to their traditionally helpful and caring employer when dealing with the fact that their co-worker has raped them.
Look, Disney, you are totally dropping the ball when it comes to handling sexual assault. Not only is your approach gross and victim-blaming, but you’re fucking up from a brand approach as well. So if you can’t bring yourself to change your policies with regards to employee rape and sexual assault out of sheer human decency (which, by the way, you should), then maybe you need to look at it this way: you are losing customers. Big time. The people who go to work at Disney World are some of your most brand-loyal consumers. They want to work at Disney because they love the company and the brand. When you can’t step up and do what’s right for your employees, you are losing their loyalty, and the loyalty of any children that they might have, and their friends’ loyalty, and their family’s loyalty.
You can do this, Disney, you really can. You can make these changes, and I guarantee that they will make Disney World a safer, better place for your employees. You can fix this, I promise. You need to start by providing better training for your counsellors, You need to reach out to organizations that fight against sexual assault, and get some tips on how to deal with rape without blaming the victim, You need to provide better training and education for your employees. This stuff might not be easy, but it’s necessary. Please, please make this effort – if you don’t, stories like Dana’s will continue to happen. And the outcry against you will grow. And you won’t be able to stop it.
I’ve started a petition here to try to convince Disney to put some of these changes in place.
*Not her real name
Cinderellas_Castle

21 Responses to “Disney’s Rape Problem”

  1. Melissa June 19, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Holy shit.

  2. izzy82 June 20, 2013 at 12:32 am #

    I know this shouldn’t shock me b/c I know that many corporations, universities, etc are terrible when it comes to violence against women. But still, this shocks me because it’s so absurdly and blatantly victim-blaming. I work in the domestic violence field and everything that staff from Employee Relations said is textbook “what not to say to a survivor.” Ugh… this is how survivors are re-traumatized by the system… and people wonder why victims don’t report! Anyways, I signed the petition – thanks for making it!

  3. Daile June 20, 2013 at 1:18 am #

    The ‘suggestions’ made to female employees is an absolute joke! It’s akin to saying “don’t ‘ask’ for it” Shame on you Disney

    • Scott Davis June 20, 2013 at 6:13 am #

      There’s absolutely NO doubt that Disney is doing the tradition Corporate cover-up shit … The very FIRST clue should have been when they told the girl “Don’t come to Disney, go to the Police, because we can’t help you …”

      They Meant, of course, “We WON’T help you” … The girl was raped. Rape is a crime. Crime is investigated by the POLICE, not your employer! I’m really sorry, and I’m NOT in any way claiming that what happened was her fault — but there’s only ONE reason to take a crime to your employer: that’s if you don’t REALLY want to get the person in trouble — you just want him, you know, punished!

      When a man has violated you, you go to the freaking POLICE, you FILE CHARGES, you TESTIFY against him, and YOU FUCKING PUT HIS ASS AWAY!

      Most “nice” people don’t want to do this … it’s abhorrent to them to totally fuck up a person’s life that way — but HE didn’t GIVE A GOOD GOD DAMN about fucking up HER life!!! THAT is what the serial rapist counts on — the victim being too nice to put him away for the rest of his life…

      It was NOT her fault. She did NOTHING wrong. HE victimized HER. All of those things are true.

      But he’s free to rape again. And that IS her fault. I’m sorry, but it is.

      My Room-mate was raped by her step-father. He used the EXACT same stratagem on her: divide her from her mother — the ONE person who would believe her without question. The ONE person who’d have pushed her to call the cops and plead her case where it NEEDED to be pleaded. He raped her TWICE. Afterward, she told me what she hated the very MOST about him, was that he talked her into ACCEPTING that it had happened!

      She called the cops. A month after the SECOND rape. The Florida Police decided there wasn’t enough evidence – no rape kit, no eyewitnesses, no first-hand reports afterward, and that it therefore wasn’t worth pursuing …

      They were wrong. She was wrong first, for not reporting it, but THEY were wrong next for doing NOTHING, and trying to convince HER not to pursue it!

      She has nearly 300 cut-scars on her body, most of them on her arms. She suffers from Bi-Polar I disorder, which wasn’t his fault, but also SEVERE PTSD, which damned well WAS his fault! She will NEVER be well. She will never be hired by a restaurant, because her arms are covered with scars. The Army wouldn’t take her because her arms are covered by scars. The police would not take her, because her arms are covered by freaking SCARS — every one of which came of HIS treatment of her!

      Yes, she was victimized, more massively than most people could even imagine – but she was also wrong not to go IMMEDIATELY to the police! He PLANNED IT that way, as most rapists DO, so while you’re going on about how she’s utterly blameless in her violation — which is absolutely true, perhaps it might be a good idea to mention that ANY woman, girl, child, who is raped should go IMMEDIATELY to the police, and give them every fucking piece of evidence they need to put the fucker away for LIFE!!!

      Seriously, do YOU want someone making a serious allegation against YOU, months after all the evidence is gone beyond ANY hope of recovery??? Would YOU want the Police to take seriously a claim of a serious crime, that apparently WASN’T serious enough to report immediately, when it could be PROVED???

      I know how fucking horrible this crime is – I have to take care of a victim of it, every day! Not ANY of what happened to her is her fault! But what she has said to me, without prompting, is the “EVERYTHING, that has FAILED to happen to HIM, IS her fault!”

      By all means, tell women they aren’t to blame. But use your growing influence to URGE them to go to the authorities at ONCE! Not they’re employer, who has a vested interest in NEVER letting the truth reach the light of day! NOT their church which might want to pass judgement on HER behavior, rather than HIS, but the Police ––– and if THEY ignore it, she should go to the hospital and demand a rape kit, before the EVIDENCE that could put the son-of-a-bitch away is gone forever!

      What evidence? Vaginal scarring, which can be seen, photographed, and testified to by a doctor, nurse, or both … Sperm samples, which can be CONCLUSIVELY linked to the rapist by DNA … testimony of people who saw them together, people who have been out with him before, people who freaking KNOW what an ass-hole he is!

      In short, by all means, acquit the victim of blame for the crime, committed against her — but educate every woman everywhere about how they should REALLY respond to a rape!!!

      Otherwise, you’re no better than Disney.

      • isweartogod June 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

        Of course this post was written by a man. Of f’ing COURSE!!!!! Do you even understand how victims of rape are sometimes treated by police?? Or anyone else?? Easy for you to say that “hey if you don’t report that stuff you’re as bad as corporations covering up the rapes” oh my god can men just shut up about rape forever and never tell the victims what they are supposed to do and what not.

      • isweartogod June 20, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

        and fyi just because you take care of a victim doesn’t give you info what rape is really like

      • izzy82 June 21, 2013 at 1:02 am #

        First and foremost, I’m very sorry to hear what happened to your roommate. That is horrible.

        I think that we want to think that the legal system, which is here to protect us, is fair and rarely makes mistakes. I get that b/c it’s so much easier and reassuring to think ‘if that happened to me, I’d call the police, he’d go to jail and I could heal.’ But there’s no guarantee most of that would happen – there’s no guarantee that the police would do anything with the report nor is there any guarantee he’d get convicted of anything. Unless everything goes the way it should, a victim is most likely going to be re-traumatized by the system (and even if it does go well, s/he still might be re-traumatized). And just an FYI – rape in and of itself is a major trauma so your roommate, unfortunately, would’ve likely had PTSD regardless of if she’d reported right away or not.

        I am not going to say what I’d do if this happened to me because I have no idea what I’d actually do. I know what I think I’d do but that’s it and hopefully I’ll never have to know for sure! I also know that even if, God forbid, I were in that position, I wouldn’t speculate on how other survivors would or should respond. I’m not them, I haven’t lived their experiences and it would be unfair for me to make assumptions about it.

        Also, I really encourage you NOT to tell your roommate that any part of the rape or subsequent aftermath is her fault – even if she blames herself. Guilt and self-blame are very common amongst trauma survivors. I imagine that some survivors may read this story and say things like your roommate said b/c they need to think that if they’d done things differently, everything would have been different and they’d have had control over the outcome. Again, this can be a normal response for survivors when reading about a situation similar to their own – we all have our ways of coping with and making sense of tragedies. But the reality is once you make a police report, the outcome is in the judge and jury’s hands and you have no control over what happens or what is asked of you to do. Survivors need their power back and they need support to know they’re not to blame.

        Also, just an FYI, that ANY time you question a rape survivor’s choices, actions or stories, it often feels, to the survivor, that you’re siding with the rapist. They may not tell you that but it’s likely what’s going on internally for them.

      • izzy82 June 21, 2013 at 11:00 am #

        Me again – sorry this obviously has me riled up… So Disney actually could’ve done something to help her. They could have at the very least believed her and taken her seriously and NOT blamed her/accused her of being jealous. And that seemingly small gesture may have helped this victim more than a successful criminal prosecution. Every survivor and his/her/other gender’s experience is unique and what works for one survivor is not going to work for every other survivor.

        I also think Disney is making themselves more liable for a lawsuit by NOT doing anything (like I said they could have believed her, offered her support and/or looked into it and possibly let him go if they felt there was enough evidence to do so). Like someone else mentioned, they should have an anti-sexual harassment policy and if they already do, they should enforce it. But regardless of what does or doesn’t happen, the only person who can prevent this guy from raping again is himself. No one is forcing him to do it. No, he’s forcing himself on others.

        It’s true most corporations, etc cover themselves and don’t want to tarnish their images with rape. But the fact is, rape happens everywhere. And if this is the typical corporate response then exposing such corporations one by one is the least we can do. How else will anything change? I applaud this survivor for her courage and strength. I’m sure she knew she’d get a lot of negative feedback from people (cough, internet posters) but she did it anyways.

      • thepinch July 7, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

        I am a mother, and I have had 6 attempted rapes, including one last week. My daughter has also been raped, and she cuts, and she lives with her father. She is seriously mentally ill. She has never admitted to being raped by him, but he did permit the circumstance that led to her rape. I can’t come near her; she lashes out at me.

        Has there ever been a more loving and caring friend than you? She is your sister, in thought and practice. And you will play such a big role in her recovery.

  4. Elaine June 20, 2013 at 1:46 am #

    How do I sign up on your effort to get them to change? This is just shocking – Disney seems like such a great company (for the most part). Was it here that I saw a sign that said “Let’s not teach our daughters not to get raped, let’s teach our sons not to rape.” -

  5. Teresa June 20, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    This the rape culture we live in! It does shock me however that a corporation the size of Disney doesn’t have an anti-sexual harassment policy for it’s employees!

  6. dianatierney3 June 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    I agree that Disney is doing the corporate cover up thing. And its a bit shocking to me. When I was an employee a little over 10 years ago at Disneyland I was sexually assaulted by a shift lead. When what happend came to light my management acted swiftly. They allowed him to quit but they kept the issue on his record so that he could not be hired back. I was young, embarassed and to this I don’t like to talk about it, at the time I would not have gone to the police about it so I saw the outcome as favorable. This girl’s story shocks and saddens me. Likewise, I am very disappointed in the company.

  7. Blair June 20, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    The naivette of this post is stunning. Anyone who thinks large corporations are there to be of service to them as an employee are fools. If you don’t know the difference between law enforcement and the guy who tells you to put sawdust over the vomit at the kiddie rides, what hope is there for you, exactly?

    Nothing would convince Disney to monitor and police the sexual behaviors of young adults, not even millions of dollars because the liability that comes with that enforcement is exponentially higher. Imagine the lawsuits that would stem from Disney accepting responsibility over such actions.

    The advice Disney gives by your account is actually really good advice. It’s interesting you think that rape is a choice but being a young adult and wandering into sexual minefields is not.

    • Flo me la June 20, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

      … Sexual minefields?

      Interesting that you speak of choice when talking of rape victims…

  8. Sin City Siren June 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Sin City Siren.

  9. runningnekkid June 21, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    At the very, very least, Disney needs to educate their counselors to not make excuses for people accused of crimes. Telling the victim that cultural differences may have played into events because her attacker was from France is just mind boggling. Disney needs to ensure that counselors hired to, oh I dunno, counsel employees can give some actual sound advice. I mean, Jesus. JESUS. This shouldn’t be difficult.

  10. Simple Northern Life June 21, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    I am totally astounded to hear this, I am sure that this happens in many workplaces but it does not excuse Disney’s lack of compassion. Legally not too sure what can be done but just as another blogger states Disney needs to have some protocol for such criminal acts between employees and/ or management. Besides the fact that they uphold an imagine of equality and ethical standards not just in their theme parks but their movies and television network.

    Great topic, now you’ve got me thinking.

  11. ObaMA March 1, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    I also wonder how the phenomenon of hookup culture plays into this.

  12. Molly Redds August 13, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    i was raped by a “good friend” of mine one night when i had no other place to stay but at his home with him, i fell asleep after a night of drinking with my shoes on fully clothed I trusted this person with my life and he violently raped me. I reported it to the police in the next day I had a rape kit done and went with police officers to his home when they arrested him, a year went by and my court date was up and I sat in disbelief as the man that raped me got sentenced to only 2 years in jail for the bruises and bitemarks on my body, he was given a slap to the hand and the Orange County judge said to me “You are young one day this will all be but just a memory” I have a restraining order against him for the rest of my life and i quote the judge “if you are ever again in any courtroom in the State of California for any sexual related incident this case will be reopened and you will face 25 years in jail” Thats the Justice system of the United States for you. i was a victim and i was put on trial to prove that this piece of shit of a human being raped me, it was the most disgusting thing to feel like a piece of trash and a liar. Unfortunately we live in a society that is fucked up and the victim becomes the accused.

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