Grace Mann’s Murder; How “Boys Being Boys” Enables Abusers

WARNING: The following article contains explicit language relating to sexual assault.

This is how the lyrics to a chant performed privately by the University of Mary Washington rugby club go:

“Finally found a whore
She was right and dead.
Well god damn son of a bitch we’re gonna get it in!

Finally got it in
Wiggle it all about
God damn son of a bitch I couldn’t get it out

Finally got it out
It was red and sore
Moral of the story is never fuck a whore!”

Jezebel later obtained the recording and posted it on Soundcloud.

How valuable is a song like this to you? What is a team that sings it worth? Is it worth the life of Mary Washington student Grace Rebecca Mann?

It’s just boys being boys, right? They don’t really mean it. True, most of them don’t; but as Mary Washington psychology professor Dr. Chris Kilmartin told Paige McKinsey in January, “Although the vast majority of the men are not sexual predators, their participation in these chants provide support for the sexually aggressive men who were present.”

McKinsey is a member of Mary Washington student group Feminists United on Campus. She quoted Kilmartin in that January op-ed because the group she was a member of had been harassed both online and in real life for voicing concerns about Mary Washington’s incoming Greek system. The National Institute for Justice considers Greek life the second highest factor on college campuses for increased risk of sexual assault. Men who join fraternities are 300% more likely to commit rape.

McKinsey also cited that recording made of the rugby team and their chant. Feminists United had faced online criticism and harassment before, but that’s when cyberstalking and online threats toward members of the group ramped up. This evolved chiefly on the social networking app, Yik Yak, which is different from sites like Facebook because its bulletin board-style interface allows local users to remain anonymous. Rape and death threats poured in. Since the site restricts words like “rape,” posters began to use euphemisms like “grape.” Consider the following example directed at Feminists United: “Gonna tie these feminists to the radiator and grape them in the mouth.”

Disciplinary action was taken against the rugby club on March 18. The entire team was dissolved and all 46 members would be required to attend classes on sexual assault awareness.

Feminists United members told the Washington Post they began to carry rape whistles and walk everywhere in groups out of fear for their safety.

Grace Mann was the organization’s publicity chair. She was strangled to death between 2:20 pm and 3 pm on April 17. Housemate Steven Vander Briel, 30, fled the scene and was later arrested. Other housemates found Mann’s body. They tried to resuscitate her and she was taken to the hospital. She died there.

Specifically, detectives believe Vander Briel, a former Mary Washington rugby player, used plastic shopping bags to asphyxiate Mann. Why? No motive has been stated. [Edit – per Feminists United Secretary Alexis Lehman, Grace Mann’s parents have asked that speculation regarding motive be limited until Vander Briel speaks.]

Statistically, most of the boys who chanted that rugby song won’t assault or sexually assault a woman in their lives. Yet by chanting that song, they all support the men – in and out of that room – who will. They will all go out into the world believing that chant has merit. Chants keep messages and attitudes from the past alive. They will all keep those attitudes alive.

So tell me what your songs are worth. What is a Greek system worth? What is “boys being boys” worth? Because it sure as hell doesn’t mean girls are allowed to be girls. It often means women are raped. Sometimes, it even means women aren’t allowed to live.

Again and again and again journalists and critics echo this. I feel trapped WRITING about it. I can’t imagine what it’s like to EXPERIENCE it. That’s where we don’t get it – that’s where boys being boys don’t get it. We aren’t willing to admit that the worst most of us can imagine can’t begin to compare to how trapped women must feel in situations like this.

It makes me want to stop writing and it makes it impossible to stop being a writer. I’d much rather be writing about some stupid TV show right now. I wish I lived in a world where I could write about some stupid TV show right now. Instead:

If you wish to celebrate the life and work of Grace Mann, please visit the Grace Rebecca Mann Memorial Fund. The fund is hosted by and benefits the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault, which offers counseling, crisis services, outreach, and legal advocacy. Once again, the link to the fund is here. Thank you.

How do we teach young men to refuse taking part in acts that enable and encourage sexual violence?

Additional Images: Feminists United UMW



Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel is a movie critic who's been a campaign manager in Oregon, an investigative reporter in Texas, and a film producer in Massachusetts. His writing was named best North American criticism of 2014 by the Local Media Association. He's assembled a band of writers who focus on social issues in film. They have a home base.