She was “like a dead body.”
Many of us are already quite familiar with the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, where two teens—Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16—raped a 16-year-old girl on August 12 of last year. The victim was drunk and unconscious when the crime occurred; she only remembered a brief vomiting episode that night. Since she couldn’t personally recall the event, text messages and photos provided the bulk of the evidence used to build a case against these two high school football players.
As a result of the incriminating evidence, the judge concluded that both boys penetrated the girl with their fingers without her consent, since she lacked the cognitive ability to give approval to such acts. There were several witnesses to the crime, yet little was done to protect her. Instead, the event transformed into a social media spectacle, circulating humiliating photos of the victim passed out and naked. The crime was even documented on social media sites, like Instagram and Twitter, and a video of demeaning remarks about the victim and assault were uploaded onto YouTube. Even the football coach aided in the feigned mitigation of this assault, apparently telling Mays he would “take care of it” and “was joking about it”.
Though the evidence left little room to cry innocence, Mays had attempted to orchestrate a cover-up, telling the girl that their encounter was strictly consensual and that he even took care of her in her drunken stupor.
He told her in one text, “This is the most pointless thing. I’m going to get in trouble for something I should be getting thanked for taking care of you.” Subsequent messages indicated that he was begging the victim not to press charges for the sake of his football career; he showed little to no consideration for her well-being or the true implications of his actions.
Charges were pressed, obviously, and after four days of testimony both boys were found guilty of rape. Richmond was sentenced to serve at least one year in the state juvenile system, and Mays was sentenced to serve at least two years, since he also distributed nude photos of a minor.
You would think that the public response would consist of outrage towards those involved and of protection and sympathy towards the victim—a girl who was barely old enough to even drive and was subjected to physical, emotional, and psychological trauma, with little to no consolation from her peers. If you assumed this though then you’re wrong.
In fact, the actual response was quite the contrary. The offenders received a plethora of sympathetic media coverage, depicting them as “unknowing, young rising stars” whose lives are shattered by one brief event. On the other hand, nobody was speaking about the potential long-term damage the victim may have to face after the humiliating assault. If anything, the girl was subject to negativity and hostility. Two of her former best friends testified against her, stating that it wasn’t uncommon for her to get drunk and to lie. After the verdict was read, two girls were arrested for threatening the victim via Twitter.
According to The Washington Post, one said, “You ripped my family apart, you made my cousin cry, so when I see you b—- it’s gone be a homicide.” The other tweeted she would beat “the s— out of” the rape victim. Other Twitter users called the girl a “drunk slut,” as if she had any control over the sexual assaults acted upon her.
The Steubenville case and its sad yet unsurprising reaction make it more difficult to deny the presence of a rape culture. According to the organization FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, this can be loosely defined as a culture in which “people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape”, making “sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable.” This culture practices victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivialization of rape, et cetera. Though many will fervently reject the notion that we live in this type of culture, the facts speak for themselves. By simply carrying eight ounces to a pound of weed in New York, one runs the risk of being incarcerated for four years. These boys inflicted sexual trauma on a minor, publically humiliated her and probably imposed long-term psychological damage that will haunt her relationships with men. They received one to two years in the juvenile system.
We live in a society where it is commonly believed that rape is about excess sexual desire and an inability to control it. It is seen as an accident or a mistake, not as a premeditated criminal act of subordinating and humiliating the victim. We are exposed to a media that portrays women as sexualized objects of desire—there to be enjoyed instead of enjoying themselves. Women are often illustrated as coy and unattainable so that the man is the one who must actively pursue sex, seducing and persuading the woman to sleep with him. Putting this illustration into reality, unsuccessful sexual coercion can lead to frustration and anger, which can manifest into sexual violence and rape. We adhere to programs that advocate a victim-oriented response to rape; the responsibility falls back on the target to prevent the rape. Don’t wear skimpy clothes; don’t drink too much; carry pepper spray; be mindful of who is around you; use the buddy system, and so forth. Instead of teaching men not to rape, we try to teach women not to get raped.
There’s no way around it; rape culture is real and it’s something we have to address. Treating rape as almost inevitable, as excusable and as trivial is simply inhumane. Countless victims should not have to deal with being blamed for the crime brought against them, nor should their offenders receive any sympathy or excuses from the masses. This problem is ingrained in our legal system, media coverage, and social norms, but we can fight it through discourse, awareness, and education.
The main hindrance to change is ignorance; many people aren’t even aware that rape culture exists. By opening up the issue for discussion and providing convincing evidence of its prevalence, we can educate people on its dangerous implications and ignite progress against rape culture.
—Angela Della Croce ‘15 is an Economics major.