How Steubenville Mirrors Our “Don’t Get Raped” Society

by March 23, 2013
filed under Activism


Sometimes people go to parties. Sometimes people get drunk at parties. If they’re really intoxicated they might do or say something embarrassing. They might get sick and be hung-over the next day. Those are potential consequences of drinking. Rape, on the other hand, is not a potential consequence of drinking. Rape is a crime, and the only people at fault are rapists. And yet, when 16 year old Jane Doe from Steubenville, Ohio was raped at a party, the reaction of many was to say that she created that situation by choosing to drink. The blame was on the gurl, and not the 2 teenage boys who sexually assaulted her.

Last summer, 2 teenage football players, digitally penetrated Jane Doe (the survivor), first in a moving car and then in the basement of a house. Jane Doe didn’t remember the attack and woke up the next day naked in a strange house. She wasn’t sure what had happened until she read text messages among friends and saw a photo of her unconscious body being carried. As well, there is sickening 12 minute video taken that night in which a group of boys laugh hysterically about how the gurl is “so raped” and “deader than Trayvon Martin.”

Text messages between defendant Trent Mays and his friends, in which he says she “was like a dead body” and that he “got [football coach] Reno [Saccoccia] to take care of it” provided evidence for the trial. There are also heartbreaking texts from the survivor’s phone in which she asks Trent’s friends, “you couldn’t have told them to stop or anything?” Other boys who witnessed the assault were granted immunity for testifying for the prosecution. On March 19, the 2 boys, who are 16 and 17, were found guilty and will serve at least a year in juvenile jail. Trent will serve an additional year after his rape sentence is completed for illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

The defense argued that it wasn’t rape because she “didn’t affirmatively say no.” That shouldn’t even be a realistic defense. Consent is voluntary and enthusiastic. The absence of a “no” does not mean “yes.” If someone is unconscious that means “no.” If someone is too intoxicated to know what’s going on, that means “no.” If someone is sober and isn’t into what’s happening, then that’s still a “no.” If someone is anything less than a willing and enthusiastic participant, it’s not consent.

I don’t believe for a second that those boys in Steubenville didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. I think most rapists know what they’re doing is wrong, even if they wouldn’t use the word “rape” to describe it. In the video of boys laughing at Jane Doe, they use the word “rape” multiple times. The witnesses knew it was rape. I’m positive the perpetrators knew too. The text messages about covering it up are further proof they knew what they did.

What happened at that party in Steubenville horrified me, and I was relieved to see the guilty verdict. Not everyone felt the same. NBC lamented the boys’ “promising football careers.” Poppy Harlow from CNN expressed how  it was “incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult…to watch what happened as these 2 young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart.” ABC expressed how the trial was “every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s digital world.” Apparently the lesson of this trial isn’t ‘don’t rape,’ but ‘don’t admit it on social media.’ What was missing from all mainstream media coverage was any emotional concern for the survivor. The twitter reaction was equally depressing with many tweets expressing sympathy for the boys, and arguing that the gurl should be held accountable for being drunk. The tweets included “I feel bad for the 2 young guys, they did what most people in their situation would have done” and “so you got drunk at a party and 2 people take advantage of you, that’s not rape you’re just a loose drunk slut.” There’s a lot more where those came from and you can find them here.

All this victim-blaming, all this sympathy for the rapists – that’s what rape culture looks like. Activist and write Jaclyn Friedman defines rape culture as giving rapists a “social license to operate.” It’s not that our society thinks rape is okay – we don’t. However, when we say it’s the victim’s fault or present consent as this super confusing concept, we create a culture in which rapists can keep raping and not be held responsible. They’re not accountable because “she put herself in that situation” and “they didn’t know it was rape.” We need to educate people about sexual assault and consent so that we can stop making excuses for these people.

A lot of gurls go to parties and drink. They go to parties where guys are present and drink. And the majority of the time they don’t get raped because the majority of men aren’t rapists. It’s estimated that 6-8% of men are rapists. The idea that if you get drunk around guys, rape is inevitable is inaccurate and insane. The other 92-94% of men should be insulted that our society thinks they just can’t help but rape drunk girls.

We can do better than this. I’m furious about the Steubenville case and I think you should be too. We should be furious that drinking at a party is considered an unsafe situation for gurls. We should be furious that our culture thinks men can’t control themselves and aren’t intelligent enough to tell the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. Let’s stop mourning the ruined futures of these boys and start getting angry. Right now 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. I can’t imagine that statistic being reduced until we change our attitudes. Steubenville exemplifies just how far we have to go.

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