Steubenville and Our Apologist Culture Problem

By Rachel Jackson '14

For the last month, people all over the country have been watching and voicing their opinions on the trial and outcome of the Steubenville rape case. The case concerns a sixteen-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio who was raped last summer by two high school football players, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, who were also both sixteen at the time. I won’t go into detail, but needless to say, the act was abusive and violating, and the two boys were found guilty of rape on March 17. Among the charges brought against them was digital penetration, which, under Ohio law, constitutes rape – both were sentenced to time in a juvenile detention center, one for two years, the other for one.  Besides the horrifying fact that a young girl was attacked by her peers, the case has brought to the surface intense attitudes about rape culture, rape apologist culture and their prevalence today.

No one should have to live in fear of being attacked because she dresses and acts how she pleases – that should be a given. But even more heinous is that if a woman is raped, her entire sexual history along with other less-than-relevant details about her life are up for scrutiny. I’m angry. You should be angry too. The current rape culture that we’re totally accustomed to not only makes it possible for things like Steubenville to happen, albeit generally with a different judicial outcome, but also for governments to decide that forced intrauterine ultrasounds for abortion seekers are not only appropriate, but necessary.

While the Steubenville verdict may represent a triumph for the victim, it should not be a case for celebration – both the crime and the media reaction make that clear. Of reactions in the public realm, one of the most significant came from CNN, which aired a report stating that “those poor boys’ lives are ruined” in regards to their flourishing football careers. Yeah, I’m with you, CNN. These boys really fucked up. But pandering for sympathy is totally unnecessary and truly upsetting. They knew exactly what they did – their actions between the incident and the trial designated that. The confidence with which their football coach told them that they wouldn’t be punished showed that.
We need to be educated. The fact that “she was asking for it” validates rape in anyone’s mind is utterly despicable. It needs to be internalized that a short skirt does not automatically indicate an invitation for a hand up it, and that a tipsy stumble does not make an opportunity. The girl in the Steubenville case was too out of it for anything she said during the attack to be considered consent. She did not remember anything the next day. Adults in the two boys’ lives knowingly participated in a cover-up, trying to prove that yes, she was essentially asking for it. This girl went through an intense scrutiny and abuse of her character and life. So why didn’t CNN mention the weight that she will have to carry with her, which the process of a trial could have only exacerbated? Why do they only speak to the ruined lives of the perpetrators? I don’t doubt they are sorry. But were they sorry before or after they faced sentence? They were responsible for their actions, so they should be able to take their punishment, and so should our damned news sources. I am so exhausted of rape apologists grasping so desperately for every excuse possible that the perpetrator becomes a victim too.

This case has brought to the surface a dialogue that we need to have. All of us. There is too much of a gray area in peoples’ minds as to what rape is. How can we expect a judicial system to work if we are collectively so confused? But beyond a clearer definition, which was most recently changed in early 2012 by the FBI to include men, we need to internalize that sexual assault of any kind is not okay. The Steubenville rape case could have served as a platform, or even example, on which to show that sexual assault is not a vague problem, but something that needs to be taken very seriously. Instead, the show that the media has put on tells rapists that they deserve our sympathy.

Malia Guyer-Stevens