(c) by Mary Griggs
It has taken me a while to write this blog post. The entire situation in Steubenville sickened and enraged me beyond my ability to craft a coherent response.
To start with, it took quite an effort to bring justice to Ohio. This case was being swept under the rug until it was broken by a blogger and then exposed by the hacker group Anonymous. Only then did the police and prosecuters finally do their jobs. In the end, though, when the trial concluded, the young men were found guilty.
In response to the verdict, the media reacted with sympathy for the “ruined” lives of the young men. The talking heads feared they would be labeled as sex offenders for the rest of their lives and had no concern that the young woman would be a rape survivor for the rest of hers.
In Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller stated: “Rape is a crime not of lust but of violence and power. The threat, use and cultural acceptance of sexual force is a pervasive process of intimidation that affects all women.”
If there was ever a more clear example of rape being about power and not sex, this was it. These guys were football heroes and could have enjoyed any amount of female companionship. Instead, they took a classmate who was incapable of consent and publicly debased her, capturing their attack on video and in photos and posting them online.
These aren’t nice boys. Nice boys do not take a girl who is incapacitated by alcohol and drag her semi-conscious body from party to party, assaulting her at every stop along the way. This was not a nice experience for her, even if one of the boys texted the girl after he was (finally) kicked off the football team to tell her “I’ll just never do anything nice for you again.” Furthermore, those weren’t nice people who joked and laughed at what was happening. Nice people get help; they try to stop violence and they seek justice for the vulnerable members of our society. They certainly do not threaten and menace her.
But these two young men aren’t monsters, either. Calling rapists monsters absolves the rapists of their responsibility for their actions and allows society to shirk their culpability in the cultural acceptance of sexual force. We live in a rape culture and Steubenville illustrates that.
Nor was this a vis major or a freak accident. They didn’t accidentally strip, penetrate, videotape and denigrate their victim. They deliberately did these things, not once but several times over the course of the evening, all the while texting about their actions. While the abuse of alcohol can complicate the issue of consent, the footage and twitter feed, from the two young men to the bystanders, shows that they all knew their actions were inappropriate at best and criminal at worst.
Statutory rape is rape; date rape is rape; digitally penetrating an intoxicated 16 year old woman who cannot consent is rape. Quite simply rape is rape.
Let us be perfectly clear – receiving justice for their heinous acts did not harm their “promising futures.” It was their decision to rape that did that.
If the State or society does nothing to deter or punish rape, it becomes easier to adopt the false narrative that it is up to the woman to avoid rape and not up to men not to rape.
Hopefully, the judge’s decision in this case can work to change that narrative and help prevent another Steubenville in the future. Of course, if there are no consequences for the enablers (coaches, parents, police) or their peers, we won’t have evolved as a society at all.
There is a part of me that thinks if these young men get a big slice of karma pie in prison, it is just them reaping what they have sown.
The other part remembers reading the trilogy Oresteia and the tragedy of revenge. As the Furies said, “Guilt both ways, and who can call it justice?” (The Eumenides, l.155)