ColumnAccording to the media, women’s bodies are less important than pigskin.
On August 11, 2012, a 16-year-old girl was raped by two teenage football players in Steubenville, Ohio. The judge chose to try the two young men as juveniles. On March 17, 2013, Trent Mays was sentenced to a minimum of two years in a juvenile correctional facility, and Ma’lik Richmond was sentenced to a minimum of one year—both could be in detention until they turn 21.
Unfortunately, this story isn’t unique; and while the media’s coverage of the case isn’t either, the role that social media played could have changed the tone. But it didn’t. Even after seeing the most degrading, humiliating photos and videos of this girl splashed all over the internet by friends of the attackers—for more than six months between the night it happened and the time the verdict came in—people are blaming the victim and offering sympathy to her attackers.
CNN’s Candy Crowley, Poppy Harlow, and Paul Callan started off the pity party: “’I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures—star football players, very good students—literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart.” – Harlow. Crowley and Callan go on to ponder the impact that “essentially” being convicted of rape will have on the boys’ lives.
Fox News, as usual, took the asshole cake when reporter Mike Tolbin used the victim’s REAL name on air. The footage has since been edited. Fox went on to prove its total dickishness—er, sorry, understanding of the delicate situation—with this gem: “Editors’ Note: The Associated Press named the minors charged due to the fact they have been identified in other news coverage and their names were used in open court. FoxNews will not name the defendants.” Phew. Maybe the one college who hasn’t heard of them will let them play football again, because, isn’t that what really matters?
According to ABC, it is. Before the case exploded, but long after footage of the night was all over social media, ABC focused on Richmond’s “state of mind” after winning a big game. This is a quote from the article, not Richmond himself: “It’s no surprise that he was in a celebratory mood. But even Richmond admits that some of what happened at the parties he and several of his teammates attended that night crossed the line.”
Wait, did ABC News just say the equivalent of “boys will be boys?” Seriously?
The level of anger I feel at the media is intense. While the idea that everyone with a loud voice should be responsible was shattered the second Perez Hilton became a viable source and Fox dubbed itself “fair and balanced,” serious news channels with massive platforms owe us, at the very least–and I do mean very–an unbiased report of the actual facts on news programs.
And the facts are: Two teenage boys raped a girl and rather than talk about the fact that they are criminals, the media is lamenting the loss of their football careers and, by doing so, perpetuating rape culture.
Rape culture can be complicated to explain, and one of the best breakdowns is here. In short, rape culture is: Beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
Terrorism. Can you imagine the outrage if the media referred to these attackers as terrorists?
When the media regularly supports rape culture, it influences how viewers and readers think. On Tuesday, two teenage girls in Steubenville were charged with threatening the victim’s life over social media—police are also investigating a male for harassment.
That teenage girls are threatening this woman is especially heartbreaking. How can anyone have seen these tweets and photos—and let’s assume that teenage girls have—and not feel empathy? What kind of world are these kids living in? Before social media, I can see a girl struggling to believe that guys she knew would do this. But they know. And they don’t seem to care.
After the story started to spread, why didn’t the adults involved step up and say something? Where were the parents before this happened? Why did no one at the party that night say, “Hey, she’s drunk. Let’s get her home?” Why aren’t girls taking care of each other?
I’m not saying in any way that women are responsible for rape—rapists are. But having so recently written about adult women’s backlash against new movements in feminism, I can’t help but go back to the idea that we need to stick together. How we treat each other sends a message to men and boys as to how we expect to be treated.
We have to take it back a generation and teach both girls and boys from a young age that rape is never okay. We need to destroy rape culture by shattering the idea that male sports players, and men in powerful positions, are gods who are exempt from the rules. We need to make sure that everyone understands the definition of consent (and anyone who saw the photos of the victim, complete with captions calling her “the dead girl,” can see she didn’t, and couldn’t, consent). We need a new version of feminism that girls will embrace, because whatever they are being taught now isn’t working. Who wants to lean in with me on that?
Note: The victim’s legal fees have been covered, but in response to the many who have asked how they can help, she and her family are suggesting that people donate to the Madden House, an emergency safe-shelter for women who are rebuilding their lives.