I’ve never been to Steubenville, Ohio – yet when the verdict came out a few days ago that two high school men who had been charged with assaulting an unconscious 16-year-old woman were found guilty, I breathed a sign of relief. In my mind guilt was the only reasonable verdict in this case. The woman found out about her own assault on social media.
Our media response has been just as appalling as the assault itself in blaming the victim and conveying concern for the rapists whose ‘promising’ young lives had been ruined by the verdict.
Our rape culture is systemic and overwhelming to think about breaking but if we all do our part we can create change. There’s this activity I first did several years ago when training to be a rape crisis center hotline volunteer which lists a ton of terrible things (rape, incest, saying sexist jokes, laughing at sexist jokes, domestic violence, legal pornography, etc.) and asks participants to rank the acts from least to most harmful. My ranking always comes out about the exact opposite as the rest of the group. Folks tend to rank things like rape and incest as the most harmful while I rank saying or laughing at sexist jokes as most harmful. We have to begin somewhere to confront our systemic rape culture. We can start with the little, everyday examples, which devalue and dehumanize women.
What have we learned from the events in Steubenville? I’ll leave you with what I’ve learned:
1) They thought they could get away with it. And to some extent, they did. As minors, both young men (rapists) who were convicted will serve until 21 and at that point they will be assessed to see if they will need to be on the sex offender registry.
2) Bystanders play a critical role. As a bystander you can either take photos or intervene. Could bystanders have prevented the assault? I don’t know but they DO play a very important role. This affirms my work with Green Dot and makes me proud to be part of that movement.
3) Education, education, education! Advocates need to get into our schools and provide information about consent earlier.
4) Victim blaming is an inevitable part of this fight and as long as it still exists we will still fight.