She Said No

By on March 24, 2013 in Columns

I’m supposed to be doing physics, but I feel distracted. What’s distracting me is the appalling media coverage on the other side of the Atlantic. The story: rape in Steubenville, and the place: the United States.

In August 2012, a sixteen-year-old girl went to a party at some jocks’ from her high school in her small hometown Steubenville, Ohio. The parties of the football-team had a reputation of being wildly drunk and containing drugs and so the girl partied away like everyone else, having a good time. Two boys from the football-team, sixteen and seventeen years, took the drunken girl and brought her from party to party, whilst assaulting her in a car on the way. They ended up in a basement where they stripped and assaulted her again, and tried to make her perform oral sex even though she was not conscious enough to consent. Then pictures of her naked body were taken and posted on pages like Instagram. Many of the assaults took place among other people at the parties but no one intervened. The girl went to the police and the two boys were caught. The trial against them started on March 13th, and the two boys were found guilty of rape.

This event surprisingly became a huge news-story, and the 18500 people of Steubenville were shocked by the event. But the attention given to the case escalated when journalists and people all over the internet started complaining about how the two boys’ future had been wasted and that they were such good students with great talent on the field. The accused were being glorified and anger was pointed at the victim, countless of people on twitter calling her a “whore” and saying that “young girls should not drink so much”. The headline on CNN was “Two high school football stars found guilty” where the “promising futures of the star athletes were destroyed” was emphasized. CNN continued by describing how emotional the trial was, especially when one of the boys broke down in tears saying “My life is over, no one is going to want me now”.

What strikes me when reading all these articles is how surprising it is seeing pictures of the rapists with countless details of their private lives, while nothing is published about the victim. Not publishing information about the rape victim could be seen as compassionate, but also keeping her from the media could be because of the unspoken shame of rape. She’s not a marketable story, but the story of promising futures being shattered sells. The fact that her life is shattered too is not worth mentioning. This may have been pointed out, but not stressed.

On top of all the victimising of the perpetrators in media, rage has also been directed towards the rape victim on the internet. Recently two teenage girls were arrested for menacing the rape victim by making death threats on Twitter and Facebook. “Threatening a teenage rape victim will not be tolerated.  If anyone makes a threat verbally or via the internet, we will take it seriously, we will find you, and we will arrest you,” said Attorney General DeWine who was in charge of the prosecution in the rape case in Steubenville.

What does all this tell us about our rape-culture? The case of the Steubenville rape is not a unique example of when the “star praised” rapists are being martyred and the anger and guilt is pointed to the actual victim. People still have a hard time understanding the concept of rape. It’s not solemnly a violent sex-abuse made from an unknown person jumping out from the bushes. The vast majority of non-consensual sex happens between people who know each other, often in the homes of people the victim trusts. Our culture does a strange job educating what rape is, or non-consensual sex, that is what consent is, how to give it and how to receive it. An unconscious person does not mean yes.  A person being dressed in a certain way does not mean yes. A person too drunk to speak does not mean yes. An undressed unconscious person still does not mean yes. Anything but a yes means no. How people committing rape fail to acknowledge these signs to not sexually abuse people is a real problem in our society. This is what the media should cover. The shift in perspective from victim to perpetrator and focusing on the lives and crushed futures of the perpetrators are both contemptible and wrong. The story of a girl being raped is diminished. Is it okay for anyone with a “bright” future to do whatever they want? When are you supposed to take responsibility for your action if you have a “promising” future? Never?