Steubenville case highlights U.S. rape culture

By Hannah Sparks

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In a short but comprehensive article on thenation.com, “America’s Rape Problem: We Refuse to Admit That There Is One,” feminist author Jessica Valenti explains the hypocrisy of American attitudes towards sexual violence.

We are quick to lament how poorly women are treated in other countries but reluctant to admit that violence and misogyny runs rampant in the United States as well. American feminists are written off, told that their time is better spent elsewhere, improving the lives of women around the world who have it “worse.”

Women’s rights groups have worked very visibly over the years to fight against rape and cultural attitudes surrounding it, but the message still doesn’t seem to be sinking in. One glaring and ongoing example of this is the rape case investigation in Steubenville, Ohio. A Dec. 16 New York Times article titled “Rape Case Unfolds on Web and Splits City,” gives an account of the case and is the source of many of the facts used in this column.

According to the Times, the 16-year-old victim, who was attending an end-of-the-summer party in August, was transported, semi-conscious, from party to party by two Steubenville High School football players, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. Mays and Richmond, among others, allegedly treated her “like a toy” throughout the night, exposing themselves to her, taking off her clothes and penetrating her with fingers, according to a Slate article.

Partygoers reportedly tweeted about the men’s actions throughout the night, while referring to multiple rapes, which suggests that the victim may have been assaulted in other ways. Others were said to have filmed and photographed themselves abusing the woman. Footage also revealed that her assailants joked about their actions afterwards. Horrifyingly enough, the victim only realized what had happened via social media the next day, according to the Times. Mays and Richmond are now being charged with rape, and others may be charged as the investigation continues.

Some members of the community have rallied behind the accused, leading to suspicion of a cover-up, with everyone from the football coaches to town leadership to the police seemingly complicit in shielding the accused.

The victim and her family have even been threatened by residents who claim she is trying to tarnish the reputation of the football team, which is seen as the core of the town’s identity. Supporters of the accused have attempted to assassinate the victim’s character and used her sexual history to claim she invited the assaults. A similar argument has been used by defense lawyers, who also say it is unclear whether or not the victim consented, even though pictures show her to be unresponsive and unable to give consent.

Those who support the victim have blamed the prioritization of the football team over a fair investigation on Steubenville’s tradition of hero-worship for its athletes, as well as a long-standing history of political and police corruption. One of the strongest advocates for the victim is the controversial social-justice vigilante hacker group Anonymous, which has released information that’s inspired national interest and outrage.

Accusations of a cover-up, Anonymous’ involvement and the question as to who exactly can be trusted in this investigation all emphasize that the details of the case are complicated and unclear. However, the photographs tweeted that night and footage of the accused joking about the victim exist, and these media pieces are are also pieces of evidence that certainly make a powerful enough statement that rape culture is alive and well among these Steubenville students.

Meanwhile, these pieces of evidence on top of the reaction of the community and lines of argument from the case’s defense lawyers show that people in the United States are no where near as outraged about rape as they should be.

The accused took a nearly unconscious girl, carried her from place to place assaulting her along the way, and then they had the callousness to not only publicize it, but also to make light of it over social networks. The sense of inviolability that the accused have displayed in regards to highly immoral and illegal acts shows that these boys are reprehensible, predatory human beings.

As I read more about the Steubenville case, I notice that it is often discussed alongside the rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old student in Delhi, India. That attack involved six men and took place on a moving bus on Dec. 16 – the same day the Times published its article on Steubenville. In response to the rape in Delhi, thousands of protesters, male and female, took to the streets in India in an attempt to combat sexist culture and government apathy about sexual violence in Indian society.

Why aren’t Americans having the same kind of reaction to the terrible sexual violence happening right on our very doorstep – or at least acknowledging it? Sexism and apathy are as endemic in America as they are anywhere else. Just this month, Congress failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act and also stalled on the International Violence

Against Women Act. It is chilling, to say the least.

Americans lamenting rape and rape culture abroad need to stop ignoring that it exists here.

It’s seen clearly in the attitudes of those who would rather sacrifice supporting a young survivor of rape than tarnish the reputation of a high school football team. If we refuse to even acknowledge the fact that sexism and sexual violence are as prevalent in the United States, then how are we to continue marketing ourselves as a paragon of freedom and equality? Sounds like hypocrisy to me.