The two boys have been found guilty as of late, and the story has received national attention. This national attention, however, has its own consequences. While it encourages a conversation about rape and rape culture, it also exposes many of the attitudes we have about rape. This case in particular shows a worrying unwillingness to hold certain people accountable, and a desire to sweep personal liberties and justice for rape victims under the rug.
The incident took place in Steubenville, Ohio and the two young men were star players on their towns football team (for those of you not in the US thats American football). After the men were accused of raping the young woman, I would think that the town would rally for answers and investigations. Instead, the town took to rallying around the players.
The football team suspended two players who were cooperating with the investigation, while allowing the accused to continue playing. The coach even went as far as to threaten a reporter. It wasn't just the team that didn't support an investigation though; residents of the town were quick to cast blame on the girl in the situation, claiming she put herself in a situation to be violated. Many people even refused to cooperate with authorities attempting to investigate the assault.
This laying of blame on the accused didn't stop there however. Just recently CNN was reporting outside the courthouse after the verdict was made, and the story wasn't focused on how there had been justice or how heinous the crime was, but instead focused on the 'poor young men' and how they had 'such bright futures'. It talked about how they were good students in school, rather than reporting the facts of the case.
While I won't disagree that the verdict will have lasting consequences for these young men who made a huge error in judgement (I am trying to be kind); I question whether or not sympathy for the perpetrator is the appropriate narrative to be taking in a case such as this. A case, where the accused were protected and apparently hadn't apologized to the victim, or her family, until after the verdict had been decided. The reporters even seem to take this apology as something so moving that the men are relieved of their horrendous crime.
The reporter on the scene said, "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...when that sentence came down, [Ma'lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney...He said to him, 'My life is over. No one is going to want me now.'" The reporters continue on to the topic of sex offender status.
The focus is on the the rapists and how this has destroyed their lives, but what about the victim? She wasn't even mentioned in this report. What about the lasting consequences of being raped? What about the victim shaming that went on in the town? These are not things that should or can be ignored.
Other mainstream media news sources have also picked up similar slants. ABC News did a profile workup of one the defendants (leading up to the trial) and put him in such a good light; making excuses for his behavior (he was in a 'celebratory mood') and focusing on his promising football career. NBC as well made a point of talking about their football promise, and talks about it being a warning to a generation so imbued with social networking; even though the crime was rape (you can see the video below). The Associated Press, USA Today, and Yahoo News also picked up narratives revolving around high emotions in the courtroom for the defendants and, like most other reports, describing the victim consistently as a 'drunken sixteen year old girl'. Yahoo News even goes as far as to suggest that the fact the boys might be punished is what was tearing the town apart, rather than the serious crime.
The role of masculinity plays a huge part in this and can be seen throughout the case. The two young men's friend was caught on video trivializing how 'dead' and 'raped' the girl was during the incident. The whole defense was steeped in masculine ideas. One of the main problems was the idea that men and masculinity is somehow more important than, or better than, femininity. To chalk this up to being the girl's fault means that a man's desires need be controlled by a woman and her actions. To defend such an incident because a woman 'didn't affirmatively say no,' especially considering she wasn't conscious implies the idea that men can use women and their bodies as they please if the woman can't disagree.
All of these things combined make this case a perfect example for what needs to be addressed in our culture. Our values, how we define masculinity, and especially a much needed look at our blatant rape culture. I think it's important to note that this kind of situation is often times covered up by things like the town and doesn't get the national attention this story did. The fact that many incidents like this go unnoticed and unaddressed is a travesty and shame.
UPDATE: It has also come to my attention that some networks (Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC) aired the victims name on television. As if she hadn't been through enough, now the whole world can know who she is and those who disagree with her can harass her even more! Really the media is utterly despicable.
You can read more on masculinity and its role here.
More on the media coverage here and here.