The surreal image of CNN'S Candy Crowley lamenting the plight of two convicted rapists in Steubenville, Ohio should have come as no surprise given our culture's ambivalent attitudes about rape, but it still left me stunned, sickened and outraged. Crowley seemed emotionally distraught upon finding out that two young men were being held accountable for their crimes. Equally sympathetic to the rapists, CNN Correspondent Poppy Harlow chimed in with the words "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." Legal expert Paul Callan was also sympathetic to the rapists, noting sadly that the poor guys would forever be labeled sex offenders as a result of the verdict.
CNN's line-up of journalists turned rape apologists mourned that the boys who were good students and had such promising futures in football were having their futures ruined by this unfortunate verdict. What CNN failed to mention is that these two athletes raped the unconscious girl multiple times in several different locations and that they filmed the sexual assault. The boys sent footage of their sordid conquest around on Instagram and YouTube for all to see. How thoughtful of these fine students to allow the girl to be re-victimized and humiliated on social media. Good students and star athletes perhaps, but high grades and athletic talent are no substitute for empathy and ethical values. After all, James Holmes was also a brilliant student and OJ Simpson was also a star athlete. So what? Must we excuse the behavior of young men who rape girls because they get good grades or because they can complete a touchdown pass? Is there anybody in the community who would rather see the football team finish 2-7 and stop raping girls, or is this just the level of collateral damage we find acceptable in exchange for a shot at the district title? After all, think of the community pride a football championship instills in the town, and to hell with moral clarity.
What CNN's all star news cast did not bother to say is that while these rapists may get out of juvenile detention in just a year or two after brutally raping a girl, she will likely suffer emotional trauma for years to come. While this incident may haunt the athletes for the rest of their lives when they are so thoroughly inconvenienced by having to endure an extra challenge when trying to land a job or rent an apartment, the young lady they raped will have the haunting image of being raped and assaulted to deal with for the rest of her life. What about her promising future? Or is she irrelevant?
She deserved it: She was dressed a certain way or she was drinking or something
On social media sites the public reaction was even worse than that on CNN. On Redditt one individual posted "How the hell can the DA justified [sic] ruining these young men's live's [sic] with a rape charge? These young men could have went on to the NFL, they could have had full careers and happy families. But not know [sic] thanks to this DA. It is just disgusting how our justice system can ruin so many lives, because of a whore who though [sic] she did not have enough attention as is. If you ask me lock up the whore for prostitution and wasting government money." Another simply lamented "That's a shame. The bitch got what she deserved." Yes, we should just set them free because the Bengals might need a first round draft pick soon, and God forbid we hold men accountable for their actions. Oh, and besides any underage woman who picks up a beer deserves to be raped, sodomized and photographed for the amusement of men, because boys will be boys and it is a woman's job to defend herself. Men have no responsibility not to rape.
Men have no responsibility to prevent rape?
America's rape culture continues to not only blame women but to put the responsibility of preventing rape on the woman's shoulders. When African-American feminist and rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell challenged the notion that women need to carry guns to prevent being raped and instead tried to place the responsibility for preventing rape with men during an appearance on the Sean Hannity show, she was hit by a barrage of hateful vitriol. Tweets to her included "you need to be gang raped to [sic] you get some common sense. You stupid bitch." and "Ur what's wrong with America. I hope you get raped. And killed. By an out of control black man". However, what is wrong with America is not that Zerlina Maxwell thinks she should be able to walk the streets without having to carry a gun to prevent rape. What is wrong is a culture that regards women as responsible for being raped and that exonerates men from responsibility as long as they are star athletes, good students, God fearing church goers, or respectable businessmen or pillars of the community. Rape it seems is the woman's fault, unless perhaps it is a middle class jogger who gets raped at knife point by some homeless guy. That might be a big deal, but a drunk girl assaulted and sodomized at a party. Nah, no big deal. Boys will be boys after all.
Rape isn't that big a deal: The guy running for Senator told me so
After the 2012 election cycle when the same casual attitude towards rape that was on display in Steubenville, Ohio reared its ugly head in multiple campaigns for office and jettisoned the promising candidacies of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock in Missouri and Indiana respectively, one would have thought America had learned something about rape. A sexual assault is not something to dismiss as not qualifying as a "legitimate rape" just because the girl drank a few beers, and it is not to be minimized as something God intended. But how can we get men in our country to view rape as the heinous crime it is, when even our electoral candidates have a casual attitude that trivializes the crime of rape and that tacitly blames the victim?
Tulsa Victory Christian Center: Praise the Lord and don't tell the authorities
On the same day as the Steubenville verdict, another verdict was rendered in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Five members of the Victory Christian Center who knew that a fellow church employee had raped a 13-year old girl on the church premises, attempted to conceal the assault. Three of the five were sentenced March 18th, while two others still face trial. Like the case in Steubenville, witnesses attempted to hide the crime. Rape is bad public relations so let us pretend it did not happen instead seems to be the prevailing discourse when rape strikes in a community. In the Tulsa case, pastors and other church officials covered up the rape of a thirteen year old girl, and the church continues to fight against a civil lawsuit surrounding the cover up. It seems even in the mega-churches of the Bible Belt, there is sympathy for the "devil" and contempt for the victim.
Rape is rape. Enough is enough
It is time to stop blaming rape victims and to stop excusing rape perpetrators for their crimes. It is time to stop concealing rape crimes and to speak out whenever a woman is sexually assaulted. Rape is not okay because she is wearing tight pants, because she is out after midnight, because she was flirting at the bar or because she had a few cocktails. Rape is not excusable because you got an A in Advanced Biology, because your SAT scores can get you into Harvard or because you rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in a game against Central. Rape is not okay, just because you are a youth pastor, a scout leader, an entrepreneur or a well respected head coach. The news media and the amateur pundits on Twitter and Facebook need to stop shedding crocodile tears for the men who sexually assault women and they need to stop using derogatory language that degrades and threatens women who are raped or who speak up about rape. A grand jury is investigating further crimes that were committed in Steubenville surrounding the rape of a young girl. Let us hope that everyone involved in committing or concealing that hideous crime is brought to justice, and let us hope that when the perpetrators are held accountable that we will not again have to hear how the verdict has ruined the lives of those men involved. Pity the rapist? Sorry, I have no sympathy for the "devil". You'll have to conduct your pity party without me.