The Steubenville Rape Case: When Will We Learn?

By Jody Raphael, Guest Blogger

On March 17, 2013 a judge found two Steubenville high school football players guilty of raping a 16 year old girl. The 17-year-old, convicted of rape and of photographing the underage girl naked, was sentenced to two years in the state juvenile prison system, while the 16-year-old was sentenced to a year in juvenile prison.

But it was the aftermath that illustrates all the elements of rape denial in America. In early May, 2013 two teen girls were sentenced to probation after guilty pleas in a case of threatening tweets after the guilty verdict was announced.  According to news reports, one tweet threatened homicide and another bodily harm to the victim. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office has been involved in the investigation and prosecution of the football players as well as the arrest of the two teen girls, has also undertaken a broader investigation of the rape and called for the convening of a grand jury to determine if other individuals committed crimes.  DeWine’s news release on March 17, 2013 stated that his investigators had identified individuals who attended the parties at which the sexual assaults occurred and had interviewed many of them as well as the principal, superintendent, and football coaches from Steubenville High School.

In the Steubenville case, the actions of the Ohio State Attorney General have been appropriate and responsible. DeWine was accurate when he said in response to the rape that “there seems to be an unbelievable casualness about rape and about sex. It is a cavalier attitude — a belief that somehow there isn’t anything wrong with any of this. Rape is not a recreational activity.” Yet, as I document in my book Rape is Rape, our society continues to deny rape, accusing girls and women of lying about rape and blaming them for being victimized. All too often the media, instead of playing a leadership role, mirrors societal attitudes. On Sunday morning, March 17th, an entire CNN panel focused on what a tragedy this was for the boys and how their lives had been ruined, without any mention of the effects on the 16-year-old-girl who had received so many threats that additional police were assigned to patrol her neighborhood.

Blaming victims and supporting convicted rapists send a message to victims of rape that we don’t care. Recently, students in colleges across the country have filed complaints with the federal government, alleging college failures to include rapes in their annual Clery Act reports and to properly respond to rape complaints. They say that instead of support, they hear rape denial and blame and that administrators try to dissuade them from making formal complaints. Institutional inaction supports rapists and encourages them to believe they can get away with rape.  A well-spring of activism from Amherst, the University of North Carolina, Wesleyan, Swarthmore, Occidental, and others is sending a message that it is time to start caring.

The Centers for Disease Control released data from 2010, finding that 12.3% of its very large sample of women had been the victims of forcible penetration during their lifetime-a whopping 14.6 million women. This methodologically sound research indicates a serious rape problem in the United States. Recent data about rapes in the military reveal surprisingly large numbers as well, indicating that for too long we have been blind to this serious problem in our midst. But what to do about it?

One important aspect of rape prevention is swift action to hold rapists accountable. Support for rapists is one thing that prevents us from eliminating rape in America. The cultural scaffolding that keeps rapists from being held accountable in our communities needs to crumble. How many more cases and how many girls and women injured will it take?

Jody Raphael is Visiting Professor at DePaul University College of Law and the author of the newly released book, Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming Are Fueling A Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis (published in paperback by Chicago Review Press).

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