We’ve got a messaging problem here in America.
After the verdict in the Steubenville rape case was announced (guilty; minimum of one year, possible incarceration until they’re 21), reactions were swift. As expected, the families of the defendants were crushed, one of the defendants, Ma’lik Richmond, appeared authentically remorseful (oh, would he have had those feelings before he raped and publicly shamed a drunk girl!), the town likely felt a mix of relief, regret and revulsion, and the girl probably felt vindicated.
The greater public reaction was oddly skewed, however. In a nutshell, rather than soberly acknowledge that justice had been served and the message that raping a drunk teen will never be excusable in any court – legal or moral – CNN’s Candy Crowely started the media conversation by commiserating with remote reporter, Poppy Harlow, that “those poor boys’ lives are ruined.”
Those “poor boys” who gleefully mauled and photographed a drunk girl, dragging her from place to place, repeatedly jamming their fingers into her vagina while she was too unconscious to notice, much less protest? Those boys? The ones who, during this debauched night of underage drinking and raping posted a running montage of videos, photos, social media comments and texts chronicling the ‘fun’ that was being had, garnering a Greek chorus of giggling, sniggering commentary shared by friends and other students? Those boys, who left this hapless young woman naked and in a strange house after abusing her throughout the night? Yes. Those poor boys’ lives are now “ruined”… because THEY behaved like a couple of amoral, misogynistic, sociopaths, and were stupid enough to expose their crime and got caught. Those boys, Candy.
CNN was not the only “rape apologist” out there in America. The Raw Story ran a piece called The top 5 rape apologist reactions to the Steubenville rape verdict which also listed a few others:
- Writer Lee Stranahan on Breitbart.com prattled that “the town’s the real victim here“… yeah, the town got raped and publicly shamed. No, Lee takes up the mantle for how the town got battered by media and Anonymous and all sorts of other aggressive activity which somehow, in his book, is way more important than the core issue of young, arrogant, and socially entitled boys behaving like a pack of hyenas at the expense of a drunk young girl.
- Author/blogger Michael Crooke’s blog, Travesty of justice in Steubenville detailed how the victim “whined” that she was “embarrassed and scared” when, according to Crooke, she damn well needs to “examine her role” in perpetrating her own rape by taking responsibility for her drinking, her sartorial choices and her attending an underage party. BLAME THE VICTIM, screams Crooke. He even ups the ante by positing that “rape doesn’t exist.” Tell that to the 19,000 raped in the military per year, or the victims raped every 6.2 minutes in America. I doubt all of them were wearing “immodest shorts and a tight shirt,” which Crooke apparently feels are just a few of the things that justify rape.
- The Trolls on Twitter: Not that this should surprise us, as the democracy of social media has unearthed a subset of humanity (and I use that term loosely) who live in the netherworld of hate, vitriol, aggression and ignorance and never fail to spew venom at anyone from actress Anne Hathaway, to rape victim, writer and Hannity guest, Zerlina Maxwell, right up to the young victim of the Steubenville boys. It’s likely the only thing that differentiated her from the all the other young girls in Steubenville that night who probably also wore “immodest shorts,” drank too much liquor, and behaved irresponsibly at a party no adult should have allowed, is that she’s the one who got raped. It’s beyond repulsive that the trolls are now tweeting death threats and calling her a “whore.” America the beautiful.
- The judge in the case, Judge Thomas Lipps, up there on the bench with all its gravitas and stern role of authority, took the moment, post-verdict, to advise the convicted rapists “to have discussions about how you talk to your friends; how you record things on the social media so prevalent today; and how you conduct yourself when drinking…” It seemed to many, including this writer, that the MAIN issue was left out of that lecture, like “DON’T RAPE PEOPLE.” Instead, he focused on how you use social media and how you conduct yourself while drinking. Dear God, THAT’S the take-away, Judge?? Next time, just say, “DON’T RAPE PEOPLE.”
- And, of course, CNN.
And, in an added dose of “let’s disrespect the victim,” it turns out Fox News did reveal the name of the young girl despite earlier statements to the contrary (it’s standard practice, particularly when rape involve minors, and in compliance with organizations such as the National Alliance To End Sexual Violence, to keep the victim’s name private). There is a video, which you can no doubt find find easily online, but I’m not going to link it here… lines get drawn somewhere.
As I said above, we’ve got a messaging problem here in America. We’re somehow missing the mark not only when it comes to teaching our children about things like honor and integrity and how not raping a drunk girl is a good thing, but we follow that deficit by standing up for the wrong issues: justifying and minimizing bad behavior, defending and apologizing for the perpetrators of that behavior, and/or attacking those who are the victims of that bad behavior. Is it any wonder this is a country struggling to find its compassion and humanity when it comes to the long list other issues that require a measure of both?
It is possible to feel compassion for these young men who were either poorly parented, peer-group misled, media mentored in ways that hollowed their souls, or just so wolf-pack driven that they did something they would not do without the fuel of alcohol and craven cheering from the sidelines. When I saw the video of Ma’lik sobbing in the courtroom, as a parent and a human with a heart, I felt a twinge of sorrow for a boy who got so off-track as to make a very poor decision and ruin his own life. But every single person who breathes on this earth is given that choice; to either make principled decisions, or face the consequences if they do not. Both these young men are now grasping those consequences for themselves. The rest of our culture, inclusive of those trolling their hate and writing in excuse of rape, ultimately make the same decisions about their own behavior.
It is worth noting that the Ohio attorney general, Mike DeWine, is not leaving this verdict with just these two “poor boys.” Calling sexual assault a “societal problem,” he’s vowed to dig deeper. From The Huffington Post:
The announcement of the verdict was barely an hour old Sunday when state Attorney General Mike DeWine said he was continuing his investigation and would consider charges against anyone who failed to speak up after the attack last summer, a group that could include other teens, parents, coaches and school officials.
A grand jury will meet in mid-April to consider evidence gathered by investigators from dozens of interviews, including with the football team’s 27 coaches. Text messages introduced at the trial suggested the head coach was aware of the rape allegation early on. DeWine said coaches are among officials required by state law to report child abuse. The coach and the school district have repeatedly declined to comment.
“I’ve reached the conclusion that this investigation cannot be completed, simply cannot be completed, that we cannot bring finality to this matter without the convening of a grand jury,” DeWine said.
It seems the message DeWine is offering is one that demands accountability from everyone involved. That is the correct message. At least one of them.