Some Thoughts About Steubenville

Typically, I write about music; today, I write about silence.

I write about a stark and heavy silence, one somber and troubling in its long and unopposed reign, that has settled over us like a thick, dark blanket—an inky and poisonous cloud that has crept about us all like mist, snaking its way into our memories until it is only silence there that comes to mind.

That silence is what stands in place of an answer to this question:

Who is the victim, when someone is raped?

And that silence, with roots that run centuries deep, is deeply, deeply troubling.

Foremost, I would like to state right now that there is only one answer to this question for a moral and rational mind. Within the question itself is the literal answer—the victim, of course, is the victim in a case of rape.

And yet, from within this dark and smothering cloud of silence, we have forever allowed this answer to go unspoken. We have not given a voice—a loud, clear, and definitive voice—to the answer that so desperately needs to be declared.

The victim is the victim is the victim is the victim.

An individual’s state of dress, level of impairment from drugs or alcohol, gender, and age are inconsequential in determining whether an assailant is guilty in a case of rape. If you force yourself on someone, you have raped them. Without consent, it is rape.

The motivation for rape is irrelevant.

The circumstances of rape are irrelevant.

The “degree” of rape is irrelevant.

This is not a crime to be judged on a sliding scale, like murder. There are not degrees of premeditation, intent, severity.

It is all the “worst kind” of rape.

It is all terrible.

It is all rape.

For an attorney to even be allowed to stand in a court of law in the American justice system and suggest that there is a justifiable explanation for why someone raped someone else is, to me, absurd and inexcusable.

And if you are reading this, and agreeing with what I have to say, I ask you this: Then why do America’s values not reflect this? Why, if—as I sincerely and truly hope—the majority of people (especially those that read this, those that find a sense of like-mindedness with the writers here at Literally, Darling) believe as I do, do we not have an answer ready for each and every time this ridiculous farce of a question is asked? I’m sure most of you by now are familiar with the incident and subsequent legal proceedings that have unfolded over the course of the last several months and made Steubenville, Ohio rather infamous.

From “There was only one victim at Steubenville,” an amazing article by Australian publication DailyLife’s Clementine Ford, “a short précis” of what transpired:

“Over the course of a single night last August, Steubenville High School Big Red footballers Mal’ik Richmond and Trent Mays participated in the ritual humiliation and rape of an unconscious 16 year old girl as she was carried from party to party in various states of undress. The girl (who remains unnamed) was digitally penetrated by the pair more than once throughout the evening while onlookers (some of whom were teammates) did nothing to intervene. Instead, the incident was captured in images on mobile phones, which were then uploaded to Instagram and Twitter along with commentary about ‘whores’ and hashtags like #deadgirl.

One of these photos shows the girl unconscious and naked in a basement with semen from one of the defendants on her. Another portrays her limp body being carried between two laughing boys. To compound the injury to her dignity is evidence suggesting that, even as the frivolity was winding up and the girl was passed out on the front lawn, someone thought it would be funny to urinate on her. After waking up naked the next morning with no memory of what happened to her, the girl was left to discover the digital trail of humiliation and abuse that had already begun to be circulated among her peer group. In the days that followed, the cocky entitlement displayed by her abusers in cyber crowing about their conquest gave way to concern and then fear that real consequences would follow.

While trying to orchestrate a cover up (seemingly supported by his football coach), Mays complained to the girl via text message that she was going to ruin his football career. These texts and hundreds of others were cited as evidence in a four day trial that resulted in the boys being found delinquent on Sunday (the equivalent of a guilty verdict in a juvenile case). They have been sentenced to a minimum of one year each in a juvenile facility with an additional year given to Mays for the creation and distribution of pornographic content containing a minor.”

One of the defendants claims he had no intent of this happening.

Sorry—which part was unintentional? The part where you stuck your fingers inside an unconscious girl in front of your buddies with cameras? Or the part where you ejaculated on her while your friends laughed about it?

I just want to be sure we’re clear if you meant to rape her before we determine your sentence, or if it was, like, an accident or something.

Give me a fucking break.

There is no defense for rape. None. Short of presenting evidence, it’s barely even worthy of an extended trial.

As recently as two months ago, one of my close friends—a writer for this site—was mugged in what’s considered a very safe neighborhood in Austin, which is a fairly low-crime city to begin with. (Luckily, the assailant was scared off by an oncoming car.) When she went to the Austin Police Department to file a report, they had the gall—the utter nerve—to suggest, “It might have been the way you’re dressed.”

And what if he hadn’t gotten spooked and taken off? Would her tempting—literally irresistible!—appearance have driven this crook into such an understandable female-crazed frenzy that he might have helped himself to more than her purse?

And wouldn’t they still have suggested the same thing about her clothes, if he had?

This, and incidents like Steubenville, cause me to think about my friends, my family. I have an 11-year-old sister. In 5 years, she’ll be the age of the girl in the Steubenville case.

Would there be any excuse in this world that would validate something so horrible happening to her?

To your sister? Your best friend? Your nephew?

To you?

And I ask myself what will be different, five years from now, when my sister is 16.

Will anything be different?

And how will the attitudes of our repulsive indifference to our flagrant rape culture have changed five years after even that, when I may very well have a daughter of my own? When I hold my baby in my arms—a familiar memory for some of you, and an aspiration others of you share—and see her grow up, become a beautiful young woman, so full of promise.

And then, for an animalistic display of control and power, to be devastated in this way by someone else’s children because we have somehow so deeply failed ourselves as a society that we cannot communicate the severity of the wrongness of this action?

To that I say, to quote one of the most beloved books of my generation: “Not my daughter, you bitch.”

I don’t want this to be the norm. I don’t want to continue to be okay with living in a world where there is an uncertainty surrounding the blame in a case of rape. One of the many ABC News captions during coverage read, “Ohio Town Rape Case: Are More People Guilty?”

You’re damn right they are. All of those other people at the party that saw this, and laughed about it, and let it happen—what the hell is going on, that this has been taught as okay?

Many of you reading this have children, or hope to. And if there is anything that stops you, when you see scenarios like Steubenville on the news, from turning to your kids and saying, “If you ever see anything like this happening, you call the police,” if there is any reason you would teach your children any different, or any reason you would not want for your child to do that for the sake of the victim—any reason you would not absolutely demand and expect that someone would have the common decency to do the same for your child or your sibling or your cousin or your friend—then I believe we differ, fundamentally, at our core ideas of what is right and wrong.

Because if someone were there finger-fucking your little girl (or boy) while someone snaps a photo for Instagram, surely someone would say something.

Right?

We need to cut the bullshit and speak up about sex—what it is, what it isn’t. Boys and girls both need to know what rape is—it is something there is never an excuse for, and it is never something you invite.

We have to break the silence. I have gone head-to-head with my own family about this issue, about whether this is a “mistake” these boys made or a grave and serious crime.

And I will continue to go head-to-head with anyone who disagrees that rape is never an excusable action and should always, always be punishable to the full extent of the law.

A room full of teenagers stood by and watched an unconscious girl be raped. I will never be able to fathom that this scenario is not only a possibility, but that it happened. It took place. In our world.

Not a film.

Not a novel.

Here. Real life. People did this.

Forgive the dramatic prose, but seriously consider this: Why is this okay? Why is it even acceptable to suggest that the assailant in a case of rape is deserving of sympathy or somehow possibly innocent? Why is one year in a juvenile detention facility acceptable recompense in the American justice system for forced sexual entry upon another human being, much less an unconscious 16-year-old girl whose rape is photographed and recorded by her jeering who know, as is plainly evident in the video, text, and photographic evidence, exactly what action they are committing*?

Sorry. It isn’t.

The parents of the victim have made a statement that they want this trial to be over with. “They were hoping that the charges had been completed and that justice was served [in court] and they hope that they can move on with their lives.”

Sorry, but I’m not okay with that. I’m not okay with walking away from this, with tuning out of this issue when this case is closed because this particular family feels a year in prison is sufficient for an individual forcing his fingers into their unconscious daughter.

I regret with every ounce of my being that this has happened to this girl, or that it happens to anyone. But our legal system is based on precedent. If we let this stand—if we provide the groundwork for a future where the issue of rape is dealt with as it’s been dealt with in the case of Steubenville—then we are as much guilty for the trauma inflicted on that girl as those two football players. And on the girl that will inevitably be raped at a party this weekend, and the weekend after that.

There is a window of opportunity to seriously address the issue of rape here, and if the family of the victim finds themselves unable to use this platform to generate a social change, then it’s imperative that we do it for them. If space and healing and recovery are what the parents feel they need, so be it—but it’s essential that a dialogue is opened, that we talk about what’s going on here, and that we educate ourselves, our children, our families, and our peers about this.

We are mired in antiquated notions that will paint us in history as a grotesque and callous people. This is a deep and tragic systematic flaw, with a solution that lies only in a social admission of guilt and a determined and intentional redress of the issue at hand.

It is a cancerous silence that plagues us.

But the time for silence has passed us by. It has, in fact, so long departed that only dust remains where once there was any social measure of reconciliation—any justification—for the act of rape.

If the pen (or keyboard, as might befit modernity) is, indeed, mightier than the sword, then my invitation is this: Let’s do battle. It is time we speak on this issue. It is time we text, type, talk, and Tweet about it.

I’ll ask again:

Who is the victim, when someone is raped?

If the answer’s so obvious, then speak up.

 

*This video, taken on the night of the rape, makes this abundantly clear, as do the text messages used as evidence.The full transcript of the text messages used to convict the defendants in the Steubenville case can be read here.

The content of both is graphic and disturbing; viewer discretion is advised.

View Comments (2)
  • Eloquent and thoughtful piece, Austin. Thank you. I agree that the rape culture in this country is oppressive. We need to start speaking up and changing how we view rape and victims of rape.

  • Austin, this article really grabbed my attention. Especially when you mentioned your 11 year old sister, I have a 13 year old sister. The devastation of this subject is something I wish we could classify as fictional because it’s horrific that it is our reality. Thank you so much for speaking up about such an important topic.

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