September 9, 2013 • In web :: Features
Steubenville, De-carceration, and Rape Culture
Whitney Wager weighs in on the Steubenville verdict, rape culture, and the role of incarceration.
*Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault and rape culture.
On March 17, 2013, Judge Thomas Lipps handed out guilty verdicts to the now-infamous rapists in the Steubenville, Ohio case. On a literal level, justice was done. But on an emotional level, witnesses are left wanting more.
The victim, referred to as Jane Doe, was repeatedly subjected to sexual assault from two young men, at several locations, in full sight of over 50 onlookers. She woke with a blank memory, but to a town full of people who were more than willing to remind her of what happened with dozens of photos, Tweets and Facebook posts. A family member saw the photos and showed them to her parents, who then reported the rape to the police. About a week later, two of the town’s biggest football stars and promising young students were rounded up and charged with rape and kidnapping. (The latter charge has since been dropped). One of the rapists even claimed “nothing even happened” on Twitter.
Rape culture minimizes or denies incidents of sexual assault in order to maintain a status quo that is systemically oppressive. In addition, rape culture relies on victim-blaming and perpetrates the belief that victims are at fault or deserved it because they weren’t “alert” or calls into question the morality of past actions, real or invented. What happened in Steubenville is the definition of rape culture, and until it blew up on an international scale thanks to some tenacious bloggers , certain citizens were quite content to diminish or deny the assaults against Jane Doe. Now in a town of less than 11,000 people that had previously been best known for being the birthplace of the Rat Pack’s Dean Martin, two star football players have made national headlines after they were charged, found guilty and sentenced for rape.
In spite of these charges and the violence of Jane Doe’s experiences and subsequent responses, attempts were made to cover-up the incident by the adult coaches (all of whom still have jobs somehow). Further, the mainstream media coverage of the trial and the tone of the reporting did not focus on the ways in which rape culture is maintained, nor did the victim remain the focus of the narrative. While reporting the verdict, CNN’s Poppy Harlow said it was incredibly difficult for her to watch “these two men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students… as their lives fell apart,” highlighted the tragedy the rapists suffered. This makes me think that justice is not done.