Steubenville Media Coverage Is a Case Study in Rape Culture

no-more-rapeby Jasmine Peterson

By now, you’d have to have been living under a rock to have not heard about the Steubenville rape case (I essentially do live under a rock, and I’ve heard of it). The feminist community has been abuzz about the case, how it was handled, and also how the mainstream media has covered it.

As tired as I am of hearing and saying the term ”rape culture” this week, I am about to say it again. Media coverage of the case and the resulting convictions of the two accused is a glaring example of it. When I first heard about the case a couple of months ago, my question to myself was: “How could young men think that this behaviour was okay? How could bystanders not intervene? How could nobody have come forward before now?”

The questions were rhetorical and the answer simple: rape culture. And rape culture has been perpetuated and reinforced in how this crime has been talked about.

When reporters and media sources place emphasis on how sexual assault has negatively impacted the perpetrators’ lives, giving them a sympathetic portrayal, that is rape culture.

Poppy Harlow, a CNN correspondent, stated that it was “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 believe their life fell apart.” When Brian Duncan, representing  one of the rapists, Trent Mays, told 20/20 that what had occurred was consensual, that was rape culture (and it baffles me that a lawyer would not know, or would assert otherwise, that intoxication negates consent).

When media focuses on the fact that the victim was drunk, that she dressed “inappropriately”, that’s rape culture. The message that is internalized, for both victim and perpetrator, is that rape is the victim’s responsibility (and so how could we then expect 16 and 17-year-old boys to take responsibility for their actions when we’ve already told them that it was the victim’s fault because she drank too much, dressed a certain way, acted in a certain manner?).

What is essentially being said by these media sources is that these poor boys’ lives are somehow more valuable or important than that of the young woman they raped because they’re “good students” and football players. What is being said is that, even though they’ve been convicted of a heinous crime, their loss is somehow more tangible. And this tone, this victim-blaming, rape apologia, is exactly why crimes like this happen. The media didn’t seem quite as concerned about what a good student the victim was, that she has people who care about her, and that her life and future are impacted by this. Read more

Posted on by Jasmine Peterson in Can-Con 5 Comments

Steubenville: Not a Bug in the System

by Josey Ross

For a lot of people, the Steubenville rape case appears to be the first time they’ve really thought about rape, rapists, and rape survivors. This is challenging a lot of people’s Law and Order: SVU view of a rapist as an evil stranger in the park, someone we can point to as a bad guy, someone we can confidently assert we don’t know, and we wouldn’t know. Oh, my boyfriend/brother/teacher/friend would never do that. He’s a good guy.

These two young men’s friends are still saying that, still coming up with excuses. They are threatening the victim with death. They are crying over the halted futures of these bright stars.

Nobody in the mainstream media seems to be crying for this brave 16-year-old girl who has just had her life destroyed. That is what rape does; it destroys lives. It breaks people. It shatters your ability to trust others and, more tragically, to trust yourself. It forever strips that piece of you that naively believes in the concept of “safety”.

None of this is coincidence. The wretched events of Steubenville are not an aberration. They are not a culmination of things gone wrong. They are a system working as it should.

This system teaches young men that women are theirs for the taking, that women incapable of consent are not only ripe for violation but have brought it upon themselves. It teaches that rape doesn’t even require concealment, but that you can celebrate and joke about it across social media platforms.

And this system teaches young women to hew to a system of male dominance. If going to a party with your friends is excuse enough for rape and mass humiliation, what the hell happens to those who stand up to the patriarchal system? What happens to those who say: “I deserve to walk without looking over my shoulder” or “I deserve to take up space”?

We’re in the 21st century and we are still teaching young men that women are less than human. We’re in the 21st century and we are still ensuring that women who forget that, who dare to think they deserve safety and opportunity, are put in their place, whether subtly or violently.

The events of Steubenville are not a bug in the system, they are a feature of it.

Posted on by Josey Ross in Feminism 1 Comment

CTV News Channel Interview on Steubenville and Rape Culture

cap1by Jarrah Hodge

Earlier today I joined Slate writer Amanda Marcotte live on CTV News Channel to talk about the developing story around the gang-rape in Steubenville, Ohio, the protests after another gang-rape in India, and larger issues around rape culture. The video isn’t available for embedding but if you want to watch the whole clip, you can see it here.

I appreciated that the hosts avoided treating the rapes like isolated incidents (they also drew attention to the case in Pitt Meadows in 2010, which had many similarities to Steubenville in terms of the use of technology to humiliate the victim as well as the seeming community code of silence after the fact). They also didn’t fall into the trap of being holier-than-thou when looking at the situation in India, as some other articles have done by blaming the incident on India’s culture while implying no similar issues exist here (read Emer O’Toole in the Guardian on why this view doesn’t hold water).

I’m not going to go in-depth into the issues at play but I’d encourage you to watch the CTV clip and also to check out some of the following articles, which have done a great job explaining the complex issues in Steubenville in particular, as well as the way this incident is part of systemic rape culture.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 1 Comment