by 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