Back when I practiced in immigration legal services, I worked on a lot on cases for immigrant women and children who were victims of crimes here in the United States. Several of the rape and domestic violence cases were so gruesome that I would read the files with tears streaming down my eyes.
Since last year, I've followed the Steubenville rape case incredulously. It's difficult for me to fathom the criminal actions by the two football players, and the despicable reactions by many fellow students, members of the community and the media. When my former student, Joan Ronstadt, informed me that she had written an Op-Ed piece about what happened in Steubenville and the media's response, I offered to post it here.
Don’t Be a Barbarian and Document It vs. Don’t Be a Barbarian (Period!)
By: Joan Ronstadt
The situation with the now infamous “Ohio rape case” is so ridiculous that it merits a satirical bit on Saturday Night Live. Preferably the Weekend Update sketch, “ARE YOU SERIOUS? with Seth Meyers.” Frankly as I became increasingly aware of the trial and events, that was all I could find myself saying. Yelling at television anchors through a little black box full of wires. Apart from the obvious issues of the case (i.e. raping an unconscious girl), this case has surfaced some more structural issues as well.
Just as a quick recap, these are the facts of the case: Two football players, who are minors, raped a girl, who is also a minor. The fact that they are all minors makes the case messier and adds to the overwhelming feeling of “ughck.” Not only did the two boys rape her, they then proceeded to post their coital conquest on the Internet. You know the Internet, where nothing goes away no matter how hard you scrub?
Something I found interesting was one of the perpetrator’s “apologies” in court. “No pictures should have been sent around, let alone ever taken,” he said. This may be one of the most disturbing instances of the case, barring the actual event. No pictures should have been shared? How chivalrous of you to also add that pictures shouldn’t have been taken in the first place! Why didn’t I think of that?! His statement is problematic in it of itself, but also what it represents as a moral and of our culture as a whole.
I can’t even begin to fathom what it is like to be a victim of such a crime and I hope to never be able to. Yet, I think it is more than safe to presume that when your attacker apologizes, you want them to be sorry for the atrocity they did to you. Not to be sorry that they documented it, bragged and ultimately got caught. This poor young girl is going to have to struggle with this cloud over her head for the rest of her life. The least she deserves is an “I’m-sorry-for-traumatizing-you.”
It also worries me what people think the moral of this story is. If you are not critically watching this case, rather just impressionistically, it isn’t hard to deduce that the lesson here is: If you’re going to act like a barbarian, make sure you don’t put it on social media. When really the lesson should be more along the lines of: Don’t act like a barbarian; were you raised by wolves?
Which leads to the larger structural problem. Our culture is one where rape is “officially” condemned but it comes with a wink, wink and a nudge. It seems our society is always making up excuses and beating around the bush. Her skirt was short, she’s my girlfriend, she was drunk, etc. It’s a problem when this kid has been put through a legal ringer while his partner in crime is sobbing next to him, and all he’s sorry for is that he’s a bit of an over-sharer on social media. He’s not sorry for what he did to another human being, he’s sorry he was reckless about bragging. If this kid was raised by/around/with seemingly well meaning people, how is it that this is what he is coming out with? One option is that he’s just a kid with an exceptionally poor moral compass. Which is possible. Another option is that he was raised in a culture where he felt he was above the law. Where he had been sheltered by his privilege and was so warped in his reality that he thought what he was doing was an acceptable act. If it is the second option, then it is time our culture evaluate the moral of the story a little closer.
Have you followed the case? What are your thoughts?