On Sunday, two teenage boys were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.
Rape in not a rape phenomenon in America. In fact its shockingly common. On average, 78 women are forcibly raped every hour. More than half of the women who reported being raped were under the age of 18--so this case in Steubenville was not unique.
Yet somehow this case of two high school boys, star football players, raping a girl so drunk as to be unconscious has captured out attention. Why?
Maybe it’s the age of the offenders and the victim? Maybe it was because online activities seized on the case? Maybe it was the small town football culture?
Like the Penn State and the Catholic Church scandals before, I think we are shocked and captivated by this case because we can’t easily dismiss this as bad people doing bad things. These were not scary criminals in dark alleys. These were not isolated people in isolated incidents that have no bearing on our lives and communities. There were of course the rapists themselves. There were those at the party who laughed, took disturbing photos, recorded videos, shared them with their friends.
Those looked on silently or with a laugh and did nothing. Those who defended the rapists. Called the victim a whore. The coach who hosted the party and another coach who punished no one on the team except the actual rapists.
The members of the media who seemed to think this story was a cautionary tale about social media rather than understanding the vital role social media played in actually getting justice for the victim and worse, the members of the media who seemed to care more about the impact on the lives of the rapists than on the girl who was the victim. And on the outside radius of the circle we see a whole community that glorified macho football culture and made fallible teenage boys in heroes.
Is this really as far as the circle spread though?
Media accounts inevitably talk about the unique characterizes of the town itself. Describing it as an “industrial city in Appalachia,” noting its slide into economic depression after the decline of steel in the Ohio River Valley.
The football team then took primacy as central to the town’s pride and character. It's an important element of the story but it also makes us feel like this town is different. Its not like our town. These people are not like us
I don’t have the luxury of that separation. I lived year in a town just up the Ohio River from Steubenville. I went to see Bill Clinton speak at the Steubenville High School Gymnasium. Found out for sure I was pregnant for the first time at a doctors office in the creaky downtown. I was just in the area two weeks ago to celebrate my daughters birthday with old neighbors and friends.
This town isn’t strange or ominous.
What you might be more struck by were you to visit is how genuine people are. How kind, how open, how sincere. That’s what struck me. In fact, this town is like your hometown. This high school is like your high school. Something here went horribly wrong and it could go horribly wrong where you live too. Yesterday, I saw this headline: Another football player accused of rape, another community blaming the victim.
This isn’t a football issue. It's not a small town issue. It's not a social media issue. It's an American issue. It's an American issue that in 2013 we still live in a country where too many tolerate blaming the rape victim and calling her a whore, where the is a “boys will be boys” attitude about rape and their wink and nod in covering up for men in positions of power, from athletes, to politicians, to generals who abuse women.
Folks you and I own this culture. We can’t allow these attitudes about rape to persist. If we do, the circle of culpability radiating out from two football players in Steubenville, Oho will have all of our names.