By Dana Panczenko
The Steubenville rape case that wrapped up last week was one of the most widely publicized and controversial rape cases that the nation has ever seen. On Sunday, March 17, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty of the sexual assault of a young female while she was severely intoxicated. Mays is 17 years old and has been sentenced to serve at least two years in the state juvenile system, while Richmond, who is 16 years old, has been sentenced to only serve at least one year in the juvenile system.
On the surface, the sentencing of these boys may seem like a victory in the battle to end rape and sexual assault. What happened in Steubenville is not uncommon, in fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, one in five women in the United States has been raped and nearly one in two women “experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape.” While it is apparent that the acts of sexual assault and rape are fairly common, according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, “54 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police,” and “97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.” With statistics like that, it’s very impressive that sentencing happened at all for these Ohio rapists. But it was only after sentencing that the real implications of this trial started to be brought to light.
Everyone, from major news stations to teenagers with Twitter, were reporting on the results of the Steubenville trial. As I watched the sentencing on CNN, I was shocked at their commentary on it. Instead of talking about the victim, anchors were sympathizing with the rapists. Anchor Paul Callan stated that “[their] lives are destroyed…these young men…[will be] labeled as registered sex offenders…that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
Others lamented that these boys’ lives are ruined, but no one mentioned the victim, with the exception of Fox News, who, according to a report on Think Progress, inadvertently released the victim’s name on live television. On Twitter, according to the Washington Post, a 15-year-old girl threatened to “beat the s*** out of” the rape victim, and another 16-year-old stated that when she saw the victim there would “be a homicide.” Both girls have since been arrested on menacing charges. Although some of the public is enraged at how the news and some individuals are responding to this case, blaming the victim and sympathy for the rapists continues.
This behavior begs the question, why is the public responding with sympathy for the convicted rapists rather than support for the victim? A young woman was raped, had images of her assault posted online, and was able to get justice for the wrong that was done to her. Instead of praising this young woman for her bravery, people are threatening her life and lamenting the fact that her rapists are being punished. How the media and the public have handled this case is disgraceful. Instead of being enraged that a teenager was attacked at a party, her identity has been exposed, and her rapists are being put on a pedestal and their fate is being lamented on national news networks. Currently there is a petition on Change.org that is asking CNN to apologize for their coverage sympathizing with the Steubenville rapists; the petition has over 280,000 signatures, however the network has made no such apology as of the writing of this article. As shown by the reaction to this particular case, the United States response to rape is a one step forward two steps back situation: although we have sentenced the rapists, the victim is still the one who ultimately was punished and seen as guilty in the public eye. Hopefully with the amount of coverage this trial has gotten, our culture’s view on rape will change to one that does not condone it, supports victims of sexual assault, and seeks to have every rapist in jail.
Unfortunately, the public reaction to the Steubenville trial and the treatment of the rape victim does not illustrate the most promising future for rape victims.