Rape in America

Steubenville rape

Article by Meggie Pretorius
The second I wrote that headline, I looked down and shook my head. "Here we go again," I thought to myself. "Why can't I just stay away from controversial subjects?" The other night I got involved in a debate (not an argument- it was far more respectful than that) about the anti-vaccination movement over Facebook, and after it was all said and done, I thought to myself "What was the point of that?" The other party and I both felt the same as we did before; I did gain some insight, but other than that, my thoughts were exactly the same as before-and I'm assuming hers were too. But maybe that is the point- if we both gained some understanding in differing opinions, are we more able to respect people that don't agree with us? Some would say that is a skill that is very important in life- understanding your opponent. I would agree. You can't really best someone in an argument until you know why they feel what they feel. But is it really about besting anyone, or is it just about being able to understand them?

But then again, why is the subject of rape divisive? It sure as hell shouldn't be. Rape is something that I am pretty sure is accepted as something that is morally and legally wrong. Right now, the story of a gang rape in India is grabbing headlines all over the world. Apparently a girl and her companion were gang raped and physically assaulted on a bus in India. The bus was full and went through numerous stops, including police checkpoints. The couple was eventually thrown out of the bus, and the driver proceeded to try to run her over. Her companion pulled her out of the way, but it was for naught- the woman died in a hospital in Singapore the next day from massive internal injuries.

The story makes you cringe, doesn't it? After I read the first paragraph of the Associated Press article, I moved the mouse to close it. But I stopped myself, because that is my New Year's resolution. No, my resolution isn't to read as many disturbing rape articles as I can. It is to stop turning away from things because it's too hard to look. Ignoring something that is wrong is just as bad as doing something that is wrong. I should read the article, and I should feel outraged, just as the girl's father is. As far as I knew, India is a progressive, peaceful nation. Around 80% of India's people are Hindu. I am no religion expert, but I do know Hinduism is a very peaceful religion that believes in karma. So, the people of India have to seriously frown upon rape, right? I mean, the returning Karma for rapists can't be good.

Actually, in India, rape is reported- on average- every 20 minutes. And let me remind you that sentenced used the word "reported." Everyone knows plenty of rapes go unreported- sometimes as much as half. So, that could mean two people (usually women) are raped every 20 minutes, or one every ten. You know the time you have spent reading this article? Someone in India was raped while you were reading about rape in India. But why is rape such an issue there? Well, apparently in the past, prosecutors encouraged woman to keep quiet so their family wouldn't be ridiculed. Because, remember, if you were raped, you aren't a virgin any more. Wait, what? Anyway, if they do file complaints, the police often ignore them, and in the rare case they are prosecuted, it can go on for years.

But, for all the reasons that rape is an issue in India, this incident has shown to produce some positives.
Apparently, this incident has really sparked some serious outrage- enough to spur some change. Crowds have formed and protesters have demanded justice, which has led to serious consequences for the rapists. Two men have already been arrested (update: four more have been arrested, including a juvenile, making a grand total of 6 arrests) and police say they plan to push for the death penalty (Karma, right?). The accused have said they were "teaching the woman a lesson." Apparently, she had the audacity to seek education and dream to become a doctor. Women these days, I tell you. Why can't they just be happy barefoot and in the kitchen? In reality, the rapists are the ones being taught a lesson. The bar association in India has said that its members refuse to represent any of the rapists. A new fast-track court system has been set up to handled cases involving crimes against women. Lawyers in black robes have joined the protesters. Said one India lawyer:

"We want the laws to be amended in such a stringent way that before a person even thinks of touching a girl, he should feel chills down his spine."

Wow, right? That is a lot of support for change. But hey, it's India. America is so much further ahead of them. I mean, yeah, they are changing, but we already prosecute rapists and we are nothing like them…. right?

59% of rapes go unreported. Only 25% of reported rapes end in arrest.

Actually, yes, America is more advanced than some countries when it comes to issues such as rape, but I guarantee you we aren't where you think we are. According to a United States Department of Justice report, 1 in 6 women were raped or victims of sexual assault in 2005. The same report said 59% of rapes go unreported. Only 25% of reported rapes end in arrest. Despite a decline of rapes in America since 1993, America still has a high rate of rape when compared to other developed countries.

Unfortunately, when people think of rape, they think of an episode of Law & Order: SVU where a jogger in Central Park is grabbed and raped and strangled and left to die in the woods (and then found by two kids playing Frisbee). Stranger rape is relatively uncommon. The most common kind of rape is date rape, and half the time it involves drugs, alcohol, and someone you thought you knew.

"Okay, fine," you are thinking. "Rape still happens a lot, but it would never happen in a group of people without anyone saying anything like it did in India. That shows a whole cultural problem instead of just an individual problem."

Well….yeah, wrong again. Two words: Steubenville, Ohio.

Steubenville, Ohio is a small town that lives for football. Football is God, and the entire county supports the team. So, when a bunch of teenagers congregated for a party in late August with alcohol and drugs, it was a recipe for disaster. But nobody knew quite how bad it would get.

One of the parties that night was hosted by a volunteer football coach. Doesn't sound smart, does it? By allowing under-age kids from your team to drink, you are putting yourself and them in danger. I know in my high school this would have never happened (the drinking at a coach's house part- I'm not going to say that there wasn't alcohol in my high school. Or that I didn't drink it). This does go to show you the kind of attitude that was in place: The members and coaches of the football team were local celebrities, and they felt untouchable. They even posted on Twitter all about the party and the activities that were sure to take place. ("BANGER tonight!!!!!")

(I've often wondered what high school would've been like for me if there was social media back then.
There wasn't any nudity, and the cleavage was pretty pathetic.
I wasn't known to make the best decisions, and neither was anyone around me. I remember a short-lived website cleverly called "the boobseum" engineered by classmates that took pictures of girls' cleavages at parties. Improper? Yes. A little funny? Yes. There wasn't any nudity, and the cleavage was pretty pathetic. But it was still a huge scandal at my Catholic high school. So, to summarize, teenagers are dumb, yes. But there is a difference between dumb and criminal.)

It became clear early the next day that the night had turned sour. People had posted pictures on Twitter and Instagram of a passed out girl, with captions using the words "rape" and "drunk girl." Apparently, when the assault had taken place, numerous people had looked on without doing anything. Sounds a lot like what happened in India, doesn't it? Except in India, the majority of people expressed outrage. In Steubenville, some (not all) people blamed the girl, saying she put herself in a position to be violated and was trying to show the football players in a bad light. In my opinion, the second they left their house planning to drink underage they were setting themselves up to be shown in a bad light. Anything after that only made things progressively- and much- worse.

It was reported that two 16-year-old Steubenville High football players were arrested for raping and kidnapping a 16-year-old girl, who was too drunk to resist sexual activity or say she didn't want to be taken to numerous parties. Eventually, it was publicized that the football players were possibly getting special treatment. The county prosecutor and a juvenile judge removed themselves from the case, admitting ties to the football team. The rape victim has been receiving threats, resulting in extra police patrolling her neighborhood. Some friends of the accused have turned witnesses for the prosecution, and the town is definitely divided. Many are speaking out against the football team and their actions, but have asked to remain anonymous because "they don't want their house to be vandalized." It's like a Lifetime movie, except you aren't rolling your eyes at the drama- it's actually happening.

The fact that the girl was allegedly raped is extremely disturbing. But the worst part seems to be the amount of people that stood aside and watched and did nothing. Being a teenager is hard, and going against what is "cool" is even harder. I understand that. But don't you think one person could've stood up for this girl? Apparently the players themselves and the bystanders knew it was wrong, if they were using the words "rape" and "drunk girl" the next day. So, instead of being ignorant kids who think having sex with a drunk girl is okay if they were drunk too, they knew it was rape- but didn't do anything to stop it.

The heart of this issue lies in the entitlement of the football team. But why? Well, apparently Steubenville has seen a sharp population decline due to rapidly decreasing jobs. Drug addiction has set in, most recently heroin. More than one quarter of the residents live below the poverty level. But the football team? It just keeps getting better and better, and the residents have rallied behind them, excited to have something positive in their lives. The stadium houses 10,000, more than half the town's population. Everybody goes to games on Friday night. The team won back-to-back undefeated state championships in 2005 and 2006, and the excitement has maintained a fever pitch since then. Unfortunately, though, instead of empowering its young athletes, the town seems to have turned them into monsters who feel like they can get away with anything. And it may have cost two players their future and a young girl her innocence.

A crime blogger (name withheld) who had grown up in Steubenville cracked the case on a national level and waged war against the athletes, school, and town.
A boy (who hasn't been charged) and his parents have filed a defamation suit against the blogger and are seeking the identities of commentators on the blog who identified the boy by name.
The blogger and her readers commented on screen shots of the conversations and pictures posted by the students, in turn accusing the players of deviant behavior and alleging that the town allowed it to happen. She railed against the school that has allowed every player (except the two arrested) to keep playing, even though they were clearly there at the time of the crime. (I find this odd too- at my school, if you were caught at a drinking party, even if you weren't drinking, you couldn't play sports for 30 days). A boy (who hasn't been charged) and his parents have filed a defamation suit against the blogger and are seeking the identities of commentators on the blog who identified the boy by name. The coach has said he didn't bench the players who posted pictures and comments because they didn't think they did anything wrong.

Wait, what? You didn't bench them because they didn't think they did anything wrong? Coach, you aren't doing much to disprove the theory that the players call the shots here. Or maybe not- maybe the players just learn from those above them. Apparently, after telling a reporter he didn't "do the Internet" and hadn't seen the photos and tweets, the head coach became hostile towards the reporter.

"You're going to get yours. And if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will."

You stay classy, Steubenville High football coach.

A volunteer coach for the team alleges the girl made up the rape because "What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?"

Wow. With role models like those two, it is extremely surprising that these children act entitled and feel like they can do whatever they want…wait, no it isn't.

Unfortunately, that thinking is actually quite common in rape cases, which most often happens between people who know each other. The perpetrator alleges that the victim consented but regretted it after, presumably after people found out. Evidence taken from cell phones and iPads show the girl naked, but no sexual contact is being made. The rape kit was taken at a later date than advised, and no semen was found. While many are blaming the police department for not aggressively investigating the case, it seems that the problem lies in the fact that nobody wants to come forward to testify against the team. The police can do the best job in the world, but when you have a victim that remembers nothing, you have to rely on the multitude of people around her who saw what happened. And not many of them seem to be tripping over each other to talk to police.

The football team struggled (from their perspective) without the two arrested teens, who had big prospects. They finished 9-3 and lost in the second round of the playoffs. The arrested two are home with their parents, wearing electronic devices that allow them only to go to school at the county jail or church. The lawyer for one of the boys says that the girl was sober enough to consent. He also said the witnesses who testified against the boys at a special hearing only did so because they were promised leniency for recording the assault, which is in and of itself a crime. Special prosecutors have said the girl was in no shape to consent, and that was shown by the players themselves, who used the words "rape" and "drunk girl" to describe the incident and victim. The victim hasn't gone back to school and doesn't sleep at night, according to her mother. The head coach has testified as a character witness for the boys, which the girl's mother calls "disgusting."

The case took quite a turn recently, though. The hacktivist group Anonymous has gotten involved. They wanted an apology from those who have defended the boys (and the school) by January 1st, and they didn't get it. So the first step KnightSec (a smaller group within Anonymous that targets rapists) took was to release a video of a former Steubenville High baseball player joking about the rape. They have threatened to release more videos and personal information. KnightSec seems to keep its word, and things should get interesting quickly.

The point in telling these stories is this: Rape is illegal in both countries, and most people know it is wrong. But how responsible are the people who know it goes on and do nothing about it? In America, we act outraged about using rape as a war crime in the Sudan and we want to help. But what about what goes on at home? What about politicians saying that women who get pregnant from rapists shouldn't be able to have abortions, "because God has a way of shutting that whole thing down?" I know abortion is a divisive subject, but I honestly cannot fathom how anyone can say that a rape victim should have their rapist's baby. That is allowing them to be continually violated for the rest of their lives. We are nowhere near where we should be when it comes to rape, and this story glaringly shows that. Not because of the rape itself, which is still alleged, but because of the response to it. Until we as a community can come together and agree that all kinds of rape are crimes, and that witnessing a rape and doing nothing about it is a crime, we will not be where we need to be. Imagine it is your daughter being raped. What then? Would you tell her to be quiet because the high school football team might lose some good players? Or, would you tell her to have the baby so you could help raise your grandchild, the half of whose genes is your daughter's rapist? Didn't think so.

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