I thought Part 7 was my last post in the series, but the media response to the sentencing of the two rapists in the Steubenville case has been so outrageous that I’m going to tack on a postscript here.
One of the first news reports to come out after the conviction was from CNN, and it spent much more time sympathizing with the rapists than the victim- in fact, the victim was not mentioned. You can watch the video here. A concerned Poppy Harlow states, “It was incredibly emotional, 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 believed their life fell apart…” She then goes on to describe said emotion in the courtroom, and the offenders’ sadness. Later on, another reporter asked a legal correspondent, “What’s the lasting effect of two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?”
There is so much wrong there: the concern over the rapists, the “essentially” tacked on to “rape”, the complete and utter absence of any thoughts of the victim. Just as people were beginning to criticize CNN, it turned out that the problem was not just with them.
NBC kept talking about the rapists’ “promising football careers.” I’m not sure why that’s relevant.
ABC News ran a piece on Ma’lik Richmond that talked extensively about his athletic prowess and difficult childhood. And yet, many athletes with difficult childhoods have refrained from raping someone.
Good Morning America mentions that “A juvenile judge will decide the fates of Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, who face incarceration in a detention center until their 21st birthdays and the almost-certain demise of their dreams of playing football.” Perhaps if you dream of playing football, it’s best not to commit a sex crime.
The Associated Press opens a story with “Two members of Steubenville’s celebrated high school football team were found guilty Sunday of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl.” They are celebrated high school football players, the victim is left with the epithet “drunken.”
What none of these major media outlets seem to be addressing is that (ideally) if you rape someone, you pay the consequences for it. None of them are lamenting the long-term effects on a young women of being raped by two young men (and having pictures of it sent to peers). None of them are pointing out that this situation wouldn’t have happened if the two offenders had made the choice not to rape someone. Their promising football careers would be continuing untouched, they might have gone to great universities, and enjoyed all the opportunities and rewards given to people who have chosen not to commit rape.
What are our teens supposed to think when the mainstream media’s treatment of rapists is not full of revulsion, fear, or condemnation, but seems almost… affectionate? At the least, they feel very bad for them. And they fail to mention concern over the fate of the rape victim. In fact, if she’s mentioned at all, it’s to point out that she was intoxicated. As Henry Rollins (yes, that Henry Rollins) said in a piece in Raw Story, “It is ironic and sad that the person who is going to do a life sentence is her.”
I spoke earlier in this series about how important it is to talk to your teen about issues regarding sexual consent. It’s also important for you to talk to your teen about rape culture, how they can make sure they’re not a part of it, and what they can do to change it.